From the Archive
This article was originally issued in the Spring 2012 edition of the G and T Focus Magazine
When parents first contact us, after they have recognised their child’s abilities, their first concern is often about how to ensure their gifted child fulfils their potential. As parents, we hate to think of our child’s talents going to waste because we may have failed to provide an appropriate environment or opportunity. “Is there anything I should be doing to support her?”, “What kind of schooling is going to ensure his success?”, “How do I give her what she needs to reach her potential?”, are the kinds of questions we hear frequently from parents. In fact, many parents feel they have to be one step ahead of their children; which is achievable when they are toddlers, difficult when they are six years old and already know more than you about the Jurassic period, and nigh on impossible when they are 10 years old and doing quadratic equations! Gifted children can be as different from each other as they are from the rest of their peers, and so there is no one answer that serves as a rule for all in how to turn their talent into achievement. However, there are some proven ways of supporting gifted children to achieve.
You can rest assured that knowing you have a gifted child proves that they have the ability to achieve at a very high level. However, being a gifted child does not equate to outstanding success later in life. Some say that the aim of educating a gifted child should be to transform potential into outstanding achievement as an adult. However, parents have told us through feedback and our own research that their aims for their children are very much more personal than that. You are likely to want your child to fulfil their potential because you want them to be happy, and to be happy you know that they need to be fulfilled. Thinking at a higher level and being able to be creative is part of their fulfilment, and to be able to think in this way in their chosen career later in life they need to aim high. You want their ability to think creatively to be nurtured, not stifled. You want their natural talent not to be wasted; their advancement in their early years to be a head start, not a hindrance to them.
So, as a parent, how do you go about providing the right environment to nurture a gifted child’s talents? Well, one place to start is to look at what the variables are in outstanding achievement. There is consensus amongst researchers in the field of giftedness and talent development that these variables are:
- General ability
- Domain-specific ability
- Motivation and mindset
- Task commitment
Of course, there is nothing you can do about where your child is born, their ethnicity, social class or position in the family, and very little you can do about their family background or geographical environment. Your child’s general ability is likely to be more than sufficient to contribute to success, his/her natural creativity may well already be of a good level and his/her domain-specific ability (or ability in a specific area, such as music or mathematics) will hopefully show itself as time goes by.
However, when looking at the other factors that contribute to outstanding success, there are definitely some that are influenced by a person’s experiences and environment. As a parent, you can certainly provide opportunities for your child to develop his/her talents. You can monitor your child’s interests and passions closely and use these are areas to develop task commitment, motivation and a ‘growth’ mindset. You can even value and nurture their innate creativity.
Below are some suggestions about how you can help your child in developing their talents at different ages.
Ages 2 – 5
When a gifted child is very young, typically he or she is interested in many different things; sometimes all these things at the same time, and sometimes different things one after another. However there are some who have particular talents from a very early age, such as drawing, and others who have interests that point to a direction they will take later on, such as tinkering with mechanics and finding out how things work which might point to a direction in science and/or engineering.
At this stage, as parents, you marvel at your child’s precociousness and are constantly surprised by his or her curiosity. For your child, it is a time for finding out how the world works; for you it is time to get to know your child and how he or she ‘works’. You need to guide your child on his or her quest to find out about the world. Once your child has mastered the basics of what is age-appropriate learning, the world is your oyster in terms of what you can find out about together. You can follow your child’s interests and passions and use these to teach him or her how to find their own resources. You can learn about whatever you come across that sparks your child’s interest and see how far a particular avenue takes you both.
As far as it is possible and appropriate, ignore age recommendations on resources. If you feel your child is ready for it and it is not going to harm him or her in any way, you can use it. Look around for opportunities to develop areas of interest. For example, if your child is interested in Japan go to the library to see what information you can find there. Find out about the cuisine see whether you can make some Japanese food to try together. What is available on the internet that is appropriate for younger children about Japanese culture? Are there any exhibitions you could visit together?
- Let your child take the lead
- Follow his or her interests and provide opportunities to expand these interests
- Use questions as an opportunity to learn together.
Ages 5 – 9
At this age, most children are in a school context, although a significant number of gifted children are in alternative education such as flexischooling or homeschooling. Whatever your child’s educational situation, if you’re lucky his or her learning may be stretched and they may receive appropriate level work and pace in some areas. However, it is unlikely that he or she has the perfectly suited educational diet, leaving them frustrated some of the time.
It is important that children of this age learn to experience challenges some of the time so that they get used to having to put effort in, building skills of resilience, goal setting and persistence, as well as going through the emotions involved in struggle and subsequent success.
Challenges should be set in an area of your child’s strength for two reasons. Firstly, this is likely to be where some of his or her interests lie, and secondly, this will help your child’s self-esteem through both feeling understood and able to work on something they enjoy.
Praising effort rather than achievement is a good way of making sure your child is on track to the ‘growth’ mindset that will help him or /her to succeed in the future, as this will help them to value trying hard to improve their skills rather than being able to do something with ease.
One way of providing opportunities for your child to experience challenge and learn the skills of resilience, persistence and goal-setting is to allow them to learn a skill over a period of time, such as a musical instrument or a martial art. Very few people find these skills easy and have to work to overcome barriers at times. It doesn’t matter at this stage that your child may not continue to learn that skill later on, as it is the additional benefits this type of learning provides that will reap rewards in the long run.
- Challenges set in at least one area of strength
- Praise effort rather than achievement
- Learn a skill over a period of time to develop resilience, persistence and goal-setting.
Ages 9 – 14
At about the age of 9 years old and later, some gifted children demonstrate where his or her particular passion lies through a high level of learning and intense interest, and others continue to show an interest and ability in several different areas.
Whatever your child’s type, between the ages of 9 and 14, he or she can learn the mental skills needed to lead to outstanding success later on. These are:
- Ability to focus
- Emotional control.
At this age not only is it important for your child to be working at his or her own level and pace in at least one area, it is also very effective for them to have some sort of ‘mentor’ in this area. The mentor should be someone who will promote hard work and discipline, teach the mental skills needed to succeed and provide encouragement. It is well-known by researchers that this kind of support is very effective in supporting young musicians or young athletes. This kind of approach has been used very rarely to support academically gifted children and no research has been done about it, but individuals have reported that a mentor or coach-type relationship helped them on their journey to success.
There are currently very few arrangements for gifted children that you can tap into to support your child in these ways, rather you will need to search out individual teachers or tutors to act as a mentor for your child in his or her chosen area of development. However, knowing what you are looking for should help in this search. You could, of course, attempt to fulfil this role yourself, but this will take time to learn alongside your child, your commitment to understand an area of interest that is not necessarily yours, and a lot of patience!
Being in the company of other like-minded thinkers is reported to be of great value for motivation and support in developing a child’s confidence and motivation. A place to belong where others have similar interests and ability gives a sense of freedom and self-esteem to a child who often feels out-of-place.
- Development of an area of interest / strength
- Mentor to work with them in this area
- Company of like-minded peers to help confidence and motivation.
Supporting your child in their areas of interest and strength are crucial to their chances of success at a high level later on in life. You can do this through valuing your child’s efforts and creativity in these areas, and through providing opportunities for them to develop both his or her areas of interest and strength, and his or her mental skills that can lead to outstanding success.