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Nurturing Child with Above Average Abilities

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My son is 6.5 years old and is currently in class 1. Having watched him grow all these years has made us believe that he has a very sharp brain that needs to nurtured carefully.

To give a few examples, he was able to identify numbers up to 99,999 before the age of 3 years. Not only that, he was able to rearrange digits to form a give number up to 99,999 easily. And he picked it up all by himself.

He was also able to identify colors very well at an early age of 1 year and could differentiate between a 'blue' and an 'aqua' correctly in addition to being able to differentiate between dark and light shades of any given color. He has also been excellent with shapes (not only simple shapes but complex 3D shapes). He has also shown a lot of creativity in giving names to things instantly and then remembering them over a long period of time. He is also keen observer and had always surprised us with what all detail he notices and remembers.

He has a knack of mastering something quickly and persists till the time he has mastered it. Once he has done that, he simply quits that activity. And he gets very upset if he is not able to get it right.

At school, he is fast learner but tends to loose interest if something gets repeated. We feel that he is not getting the stimulus that he needs at school and this worries us the most.

The questions we have are obvious:

  • What we should do for him to enhance his capabilities and keep him stimulated

  • What activities are good for him? (this in addition to what he learns and does at school.)

  • How much is too much for him? We certainly would not want to push him too much.

A: It is quite obvious that your son has above average abilities since he was very young. And the fact that he has maintained and developed the abilities shows that you have been doing the right things to help him.

You are right to be concerned that he may burn-out if not given the right stimulus to help him keep up with his intellectual hunger. Having a gifted child and more importantly, maintaining his gifts can be very challenging for parents - especially if the school does not recognize his needs.

Firstly, provide him with a variety of materials that would interest him. Variety is the key word here - gifted children need to be challenged and would get easily bored with repetition (which is happening at school). While there is little that can be done to change how the school deals with a gifted child, you may want to do all you can at home. Different ways of learning is also essential - expose him to different exposure to allow exploration. Gifted children are very curious and love to explore. At school, since he is probably way ahead of his peers and doing well, teachers may feel that he does not need much help and can be quite independent in learning. However, this may cause them to literally exert minimal mental effort - which eventually causes boredom. This is where he needs help at home.

Next, good activities equates to a variety of activities that challenges him. Activities in school may be monotonous and suitable for the majority. For a gifted child, you may need to put in much more effort. For e.g., if he learns about insects at school, different activities can include learning further with an encyclopedia, going on a nature trip to actually see real insects (do adhere to safety measures here), getting toy insects, getting a movie/documentary on insects - all used to teach him further in a much more interesting manner. The same can be done with other subjects.

It is very natural for parents of gifted children to be concerned about pushing their children versus challenging them. One way of understanding whether you are pushing or challenging them is your personal motivation. In your interests are generally to enable the child to get good grades and excel at school, you may be pushing the child without even realizing it. Gifted children, if pushed rather than challenged may lead to burnout and eventually mediocrity in life. Giving more difficult tasks is not the same as giving more challenging tasks. Children can get bored with more difficult work which is not challenging. Therefore, difficulty levels can be increased gradually with more challenging and interesting tasks.

Note that your son may not be interested in everything you may want him to do that you feel may help him with his learning. This is just natural, which is why a variety of educational exposure is crucial here. If one doesn’t work, another may probably do the job. As parents, we need to guide and show some direction to our children, but pushing may not show results. Bear in mind that gifted children are children after all and may not know what is best for them. So parents need to help here - but to force the child to do something s/he is not interested in (and appears more like the parents’ interest rather than the child’s), even after a variety of teaching methods may imply that the child is having some problems grasping the concept or is just not his cup of tea. This is when parents need to move on and allow some space for the child. After all, loving and accepting the child as s/he is the best that any parent can do for a child.

Happy parenting!


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