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Gifted Children - Born or Made?

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: We are a Hungarian family living in the UK. We have a boy who was born in the UK, he will be 3 in this summer. He speaks Hungarian, English and learning German in the nursery. He is very clever and he always was. He is gifted for us. He knows letters, spells words, write some letters and numbers, counting up to 99, adding number up to 10 in both languages. He can recognise his name (Robin) and his classmates name in the nursery. He is very good in computing (internet, painting, educational game, Skype, MSN etc). He has just started to learn on the violin. His concentration is very good on things that he is interested in it. We can speak about everything (bad or good things). We always have "big chats" about "big things". I can hear he already has a sense of humour and reasoning skill in our language, but it does not come in English. He does not speak English with us, just in the nursery, but he is able to think both languages. In the nursery they told me they do not know if he is gifted or just very bright (has a very good memory).

Then I started to think what gifted means, who is a genius? I think gifted children are not born they are made by parents. We raise a gifted child. I do not believe for anybody who is telling me her children learned to read by himself. When a child ask you which letter is it mummy and you say it is the letter "a" from the kitchen when you are cooking, is still teaching a child. Just some parents teach their children on purpose and some by accident. Some children let their parents to teach them some do not. My son is very good in computing and counting, because his father is a software developer and I am an accountant. That is what he sees at home. He likes letters and reading because he would like to read a book just like us.

I decided I am going to help him become a gifted child. In the next year he will learn Spanish and proper reading, writing and basic Maths by the age of 4. We have done this for a couple of moths. Every day he asks me what we are going to learn mummy. Of course learning does not mean sitting down for 1 hour and writing letters, reading book etc. It means PLAYING with educational toys as long as he likes. When I ask him in the morning where you go? He tells me I am going to work in the nursery. And I ask him what your job is? He tells me my job is to learn new things through playing to become cleverer. He tells me this because I explain to him that mummy has a job, daddy has a job what we need to do every day. His teacher told me he is more than ready for the school academically.

His teachers a bit worried about him, because he does not want to play with other children in the nursery. They told me he should play with toys and other kids not letters and numbers. Unfortunately he really does not like to play with his age group. But I think because he already realised that he knows a lot more than them and because of this he is interested in different things than his peers. And older children does not like to play with him, because he is so small. I really do not understand why he should play with toys like car etc., if he enjoy playing with educational toys (letters, numbers, beads, painting etc). He likes learning better than playing.

So all in one, I think our children become what they can learn and see at home. We can make them gifted with lots of learning and practice. And you can teach your children everything if you build a stable and loving relationship with them.

I would like to ask you what do you think about it? Do you think gifted children are made or are born? Do you think can it be harmful for him in any way (e.g.: emotionally)? Do you think it is a problem that he does not play with other children? I do not mean he never plays with children, just not so often.

I am really interested in the emotion side of it. He is academically more than ready for the school but how I can help him to be ready emotionally as well? How I can help him improve his self esteem, self confidence, and help him understand why other children do not want to play with him sometimes?

And what do you think about the pressure on children? What is the sign if I put to much pressure on him? I think until he likes spending time with me to learn new thing it is not problem or is it? Thank you very much for reading my e-mail.

A: You just asked a question that has been debated for years! Are gifted children born or made? It's a nature-nurture question and I believe both are equally important in raising a child regardless of whether the child is gifted or bright.

Firstly, let me define giftedness in general. Gifted children are children who show above average advancement on a range of human endeavours. The advancement could be set at about two to three years or more beyond his chronological age (or months if the child is very young). In terms of IQ this means from about the 95th percentile onwards, i.e. the child who scores above 95% or more of the children of his/her age - on a standardised intelligence test. There appears to be a very significant correlation between IQ scores and the potential of high achievement. However, IQ score is only a potential for achievement and should not be considered as absolute. The child could in fact have a higher potential, as achievement in a test can be affected by various indeterminate factors.

On the question of whether a gifted child is born or made, I believe they are born to parents who are also gifted (either one), which is the genetic or nature component. Giftedness is a potential, and left without intervention or further nurturance (the nurture component), it would lie dormant, but never lost. A child who is not gifted but given the proper educational intervention can do equally well compared to a gifted child who is not challenged. Giftedness is innate - brightness can be created. You cannot provide all the educational materials in the world to make a child gifted - but that child can certainly be bright and gain admission to an Ivy League university with all that help. Bright children are also more emotionally sound, as in within the normal range compared to gifted children who may feel isolated due to their gifts and especially when they feel that they are not understood or given the proper educational intervention. Gifted children who are doing well are the luckiest as they are receiving the best that they deserve. Gifted children with a disability may not even be considered as the focus is almost always concentrated on their weaknesses rather than their strengths. Gifted or not, a child needs help from parents - the difference is that a gifted child may be able to learn at a much faster speed with lesser help compared to an average child. There is so much to this, please refer to "Is Your Child Gifted?" for in-depth information.

Being gifted does not translate to having emotional issues. The problem lies when gifted children are not identified leading them to learn as the rest when they in fact need differentiation in education. It is also possible that they have emotional issues because their thoughts are so advanced and their peers are not able to understand them - hence, rather play with other like-minded children. Being gifted is not the norm, therefore, being a minority they may be left out and eventually feel isolated. This may cause some emotional disturbances, sometimes, so severe that clinical intervention is required.

Your son appears to enjoy playing with people who understand him. But since he is still playing with other kids his age, I believe it is fine. You may want to help encourage him to play with other kids by providing the environment for him. Or helping him find peers who have similar interests and passion. He appears to be very interested in learning, which is excellent. But being on his own too much may become his comfort zone especially at such a young age and it may be harder and harder for him to penetrate into other social circles. So, you may need to help him mingle with other kids. Try it out - it may not even be as hard as you would think. Children make friends easily and can adapt naturally.

One way is perhaps to provide him the learning her needs with other kids. This is similar to homeschooling just that it can be done after school as enrichment. He will then learn how to enjoy learning who other people and perhaps enjoy it even more. If his peers are far from him intellectually, you may want to give him more stimulating tasks as compared to his peers (this may be done at school as well).

I believe that you are doing the right thing and he appears to be flourishing very well. Keep it up and you will see a very happy, gifted child in your home. I don't think you are pressuring him in any way. Perhaps, what you may need to do a little more is to provide him with more environments that allow him to mingle and socialise. This would be helpful for his emotional well-being.

Last but not least, forget the nature-nurture debate and just love your child and help him maximise his potential to the fullest regardless of whether he is gifted, bright or even a genius. He is your child first and that is what he will always be. As long as you are giving him the best that you can, you are doing the right thing. There is no one special way of parenting a gifted child. But if you are aware of his gifted and willing to put in that extra effort, you will surely help your child a long way.

The sum it up; a gifted child is born; a bright child can be made. Here's wishing you all the best in your wonderful parenting journey..


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