The ‘gifted’ child is a myth, and this is why it’s good news

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A study found that being a child prodigy doesn't automatically mean success later on in life.

We all grew up knowing at least one prodigy of our generation. The books we read, the TV we watched as a child made us wish we had a unique talent. In school, there used to be someone who was exceptional in studies or sports, and we would have happily traded places with them.

However, if you try and find out what that person is doing today, you will be surprised to know that he/she is probably living an ordinary life. That person is not exponentially successful than you. And, if you analyse the childhoods of exceptionally successful people today, you will again be surprised at how ordinary they were as children.

Are children born talented?

Everyone is born with an innate ability to survive. This manifest as reflexes early on in life. Most of us are born with this, and only this. But when it comes to being talented at something, there is no scientific evidence that a child is born with an advanced understanding of arts, music, or mathematics.

Why then are a few children better than others, when it comes to these things? The reason is a combination of factors leading to the development of 'talent' in these children. To start with, they have an early exposure to the said disciplines. If a child listens to music right since birth, he might have a natural inclination to it. Having a parent as a musician helps immensely.

Secondly, it depends on the interest the child shows towards that discipline. When a child gives his attention to a particular skill without distraction, chances are he will be good at it. Distractions play an important, albeit negative role in the uptake of a skill. If a child finds surrounded by easier choices to spend his time, even interest is not going to be enough for him to pay attention towards the development of skill.

And lastly, and probably the most important reason for a child to be really good at something, is repetition. As the brain of a child develops, he starts exploring his boundaries. As he grows up, the exposure to new things comes at a much faster pace. It is like watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - suddenly, the pace of the events accelerate. And so, if he picks up a skill and does not practice it over and over, it will soon be overshadowed by some other skill he picks up.

And that is what happens with all of us. We are good at something. It is just that that particular thing does not have a 'wow' factor associated with it.

The great news: success and genius can be replicated

As a child, Charlie Chaplin was not a brilliant actor, musician, director, or even a comedian. After a difficult childhood, his interest in music led him to a career as a tap dancer. It was all hard work and patience that led to his success.

Recent studies in the field of psychology have found conclusive evidence that any talent can be mastered with repetition. In fact, IQ is not a figure etched in stone, and it changes with time. So, children showing slow progress as a child, like Einstein can end up doing monumental work later on in life.

How to help our children

We all want our children to be successful. And the good news is, we now know the secret behind success. Here are the 4 things you need to do to give that boost to your progeny.

1# Be involved early

It has been found out that children of parents who show an interest in the pre-school activities of a child, for instance, reading, tend to do much better as a young adult. A team from Oxford and London universities conducted the Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary study. They studied about 3000 children over a duration of 15 years. Three very relevant findings of these studies were

  • Children who had early years education gained higher English and mathematics GCSE results and were more likely to achieved five or more GCSEs at grades A*C.
  • Children who had experienced high quality pre-school education were better at self-regulation, social behavior and less inclined to hyperactivity.
  • Children who had experienced high quality pre-school settings were more likely to follow a post-16 academic path.

So, get involved in your child's education as early as you can.

2# Be a positive role model

A spin-off of this study is even more startling. 24 out of those 300 children who ended up being successful later on in life came from a low-resource setting. 80% of them lived in deprived conditions. The only thing that kept driving them on was a positive role model in their life.

The role model - a parent or an adult whom they trusted had stressed the importance of education and hard work at school. And that was the driving force behind these children. Just by giving an honest motivational talk, these adults transformed the futures of these children for good.

As a parent, you can influence your child's future by doing the same.

3# Stress the importance of perseverance

Talent alone is not going to ensure success for your child. The difference between the average Joe and probably Einstein is that the latter would consider the problem at hand for a bit longer.

With the present day distractions, it is easy for the child to give up. Instead of burdening him with a new language and music lessons, encourage him to deepen his existing knowledge and repeat. That is why the more successful musicians put in on an average 2000 hours of extra practice than their peers. This difference is what ensures success for many.

4# Deglamourise success

A good way to ensure that your child achieves something is by making it seem attainable. And the best way to do it is to remove the glamour around the achievement. If you feel that your child needs to perform better at the PSLEs, the first thing you need to do is to stop making a big deal out of the examination.

The next thing you need to do is to encourage him to plan his studies. If he needs additional help, be sure to offer it. However, let him first assess his own strengths before bombarding him with comments and suggestions.

Lastly, don't forget that there are thousands of Singaporeans who faired great at the PSLEs, but are working the same jobs as the ones who did not. At the end of the day, it is important that your child finds joy at his choice of career as he finds in his avocation.

Republished with permission from: theAsianParent Singapore

READ: 5 Ways to nurture a child who’s smarter than average

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