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Living With a Child Prodigy
|by Radha Joshi|
Raising a gifted child can be both an exhilarating and exhausting experience. Unfortunately, these complicated bundles of joy do not come with an operating manual. It is very easy to identify a gifted child, but extremely difficult to handle him through his growing years, so that he develops optimally. In a way the task at hand of parents of gifted children is as daunting and challenging as those of handicapped or retarded children. Our world struggles to understand anyone who is different. It is immaterial whether the difference is a shortcoming or an excess of any particular ability.
Gifted children have certain characteristic traits which are synonymous with those of children suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Mood Disorders and other signs of anomalies. They require the same amount of care and treatment as mentally retarded or physically handicapped children. However, gifted children are at times a psychological risk because of their inherent characteristics and situational factors. They are often misunderstood by their own parents and society alike, who tend to associate them with having behavioural disorders.
Some peculiar traits of gifted children are: independent, self reliant which may appear unconventional as they reject parent or peer inputs. Versatility is another characteristic of gifted children. They are able to handle many tasks with superb ease. However, this leads to a high sense of frustration over lack of time. Also they can sense the raised expectation of their parents and buckle under slightest of pressure. Fear of not performing well at times overshadows the child’s gift, thus leading to depression. A strong sense of righteousness exists in the brain of a gifted child. As such they appear “bossy” to other children. They exhibit a sense of perfection, idealism and intolerance for mistakes.
In their first flush of pride parents of a gifted child make a grave mistake of showcasing their child to the world. When a two-year-old shows that he can read hoardings in a market place or when a three year old can do additions with the ease of a six year old, parents feel its time to celebrate as their child is “an Einstein in the making”. They force him to perform in front of relatives and in school. In turn they end up trampling his gift with their own feet. First rule in understanding a gifted child is that he lacks social and emotional balance. His vision of the world does not correspond to a normal vision. He is stage-shy and fears the unknown. It is important to accept his fear and parents have to learn to control their ambitions for the sake of their child. To treat him like a genius would be to destroy his gift for ever. It is very important for parents to accommodate his emotional and social shortcomings before encouraging his gift for flourishing.
To add to the plight of such fortunate parents is that very little research material is available on gifted children and ways in dealing with them. The many talents of gifted children and their complex personality traits are interlinked. There is no single way of handling such children. Parents can learn from each other’s experiences in dealing with their prodigies.
While it is important for parents to take the unique talent of the child in their stride, it is equally important for them to teach the child to take his differences as normal. The gifted child should not feel that his talents make him look abnormal among his peers, nor should he elate over his special abilities to the extent that he becomes a misfit in his society. He has to learn that it is neither admirable nor contemptible to be highly gifted. It is what one does with one's ability that is important.
However, to bring about this balance is not as easy as it sounds. There is an innate desire in the gifted child to utilize his gift to its utmost. He wants to explore and understand beyond his years. Suppressing his talent may lead to crippling emotional damage. Yet overexposure to the world can also be disastrous. Gifted children need to be comfortable with themselves as well as with their talents. Every gifted child does not get a Nobel Prize or turn out to be a winner. However, his parents can enjoy parenthood if they can help him preserve his gift life-long and use it to the best of his ability.
It is not home environment alone that has to be adjusted to the vision of a gifted child. His school environment affects his personality as well. In a classroom of forty energetic children the gifted child feels lost. In a word he is a misfit. He already knows what the teacher would be teaching. His situation is that of a thirsty man who is forced to take in water drop by drop. The teacher has to move at a pace that matches the general level of intelligence. Consequently, the gifted child is not interested in the formal mode of teaching. He appears listless, performs careless mistakes, is naughty and moves around restlessly in the class. This could also be a description of a child with Attention Deficit Syndrome. Some of these special children have poor handwriting and some find the rote method of learning (which is essentially in the primary level) difficult.
Before the class teacher can label such a child as a lost case, a failure, the parents have to step in. At the beginning of the year parents of the gifted child have to acquaint the class teacher with his unique abilities saddled with his sensitive and highly strung nature. All this has to be done to give the child a conducive atmosphere for the growth of his talents and foremost for adjusting the child to the normal school routine. Patience is the key factor and the teachers as well as the parents have to exhibit this trait in their dealing with the exceptionally talented prodigy. There is no ideal school programme to deal with such children. Again parental guidance is crucial as they know their child best and with the help of the class teacher they can settle or ‘socialise’ their special child with his classmates.
Emotionally insecure the wonder kid needs a safe home, a set of parents who understand his uniqueness and care for him. With strong family support and assistance from the school this child prodigy can be adjusted in the society with ease and he can lead a life of productivity and fulfillment.
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