Gifted Children: Getting the Balance Right
By Michael Grose
One of the challenges for parents with a gifted child is to
encourage them to develop a range of interest outside the academic
sphere that not only rounds them out but stops them from being
isolated from their peers Gifted children are a diverse group of
kids who are talented in specific areas such as mathematics,
language, sport or music. Some gifted kids are mutli-talented
excelling in a variety of areas.
Gifted children tend to be passionate and single-minded about their
interests focusing their energy on the topics that absorb them,
often to the exclusion of other activities.
Just as all children need to have a balanced diet to remain in good
health they need a balance between work and play to make sure they
develop good social networks and maintain emotional health. That
means that parents need to guide these children towards leisure-time
options that they wouldnít normally consider.
Work from strengths
One way to encourage a gifted child to be more well-rounded is to
get them to lead with their strengths. In other words, it maybe that
a computer whiz meets up with other like-minded souls but extend the
meetings to activities away from the computer. Or an artistic child
can be encouraged to develop her literacy skills by adding simple
stories to their illustrations. Balance for gifted children doesnít
necessarily mean that they spend an equal amount of time in every
area but making sure that they donít become isolated as a result of
their gift. Parents may need to be part social director gently
insisting that children set aside time for play and other social
activities. The courage to be imperfect
Gifted children are often low risk-takers in areas or endeavors that
are not their passions or strengths. Used to automatically excelling
they fear doing things poorly so exceptionally capable children can
be reluctant to attempt unknown or different tasks. Often
exceptional kids give up when they are not automatically good at
something. It takes some personal courage to step into the unknown
and actually attempt tasks where they donít automatically excel or
feel that they can control.
It helps to be direct with these children about their perfectionism.
Discuss with them that it is normal to be strong in some areas but
not as capable in others. Also these children need to understand
that learning in areas they feel uncomfortable can take much longer
and require more effort than they are used to. It can be quite a
shock for talented kids to find that something doesnít come easily
Parents can push too hard
Some gifted young children slow down their learning when they start
school as they focus their time and energy on making friends. In
terms of fitting in to social settings this is essential however
parents who are proud of their childís achievements can become quite
anxious at this apparent shift in interest away from learning. It is
time like this that parents need to step back and follow their
childís lead and recognize that different stages of development
require children quite naturally to focus on different interests and
One of the most difficult tasks for a parent is to engineer
circumstances so that children can make friends. Some children make
friends naturally while others can be slow to warm up around their
peers. Some gifted kids can have difficulty making friends among
their own age group as their language or level of interests donít
match. In short, the world they inhabit, their interests and the
language they use can be so foreign to their peers that they have
little in common.
Peers have a strong influence on gifted children, encouraging them
to try new activities and move away from their passions for a while.
Parents need to take an active role in encouraging peer group
interactions Ė organizing joint play sessions with young children
and providing extra-curricular activities for school-aged children.
Often children become less involved in solitary activities when they
begin to interact with their peers who exert a strong influence on
their activity preferences.
Being part of the family
Family life can be a great leveler for gifted children. A sibling
can bring a talented child back to earth, letting them know that
they may be a star at school or in sport but their talent pulls no
rank at home. Jobs need to be done, games can played and big heads
can be easily deflated. Sometimes in families talented children can
be given special privileges or compensation from doing chores. This
is unhelpful as the normal processes of family-life helps gifted
children stay firmly grounded and not get carried away with their
A well-rounded young person
Talented kids can become self-absorbed in their interests and
passions to the detriment of developing broader interests and in
some cases social interactions. With a little coaching and prompting
parents can help children achieve balance in their lives so that
they donít become isolated and rely on a narrow set of interests for
their identity and self esteem. The prime aim of parents, regardless
of their childrenís talent is to help them become confident,
well-rounded members of whatever groups they belong to.
Michael Grose is Australia's leading parenting educator. He is the author of six books and gives over 100 presentations a year and appears regularly on television, radio and in print.
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