In an earlier post, I wrote about exploring giftedness – Is my child gifted? So what if he is? In a bid to understand more about giftedness, I started watching a documentary series titled: “My Brilliant Brain“. In Part 1 – Born Genius (click the link to read my summary), they highlighted one of the biggest hurdles that child prodigies face – expectation. What makes a child a prodigy is his ability to do things that are not expected of a child his age. However, what is amazing at the age of 2 may not be amazing once that child grows up. The expectation, therefore, is for that child to continue developing at that amazing rate. But if he does not – for whatever reason – the repercussions can be enormous.
The same can be said regardless of whether a child is gifted or not. Any child that focuses solely on one area of development has the potential of falling into this pitfall. If a child grows up associating his value to a particular skill that he possesses a talent for and has spent numerous hours honing, he may feel a deep loss of “self-worth” once that skill is removed or lost – whether through injury, burnout, changing interests, or other. He may feel that he was only appreciated because he had that skill and once it is gone, he is “nothing”.
There is also the danger of parents getting over zealous. It is amazing when a child demonstrates so much potential at an early age and it is easy for parental excitement to over-take that of the child. Once a parent “wants it” more than the child, that’s when the danger arises. It is one thing to spur a child on with encouragement, but it is a totally different scenario if the child feels the pressure of being “pushed”. It can kill the child’s interest because what was once a joy becomes a chore.
“Young people like romance stories and war stories and good-and-evil stories and old movies because their emotional life mostly is and should be fantasy. They put that fantasized emotion into their playing, and it is very convincing. I had an amazing capacity for imagining these feelings, and that’s part of what talent is. But it dries up, in everyone. That’s why so many prodigies have midlife crises in their late teens or early 20s. If our imagination is not replenished with experience, the ability to reproduce these feelings in one’s playing gradually diminishes.”
While it is great to devote time to developing a skill, our children must also be given the opportunity to live life outside of that area of development. Not only will it be good for preventing burnout, it will also help to develop his skill by providing him with a “fresh” perspective.
Musicians often talked to me about whether you achieve brilliance on the violin by practicing for hours every day or by reading Shakespeare, learning physics and falling in love. “Maturity, in music and in life, has to be earned by living,” the violinist Yehudi Menuhin once said.
Although he talks from the perspective of developing musicians, I think the example can be extrapolated to all areas of study and development.
Perhaps the most important way we can help our children to avoid these pitfalls is to help them with character development. There is a tendency to focus on the development of talents, skills, academics, and other such areas – sometimes perhaps to the detriment of character development. But I believe it is character development that will have the greatest impact on all these areas. A child with values of persistence, perseverence, determination, and tenacity would be capable of so much – we’re coming back to the age old discussion of having a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset.
Qualities like resilience help a child get back up after ever fall. Let’s face it, life is full of setbacks. It is inevitable that our children will have to face these as they navigate through life. The best thing we can do for them is to help them learn to handle these disappointments.
How do we help children learn these values? We can read books that talk about values and specific traits and qualities, we can talk to our children, and we can give them experiences. I think the latter is by far the most valuable way for our children to learn.
Sometimes I wish I could go back and experience my life knowing what I know now. I wish I could have lived my life with the knowledge of how little a lot of things I worried about mattered. If I had known how trivial they were in the grand scheme of things, I might have enjoyed my life more and lived life more fully. If only someone had told me this when I was younger. Then again, would I have believed it if I was told it didn’t matter? Perhaps not because there are some things in life that we must learn for ourselves. Sometimes the best teacher is experience.
That’s probably the hardest thing a parent will ever have to do – stand back and watch their children make mistakes. As parents, our natural instinct is to protect our children, but if we swoop in to save them from every mistake they might possibly make, they will never have the opportunity to learn. The greatest education our children will ever receive is the lessons that life teaches them. Ms Frizzle from The Magic School Bus always encourages her students to “take chances, make mistakes and get messy!” And that is exactly what we should be encouraging our children to do. Our role as parents is to be there to support our children – whether to cheer them on or to help them pick up the pieces.