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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 wouldn’t 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 doesn’t necessarily mean that they spend an equal amount of time in every area but making sure that they don’t 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 endeavours 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 don’t 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 doesn’t come easily to them!
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 child’s 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 child’s lead and recognise that different stages of development require children quite naturally to focus on different interests and events.
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 don’t 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 – organising 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 own passions.
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 don’t become isolated and rely on a narrow set of interests for their identity and self esteem. The prime aim of parents, regardless of their children’s talent is to help them become confident, well-rounded members of whatever groups they belong to.