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Raising A Gifted Child

There is an anecdote told about the Padma Shri winning Malayalam writer Vaikom Muhammad Bashir. It is said that when he was four, he did not agree with his teacher that one plus one was two and insisted that the answer was “The Big One”. According to Basheer, there was a river that flowed in front of his house and another one that flowed behind his house. When these rivers met at a distance they became a big river, hence his answer. The teacher was so perplexed by his disagreement and his explanation for the same that he did what he thought was fit to do, he punished him. Thankfully we live in a slightly different time but still not exactly in a time where such an approach could be rewarding.

Any parent that ever holds a child looks upon it as a gift. Parents project an entire future on a child that can barely hold its head. Yet this anticipated future takes various myriad shapes for each of that child. It is a good test of endurance, energy and character on the part of the parent. And we often wonder where exactly to channel our energy so that we can help our child reach its potential.

Every parent is facing an entirely different challenge in the largely pedagogical learning environment of our current education system. Some of us have children that are a bundle of energy who can certainly do better at sports, some of us have a child that is gifted in language but does not do well at mathematics. In such an atmosphere what do we do as a parent if we have child that is extremely gifted in the realm of arts or creativity?

Why Is This A “Problem”?
If you are wondering what exactly is the challenge here, it is this. As it often happens, these gifted children that can easily grasp abstract concepts find it very hard to do well in mainstream teaching methods at school.

We live in different times than our childhood and mostly it has changed for the better. Parents are not only aware of the value of education but they are aware that we ought to give a wholesome environment to the child for a complete personality development. In fact, children are loaded with more extracurricular activities than ever before.

The truth is most of our teaching is extremely didactic. This is because most of the average children possess skills that fall under this category. These academic skills involve basic skills of language and numeracy, if there are concepts that are harder to grasp it is an accepted norm to take the route of rote learning. Since the aim for many of the parents is to get their child into an economically rewarding career, the attitude is lenient towards deeper understanding of concepts. Most of these academic skills will be filtered out in the process of higher education. There is no scope for judgment here since in all certainty this approach does help in teaching the child the basics of education till s/he becomes equipped to learn skills of the world.

However, if a child has a natural bent for creativity, it will prove detrimental to the child’s growth and self confidence to push the child into learning something that does not quench the child’s thirst for the education it seeks. As we all know our current education will not create a space where such talent can be rewarded. Hence it is the parents’ responsibility to create a balanced atmosphere where the boon does not became a bane.

How Do You Know You Have A Gifted Child?
The term “gifted” has become a bit redundant. The media portrays such children as something of a miracle, as someone who speaks eight languages at the age of three, or spurts out symphonies before they can even speak, or solves complex mathematical problems before other children can recite their tables. Although it is true that such genius exists, there is also an other end to the spectrum where such talent is not fully realised till adulthood. If that sounds depressing you will be happy to know that the other spectrum includes people like Einstein who could not (or did not!?) speak till he was three.

The truth is that most of these children may not show any signs of any skills till a certain age. Sometimes they lack even the basic motor skills that their peers possess, or they might be disinterested in participating in games or other activities that children around them are doing.

It would be best to consider this period as their gestation period, where they are quietly observing, absorbing and understanding the world around them in their own unique mental patterns. A “normal” person might wonder why it takes so long for the child to understand the things that other children have easily understood. Then the difference here is the complexity of understanding itself. There might be some children who understand the world as a list of protocols, who will never question if one plus one could be three or four, and then there are those who want to know, “why not?”

Another instance would be where a child is extremely talented in using linguistic skills. While other kids are learning grammar lessons and vocabulary, this child might already have a great understanding intonations, rhetoric and other dynamics of how language functions.

In all of these instances, there definitely will be a learning curve where the child has to learn the rules before learning how to break them and what other creative possibilities it might have.

What Talents Should Be Considered As “Gifted”?
Take anything around you that did not naturally exist and was created by somebody and possessing that skill would be being “gifted”. From the very complex but easy-to-use smartphone, to the aesthetic furniture, to the recipes in the kitchen, everything that was created through a unique, innovative approach is a gift of creativity.
If you are looking for more concrete categories, some of these talents could be anything from creative writing, to painting, to singing or other performance arts. Anything that involves great insight, understanding and creativity can be considered gifted. But the “gift” also lies in nurturing it.

How Can The Gift Be Realised?
As I mentioned earlier, there is no dearth of extra-curricular learning. But instead of pushing the child in any or every direction, the child can benefit greatly if their own interest lies in the activity. It can be easy to find out if the child is interested in subjects like Math/Science, or Performing Arts or other skills like Painting. If it is not evident through their own behaviour, even a friendly discussion can throw some light on what they are interested.

While some talents are easy to spot some might be hard to pinpoint. For instance, if the child is interested in linguistic skills or scientific, it will not be clear as there are no set parameters of how to gauge these skills. A child that has potential to write, will express interest in poetry and storytelling but those are traits found in all children, however a major difference would be that these children will be found to make up their own stories.
While this discovery is taking place, there should be minimal pressure on academic excellence. Any pressure or any show of embarrassment can affect these sensitive minds deeply.

Really there are no rules to gauging how creatively blessed a child is. Old school theories say these traits are born. According to some modern experts, all creativity can be achieved by training the brain. The truth might be somewhere in-between.

The best a parent can do is to let the child discover their potential at their own pace. Most likely such a gift has a voracious appetite, but it is possible that all this absorption of knowledge is happening internally and there are no visible external signs for a long time. Then it would be best to have patience and provide with the best encouragement possible at that time.

Ashwini is proud mother of a seven year old daughter. A few years into matrimony she realised she could not stay away from books and be just a good housewife. She was saved Buddha’s Golden Mean and now writes (or tries to,) on the Internet while being a homemaker. She can be found at Cinnamon Rose.