top of page

How to Nurture a Gifted Child

What defines a gifted child? Britannica wrote it succinctly, 'Gifted child, any child who is naturally endowed with a high degree of general mental ability or extraordinary ability in a specific sphere of activity or knowledge.' Some parents tell me, often explicitly in front of their child, that they don't expect their child to be a 'genius', smart or excel in school. Setting a low or no expectation has danger in itself. But telling the child you do not harbour any high expectation of him/her, yet questioning the child when he/she doesn't thrive in school is a common contradiction that confuses the child and results in mixed outcomes. But that aside, a gifted child is simply a child presented with high mental ability. The higher mental ability shouldn't translate only to perfect grades. It is a waste of the child's gift to confine it to studying and scoring good grades. The high mental ability should be thought of as a key to unlock a talent that the child can harness and contribute to making our world a better place. As a parent, the obligation is helping the gifted child identify his/her talent. When my first child spoke her first word (apple) at one month old, it sparked my passion in early education and optimising human potential. As she grows up, we continue to discover her strengths and guide her to harness them. A while ago, she took a cognitive test and it was wrongly administered. She took one that was meant for two years older, but she did exceptionally well on that test. It got the attention of the school, and forced a parenting review if we had been giving her the rightful amount of attention with our work schedule and needs of three children. Some pivoting is required. Below is an article I wrote a few years ago and it is included in my book, Right From The Mind. I find myself reading my own notes again and gaining new insight. On Raising A Gifted Child The Godfather of intelligence studies may just be Lewis Madison Terman who came up with IQ measurement. He is known for his studies on intelligence and children, if high IQ in children would translate to intellectual success as adults. Terman found that high IQ children are usually marked by being unusually precocious when young and are more likely to turn out well in later lives. Julian Stanley’s Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY), one of the longest-running current longitudinal survey of intellectually talented children, identifies high potential children and tracks their careers and accomplishments over time. The study finds the gifted children, nurture their intellect, transform them and enhance their ability to change the world. Over the years, the study has inspired similar institutions, provided data that generated more than 400 papers and many books. Most importantly, the survey provides insights for parents who are interested in investing in their child’s intellectual ability. How do we raise a gifted child? 1. We need to find different ways to measure intelligence. A famous longitudinal studies on intelligence precedes the SMPY. In 1921, Lewis Terman’s Genetic Studies of Geniuses selected youth on the basis of high IQ scores. Two notable rejections by Terman’s study was William Shockley, the Nobel Prize winning co-inventor of the transistor, and Luis Alvarez, another Nobel Prize winning Physicist. In 1972, SMPY used the mathematics portion of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) to measure the analytical reasoning ability of the candidates. With time, the institute moved on to other forms of measurement. In 1976, SMPY tested out spatial ability as a gauge. Tests for spatial ability might include matching objects that are seen from different perspectives. Julian Stanley was interested to find out if spatial ability was a better predictor of educational and occupational outcomes. Spatial ability plays a major part in creativity and technical innovation and participants who scored high in spatial ability but marginally impressive in mathematics turn out to be exceptional engineers, architects and surgeons. 2. Accelerate, not remedy When SMPY first started, the paths for intellectually gifted children are limited in choices. They still are. Our current education system is designed for a mass cohort and conforming each child to being average. A child is expected to become an average learner of a range of pre-selected subjects. Attention is often drawn to a child’s weakness, helping the child catch up or even repeating a grade when a child shows weakness in certain subjects. But what SMPY realizes is that there was no need to re-invent new ways of teaching the elite children. What these children need appropriate challenges when they need it. The SMPY data supports the idea of allowing fast learners to skip grades and accelerating them. On a modest level, a mild form of intervention such as allowing the child access to more challenging materials to what interests them has demonstrable results. Attention should be shifted to a child’s strengths and nurturing further passion and excellence. 3. No one-size-fits-all What is clear from the SMPY data is that children should not be arbitrarily lumped together according to their age in a classroom that forces them to learn the same outcomes at the same pace. There have been much resources dedicated to evaluating and reforming the current education system around the world, such as improving teachers’ standards, teaching methods, promoting active learning, finding the ideal classroom size or the optimal teacher-to-student ratio. These various solutions at a top-down level may filter down to each child asymmetrically and do not address a parent’s true concerns. What can a parent do to optimize his own child’s development? Perhaps what we should do is revert to basics by allowing education on a grass root level, small institutions with narrower mandates to cater a niche group of students. Resources and effort should be dedicated to creating techniques to measure a child’s interest and strengths, and to educating parents in using such information to chart their child’s personalized learning. 4. The X-Factor Despite the many insights from SMPY, researchers are still confounded by the missing links in the relationship between giftedness and achievement. At the high end of the intellectual spectrum, there is still disparity in the educational and occupational outcomes. What happens with these bright children? There are simply many more factors other than intelligence that contribute to one’s success outcomes. Other intellectual-talent studies look at qualities such as motivation, grit, curiosity, ability to cope with stress, emotional intelligence, social skill, creativity, family support among others. As I mentioned at the start of this chapter, there is a distinction between intelligence and intelligent ability. What does it mean to maximize our child’s potential? Potential is a ceiling that moves forward as our fingers nearly touches it. Our child may never exceed his potential but in the quest of optimizing his potential, it can be a rewarding journey. If there is one takeaway, it is the recognition that every child has his/her own unique composition of intelligence and learning ability. Instead of forcing the child to fit a system, we should recognize our child’s learning ability, seek to optimize the knowledge he/she would acquire and continuously improve the child’s cognitive ability. This is why as Trinity Kids evolves and updates its curriculum with time, we strive to define intelligence broadly. We are not preparing our students for one current school system. We are preparing our children for life. Tags: gifted music intelligence parenting human potential mind development IQ gifted education

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter


bottom of page