Precocious children often show advanced development in areas such as language, mathematical ability or reasoning skills, compared with their peers. If your child exhibits some of the traits mentioned in the previous article on bright sparks, read on to find out how you can help yours develop early signs of intelligence to reach his or her full potential.
1. Nurture according to your child’s cognitive development
Given the number of enrichment centres and courses which contain the words “Brain”, “Mind”, “Genius” or “Gifted” in them, one can perhaps guess that the concern of many Singaporean parents is for their children’s intellectual development, so as to give them a head start in school and life.
However, Dr David Walsh, author of Smart Parenting, Smarter Kids advises in his book, “Brain Science has spawned an entire industry of ‘brain products and programs’ aimed at anxious parents. Some are good while others are modern-day snake oil… Don’t get taken in by every product or program that guarantees to turn your child into a genius.”
Rather, he suggests that parents “learn as much as you can about your child’s brain development to gain realistic expectations of your child’s behaviour.”
For instance, research has shown that “the language centres in a baby’s brain thrive on real-person interaction” and “babies cannot develop phonemic awareness (the ability to manipulate speech sounds in a given language) from listening to audio recordings or watching TV or videos.” Therefore, “all those products promising brilliant babies or infant second-language fluency don’t work” and parents should invest more time in interacting with their children through playing, talking and reading instead.
2. Follow your child’s cue
While parents of promising kids may be eager for their children to learn more or progress faster, Tony Busan, author of Brain Child, cautions against “hot-housing” children by “ ‘force-feeding’ children information, usually against their will, in order to make them into little geniuses” as this can have “serious negative repercussions”.
Rather, he suggests that parents “be led by the child herself. Don’t force her in directions she doesn’t want to go. Let all learning be a joy and pleasure. Encourage her in all her interests and abilities and be prepared to facilitate her learning at all times.”
For example, parents of a dinosaur-obsessed pre-schooler should not “become impatient and try to get her to move on to another subject” but rather, “ask sensible dinosaur questions” because “this kind of learning is developing her memorising ability and learning skills for all her future learning.” Parents can also use this interest to lead on to other related topics, such as geography, history or zoology.
3. Facilitate your child’s discovery process
Dr S. Tan, who specialises in early language development, suggests that parents can find their child’s strengths and encourage him or her to grow in these areas through age appropriate play. Nurture each child according to his or her own level, and provide guidance to help your child complete an activity if you find that it is just a bit above his or her ability.
For instance, an older child may be able to fit all the shapes into a shape-sorter, but a younger one may only be able to fit circles into holes and require help with other shapes. Instead of telling your child right away where to put the square, you could facilitate the learning process by turning the shape-sorter or your child’s hand to fit the square in the hole.”
Dr Tan explains: “The best learning opportunities are sometimes those which you discover yourselves, rather than being told what to do. Allowing your child to learn through discovery without giving him or her easy answers sets a pattern for lifelong learning.”
4. Provide down time
Tony Busan urges parents not to “fall into the trap of feeling that every moment of your life has to be filled up with purposeful activity” because “great thoughts and acts of creativity are generated” primarily when the brain is “relaxed and alone”, as evidenced by the lives and achievements of great minds like Newton or Einstein.
He notes that periods of rests, “which are part of your child’s play activity, are a vital part of the development of his composure, imagination, stress reduction and relaxation, creative thinking and humanity.”
Therefore, instead of only doing only structured, ‘educational’ activities with your child, such as viewing flash cards or conducting Science experiments, parents are encouraged to give their children time for “free play”. Even if your child appears to be daydreaming during this period, it is not a waste of time as he needs some “down time” to process the experiences of each day.
5. Nurture the Whole Child
While a child who develops faster than his peers may have a head start in life, being a bright child does not automatically translate to being successful in life. Dr Tan notes that “a person needs more than cognitive ability to get by in the real world. Social skills and emotional intelligence are equally, if not more, important.”
Christy, a stay-home mother of three, concurs. Although all her children were early developers and had qualified for the MOE’s Gifted Education Program (GEP) and / or Integrated Program (IP), she did not do things that specifically developed her children intellectually. Rather, she found it important to consciously nurture her children “in the area of character building, values assimilation, social interaction, emotional health management and spiritual nurturing.”
For example, she taught them to “handle praise with grace and humility, to be patient with others who may not grasp or comprehend subjects as quickly as they do and train them to channel their energies to helping those who are slower instead of feeling frustrated about having to wait for them.” She also “reminded them that every person’s worth is intrinsic and is not dependent on their intellect or abilities.”
Agreeing, a mother-of-one who is an alumnus of the GEP, recalled her childhood years, where high parental expectations and sustained pressure to perform eventually drove her to mental and emotional breakdown.
She reflected “Of greater importance than pushing your child intellectually is to love him unconditionally, and let him know that he has your support regardless of whether he is smart or not, or successful according to society’s yardsticks. When a child feels secure in his parents’ love, he will have courage to venture out and reach for new heights, and have the emotional resilience to accept failure when he falls. By providing that constant love and support, nurturing our children in their strengths, helping them along in areas of weakness and encouraging them to pursue their passions, we as parents, can empower our children to reach their full potential in life.”