Monday, 30 January 2012

A few things I have learnt recently

As I learn from reading articles, blogs, books and websites regarding my son's evolving developmental/learning needs, I am more convinced than ever that each child's situation is unique.  There are many interacting dynamics that come into play to create that certain situation -- factors that need to be considered together yet separately in order to find an appropriate response.  I am listing some of my findings here in case they help anybody.  Please note that the following are based on my own observations pertaining to my particular circumstance.  I do not pretend to be an expert about anyone else's situation and have absolutely no interest in telling anybody how to parent their children.

1) Assess all environmental factors that might have given rise to a change in the child's behaviour and/or attitude.
Sometimes as parents faced with challenging behaviour in our children, it is easy to try to solve the immediate and most obvious problem by pinpointing the child's difficult behaviour.  However, that will only treat the 'symptoms' rather than the cause of the problem, especially for young children.  Young children often do not have the means to communicate their frustration/dissatisfaction; they may not even understand what is causing them to misbehave or why they are misbehaving.  A perceived difficult behaviour in young children is often a call for help.  Something is out of balance for the child.  It is up to the adult to pay attention and look into all possible environmental factors (for example family situation, social relationships, diet, daily routine and structure, etc) that may be the source of imbalance in the child's life at any moment, and try to rebalance it.

In our case, I used the elimination process by going through the list of possible factors in my mind, from whether there is any tension in my marriage (there is none, luckily) to whether we need to adjust our daily routine.  By eliminating the non-contributing factors, I was able to narrow down the causes to a few that really mattered and thereby find the solutions for them.

2) Rely less on labels, more on your personal observations and common sense.
I find labels useful to the extent that: (1) they tell me that my situation is not new or an isolated case, and (2) someone has looked into similar situations and may have suggestions worth considering.

The danger with labels is that they are very restrictive and are very often misinterpreted/misused.  For example, I really don't care to have Tiger labeled as 'gifted'.  I'm more interested to support him as the child he is, regardless of whether he is 'able and talented' or not.  My commitment is to him, not to any label.

Sure, people have asked me whether I have had Tiger tested and I have considered that in the past, especially in his preschool years when he was doing many exceptional things that were not normally observed in children of a similar age.  However, as I read through all the literature written on the topic of 'gifted children' I could find from the library, there is no doubt that Tiger's behaviour is close to a perfect fit of the descriptions in the books.  I don't think I need to spend a few thousand pounds just to have someone affirm to me what I already know about my own child.  What I need are practical advice and suggestions on how to best support my child.  No doubt that the hefty testing fees would include some kind of suggestion but they are usually geared towards solutions for school-going children, and honestly I don't think they can suggest anything that either (1) I am not already doing in our homeschool, or (2) someone hasn't already written extensively about in books.  So back to more research.

The recurring themes I have learnt from the 'gifted children' literature that are relevant to their academic provision are:
  • flexibility
  • increased breadth and scope of the topics
  • personalised curriculum
  • acclerated learning
  • differentiated learning
  • increased variation of instructions and learning opportunities
After assessing what we have been doing in our homeschool in terms of learning opportunities and materials, I am happy to report that the above criteria have all been met in our little homeschool.  Nearly all the books I have read are variations on the same theme.  This is the reason I have cancelled my order of the Edision-Trait book mentioned in my previous post.  As far as academic provision is concerned, we are right on the mark.

3) Don't lose sight of the child as a whole human being.
This third point follows closely to point number 2, especially if parents get too caught up with the labels given to their children.  As a family (Tortoise, Tiger's grandparents and I), we take the position that while we are happy that we don't have to worry about Tiger's intellectual capability, we believe that above all that, he still needs to be a balanced, well adjusted human being who contributes positively to our world.  Tiger is aware of his own intellectual abilities but nobody in our family gushes over him or tiptoes around him because he is 'gifted'.  He is expected to show respect, learn self-discipline and self-control, have good manners, learn to live harmoniously with others, learn to work with people of different abilities, know right from wrong, work hard, take responsibilities for his own actions... much the same as what other normal children are reasonably expected to learn as they grow up.

I find that many literature on 'the gifted' seem to skew towards explaining away difficult behaviour in 'gifted children' as some kind of expected by-product of their intellectual ability.  I don't subscribe to this theory.  It sets people up to expect neurotic and awkward behvaiour from those who think differently, as well as to assume that high intellect and social graces are mutually exclusive.  I personally think that being smart (through exceptional academic training) is only one of many parts of the equation to having a happy, successful life.  The thing that troubles me greatly about most of the books I have read so far about 'gifted children' is how they have overly empahsized the importance of developing such children's intellect at the expense of considering the other factors that are necessary to achieve overall fulfilment in adulthood.  The only person whom I have found to take a more pragmatic view (in my opinion) is Dr. Joan Freeman.  She is not very popular with parents who like to gush about their gifted children and cannot bear the thought that it takes more than being super smart to succeed in life, but her observations and theories certainly strike a chord with me.  Her book, Gifted Children Grown Up, is a sobering read, especially to those who desperately want to believe that a strong intellect is the single most important guarantee of a successful adult life.  If you can stomach the idea of reading real stories of unsuccessful 'geniuses' and why they fail, this book or a more recent one will open your mind to a number of seldom-considered factors in terms of supporting gifted children.

4) Be patient.
Sometimes the issue ceases to exist after a short while, especially when it has to do with a child's development.  Children often have their own timing with things.  Forcing children, or anybody for that matter, to do something that they are not ready for is counterproductive.  What seems to be an incompatibility in terms of educational approach or materials can simply be a matter of giving the child time to grow the necessary (motor) skills or interests or aptitude to perform those tasks effectively.  I have found being patient with myself (in terms of understanding a situation and my child's needs) to be very helpful too.  Sometimes there is nothing else you can do about it except to wait.  To me, such waiting time is not a period of passive inactivity but one of engaged gestation.

I have implemented a few changes based on what I have learnt so far -- I'm still learning, as you can tell from the books in my reading page.  Since learning is a continuous process of change for us, I will share our story as we go along in the hope that it will be relevant to some of you.


  1. This is great and true advise! I agree!

  2. Very thoughtful observations. I agree with you.

  3. Excellent post! One I needed to read and reflect upon this week.

  4. Great post! Thanks for sharing such a thought provoking piece.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...