Brilliant they may be, but many extraordinary children become successful adults through sheer determination and hard work.
STUDIES have shown that excelling in studies, an art or activity, as a child is not a guarantee and, in many cases not even an indicator of being top of the class, or being a successful adult.
In their formative years, gifted children are just like others their age. As parents and guardians, we must have the strength, patience and wisdome to tackle them. Failure to do so will lead to an unhappy and troubled childhood that may spill over to adulthood.
We have heard of Sufiah Yusof who at the age of 13 gained entry to Oxford University in the United Kingdom (UK), to pursue a Mathematics programme.
She never completed her degree and the blame was on her parents for subjecting her to too much pressure.
A study conducted by Joan Freeman of Middlesex University, in the UK on gifted children, tracked their progress over the years. Many of them are in their 40s now.
Freeman expressed disappointment that a number of the respondents failed to take their “gifts” into adult life.
She was of the opinion that intervening factors could affect their progress and promise.
Among them, she said were the necessities to make a living, relationships and a tendency to deviate from goals and a lack of motivation and low expectations of their abilities.
In short, humans are not robots. A study on an elementary school in New York for intellectually gifted pupils, showed an absence of a link between early brilliance and success later on.
A happy lot
A psychologist from the American Psychological Association, who led the research found that they were generally healthy, happy, satisfied professionals and contributed to society — but they were not doing extraordinary things.
Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology on gifted children at Stanford University, showed a more depressing outcome.
“I get countless letters from adults who say that they had that false promise, that people told them how clever they were and how successful they were going to be — so they never worked hard, never persevered.
Many of them have a high IQ, but never graduated from college and never seriously pursued a profession.”
More generally, Dweck has found that telling children that they are clever can hold them back — they develop fixed mindsets.
A child labelled “gifted” may not try as hard.
David Heigham, a retired government economist in the British Civil Service had earlier testified that he never fulfilled his early potential.
As a child, he was intellectually very able, but found school work “boring” and disengaged from the challenge early on.
He did “the minimum to survive” at Oxford University, then went on to spend most of his working life in the civil service, he says.
He admits that he never acquired a pride in really understanding a subject as deeply as he was capable of and did not realise what he was missing out on until he was 40 but then it was “too late”.
Heigham believes one needs to work hard for years to fulfil one’s potential. His fault was in doing things that interested him rather than doing things that might have advanced him in his career.
Heigham’s plight and Dweck’s research show that talent alone will not take a person to the top.
An analysis of those who excel later in life shows their brilliance is only partly down to innate ability; the rest is because of intense and prolonged hard work, and key instruction along the way.
As the American inventor Thomas Edison put it: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
“I don’t think there’s any evidence that you can suddenly become a genius. Every person has to put in years of effort,” says Anders Ericsson, Professor of Psychology at Florida State University.
He points out that when we see an individual who has achieved extraordinary mastery in a field, we think they are high achievers, yet few of us pay attention to the number of years the person must have spent slogging it out before hitting gold.
Based on their research on high achievers, Ericsson and his colleagues believe that deliberate practice is what it takes to be great.
Ericsson even questions whether any of us is born with “genius” as opposed to something that can be manufactured — an asset that a few highly motivated individuals can acquire.
“If you look at high-achieving children, you will see that the parents have provided a unique environment for them.
Ericsson’s comment is in tandem with John Sloboda, Professor of Music Psychology at Keele University, UK.
The latter found parental involvement as a key factor to excellence in a study involving 250 young people studying musical instruments.
What distinguished the high achievers from the rest was how they practised over the years.
By the age of 12, the high achievers were practising an average of two hours a day, thanks to the extraordinary effort of their determined parents. Others would spend about 30 minutes daily.
Sloboda points out that there are no examples of children becoming talented musicians without this type of intense practice, one that requires team effort.
But parents have a fine line to tread. If a parent pushes too hard, the child might reject completely.
Music teachers have tales to tell of talented pupils reaching adolescence and deciding that enough is enough, he says.
So how can young ones remain gifted?
If they remain in a supportive environment, are motivated and never get tired of hard work – they might just get there.
The road to “stardom” is a route that requires much effort from all concerned, especially the family.
Not many will be impressed by the route set by author and law Professor Amy Chua, on her children’s progress to make them high achievers.
Not many children can put up with her strict parenting style as described in her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and not many are willing to be tiger mums.
·The writer is a retired academic. He was previously attached to the Faculty of Business Management, Universiti Teknologi Mara, Shah Alam. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org