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School Starters Out into the World : My Child’s a Genius! The perils of pushy parenting

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Q: I try to constantly praise my son to make sure his self-esteem is high. Is this the right thing to do?
A: Getting the balance right with praise can be difficult to achieve. On the one hand, experts recommend that you acknowledge all your child’s positive behavior, while on the other hand, studies have found that by the teen years, children who have overinflated self-esteem are more likely engage in risky behaviors such as drunk-driving or driving too fast.

You can’t go wrong if you give genuine compliments and let him know exactly what you like about him and his behavior. However, try to avoid going over the top by creating in him a belief that he is better than everyone else or will always win, no matter what he does. This will inevitably backfire when he’s faced with times when things don’t go his way, perhaps not getting picked for a team at school or failing to get an A on a test. Your child will face disappointments better if you build up his resilience. This means showing that you value his effort over whether he wins. It includes promoting persistence, so if he doesn’t achieve an objective, he can decide to work harder and try again or switch his efforts to another goal. For example, if your child doesn’t get a role in the school play, encourage him to try out for a different part or work toward being a good singer to support the production. This way your child gains an understanding that he can influence his own life and have a role in solving the challenges presented to him. Resilient children tend to cope better and recover more quickly from difficulties because they are motivated to try but don’t expect to automatically achieve everything they want.

Q: My child seems to be on the go all the time. How much is too much after-school activity?
A: It can be hard to resist your child’s enthusiasm for after-school pursuits, and it is beneficial to support her interests. Only you and your child can decide exactly how much to do. As a general rule: At age four, simple activities such as play dates with friends are probably enough. At ages five to seven, one or two organized events a week work well and create a good balance with free time, playing with friends, and being with the family.

However, be aware that in her eagerness she may overstretch herself, and it’s up to you to step in if there is a negative effect. You know she’s doing too much if family mealtimes frequently become an “eat on the run” rush as you dash out to the next activity, or if play or family time is pushed out. Another warning sign is overtiredness—for example, if your child falls into bed exhausted most nights and is hard to wake in the morning for school. If you notice negative effects, help her decide what she wants to keep doing and what to give up. Too many evening activities can affect you, too. If you are feeling harried, becoming resentful, or constantly nagging your child to hurry up to get to the next event then it is time to slow down. Being over-stretched by her extra-curricular interests can result in family tensions that outweigh the value of the activity.

Q: Will using our family time for educational visits make my child achieve more?
A: Involving the whole family in learning can certainly assist in your child’s education. Family trips to places of interest and playing educational games have the dual function of shared enjoyable experiences, and improving your child’s knowledge. Other methods known to help your child’s learning include valuing education yourself, showing an interest in your child’s school subjects, investing in time to read with her, lending a hand with homework, and ensuring she’s absent from school only when sick.

Introducing formal learning into the home, such as extra homework, requires careful consideration of the costs and benefits. Your child has other important developmental tasks to practice with the family, such as playing, socializing, investing time in religious or cultural pursuits, and being able to relax. These can be lost if too much time is given over to added education. In relation to homework, ideally her teacher will have judged the type and quantity of work she should do to support her learning in school without overloading her. Her assigned homework is therefore often sufficient. If you believe, however, that the assigned work is not stimulating her, then a discussion with her teacher may help you understand their reasoning behind the tasks or guide school staff to give more challenging homework.

When deciding how much education to add, consider whether your child is at risk of seeing home as an extension of school rather than a place of family fun that just happens to include learning.

Q: My child is gifted. Is it worth getting extra tutoring for her?
A: Historically, out-of-school tutoring has been used for pupils who were falling behind in their studies, and there is evidence of success in this approach. More recently, the focus has turned to giving children a head start by beginning education, often on specific subjects such as math or music, early in their lives or through tutoring to reinforce or advance learning achieved in school. It is difficult to determine whether tutoring will make a difference for your gifted or talented child—for some children enhanced-learning support in school is sufficient, while others enjoy and benefit from tutoring. Your decision needs to take into account how you will balance tutoring with your child’s other needs for physical activity, social life, family time, and relaxation. Do seek her opinion about a tutor; this will make the difference between tutoring being a success or a battle. For some children tutoring is seen as a status symbol so do check her reasons if she agrees.

If you decide to have extra lessons, find a well-qualified, reputable tutor with experience of teaching at your child’s age and level. Have a trial period and regularly review progress. Decide on what you count as success; for example, you may want lessons that keep her excited about the subject, promote motivation, and result in higher achievements. You could also consider general study-skills tutoring.

Talented but not motivated

It can be frustrating if your child appears to be unconcerned about achieving, though you know that with a little application he’ll do great things. Motivating a young child is a delicate business; his learning is highly dependent on enjoyment and interest rather than straining toward a distant goal. If he’s disengaged at school, talk to his teachers to make sure he’s being given varied work with both playful and practical elements to keep his interest. He may be motivated by rewards for extra effort, such as stars or points for completing a task.

You can support his gift or talent by making learning out of school fun. For example, visit places of historic, sports, or artistic interest. Most museums have interactive exercises and multimedia information designed to engage, entertain, and teach. No matter how you feel, try to avoid nagging, lecturing, or forcing extra study as these rarely improve motivation, and can lead to resentment and resistance from your child.

NOTE

The greatest influence on your child’s self-esteem is your love, affection, praise, and recognition that she’s lovable no matter what

Supporting your child’s aspirations Or pushing her too far?

You are your child’s biggest fan: You see the best in her, have pride in her achievements, and hope she does well. You are in the best position to ensure she has opportunities to learn and develop through your support of her interests and schoolwork. Research tells us that the greatest influence on a child’s academic achievement is the involvement of parents in her education.

Choice

Offer your child the opportunity to experience a range of hobbies or interests. Once she’s tried each one a couple of times, prompt her to choose the activities she thinks she will enjoy. Some of these may involve learning new skills or even, eventually, lead to a career.

Diversity

It’s difficult to predict exactly where your child’s long-term aptitudes and interests lie, so avoid focusing on only one specific area of development. Getting engaged with several hobbies or sports means that if she tires of one or isn’t achieving to her satisfaction, she has others which will maintain her self-esteem and interest.

Motivation

Practice sessions that focus on small achievements, rather than being a set length of time, are more encouraging.

Balance

All children need free time. If your child is over-scheduled with organized activities, homework, and practice, she’ll miss out on what many see as the work of childhood—play. She’ll also have fewer opportunities to occupy herself, a key skill she’ll need as she gets older.

Pushing too hard

Before you go all out to get your child started on extracurricular activities, examine your own motivation. Ask yourself whether you’re working in your child’s interests or acting out your own aspirations, perhaps hoping she will achieve the dream you once had? It may be that you want her to keep up with a certain set of children or to reinforce some friendships over others. Perhaps she’s struggling to make friends and classes may help her meet new children, or you’re concerned that too few activities makes it appear that you’re not supportive of her. Carefully consider how many extra activities she can handle.

Playing along

Do encourage your child to take part in extra hobbies and interests, such as music lessons, but remember it’s your child’s pleasure in the experience that will keep him motivated.

Prima ballerina

If your child is gripped by a certain activity, for example ballet lessons, and has a balance of school and family time, then there is no reason to hold her back from doing what she wants.

Is my child really a genius? Talented and gifted Children

“Gifted” and “talented” are the new buzz words for children who are, or show potential to be, high achievers. These are the accepted phrases you’ll find used within the education system. Your child fits the category of gifted if she excels in one or more academic subject, such as math or English. The term “talented” is applied if your child shows an aptitude in practical, physical, or creative subjects such as sports, design, music, or the arts. To determine if your child is gifted or talented is not always easy; the opinion of yourself and your child’s teachers, as well as high-quality work and test results, are used to reach a conclusion. It is not known how many gifted children there are in the population, but as a rough guide 10–15 percent of children are usually placed in this category. Signs may not become apparent until she is at least six or seven. Be prepared to have your assessment that your child is a genius challenged. She doesn’t need to be gifted to do well at school and in life.

Recognition

It is important that your child’s abilities are recognized by school staff so that the curriculum can be adapted to keep her engaged and avoid problems of boredom. Sometimes teachers are concerned about identifying special talents, since they worry that concentrating on one child will disadvantage others in the class. However, not to do so can both impede your child’s progress and result in classroom management difficulties.

Self-direction

When she’s encouraged to identify her own interests and learning preferences, your child will achieve more at school. Self-direction is usually limited to free play for a younger child, but will increase as she moves through the school, as she gains more autonomy to select methods of learning herself.

Balance

Whatever your child’s talent or gift, she still needs free time to relax, play, or simply be with you. She may also benefit from low-key activities outside her area of special interest. For example, if she’s focusing on an academic topic, then leisure time could include physical or outdoor pursuits. A family walk, bike ride, or swim can be a refreshing change from homework.

Difficulties

School is not always plain sailing for your gifted or talented child. If lessons are not well adapted, she may find the work is too easy, and boredom may set in. This can lead to frustration or misbehavior. You may have to work hard yourself to keep up with her learning so you can support her homework tasks. Whatever your child’s talent, she’ll benefit from your support. When you praise and reward her effort, you build her self-esteem and identify her as someone who tries hard. This way she won’t be so dependent on coming first or winning for her sense of self-worth.

Paying attention

Whether your child is gifted or not, she’ll benefit from a wide range of activities and close interest from both teachers and you.

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