Sunday, August 15, 2010

Gifted Children and the Pressure to Achieve

My children do not go at life full-tilt. I have never had to deal with the “over-scheduling” problem. So far, they haven’t shown any interest in becoming either the Young Scientist, Young Writer or Young Musician of The Year. In fact, they seem like pretty normal kids and sometimes, in the company of the parents of other gifted children, I can’t help wondering…am I an imposter?

We hear so much reference to the need to make sure that the gifted “reach their full potential”. Now, what do we mean by that? I am a qualified doctor, but once my children arrived, I chose to prioritise them instead of my career. As a consequence, I am not a hot-shot surgeon; I have written no earth-shattering papers or devised any clever surgical maneuvers or instruments with my name attached. Does that mean that I have failed dismally to reach my potential? If my daughter follows a similar path, will she also have failed? If my son has the potential to become a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, but chooses instead to become a teacher, will he have failed? And will I have failed as a parent?

With all this talk of fulfilling potential and leaders of the future, I fear we are at risk of putting our kids under pressure to follow paths which may not be of their own choosing. If I bring my children up as decent human beings who are independent and happy, then I think we will all have succeeded. If one or both of them becomes a leader in their chosen field, well that will be fantastic, but it should be because they have chosen that path for themselves, not because they feel obliged  to “fulfill their potential”.

Gifted children are not a homogenous group. They don’t all show signs of setting the world on fire from the minute they exit the womb. Many of them are late bloomers…some of them very late! Some are quiet and considered, some are loud and impulsive. Yes, we absolutely should bend over backwards to encourage and motivate them and to create the right conditions for them to excel. However, whilst some of our children no doubt need a little prodding and cajoling, we must remember to listen to them. We must support them to do what they want, not what we or society feels they ought to be doing. As parents, we must also be careful not to feel under pressure ourselves. Parenting should not be a competitive sport!


  1. Very well said. Sometimes you read things about how we should be supporting gifted education because it will benefit society, with the idea being that these are the future leaders of society (defining leadership in quite a narrow way, too) - well, no, we should be supporting gifted education because all children should have education at an appropriate level for them!

  2. Excellent post Frazzled.. I agree.. alhough some may indeed become shift changers... the reality is that they should not have to bare the brunt of 'if they don't become beneficial, or leaders in society' than they are failures or selfish or other'.. to big a burdon to carry the world on their shoulders (although some may defo do, and desire to..) .. if they survive and contribute, enjoy their 'gifts' and give through them, are good people and pass the torch on to their circle of family and friends.. this may truely be enough..

    As educators, the task is to help them find the areas they find joy in.. and to challenge them through this to deeper levels. In that place, they find themselves. There they can move forward and share their joy with others.. which on whatever platform they be, whether it is home improvements/tile design, or international politics-- is where we want them to end up.. The flow place.. If we can do that as parents and educators something has been accomplished..

    ;-D Leslinks

  3. I love this post! It helps to remember that our children's potential is theirs alone, to do with what they will, and that living an ordinary life in their own extraordinary way is what many of them will choose to do.

    Your children are lucky to have you for a parent. :)


  4. What a poignant, thoughtful, truthful post worthy of reflection! Thank you so much for summarizing the plight/anxiety that so many gifted students and parents experience in what is ultimately a futile attempt to "attain what's worthy" instead of looking within and embracing being comfortable in one's own skin/nature. I'm so grateful to you both for launching this site. I, for one, know I will benefit from your sage advice and look forward to future posts & learning!

    Congratulations again,

    Deborah Mersino

  5. Thank you for posting this. I often times find myself trying to make sure (with best intentions)that my child "reaches his potential" which often leads to frustration by all parties. I keep having to remind myself to step back, relax and let my child lead the way. I'll be there to help if my child needs it but I should not rob my child of the thrill of discovering passion.