As a part of my job, which, by the way, is also my passion and hobby, I deal with so many ambitious kids on such a regular basis that I sometimes question myself as to whether I'm living in a fantasy world. Seriously, from time to time, I almost pinch myself to ensure what I'm seeing is reality.
Through my business, Ivy GuruKul, I teach two very exclusive extracurricular activities - Public Speaking & Debate (online & F2F) and Golf. In addition, I counsel a select group of extremely focused and gifted students and their parents on making right decisions regarding their choices vis-a-vis extracurriculars, sports, leadership opportunities, academics etc. It is my interactions with this latter group that keeps me thinking long after my meeting with a particular child and his / her parents is over.
Although advising gifted kids is easily the most challenging part of my daily routine, it is undoubtedly also the most exhilirating. Some of the kids in my Ivy League Track program are only in 6th grade, golf and speech & debate club members are even younger, they seem to be so far ahead of their peers that I wonder whether there is a limit to such children's potential.
Unfortunately, with this seemingly 'limitless' potential falls on parents' shoulders a special 'burden' of raising such kids. Here I am using the word burden more in a positive sense, i.e. responsibility, but not without hinting at the word's slightly negative connotation at the same time, load. I remind such parents all the time of this extraordinary responsibility. Some put my advice into action immediately, others want but are unable to, mainly because of the time commitment it requires. Sometimes when both parents are working, it becomes a huge project as to how to find time.
Up to about 5th grade, I'm all about letting all kids, even the ones who are gifted, explore and experiment, but once they enter middle school (grade 6 in the US), I think it is time to get serious about choosing a particular extracurricular / hobby or sport that one practices three or four days a week. I don't recommend this strategy because I am advising everyone to aim for international stardom, but because this produces appreciable results, which in turn boost confidence and enhance the child's self-esteem.
A good number of us, parents, are caught in this spiral of endless activities. I regularly come across kids who are involved in up to 7 activities, which, in my opinion, is a grave injustice to the kid. Some parents are doing it because they want their child to have a wide array of experiences, while others can't make up their mid as to what to drop and what to continue.
In my opinion, it is more important to help your child identify his passion early, which, of course, may change over time, so he can become good at it. It is important for him to taste success to develop a positive outlook towards things in general. Success also inculcates great work ethic and builds fortitude both of which will be needed to deal with inevitable failures on the way to bigger successes.
Some of us prefer for our kids to grow in a 'soft' and non-competitive environment. Although there are certain advantages of embracing this philosophy, I feel there has to be a slight tilt towards the competitive approach. And I'm certainly against the 24x7 congratulatory mode some parents are in with their kids. In my opinion, such kids never become equipped to handle failure, because they have never heard anything but their praise, and often times this praise is for the most meaningless trophy they brought home from their sports league or dance recital. Yea, praise is essential, but so is a good reality check from early on.
Coming back to the gifted children, especially some of the questions that persist for parents of such children. Questions such as, how early is too early to 'specialize', how much time is too much time for a particular activity for a 6th grader, and most importantly, what will people think of me as a parent if I encourage my pre-teen to be a 'specialist' rather than a 'generalist'? Will they think I am pushy parent?
These are some typical questions that I had to deal with as a parent. I think the most important question you as a parent should ask yourself is, 'Does it really matter what others think?'
Via this blog over the next several months, I will offer, based on my experiences, my honest opinions on topics related to raising a gifted, ambitious, or extremely focused child. In the meantime, please chime in with you experiences and opinions.
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