Parenting a Prodigy

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Earlier this month, I heard the NPR story “Don’t Call This 12-Year-Old Concert Pianist A Prodigy” on my drive to work. The subject of the story, the pianist Emily Bear, meets every definition I’ve heard of a child prodigy. This 12-year-old’s musical gifts, which were obvious at a year old, are undeniable and inexplicable.

Parenting a Prodigy from hdydi.com
Photo Credit: Nick-K (Nikos Koutoulas)

What struck me the most in the story wasn’t Emily’s genius. It was her mother’s love and pragmatism. “I have a husband,” she said, “and a marriage and three children, not one. And just keeping the balance of all this… Keeping it healthy and happy… The 60 year plan.”

Emily’s mom is a parent after my heart. She sees her whole child, not just the genius. She sees her whole family, not just the brightest star.

My 7-year-old daughters are smart, crazy smart, but they’re no genuises. M sees mathematics in the world around her and thinks that calculating the Fibonacci sequence to 4 digits is fun, but she’s not doing calculus. J’s literary analysis is very advanced, but she’s analyzing Laura Ingalls Wilder, not Nietzsche.

Even though my daughters are merely very intelligent, I feel like I understand in some small measure Emily Bear’s mother’s predicament. I have been entrusted with the care of two exceptional minds. I do what I can to encourage them and give them opportunities to explore and test their limits. At the same time, it is incredibly important that I nurture all the aspects of their personalities, not just their intellectual gifts. I want them be successful not only in school, but in life.

It’s not enough to be smart. My girls also need to be kind, patient, disciplined and generous. I am very fortunate that their current teacher adopts a role encouraging responsible behaviour, and cares about more than just classroom and test performance. J and M have had a tendency to coast on their smarts, but Mrs. H doesn’t allow it.

On Monday, I sent a text message to the girls’ teacher. “Be it known,” said my text, “that I’m not a deadbeat mom. I didn’t exactly fail to check the girls’ Friday journals. I reminded them each once and they never presented them for review.”

J told me later than Mrs. H had told her that she understood her forgetfulness, but that she was disappointed. Then she sheepishly presented me with her journal for review.

My favourite parenting book of all time is Nurtureshock. The first chapter of the book is titled “The Inverse Power of Praise.” The authors argue, based on solid research, that children who are constantly praised for their performance don’t learn the value of effort or how to recover from mistakes. I’m so proud of my daughters that it’s hard to keep myself from praising them, but I do my best to praise their effort. “You got 100%,” I’ll tell M, “but did you do your very best?” The other side is, “I know you didn’t make any goals this season in soccer, but did you do your very best? I don’t care about the goal count. I care about how hard you worked.”

Whether Emily Bear’s mother has read the book, I don’t know, but I have a feeling that she’s well on the way to raising a confident well-rounded young lady who just happens to also be a genius.

Are you tempted to emphasize your children’s gifts? How do you keep the whole child in mind in your parenting?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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