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Raising a Child Prodigy

A child prodigy, and his or her parents, will face unique challenges and obstacles other children won't typically have to deal with.
A child prodigy, and his or her parents, will face unique challenges and obstacles other children won't typically have to deal with.
©iStockphoto.com/Jorge Delgado

Parenting, under any condition, takes a lot of work, patience and effort. There's no "one-size-fits-all" approach that will work with every kid -- not even every kid in your own family. Each child requires his or her own special parenting strategy, and that may even change month to month.

But raising a child prodigy has unique challenges and requires individually tailored time, attention and thought, because these children have amazing abilities in a specific field far beyond their years. They may be exceptionally gifted at music, science, literature, art, mathematics, or any other field of study.

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Their talents are usually discovered when they're quite young; for instance, a child who reads at age 2, performs complex math problems at age 5 or enrolls in college at age 10. Not only do they come out of the gate operating at an advanced level within a certain skill set, but their growth within their talented domain seems exponential when compared to other children -- and adults.

While a child prodigy's capacity for intellectual or artistic pursuits may seem to put him or her in position to enjoy early and lasting success throughout life, prodigies actually grow up at risk of burning out or suffering anxiety in their quest for achievement, and may one day regret not having a "normal" childhood. When your 8-year-old is composing symphonies or explaining quantum physics to you, it can easy to forget that he or she is still a child. Time spent studying in a college library means a lot less time spent on the playground horsing around with peers.

Even if a child enthusiastically and joyously immerses himself or herself in developing and exploring extraordinary talents, a day will come when the playing field evens up a bit. It's one thing to be a 7-year-old concert pianist who counts 40-year-old high-achieving concert pianists as peers; it's another thing to be a 40-year-old former child prodigy whose talents are roughly equivalent to other same-aged high achievers.

So how do you raise a child prodigy? Is it possible for a prodigy to soar to the heights allowed by his or her natural gifts and still have a childhood?

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Eight-year-old Autumn de Forest is a prodigy artist whose paintings have sold for as much as $25,000, but she also attends school and loves to play with Barbie dolls.
Eight-year-old Autumn de Forest is a prodigy artist whose paintings have sold for as much as $25,000, but she also attends school and loves to play with Barbie dolls.
ImaginArt, LLC

It shouldn't have come as a surprise when 5-year-old Autumn de Forest picked up a spare paintbrush and an extra piece of wood while her father was staining some furniture one day in the garage. After all, she was born into an artistic family. But when he turned around a short while later to see Autumn's finished product, even he was quite surprised.

Since then, Autumn's parents, Doug and Katherine, have given their daughter access to the materials that would allow her to fully express her artistic talent, including fine-arts supplies, large canvases and quality oil paints. And by the time she was just 8, Autumn's works were already selling for as much as $25,000 and were being featured at exhibitions and auctions around the nation.

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While Autumn's parents have taken great effort to encourage and gently guide their daughter's talent, they've also made sure she engages in plenty of age-appropriate activities. She paints daily for at least an hour or two, but plays with her Barbie dolls, watches reruns of "I Love Lucy" and romps around with her standard poodle, Ginger. She also plays with friends, goes to school (where she enjoys art classes, even though, she says, "They don't really do abstract in school") and lives within strong boundaries required of any 8-year-old child. The world of art and achievement, according to Autumn, is no more or less important than the world of Barbie dolls and playgrounds.

When it comes to facilitating their child's talents, Autumn's parents try to make sure her feet are firmly planted on the ground, while they also teach her to respect the art she creates and the process through which it's created. Boiled down, they say there are three important steps to take with a child prodigy in respect to his or her talent: setting goals, creating victories and developing the skill set. By making early connections between effort and reward, Autumn is able to take great pride in showing off her work at exhibitions to both children her own age and art collectors alike.

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Sources

  • Autumn de Forest. (Aug. 20, 2010) http://www.autumndeforest.com/
  • Chillot, Rick. "10 child prodigies (who actually ended up doing something)." Mental Floss. Dec. 10, 2007. (Aug. 25, 2010) http://edition.cnn.com/2007/LIVING/worklife/12/10/mf.child.prodigies/index.html
  • Golomb, Claire. "The development of artistically gifted children: selected case studies." Psychology Press, 1995. ISBN 0805815244, 9780805815245.http://books.google.com/books?id=G_ec1hS7lIAC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_atb#v=onepage&q&f=false
  • Hancock, David. "Child prodigy, 14, commits suicide." CBS News. Mar. 19, 2005. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/03/18/national/main681735.shtml
  • Quart, Alissa. Hothouse Kids: How the Pressure to Succeed Threatens Childhood. Penguin, 2007. ISBN 0143111914, 9780143111917.http://books.google.com/books?id=nbULR0WHPeQC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_atb#v=onepage&q&f=false
  • Sachs, Andrea. "The Downside of Being a Child Prodigy." Time. Sep. 6, 2006.http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1532087,00.html
  • Telephone interview with Autumn de Forest. Aug. 20, 2010.
  • Telephone interview with Douglas de Forest. Aug. 20, 2010.
  • Telephone interview with Katherine de Forest. Aug. 20, 2010.
  • The Mozart Project. "Mozart's Life." (Aug. 25, 2010) http://www.mozartproject.org/biography/index.html

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