No, your child’s not gifted

How can you say this?” I hear you cry. “You don’t even know my child”. Maybe so but the law of probability is firmly in my favour.  Around 2- 5% of children can be considered mildly gifted (sounds like an oxymoron) while only 1% are thought to be highly gifted. That means for every 100 of you reading this now, I am right in 99 % of all cases. I‘ll take those odds.

A friend of mine used to bemoan the fact that his children never got mentioned in the Headmaster’s newsletter. Not for academics, not for sport, not for helpfulness, not even for picking up litter, “Not once in 7 years have they ever had a mention” he spluttered. “Really”, I replied, “mine are there every week”, he looked quizzically at me at this point (he knew my children). “ Yes, I went on, just turn to the back page and you’ll see their names on the Lost Property list.”

Like my friend we’ve all been there, anxiously scaffolding our children’s lives to build success. Taking on a sort of Bell Pottinger public relations role to help them get ahead of the increasingly competitive curve. I get that, most kids need a bit of help from the marketing department of Mum and Dad, and being labelled as ‘gifted’ is the ultimate tag line. A ticket to a life of recognition and worth.

Statistically, technically, of course I have to admit there is a slight chance that your child is gifted but even if they are, it’s not enough. Being in the top 5% of sports players is barely going to get you into the first team in some schools, let alone provincial or national representation. Academically speaking, being the top of a class of one hundred won’t get you into Oxford, and a lowly top 5 place won’t even get you within sight of the spires.

Let’s go up a level to that of a child prodigy, those who read at 2 and go to college at 10. A prodigy is defined as one in a million (maybe two) but if you’re one in a million in China there are almost another 1,400 other people just like you.

So even if your child is gifted, (mildly, highly or prodigiously) no one cares. With 7.4 billion people in the world, says child psychologist Gregory Ramey, “most people neither know nor care a jot about you.  What you need or want doesn’t matter to these billions of people.  In spite of what your parents said, you are not really “special” unless you work hard to accomplish something.

Game changer
You don’t have to be exceptional to be a game changer. See this original artwork at Steampunk Coffee 

According to Professor Shirley Kokot, president of the National Association for Gifted and Talented Children in South Africa, there is no such thing as a child genius and that genius “is a label given to an adult who has proven over the years that s/he has made a remarkable contribution to some aspect of human activity”.

As Gift of the Givers founder, Dr Imtiaz Ismail Sooliman says, “Best among people are those who benefit mankind”.

Achieving something of value and worth in this world tends to involve serious hard work, persistently overcoming obstacles and almost certainly failing along the way. Being labelled and lauded as gifted from a young age is not likely to foster such a mind-set, be it called resilience, grit, growth or whatever current buzzword is in fashion. “Many kids get the idea that they are special and important to everyone.  They receive an incessant amount of attention from parents who cater to their every whim.  As a result, many of these children develop an intense sense of entitlement that the world revolves around them.” Gregory Ramey

The last thing the world needs is someone who is merely gifted even if they are successful. There have been plenty of successful, gifted people who have advanced human civilisation either not one iota or, worse, moved it entirely in the wrong direction.  Rather than assisting others to recognise the obvious talent of your offspring or concentrating on making your children feel special, instead help them to focus on working hard so that one day they can achieve something of significance.

As somebody supremely gifted once said, “To whom much is given, much will be required”. So stop obsessing over whether your child is gifted and instead consider what their contribution will be to this world, even if it’s just their small part of it.

In terms of a conclusion I can’t do better than borrow George Elliot’s own ending from her novel Middlemarch.  “…for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

I like the thought of that.


CNN – Gifted Kids

Parent 24 – Is your child gifted? 


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