Do You Want a Gifted or a Hard-Working Child?

Parenting: Do You Want a Gifted or Hard-Working Child? presents an alternative way of thinking about parenting gifted kids. The author of the article, Jim Taylor, notes that although "the world is full of gifted failures," parents continue to "hope beyond hope that their children are gifted."

Kids often feel the same way. According to Taylor, whenever he asks a group of kids whether they would rather be gifted or hard working, almost all of them say that they would rather be gifted. In their view, being gifted means that that they are not only destined for success, they won't have to work that hard for it either.

Hard work and perseverance are crucial components of success; however, many people tend to negate the importance of hard work and practice and instead believe that achievement is based on ability alone. This is a dangerous misconception, particularly for gifted kids.

Because learning comes so easily to them when they are young, gifted kids often fail to learn that there is an important link between effort and outcome. They assume that their achievements are a result of their natural ability and that, conversely, their failures are a result of their ability, as well. As Taylor writes: "If gifted children attribute their successes to their ability, when they fail—which they inevitably will sooner or later—they must attribute their failures to their lack of ability (they must be stupid or untalented)." Unfortunately, this kind of misguided thinking can lead kids to give up on a task prematurely because they fear that they aren't good enough. They don't understand that effort is just as important to success as ability.

If these kids continue to succeed with limited effort, they will eventually find themselves in an environment (such as a selective college or university) where nearly everyone is gifted. As Taylor writes: "At this point, giftedness isn't what ultimately determines who becomes truly successful. What separates those children who are simply gifted from those who are gifted and successful is whether they possess the skills to maximize their gifts. Unfortunately, these children will find that their inborn talent is no longer sufficient to be successful. Because everything comes so easily to them, many never learn the skills—hard work, persistence, patience, perseverance, discipline—that will enable them to become truly successful."
Taylor even goes so far as to say that parents should not tell their children that they’re gifted because it will put an unnecessary burden upon them. As Taylor writes: "Instead of emphasizing your children's giftedness, you should talk to them about the attitudes and skills—which are under their control—that they will need to fully realize their talents." Taylor also believes that we should not tell a child that he or she has great potential because having potential means that a youngster has done nothing yet. Potential implies eventual adult success, and, as Taylor writes, we are simply not very good at predicting who will become successful in life.

According to Dr.Anders Ericcson, a professor at Florida State University who has studied expert performance in sports, music, mathematics, and other activities, the single greatest predictor for success is how many hours a person has practiced an activity. The more hours one practices, the better he or she is. (Remember the 10,000 hours rule that Malcolm Gladwell championed in his book, Outliers? That rule is based on a study that Ericcson conducted. According to the 10,000 hours rule, it takes approximately 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve mastery.) As Taylor writes: "Hard work means children putting in the necessary time, sticking with it when it's not always fun, persevering in the face of setbacks and failures, and developing all of the skills necessary to become successful."

And so now we have one more way of looking at the capabilities and possibilities of young people. Be sure to check out the comments section at the bottom of Taylor's article for an ongoing discussion of his viewpoints.

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