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Nurturing or Pushing Gifted Children - How Can Parents Tell the Difference?


Updated August 17, 2006

Parents of gifted children often feel an almost overwhelming sense of responsibility after learning their child is gifted. They want to be sure they are doing everything they should be doing to nurture and support their children, yet they worry that they might be pushing their children. Gifted children are eager to learn and sometimes can't seem to get enough information. However, when their parents try to feed that need to learn, they are often told that they need to let their children be children, that they shouldn't push their children.

Adding to the confusion -- and frustration -- parents are told that the first three years of life are critical in a child's development and so they must be sure to nurture their child's abilities or those abilities might not be fully developed.

To eliminate some of the confusion, parents should understand the true significance of the importance of the first three years of life in child development and ways to distinguish between nurturing and pushing a child.

Latest Developments


In the 1990s, the general public became familiar with research on early brain development. We learned that early childhood experiences were crucial in brain development and that key experiences had to take place within critical windows of opportunity or deficits of functioning could occur.

People came to believe that unless a child was exposed to these key experiences within the first three years of life, when the windows of opportunity supposedly closed, the child would not be able to reach his or her full potential. In fact, many people today believe that they can create a smart child by providing the "correct" experiences when their children are young. Consequently, they play Mozart for their infants and teach their toddlers French. They may also use flashcards or other visual cues with their infants and teach their toddlers to read.

The truth is a bit different. First, genetics plays a major role in intelligence. We are all born with differences in abilities that can be developed only so far no matter what our experiences. Not every child will become a Tiger Woods regardless of how young training in golf begins or how much instruction is provided.

Second, while the first three years are important in a brain development, a child is not doomed to mediocrity and failure if certain experiences don't occur. The brain continues to develop through adolescence and some research indicates it continues throughout adulthood as well. In addition, windows of opportunity are wider than most people think, except in a very few instances such as language development and visual perception. Children not exposed to language in their first year will be unable to use language correctly and children not exposed to patterned visual information in their first years of life will not develop normal depth perception.

Understanding brain research should help relieve some of the pressure parents feel and help them better understand the difference between nurturing and pushing.
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