Why oh why does a programme like Child Genius get an audience? It is wrong on so many levels, elitism, a fascination with the eccentric and a guilty pleasure in finding fault with the parents whose greatest wish is that their child’s IQ is larger than anyone else.
I will admit that I watched it too. I was relieved to see Jocelyn who was a happy and self-motivated child although she was out in the 1st round. She didn’t seem to mind too much which is about right in my book. The others families fitted a formula of being very single minded and rather frighteningly insensitive to their child’s broader needs.
I don’t intend to name call these families in fact I feel a bit sorry for them. If having a genius in your family is your highest ambition many will be doomed to failure. In contrast parents who want their child to be happy, well rounded and to find a life that nourishes and fulfils them have many and varied paths they can follow.
What a programme like Child Genius taps into is our curiousity about how life shapes who we are. How much is inherited and how much down to the opportunities and experiences which enrich a child’s life? Schools now have the Pupil Premium to help them offer extension experiences to children on free school meals but the science of what makes an effective intervention is in its infancy.
Academics continue to differ on whether there is a 50/50 split between genes and environment or more like 40/60 but either way a lot rides on the quality of a child’s experience. Home is still the major player although schools do also make a huge contribution.
My conclusion is this: what a child needs most of all is a powerful sense of self belief that energises and motivates. This CAN DO and Want To Do attitude will underpin their ability to engage with life and pick up the knowledge and skills on offer from a loving home and a good school.
So how do you help your child to become a CAN DO child? Not by prodigious feats of memorising Tube maps or mental arithmetic practice but by following a child’s lead and supporting their interests. According to Self Determination theory ( Deci and Ryan ) self-motivation depends on 3 elements :
Competence: having the opportunities to develop the skills you need. For children timing is important because when we push too hard we risk leaving a child with a hurried sense of not attaining what is required of them. This can be as risky as being complacent and over praising children for minor achievements.
Relatedness: love, belonging and acceptance are central. We are social beings and need recognition and encouragement. Children will thrive in this secure environment and be more likely to be enthusiastic and engaged learners when skilled and sensitive adults support and encourage their interests.
Autonomy: independence is something children need to taste from an early age. A combination of being able to choose balanced with the support to help them succeed is essential. Children who have someone hovering over them will soon concede their efforts to the powerful adult whereas a sensitive supporter who can be called upon to help a child problem solve is a different proposition altogether.
Here are what I believe form the 10 pillars of a flourishing childhood.
- Emotional wellbeing: a worried or unhappy child is pre-occupied and their feelings take first priority. Helping a child feel safe, secure and valued is the foundation for wellbeing. Once a child is feeling safe and valued they can begin to learn to recognise and manage difficult feelings. Parents and school together need to make exploring any unexplained changes in behaviour a top priority.
- Positivity: is an attitude of finding the positive in a situation rather than about being in a good mood bubble. When we are positive we are more likely to get involved, try new things and keep going when things get tough. All of these are important to broaden and build your experience so that learning and growth take place. Life satisfaction depends on taking positive steps to find meaning and purpose in life. For a young child this is often through being encouraged to take up hobbies and interests initially and through satisfying relationships with family and friends. Later on they realise how a child can create opportunities for themselves through how they positively manage their school life.
- Focus on Strengths: Children need to feel competent and able to manage aspects of their lives independently. Ensuring a healthy balance between learning new skills and using and developing personals strengths is vitally important. Young children in particular can feel overwhelmed by all that they cannot yet do. Mild frustration is a motivating factor but severe frustration definitely is not.
4. Resilience: learning can be hard and children need to have slow and gentle introductions to challenges which they can successfully handle. Children who are protected from challenges or have them resolved for them do not develop the confidence to cope and problem solve successfully. Little and often builds resilience through the experience of successfully coping with challenges.
- Optimism: Seeing the future as a good place where you will have made progress is essential for a healthy learning mindset. Indeed thinking about the future at all is the basis of education and without the sense of “why am I doing this” children lose focus. Children do need to enjoy the time they spend in class so inspiring teaching is essential but unless a child is beginning to ask who am I? What do I want? then the day to day lessons at school are merely entertainment.
- Growth Mindset: the idea that IQ drives performance is outdated. Current research shows that mindset is important. When you consider learning as a skill rather than ability you are more likely to work harder and get better results. In contrast a belief that learning ability is fixed can lead to children giving up when faced with challenges.
- Setting goals: Setting goals is another aspect of optimistic forward thinking. Goals demonstrate that you believe in yourself and that you have ideas of where you would like to go. People who are “planners” tend to be happier with their lives and more confident in their ability to make things happen.
- Positive Communication: Having the confidence to talk to others and ask questions is essential for learning. Seeking help when its needed and sharing new knowledge with enthusiasm creates a healthy relationship with others in schools. Thinking depends on asking yourself questions so the dialogue in the classroom is a very important aspect of learning to learn.
- Relationship skills: Making friends is essential but so is learning to deal with others who appeal less to you; both are an essential part of adapting to life in a busy classroom. Children who spend too much time on the social side of life can become distracted in class but equally the shy or anxious child can find the social side of life an unresolved pre occupation. Teachers who inspire are often those who understand the importance of creating strong, positive and collaborative relationships in class.
- Appreciation and celebration: Savouring and celebrating what is going well can sometimes get lost as we hurry on to the next task. Children need time to use and explore what they know and to appreciate what they have achieved. Taking time to share what went well is a great wellbeing booster. Positive feedback is vital to young people so they fully understand what they have achieved and can consider what to do next.