What's the secret to unlocking your child's potential genius?
Allowing your little one to take the reins is what'll make them excel, if a new book is to be believed
Published 12/05/2016 | 02:30
I had a moment of parental pride recently when my 20-month-old managed to count faultlessly from one to 10 unaided. "He's a genius," I declared to anyone I encountered over the next 24 hours, when the episode pretty much dominated all conversation.
Then another mum revealed her baby could identify the different parts of the face in French while another parent, whose child is also under two, mentioned her daughter loved classical music and liked to request oboe solos in the car.
The next day my son had dropped the numbers five, six and seven from his repertoire and my genius hopes faded a little.
Let's be honest though, every parent secretly hopes their off-spring are a little bit special, more advanced, more able than his or her peers, don't they? But just how do you go about building a little genius?
Not the way you might think, if a new book is to be believed. It seems the 'tiger moms' and 'helicopter parents' need to ditch their flashcards and pushy parenting. The best way to encourage your child to excel is to let them take the lead and stop focusing on exam scores and grades.
"Parents need to sit back and learn their children's passions and interests," explains Andrew Fuller, author of Unlocking Your Child's Genius.
"Building on those will get them much, much further than pile driving them with flash cards or more homework."
According to the clinical psychologist and dad of two, every child has a potential genius, we just might need to re-think the narrow terms in which we define it.
"We live in a world that has become seriously confused about the word genius and generally regard people as either being or not being geniuses," explains Fuller.
"In doing this we've overlooked the original concept - that people have a genius. There is within each person an inner creative spark that when discovered and unlocked, leads them towards success in life."
Education, he argues, should not be training. We should be teaching children how to think, not telling them what to think.
Oh God, not another parenting manual, I hear you cry. But fear not, what Fuller has produced is actually more of an anti-parenting guide. Rather than extrapolating one way of doing things, he focuses on the individuality of children and their different learning styles.
The book's cri de coeur is to ditch hot-housing and fast-tracking and look at how we might make learning fun, beneficial and something that children aged from two to 18, want to do. His mission is to help parents encourage children to think for themselves, concentrate, be confident and identify their strengths. And, rather than preaching to parents about 'how to get it right', Fuller is emphatic about the importance of making mistakes.
"Parents getting it wrong is the point of this book," he laughs. "Parents and grandparents teaching kids to be okay making mistakes by making mistakes themselves is essential."
The book starts off with the need to do away with 10 'crazy ideas' we hold, like thinking mistakes are bad, that success at school and success in life are the same thing, and that the child who does something first will be the best at it.
"Complete rubbish!" writes Fuller. "We live in a world where childhood has been made into a race. The child who can read first, run fastest, draw best is deemed to be the one most likely to succeed. Not true. Most child prodigies do not grow up to be adult geniuses. They don't even turn into experts."
Thanks to Google and omnipresent smart phones, there's no problem that can't be addressed within a few taps of the keyboard, but Fuller stresses the need to sit with a problem.
"If we want young people to become creative, innovative problem solvers, we need to give them opportunities to deal with complex issues, wrestle and struggle with them, play with them and have the time and the support to come towards a solution," he explains.
This means no stepping in to solve the problem for them and even saying 'let's leave thinking about that for today', after all, some of the greatest discoveries happened when their creators were out walking or in the bath.
Which sounds good, but the reality is our school system is formatted around hitting certain targets at specific times. Jobs require people who can work to deadlines and within boundaries - is it really helpful to be encouraging children to be creative dreamers?
Fuller argues it's imperative.
"In a world where jobs may be scarce, being creative and innovative is even more important. Ultimately it is teaching kids to be entrepreneurial."
Most millionaires, he says, were only average students, and many Nobel Prize winners had a dreadful time at school. Raising a child who can think effectively, rather than tick the boxes in existing systems, is more likely to bring them success in the long run.
Nor should parents kid themselves that school is their child's main source of learning. Children only spend between 10 and 15pc of their time at school, 33pc asleep and the rest of the time, 5pc, is at home.
"It's what they do with that time that makes the most significant impact on their development," says Fuller. "Don't rely on schools to unlock your child's genius: you are their first and most important teacher."
Particularly fascinating is his use of interesting examples and easy-to-understand neuro-science. For example, he sheds light on the way a child's thinking can self-sabotage creativity by explaining the battle between the basic survival part of the brain (Rex) and the creative, 'genius' part (Albert).
At around eight or nine, the brain has more connections than it needs so starts to get rid of some of them - a process of 'synaptic pruning' affecting curious Albert more than Rex.
"This is why the experiences we give young people between their ninth and 18th years are so important. What parents do with their children in this time has a major influence in shaping and developing Albert," explains Fuller.
"Having parents who are calming, loving and soothing means that Rex does not become too fussed over things. Having parents who guide and inspire, who expose children to new ideas and experiences unlocks Albert."
Throughout the book there are practical examples for what to do to encourage Albert and promote 'genius' thinking, like lists of mind-stretching experiences to try, ways to help children practice planning, decision-making and improving their concentration.
There are activities to try, words to use (and avoid) and places to visit - all divided into different age categories making it a manual worth coming back to time and again.
There are tips on giving praise, modelling positive behaviour and addressing fears of failure.
But perhaps the most powerful chapter is his opening gambit: 'The Most Important Message You Can Give Your Child', which is full of sound advice, encouragement and reassurance too. It's aimed at children, but plenty of adults too would do well to take note.
'Unlocking Your Child's Genius' is available now on Amazon, €13
Andrew fuller’s 6 steps to unlocking your child’s genius
1 Lead by example
Take on new hobbies, discuss ideas and inventions and show children and grandchildren that learning is something adults do too.
2 Have a creativity corner
Find somewhere in your home for projects, art works and collections that children can leave and come back to. Cover the carpet — becoming a genius can, and should, get messy.
3 Look for crazy connections
Stimulate creativity by playing a game of thinking up ways that different things are alike. Asking your child simple questions like: How are an apple and orange alike? How are a dog and giraffe alike? How are both different? Or how are the speed of light and the speed of sound alike? How are they different? encourages ‘same but different’ thinking. This style of identifying patterns could take a child from performing better than 50pc of their class to performing better than 95pc.
4 Know that mistakes are opportunities
If you can’t make a mistake you’ll never make anything. If children are worrying about ‘failing’ they can’t access their inner creative genius.
5 Help them learn to plan
Bubble maps and star charts help encourage decision-making and understanding of action and consequence. Help kids to become active decision-makers if you want them to have a happy life.
6 Identify strengths
Building on strengths goes further than remedying weaknesses. If you can help a child to feel positive and confident in one specific area this can ricochet positively into other areas of life.