Monday, February 18, 2008
Parenting the Highly Perceptive Child...Part I
Dictionary.com defines perceptive as "having or showing keenness of insight, understanding, or intuition". In my layman's treatment of this topic, I propose that all children are perceptive. Because life is fresh and new to children, they pay lots of attention to everything that's going on around them. They are generally less encumbered by preconceived notions than adults are, and, consequently. they sometimes see things that even adults miss.
However, some children are exceptionally perceptive -- above and beyond their peers -- from an early age. Others may be of generally average perception, but show an unusual degree of perception in one or two aspects of life.
There are different types of perception. Some young children may be intellectually perceptive. Others may be drawn to a particular field of the arts or sciences. (My parents-in-law took my husband to a carnival when he was three years old. He was not interested in riding any of the children's rides. Instead, he wanted them to let him watch how the gears worked. Guess what he grew up to be? Mr. Engineer.) Others might be able to discern body language or have great empathy for what others are feeling. Still others might be intrigued with spiritual matters at a young age.
Some children have a wonderful way with animals; others are good with younger children; still others are very perceptive about details in nature.
In my layman's perspective, perceptiveness does not always depend on a high I.Q. Nor, is it a guarantee of academic success. In fact, high perception can co-exist with learning problems. Also, a highly perceptive child may also have a different learning style than another child might, and a general one-size-fits-all teaching method may not work for that child.
In some cases, the highly perceptive child is simply developing more quickly in some areas than his peers. As the peers catch up, the gap will close. This can be hard for the child who has always received attention for being "advanced". For this reason and others, gifted or highly perceptive children need to learn that their sense of security does not come from their performance.
Highly perceptive children might fall into one or more categories drawn by educators and psychologists. Two differing examples of how a highly perceptive child might be categorized are "highly sensitive" and "gifted". If a child is categorized by professionals as having a high level of perception, parents should be aware that there are many resources available to help them parent their child wisely.
Since I'm not a professional, it's not my intent to look at this as an educator or psychologist might. I'm simply offering a mother's perspective based on having been a child and a parent, as well as being around many families with children.
What defines a highly perceptive child? Again, I'm no professional, but I do think the following traits might apply:
1) Tuning into adult conversations from an early age; developing a large vocabulary early in life; thinking about topics that are advanced for a child's age; may overhear adult conversation or the news and worry about issues that children are not yet ready to handle emotionally; may develop intellectually at an early age yet lack the spiritual, physical, and emotional maturity to deal with their gift without lots of guidance; may or may not have a hard time relating to peers.
2) From an early age, being in tune with another person's expressions, tone of voice, and body language; being able from a young age to have true empathy for another person; being able to imagine from a young age what it would be like to be in another person's situation.
3) Being overly sensitive from an early age with regard to one's own feelings and emotions; being easily offended or hurt; over-analyzing own actions and character; measuring self against unrealistic expectations and becoming frustrated with his or her own shortcomings. This is basically the same perceptive talent as mentioned in #2, except that the child's focus is inward rather than outward. This child has great potential to become empathetic and kind, as well as humbly aware of his own feelings and character. However, he will need help to avoid being self-centered.
4) From an early age displaying passionate convictions; passionate feelings; intense concern for what is fair or just; intense drive toward some objective; often dreams of an altruistic career, such as being a missionary or desiring to be a doctor in a third world country. This child has tremendous potential for leadership, but may be tempted toward pride, irritability and self-righteousness around those who do not have the same level of passion that he does.
5) Wants to know the "whys" of life; has a hard time being motivated to do something unless he can understand the purpose. This can have its blessings. A child with this gift will not necessarily do something just because that's the way it's always been done; he is not afraid to try a new and, perhaps, better way. Thus, he can be very innovative. On the other hand, this can have its challenges. There are many times in life when we all need to accept direction without knowing all of the "whys" behind it.
6) Always thinking, daydreaming about ideas or inventions or ideas for writing and art, getting lost in books or projects, may need help from parents to "come back to reality" when it's time to interact with other people or when it's time to set a project aside and do a certain task. This type of highly perceptive child may be like the stereotype of the "absent-minded professor" -- highly intelligent, but not always practical. This child may a poor organizer of personal space, time, money and stuff. Now, sometimes, these traits reflect an undisciplined character and do not indicate that a child has a high level of perception. For that reason, parents may mislabel the deep thinker in the family as being simply lazy, without realizing his positive traits. While this may not be the most helpful approach, there is a grain of truth in it: The deep thinker will need to acquire personal discipline in order to function in life. The deep thinker is the person who is highly perceptive about ideas. Deep thinkers grasp the big concepts in life.
7) Conversely, an unusually advanced organizer of personal space, time, money, and stuff; may be inflexible, though, and may have a hard time dealing with changes in routine. This is the person who is highly perceptive to details. (We need both idea people and detail people -- The trick is to help each category make the most of strengths and overcome weaknesses.)
8) Can have "meltdowns" when sensory overload becomes too much for child; ultra sensitive to touch, taste, sound, etc. May actually feel physical pain when exposed to levels of noise, touch, etc., that most other people find to be acceptable or even pleasurable. In addition to some biological tendency toward sensitivity, I wonder if the intense pace, noise, and media bombardment of modern society might be a factor here.
9) Bored when not challenged; learns quickly and becomes restless with needless repetition of lesson material; has a higher than normal attention span for his age when interested in something; appears to have a low attention span when he is not challenged by the material at hand.
10) From a young age able to see more than one point of view; perceives the complexities of life; understands there is more than one approach to solving a problem; figures out creative uses for common objects; great, great quality, but the negative manifestation of it may be so in tune with different points of view that can't come to his own conviction.