Dear Carolyn: My son is almost 9 and loves to chat, with his friends mostly. He pronounced 99 percent of the words perfectly, including their context, since age 2. That tells me his speech section of the brain developed faster.
Now his teacher complains that he chats during the class and does not calm down easily. I am working on it in collaboration with the teacher.
How and where should I train him to turn his speaking power into an asset for him in the future, by teaching him the parameters and quality of talk?
Carolyn says: How wonderful for your son that he is precocious.
Please don’t make so much of it that it becomes a burden to him.
Kids develop at different rates, that much we’re all told. Within this reality there are smaller realities, such as, a kid can excel at some things and lag in others; a kid can roar out of the gate at something (or everything) and prove over a lifetime to be the bearer of special gifts; a kid can be an early standout at speaking, reading, music, sports, whatever — and by 11 or 16 or umpty-three be overtaken by mid-to-late-bloomers and absorbed as one of the crowd. A kid can grow up great at/immersed in/preoccupied for an entire childhood by X and drop it one day for Y. Abruptly and for good.
It is good to feed kids’ interests and talents. Of course you hand instruments to budding musicians.
But there is a fine line between feeding their interests and co-opting their talents in service of your own pride.
The way not to cross it is to banish “future” for now. You sign him up for X because he loves it, not because visions of X scholarships dance in your head.
The reason for this is within the sub-realities of development. It’s painful to watch a front-runner child who has been encouraged to “train for the future” — whose one spark or another has been attentively fanned and coached and tutored, and whose identity is built on that talent — wrestle with the universe-altering reality of watching the rest of the pack catch up.
The other extreme is painful, too, where the child remains a standout but feels trapped and isolated by a life of narrow pursuit.
And don’t get me started on the poor kids tagged as “the ____ one.”
Maybe this isn’t what you meant by “turn his speaking power into an asset for him in the future.” But it tripped me up hard because your child’s precocity has no bearing whatsoever on the answer to his classroom disruptions. Which is:
1) Set clear limits.
2) Enforce them kindly and firmly.
3) Encourage him to roam freely within those limits, and roam joyfully with him.
That’s it. Unless it comes to:
4) Develop Plan B if your child’s needs aren’t being met — anything from developmental screening (for the “does not calm down” thing) to a school with more generous recess.
So the only answer to the “how and where should I train him” question is to encourage him every day, at each opportunity, with an eye to balance and a healthy tolerance for trial and error, to be true to himself and respectful of others. Any parent, any child, any gifts.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.