A Call to Action in Support of Giftedness and Talent Development

A Call to Action to Support the Development of Giftedness and TalentAn editorial in the New York Times on December 15, 2013, discusses the most recent (2012) findings of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), in which the US is once again in the middle of the pack in math and science–34th out of 65 countries. In order to address the declining economy, the author advocates more educational attention to developing giftedness and talent, especially in the STEM subjects, across the population:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/15/opinion/sunday/in-math-and-science-the-best-fend-for-themselves.html?_r=0

The author reports the experts’ conclusions based on the PISA findings, showing that the best educational systems include “High standards and expectations; creative and well-designed coursework; enhanced status, development and pay of teachers; and a culture where academic achievement is valued, parents are deeply involved and school leaders insist on excellence.”

The author goes on to make several important suggestions in a call for action. These include increased federal and state government spending on gifted education and on teacher development; an increase in available options for acceleration; better access to early college admission; and more attention to psychosocial supports (such as mentoring and coaching leading to resilience and coping skills).

Love, Play, Reflect; Passion, Gratitude, and Grit: Parenting for Success and Happiness across the Lifespan

Love, play, reflect; passion, gratitude, and grit; a blog by Dona Matthews

Childhood giftedness is a great start, but it doesn’t predict happiness, success, or fulfillment across the life span. What does the research say about parents’ roles in helping their kids become happily productive adults?

1.       Love:

The single most important ingredient in the early days, weeks, and months of life is the security of a home environment characterized by loving warmth. Infants who develop an early attachment to a caregiver—usually a mother—do a lot better over the life span than those who don’t.  Parenting characteristics of a secure and loving environment include emotional attunement, reassurance and comfort, holding and snuggling, and listening and responding to children’s needs.

Kids do best whose early home experience includes warmth, acceptance, sensitivity, stimulation, and engaged conversation. That means limiting electronic (and other) distractions when you’re spending time with your kids. Device-focused parents don’t look their kids in the eye as often, hear what they have to say, pick up on their feelings, or transmit that sparkle in the eye that makes children (and adults) feel valued. Read more

smiles_of_joy

Happiness is a Choice

smiles_of_joyHappy people make different choices than others, and the good news is that their habits can be learned–kindness, seeing problems as opportunities, expressing gratitude , and more. These behaviours are all choices that parents can teach their kids to make. No matter a child’s temperament–and yes! some kids are a lot more difficult than others!–she can learn to choose happiness. Read more

Why are some poor kids resilient? Parenting makes the difference

There’s fascinating new research showing us something about where ‘grit’ comes from. ‘Why do some children who grow up in poverty do well, while others struggle?’ Alix Spiegel asks in this article. She answers the question with some fascinating new research showing how the quality of an infant’s attachment to her mother makes an enormous difference to sensitive kids, and that this difference grows over time.

Some infants are a lot more sensitive to the environment than others. These sensitive babies are the kids at highest risk of behavioural problems as they get older. Sensitive babies in this research who showed an insecure attachment to their mothers in infancy (i.e., not soothed by the mother’s presence, not happy to see mother after a separation) are the ones who grew into troubled children with the most severe behavioural problems.

Fascinatingly, though, the sensitive babies who showed secure attachments to their mothers in infancy were the ones who grew into the best kids, with the lowest number of problem behaviours.

(The children with low set points [an indicator of less sensitivity to the environment] were not as good as the best or as bad as the worst, no matter their parenting.)

And perhaps most interestingly, Spiegel writes that ‘The behavior of the children with high set points and secure attachments to their mothers compared favorably with the behavior of children whose environments were often much easier.’ The kids who were growing up in high-risk poverty who were sensitive to the environment (‘high set points’) and who experienced secure attachment to their mothers, actually did better than kids growing up with a lot more advantages.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/02/25/172880140/to-spot-kids-who-will-overcome-poverty-look-at-babies

Thank you to Ben Peterson at Newsana–http://www.newsana.com/— for bringing this to my attention!

For those interested in following this farther and deeper, you can go to the source:

Poverty, Problem Behavior, and Promise: Differential Susceptibility Among Infants Reared in Poverty, by Elisabeth Conradt, Jeffrey Measelle, and Jennifer C. Ablow  http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/01/29/0956797612457381

You might also be interested in Dan Keating’s work– http://books.google.com/books/about/Nature_and_Nurture_in_Early_Child_Develo.html?id=0hdB63OT_RYC

or Stephen Suomi’s fascinating studies with cross-fostering monkeys, discussed by Dan Keating in The Nature and Nurture of Early Child Development, and elsewhere–

e.g., http://books.google.com/books?id=R8-HitN5Jp0C&pg=PA254&dq=stephen+suomi&hl=en&sa=X&ei=rCAuUcbnFIba9ASqvYDYDw&ved=0CEwQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=stephen%20suomi&f=false

Creativity: A Slow, Messy, Painful Slog, Followed by an AHA! (and More Work)

Creativity is mysterious, but it’s a lot more accessible than most people realize. The hard part about it isn’t the magic, but rather the fact that it’s built on and emerges from a whole lot of hard work.

Mark Changizi is a theoretical neurobiologist, who describes himself as ‘struggling with creativity both as a scientist trying to remain creative, and as a scientist trying to understand creativity.’ He writes a delightful blog for The Creativity Post on all manner of creativity topics.

In his most recent post, ‘The Provably Non-Incremental Nature of Creativity,’ he writes about the slow, painful, messy slogging that’s required to get to the beautiful magical AHA! moment: ‘Discoveries can be dressed up well, but the way we go about finding our ideas is almost always an embarrassing display of buffoonery.’

His analysis is both discouraging–creative breakthroughs take a lot of work over a lot of time, and require a tedious painful detailed muddling-through process–and totally encouraging–creativity is accessible to anyone willing to put in the work. He writes, ‘There’s no recipe for discovery… I’ve been able to prove that for some discoveries it is intrinsically impossible to know how close one is to reaching the end. For these puzzles, sudden breakthroughs—aha moments—are in fact logically required rather than due to some quirk of human psychology.’

http://www.creativitypost.com/science/the_provably_non_incremental_nature_of_creativity#.UMy_igFB6FE.facebook

All Kids Can Thrive: A Call to Action

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, by Paul Tough

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York; October, 2012.

 

There’s a good reason that everyone is talking about this book. It’s an unflinchingly honest look at the failings of a society where too many children are growing up without the tools they need to create meaningful and fulfilling lives for themselves. As Tough writes, ‘The biggest obstacles to academic success that poor children, especially very poor children, often face [are] a home and a community that create high levels of stress, and the absence of a secure relationship with a caregiver that would allow a child to manage that stress.’ (p. 195)

And it’s not just poor kids who have problems due to high levels of stress and insecure relationships with their parents. Tough also reviews research on kids who grow up in affluent families and communities, and offers some startling conclusions. Simply put, rich kids have many of the same problems as those experienced by poor kids. Both groups are more likely than middle class kids to experience low levels of maternal attachment, high levels of parental criticism, and minimal afterschool supervision. Furthermore, wealthy kids have higher levels of anxiety and depression, especially in adolescence. Reviewing the findings, Tough writes, ‘The emotional disconnection that existed between many affluent parents and their children often meant that the parents were unusually indulgent of their children’s bad behavior.’ (p. 83)

In spite of Tough’s dire analyses of how bad things are for far too many children in far too many communities, How Children Succeed is one of the most encouraging books I have read on this topic. He weaves thoughtful stories of real children, teenagers, and adults into current research findings on child development and resiliency, coming up with recommendations that promise to transform society if we pay attention to them.

He describes research on executive function—emotional and cognitive self-regulation, which affects attention, impulsivity, self-soothing, anger management and other skills involved in coping with stress and challenge. These are skills that children growing up in poverty are a lot less likely to have. ‘The reason researchers who care about the gap between rich and poor are so excited about executive function,’ he writes, ‘is that these skills are not only highly predictive of success; they are also quite malleable, much more so than other cognitive skills…If we can improve a child’s environment in the specific ways that lead to better executive functioning, we can increase his prospects for success in a particularly efficient way.’ (p. 21)

Environmental risks like family turmoil, chaos, and crowding have a big impact on measures of children’s stress, but only when mothers are inattentive or unresponsive: ‘High quality mothering, in other words, can act as a powerful buffer against the damage that adversity inflicts on a child’s stress-response system…Good parenting—being helpful and attentive in a game of Jenga—can make a profound difference for a child’s future prospects.’ (p. 32) Tough concludes that parents’ responding sensitively to infants’ cues has a long-lasting effect on children’s prospects, leading them to be more curious, self-reliant, self-confident, calm, and better able to deal with obstacles.

Although ‘character’ means different things to different people, there are several qualities that can be thought of collectively as ‘character’ that have been shown both to be important to success and well-being, and also teachable: bravery, fairness, integrity, humour, zest, appreciation of beauty, social intelligence, kindness, and gratitude. Tough reviews successful attempts to teach these qualities—not as ways to impose middle class ideas of morality, but rather as ways for all kids to experience personal growth, achievement, and fulfillment.

Parental warmth and nurturance are the most important factors leading to infants and young children thriving. Later on, as children enter adolescence, one person who takes them seriously, believes in their abilities, and challenges them consistently to improve themselves, can make all the difference.

Tough concludes that ‘The most reliable way to produce an adult who is brave and curious and kind and prudent is to ensure that when he is an infant, his hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis functions well… First, as much as possible, you protect him from serious trauma and chronic stress; then, even more important, you provide him with a secure, nurturing relationship with at least one parent and ideally two.’ (p. 182)

As a child gets older, Tough continues, he needs ‘more than love and hugs. He also need[s] discipline, rules, limits, someone to say no. And what he need[s] more than anything is some child-size adversity, a chance to fall down and get back up on his own, without help.’ (p. 183) Children need support in learning how to manage failure, and in order to do that, they need to experience failures they can cope with. This is what Carol Dweck writes about in Mindset: kids need to learn how to see failures and setbacks as opportunities to learn.

It’s also, in some ways, what Amy Chua writes about in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. An important difference between Tough’s recommendations and Chua’s description of her own parenting is that Tough emphasizes the importance of support, warmth, security, and nurturing. I think their goals are probably similar, though, that kids build their self-confidence on a solid foundation of achievement rather than the shifting sands of other people’s opinions or attention.

Tough’s recommendations for going forward are radical, but doable. He says we need a coordinated system that might start with comprehensive pediatric wellness centers like Nadine Burke Harris has established in Bayview-Hunters Point, in San Francisco. We might continue with parenting interventions that help parents establish secure connections with their infants. We might implement early childhood education  programs that have shown dramatic positive results. We also need to provide supports at school and outside of school for kids as they move into adolescence, as well as the adults in their lives. Science demonstrates that society can make a difference to kids’ outcomes. This book provides a call to action for thinking about how to do that.

 

Links

http://www.paultough.com/the-books/how-children-succeed/

http://nadineburke.com/users/dr-nadine-burke-harris

 

 

 

Grit + Social Support = Success

The idea of ‘grit’ is being talked about a lot these days, inspired in big part by Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Power of Character. I agree that grit is too often ignored and that it’s hugely important–but it’s also important to remember that grit rarely leads to success unless it’s accompanied by some help and support along the way.

In this article, ‘Success comes from grit–and plenty of helping hands along the way’, Emily Hanford talks about the importance of social success in overcoming the challenges of poverty. Studying graduates of the YES Prep charter school network in Houston (founded in order to help poor and minority kids graduate from college), she wrote, ‘YES data shows that the students most likely to complete college go to schools where there are good support services and often a concerted effort to encourage and retain poor and minority students.’

http://www.edsource.org/today/2012/success-comes-from-grit-and-plenty-of-helping-hands-along-the-way/21768#.UIaYBsXR6uJ

Thank you to Annie Murphy Paul for posting this article on her blog.