Coaching Balance to Children with Special Needs

Parents write: Our daughter's amazing talents in art and gymnastics have offered wonderful opportunities but also been a source of personal pain. We are not sure how best to help. Any suggestions?

In today's competitive and performance-driven culture, parents brim with pride upon discovering that their child possesses a special proficiency. The ensuing years are often filled with enrichment classes, individualized coaching/instruction, and opportunities for children to showcase their talent. If the child develops love for the activity, parents often do not have to supply much encouragement, just the means for continued growth.

While this circumstance provides many wonderful peaks throughout childhood, it is not without potential social, familial and emotional tradeoffs. Inflated egos, parent pressures, social troubles, and other "talent traps" can counteract some of the extremely rewarding aspects of being a talented child. To help you and your child find balance, consider these coaching tips:

Introduce humility at an early age and stress its importance throughout life. Children with special gifts may develop an unrealistic view of themselves based upon the praise and admiration they receive from others. Since personality is still in the process of formation, it is vital that talented children learn to differentiate themselves from the activity they perform so well. This can be accomplished by purposefully exposing the child to activities and arenas where their talent gives them no edge over others. Humility is also aided through service-oriented programs where children offer their time and attention to attend to the needs of the less fortunate.

Translate the meaning of their talent into life lessons they can apply to other areas. Even talented children contend with pitfalls in their road to great achievement. Some take their talent for granted; setting the stage for the attrition of potential. Others apply the same expectation of excellence to other endeavors; setting the stage for tremendous disappointment. Dedication to goals, perseverance in their face of difficulty, and recognizing that reward is not always associated with winning, are examples of lessons to take into the future. Parents can reinforce these benefits with discussions that build a bridge between the child's talent and the person they want to become.

Guard against talent becoming the rationale to push too hard and overlook too much . Be watchful that you don't use your child's gift as a license to overwhelm them with pressures to perform. Parents easily fall victim to the rationalization that "it's for their own good" when everyone else knows that this is far from the case. Similarly, many parents create different standards of accountability and responsibility for the talented child. In addition to breeding resentment within siblings it also blurs generational boundaries, leading to intense family conflict and disengagement. When it concerns family functioning, parents are wise to treat talent as an aspect of uniqueness, much like that of every other child in the family.

Prepare talented children to adeptly deal with social fallout. Envy can easily seep into friendships or pose barriers to new relationships. Talented children may feel confused or criticized by the words and reactions of peers. Parents are urged to make sense of these situations by clearly explaining the reasons without negatively judging the behaviors of others. Some children need guidance to solidify friendships or start new ones. Suggest that sometimes it's important to downplay their talent and show particular interest in the pursuits of others. Envious comments can be handled with gentle confrontations that reassure peers that their life is not all about performing their talent, it's also about being with people and just having fun.