Maximizing Your Child's Potential

Dr. Phil and Dr. Harvey Karp, a renowned expert on children's health, explain what it means if your child is ahead of the child development curve or lagging behind, and what you can do to maximize your child's potential. If your child seems ahead of the curve, be careful that you don't send the message that he is "different." Reminding him that he is not the same as other kids can be a problem. Talk to his teachers about not making him feel so set apart from the other children because that can become a negative to him. "There are a lot of really smart kids who absolutely take a step back and start failing purposefully because they don't want to be seen as a brainiac," says Dr. Phil. You don't want to unintentionally label your child either, as that can cause him to develop social problems as well. Don't decide your child is gifted just because they show a strength in one area. Children develop in different areas at different rates. "There are kids who don't do what the other kids are doing until a year later, and then there are kids who rocket and wind up at the same place at age 10," says Dr. Phil. There are many aspects to I.Q. A gifted child does well across the board in areas such as intelligence, social I.Q., emotional I.Q. and adaptive I.Q. Instead of pushing your child, create opportunities for him. "I don't believe in pushing kids," says Dr. Phil. "If a child is curious, if they're gifted, bright, inquisitive and curious, and you make opportunities available to them, they will gravitate to that." For example, if your child likes reading and you make books readily available to him, you will see him stimulate himself. Create a separate relationship with each of your kids. If you have multiple children, it's very important to make sure you have a unique and separate relationship with each one of your kids. Find something you can do with each child that you do only with them. Let this special time help each child feel unique and appreciated. Abandon the concept of comparing your child to other children. It can be difficult, but the fact is that children all develop at different rates. It doesn't mean that your child won't catch up and be at the same place other children are later. The developmental curve is a statistical norm that averages out a number of children in a study. But there is no normal child. Some children are early bloomers, and some are late, but they will most likely plateau out and end up in the same place. Take multiple measures across time. Just because your daughter is slower in her speech development than her twin sister, don't jump to the conclusion that there's something wrong with her. There may be a lag according to the statistical norm, but it may take care of itself in time. Don't take the tests as gospel. Be a good observer across time, and don't rush her into treatment the first sign of a delay because the labeling that comes with treatment itself can create problems. Don't stress over where your child is on the growth charts. The percentiles are basically points along the bell curve: Weight in the 40th percentile means that about 40 percent of American youngsters weigh less at that age. A weight at the 70th percentile means that about 70 percent would weigh less. But both numbers are in the range of what normal children weigh. If a child is growing outside the normal curve, that doesn't mean they're unhealthy. A pediatrician will follow up with more measurements over time, to make sure the growth is normal. "For example," explains Dr. Karp, "If your child is at the 25th percentile, and last visit they were at the 50th percentile, and the last visit they were at the 90th percentile, they're cutting across the curve, and that would be a red flag for me. But on the other hand, if they're at the 25th percentile the whole time, that's probably the growth pattern that she's going to establish, which means she's probably going to be a little more petite." Find out what you can do in the home environment to aid improvement. Ask questions, get information without the child present first, to see what you can learn. If your child does need treatment, get it. But encourage the therapist to instruct you on how to do as much as you can outside the treatment environment. Find out what kind of one-on-one time with your child at home will help her develop. For example, in the case of a speech delay, some of what you can do at home is model by reading to her a lot, don't complete her sentences for her, and be careful not to react to her nonverbal language, instead of requiring her to produce her own speech. The more you can do at home, the better off you are. Don't repeat baby talk back to a child. It may be cute when kids say, "I want some wa wa," but it won't be cute in the sixth grade. Language is a symbol system they learn, and it will confuse them if they learn one set of symbols, and then have to learn another.

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