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Beyond the 'gifted' label: how to boost your child's potential

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Labelling children as being gifted can force them to act differently, develop a fear of failure – or sometimes mask their true potential so they’re not perceived as ‘different’.

The need for a new approach is addressed in a handbook written as the culmination of more than 20 years of collaborative research with international experts and of development work at the Brunel Able Children’s Education (BACE) Centre at Brunel University London.

“Since the UK government’s gifted and talented policy was abandoned in 2010, I’ve received many queries from parents, grandparents and carers who want to find out if their children are gifted. They’re looking for practical advice on how to steer their children towards greater fulfilment and happiness,” said Professor Valsa Koshy, who established the BACE Centre – the first university-based centre in the UK for talent development – in 1996.

“What’s unique about our book’s approach is that we encourage parents and teachers to ask ‘What are my child’s gifts and talents?’, not ‘Is my child gifted?’. 

“We also adopt a holistic view of a child’s success in life, and discuss the role of children’s learning experiences alongside mental and physical wellbeing towards enhancing learning and self-fulfilment.” The book includes many case studies of children from poorer families whose lives were transformed through the support given by the authors to their parents on how to help their children.

Evidence base from mother and daughter

Professor Koshy teamed up with her daughter, Dr Elizabeth Koshy, a medical professional, to combine their complementary areas of expertise into a practical guide, Find and Nurture Your Child’s Gifts, for those responsible for the upbringing of children aged 4 to 11 years.

Much of the evidence and the case studies brought to life in the book are based on the BACE Centre’s intervention programmes for children, in which Professor Koshy and colleagues worked with local authorities, schools, teachers, children and their caregivers.

The work of the BACE Centre has also been lauded by Sir Vince Cable, who supported its mission of developing the potential of disadvantaged children when he was Secretary of State for Business and seeking to advance the agenda of social mobility.

“In this book, Professor Koshy has looked more broadly at what ‘ability’ actually means and how to realise the full potential of children,” commented Sir Vince. “It is a really valuable guide to child development, informed by a record of success benefitting many young people.”

Dr Elizabeth Koshy added, “We increasingly hear about primary school children suffering with stress and anxiety, lacking self-esteem or being adversely affected by bullying. Positive mental wellbeing, healthy eating habits, physical activity and good sleep are the cornerstone of educational achievement and success in life’s often complicated journey.”

The book provides practical advice on promoting children’s overall wellbeing. One of the key messages is that a happy child is more likely to be a motivated learner and an unhappy child is more likely to be a reluctant learner.

“As someone who came through childhood trauma and the care system but who found early inspiration and confidence from playing chess, I myself recognise the benefits of the authors’ approach,” said Richard Farleigh, former investor on Dragons’ Den and now Chancellor at London South Bank University. “For me, it only took one or two adults who cared and noticed to make a big difference, so I know it can work.”

Skills for the 21st century

Professor Julia Buckingham, Vice-Chancellor and President of Brunel University London, said: “Society will always need academic achievement and other types of intelligence and gifts, such as leadership skills, creative talent and originality. For children to succeed in the 21st century, it’s important that we identify and nurture their talents.

“I am immensely proud of the achievements of Professor Koshy and her particular skill in generating practical and useful knowledge from her research. One example of this is our Urban Scholars programme, which has helped to transform the lives of hundreds of young people who live in challenging circumstances through their attendance at the University on Saturdays.

“I am delighted that her knowledge and experience have been distilled into a practical and inspirational handbook for parents of children aged 4 to 11. It’s only right that more parents, grandparents and carers can benefit from her wisdom and track record.”

Reflecting on her experience, Professor Koshy said: “Society is in need of a new dawn in which the right of every child to have their special abilities is recognised, whether or not these are submerged due to social deprivation or other external circumstances.

“The ability to boost a child’s learning potential and wellbeing is within grasp of their caregivers. This book provides practical advice on how to recognise and handle some of the challenges and how to promote children’s overall wellbeing and happiness.”

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Find and Nurture Your Child’s Gifts, by Professor Valsa Koshy and Dr Elizabeth Koshy (ISBN 978-1900905-15-2), is on sale at Amazon.

Reported by:

Joe Buchanunn, Media Relations
+44 (0)1895 268821
joe.buchanunn@brunel.ac.uk