The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Prodigy and pushy parents: myth or truth?

An odd thing happens if your child is outstanding. People begin to think, say and do peculiar things. They hint to you that you must be "pushing" your child. They mumble words like "hothousing" in your general direction. They begin to think ill of you...because your child shines brightly. This is a common reaction to the gifted child, the child genius, the prodigy. I can only speak with certainty of one case of a gifted family: my own - but I have read of others and what many of them say agrees with what I am about to.

If you have to push your child, then your child is not truly gifted. A gifted child, a baby genius, a child prodigy and adult talent or genius to come does not need to be pushed. They have their own inner drive. On the contrary, naturally gifted children will tend to push their parents - NOT the other way around. On days when I am free to spend significant time with him, Ainan Celeste Cawley, my six year old prodigy son, will besiege me with questions. Often I am overwhelmed by their flow, so plentiful and so wide-ranging are they. I do not solicit these questions. I do not push him to make enquiries of me - indeed it would be foolish to do so, since he does so, so plentifully already. He comes to me with his thoughts, his theories, his projects, experiments, observations, obscure knowledge and always, his questions - question after question after question. There is no end to the questioning.

Anyone who witnessed a day in the life of Ainan Celeste Cawley and family would see that the drive for Ainan to become what he may one day be: an adult genius, comes from within him. It is his need to know, his desire to understand, his ambition to embody in a theory of his own, all that he reads, thinks, hears and observes, that drives him. There is no need for an external force to push him along. If there were such a need, I don't think the child would get very far: for there would be no joy in the journey.

If your child is gifted, they will have their interests and their dreams, their ambitions and their passions. Let them follow them. The moment you begin to force a dream, an ambition, a passion, an interest onto them, you have lost them. Nothing will come of that.

As a parent of a gifted child, we have a special responsibility to help them grow and to deliver on their promise - but remember this: a gardener does not force his plants to grow, and neither should you force your child.

Love them, be there for them, provide them with the necessary material to develop their interest - but let them guide you where they will go. They will know what they like and enjoy. It is a mistake to make this decision for them.

In my experience it is the gifted child, the young prodigy who steers. Ainan Celeste Cawley is an essentially self-taught scientist: for almost all of what he knows has been acquired in his own pursuit of knowledge. No-one pushes him to pick up a book. No-one pushes him to think about its content - or theorize about it. No-one pushes him to conduct private experiments on all and sundry. He does this himself.

A prodigy does not have pushy parents. A prodigy is a pushy child - pushing forward their interests, understanding and insights - and steadily becoming what they may. Let them be, just that.

(For posts on Ainan Celeste Cawley, six, a scientific child prodigy, and his gifted brothers, go to: )

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:03 PM 


Blogger Punn Siwabutr said...

I noticed no one has commented on this.

I'd just like to say that this is so true. It's our child who is pushing us and driving us, not the other way round.

By the way, how is Ainan doing at Raffle and NUS High School?

Best regards,

6:48 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

It is good to get external confirmation of what we have observed, thanks.

Well, Ainan did his six sessions at Raffles - but there was no long term provision there. NUS High School's provision was insufficient at not at a level likely to stimulate him - so we took him out. They were really rather inflexible (and authoritarian, I thought).

We are, therefore, left to our own devices. The system here really does not wish to open its arms to anyone who is exceptional, in any way. They say they do - but they don't and won't. That is the way of the place.

Best wishes.

8:23 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Hi, I've been reading your blogs (halfway through) and I love them. I too was a gifted baby and did many of the activities that Ainan does. I hate to say but early on my parents were a bit naive. I used to bombard them with facts and why's as well and get kind of brushed of per se.

One thing I wondered is if he has shown any reclusiveness? I can recall the day when a teacher set me down and basically told me that there was nothing special about me (this was 1st grade), and then it spread to friends and family. Alot of stemmed from throwing out wild ideas, correcting people, my speech and choice of words and my willingness early on to share what I knew.

That completely dimmed my inner-light I guess. I started failing test on purpose and doing "average" because it seemed almost like a burden to smart. It still does today, I've kept myself busy studying the most complicated subjects I can find. But reading your blogs just bought back alot of memories...

3:00 AM  
Anonymous I&D said...

Pushy kids are tiring to raise from my experience. My kid just turned 2 and we as parents had another one of those past midnight irritations of him refusing to sleep and wanting us to teach him to read sentences again. All I can say is we want to push him to retire early so that we can get some needed rest but he keeps pushing us to read instead. It is a somewhat bitter sweet experience to have a bright child.

12:05 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for sharing your experience. Do you know what the worst part of it is? If your child excels, there are others who will say that YOU were the pushy ones, not your kid. They will condemn you for his excellence.

Good luck on raising your kid...and I know it is tiring.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Ivy said...

I agree that gifted children simply learn on their own driven by their own curiosity.

My 6 yr old has drawn me a diagram of various atoms with electrons and a molecular bond of these atoms.

So far he has picked up his knowledge from reading. We just bought him a lot of books and he would read on his own. He loves science and has moved around the topics on astronomy and human body. I haven't thought he was in anyway smarter until I saw his molecules. Astronomy and human body topics are probably something a 6 yr old will delve in but I have not come across any other kid who does molecules and atoms. His hydrogen atom had only 1 electron and the others have their various nos exactly like how they depict in the book. He had drawn this from memory but added the molecular fusion on his own. I see that he can absorb as much knowledge as the book provides.

I'm wondering what I should do to nurture his gift other than leaving more books lying around. Can you share with me what I can possibly do?

9:42 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Ivy,

Firstly, congratulations on having a scientifically interested child...there are too few these days, I think.

You are doing well to leave accessible books in his reach, on various topics. That is a good thing to do and means that he will find out what he wants to find out rather than being pushed.

If he is becoming interested in Chemistry, I wonder if he might be interested in the practical side of it...that is actually DOING chemistry. Ask him whether he would like to do it. Then buy him a Chemistry set. However, given his age, I think his experimenting should be supervised, since it is possible to hurt oneself with a Chemistry set. If he finds this interesting, allow him the chance to actually do Chemistry. For some kids this is much more enlightening than just learning from books.

Good luck and let me know how he gets on. I am particularly interested in how he might respond to the chance to do real Chemistry experiments.

Best wishes


3:29 PM  
Blogger Ivy said...

Thanks! Will get a set and let him try. Any suggestion where to get a good set?

He is also very into astronomy. My hb and I are trying very hard to keep up. He's been going on and on about VY star and black holes after watching the documentary on Discovery Science. The more he learns, the more we have to learn.

We got his IQ tested and he has got a splinter result. Mountains and valleys. Twice exceptional. I hope he can make it in our rigid system.

8:17 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Ivy,

I believe the Science Centre in Singapore sells some Chemistry sets...or at least they used to. I don't know, from memory whether they are any good, however. The problem parents face, now, with regards to Chemistry sets is I feel they have been sanitized since my childhood...particularly perhaps in this post 9/11 world. There seems to be less opportunity to do certain kinds of experiment. Maybe this is just the "safety tsars" going overboard. Anyway, ANY Chemistry set is better than no just get the best one you can find, that has been allowed to be imported into Singapore.

The most important thing to remember is to encourage his interest...but NOT to push it. Once you start pushing, the risk is the child will lose that innate interest and start to switch off. Quite a few parents make that kind of mistake. Just be there for him...and all will be well.

Good luck.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Ivy said...

Thank you for the reminder! Yes, we have to be conscious not to push it.

So far it's still him pushing us and we are lagging behind. Lol. we have been more reactive to his interests than proactive and we wonder what can we do to challenge him. So far everything he learnt is purely from books and documentaries. We seem to be discovering new things about what he learnt everyday. Like he is the teacher. We have been googling and checking up on facts whenever he throw us something in our direction. But one thing we realize is that he has not asked any question. He was simply presenting facts but not asking why some things are like these.

We have done crystal garden so far. He was very excited about it the first few days. But when it took a week for the crystals to 'grow', he got tired of waiting. Lol.

Gotten a volcano set and something on magnets. You are right, it's not easy to get chemicals these days. And a lot of the science sets we saw didn't provide much chemicals. They deal mainly in physics experiments rather than chemistry.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Ivy,

Different children have a different learning style. Some are big questioners...others are not. Your son seems to be good at learning and acquiring information, in various contexts. It seems that, at this stage, he accepts the validity of that information. This probably reflects his personality, or present stage of development. This may change as he gets older. I wouldn't be worried about it.

It is good that you are getting him these little science sets, to give him experiences. There is a stock of them at the Science Centre - and Toys R Us has quite a few too. The only place I remember seeing a Chemistry set in Singapore, was the Science Centre, in Jurong - though I don't know if they still stock them. Perhaps you can give them a call.

Yes. Chemicals are in short supply these days. Everything has been sanitized to the point of educational uselessness. Looking back, I used to have access to chemicals that there is just NO WAY a child would have now. Yet, I learnt from these I think that present concerns are impoverishing the childhoods of our children.

Good luck in finding a Chemistry set, in Singapore.

7:53 PM  

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