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 +

Friday, July 06, 2007

Let the children play

About a month ago, when Fintan was still three, I saw something which made me wonder what some parents think parenting is all about.

Fintan was in the pool - it was the shallow children's pool and there was only one other child in the pool - a boy of about two or three years old (generally Chinese children are relatively small so it makes guessing their age difficult - but he was certainly at least two years old). This child was accompanied by two adults, one of whom appeared to be his mother, the other a friend.

What I noted fairly quickly was that neither adult seemed to be able to play with the child, very well. Their main concern seemed to be stopping him from doing things. They would always intervene when he tried to do something, interrupting whatever it was that he was trying to do. They seemed to be worried that he would hurt himself somehow. After some time, he appeared to basically give up trying to do anything, and stood largely immobile. Here was a child who wasn't being allowed to be a child.

Fintan is a friendly boy. He saw the other little boy and decided to play a game. He approached the boy, swimming like a shark and diving into the water just before the boy, teasing him with the possibility of being eaten. He would then back up quickly, running through the water, while looking back to see if he was being followed. Very clearly, Fintan, three, was trying to initiate some sort of improvised chase game. The other boy never reacted. Never once did he try to chase Fintan in return. He just looked at him, in incomprehension, it seemed.

After a few attempts to make the other boy engage, one would have thought Fintan would give up - but he didn't get the opportunity to. Suddenly, the mother snapped at Fintan: "Will you stop bullying my baby!?" she cried, "Will you stop?"

Fintan and I were both surprised at this since it was clear that she had completely misunderstood the situation. He looked at her in silence - and then backed away, his face somewhat hurt by this unfair accusation. After a minute or two he started to play alone - and ignored the other child completely in the remaining half an hour he spent in the pool. The boy's minders, meanwhile, got on with preventing him from playing.

I felt like remonstrating with the mother, but thought better of it. A woman who misunderstood children to that extent was probably too stupid to reason with. I watched her with her child for a while and never saw any playfulness creep into her interactions with her child: it was all about control. It was one of the saddest pieces of "misparenting" I have ever seen.

This woman - and her friend - had intervened so as to prevent their child from playing. They had thwarted another child's attempt to befriend their child. They had misunderstood Fintan's friendliness as hostility - and isolated their child. In all the time that the other boy was in the pool, he was never allowed to make his own decisions, never allowed to be free to play. Most pointedly, he was never allowed to interact with another child.

I did note, too, her reference to her child as a "baby". That, perhaps, said it all. In her mind, her child was forever a baby, forever needing protection, forever needing to be watched over. From his size and motor development, he was at least two years old, however - and far from being a baby. He was almost Fintan's contemporary.

Fintan and I left the pool, sometime later - and he never spoke of what he felt about what she had done - but we both went home quieter than before, having been subdued by this silly woman's behaviour.

She did teach me one thing, though: how not to be a parent. Perhaps we can all learn from her poor example - and do what obviously she could never do: let the children play.

(If you would like to learn more of Fintan, four years and no months, and his gifted brothers, Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and seven months, and Tiarnan, seventeen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

Labels: , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 7:49 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was the child Chinese or was he Asian?

12:43 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Singapore consists of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Caucasian people with very few others. It is quite easy to distinguish these groupings. The child was from the way he looked and the way his mother (and friend) looked, Chinese.

I am not sure that the behaviour of the mother is linked to race or culture - though it may be, of course. The important issue is the restrictive behaviour itself and not necessarily speculation as to its origin.


11:36 AM  
Blogger Jason Jones said...

In the US, these are called "helicopter parents" due to their constant hovering. It is too common.

I have never understood a parent being rude to another's child.


1:23 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks Jason for the phrase: "helicopter parents" - a wonderfully succinct way of expressing their behaviour. I haven't heard it before.

You are right. An adult really should leave children to play - and shouldn't charge in rudely, as she did.

Best wishes

4:04 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape