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 +

Monday, February 09, 2009

A child who pulls.

There is the widespread view...and a poisonous view it is, too...that the parents of gifted children must somehow be pushing the child. Now, this view is based on nothing but people's assumptions, but it is a view that does great harm throughout the gifted community.

I have seen some very worrying comments, on the internet, levelled at the parents of gifted children. Some of the commenters were clearly angry at the parents. They assumed that the parents were somehow bullying the child into high intellectual performance. Some even threatened violence towards the parents. It is really quite mad.

Now, in an effort to understand why people often think such things of the parents of gifted children, I can only think that the accusers are trying to understand the situation from their own limited experience. In their experience, it is impossible for a child to do the things that the gifted child or prodigy is credited with. Those things simply cannot be. Therefore, they conceive that the situation must somehow be "forced". They think that the child must be under some kind of huge pressure to perform, from the parents, and that is why they are able to perform in this way.

I find their view and understanding quite horrifying. In my experience, I just don't think it is remotely possible to force a child to perform at a high level intellectually. Either such performance is in the child, or it is not. Either the child will naturally gravitate towards such a level of performance or they will not. There is no possibility of force in the situation. Indeed, I think force could only be counter-productive in that it would produce resentment by the child, of the parents, which would lead to resistance to co-operation.

The only situation, in my view, in which a child will perform at a prodigious level, is if the child is not pushed, but PULLS. It is the child who pulls the parent towards their own, inner objectives and not the parent who pushes the child towards theirs.

If the child exhibits a pull towards a subject which arises naturally in themselves, then that child will, naturally, perform at a high level in that subject. It is possible that such a child will become a prodigy. However, when that child does become a prodigy, many people will assume that the child was pushed into achieving what they achieved. So, instead of receiving approval from others, for being a supportive parent who has enabled the child's interests to flourish, the parent of a prodigy, will more often receive hostility, sometimes very extreme hostility, from people who believe, without any evidence whatsoever, that the child has been pushed into it.

Of course, this is all very sad. The more the parent helps the child achieve their goals, the more others will insist on misunderstanding their support and malignly characterizing their nature. The more the child is parented successfully, the more others will come to be unfriendly towards the parents. It is really quite bizarre. What is happening is actually very different from what people assume. What is happening is that the parents are being better parents, in enabling their child to grow, than parents typically are. The parents are being MORE caring, MORE supportive, MORE present for their child. It is, in fact, a scenario opposite to the one people assume. The parent of a prodigy, or any gifted child, is, more often than not, making more of an effort to be a good parent, than the parent of a typical child. A prodigy demands more support. If that prodigy is flourishing then, usually, the parent is providing that support.

It seems to me, that no parent should be censured for having a gifted or prodigious child. They should be accepted as the caring parents they almost always are.

There is an irony in this, of course. The ones who accuse the parents of gifted children of pushiness, are the ones with poison in their hearts. The parents are being what the accusers are not: supportive of their children.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 6:32 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...


i didnt agree with the myth that prodigy's parents are pushing their kids .

to me, the right word is 'helping'. they help the little child to do more better.

I have a friend who can read before 3 years old(thought by her brother who was 8 years old that time), doing well in math, and of course ahead from her peers. unfortunately, she's was neglected by her parents. they thought she can do it alone, by herself independently.

now, she is just like other normal teenagers,like me, studying for diploma.

what a big lost! i wish her parents will be more helping that time.

to mr cawley, please 'helps' your sons! :)

10:02 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your telling anecdote, of a child that got a little lost.

Yes, I shall try to help my children along, as best as I can.

Best wishes to you.

10:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been on the receiving end of this assumption and yes, it is frustrating when your children are underestimated and misunderstood.

Most typically it is the child in this situation pushing. However, we need to be honest that this isn't always the case. Parents of gifted kids are fighting a losing battle if they insist the stereotype of the pushy parent is never true. There are some stage parents out there who grossly overestimate their children's abilities.

And, sadly there are parents who become way too invested in attention seeking out attention about their children's abilities. It isn't the most common situation, but it does exist and we should be honest about how this is destructive to the individual chidlren involved and also to promoting stereotypes of gifted children generally.

11:45 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

In my experience, the parents who are a bit pushy with their kids, don't seem to have gifted kids. Maybe they think that pushing them, will make them gifted.

I don't, personally, know any parents of gifted children whom I would describe as pushy. Perhaps they exist...but I don't know any.

As for stage parents...I think this is a different kind of parent. I am assuming you mean the performer oriented child? They tend to be pushy to seek opportunity for their child, but I wouldn't call such children gifted, necessarily.

I think different parents face different circumstances and may need to respond in different ways, to get the resources they need for their child(ren). So, I don't jump to judgements without knowing more about their situation.

Thanks for your comment.

11:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, there needs to be a distinction made between pushy parents and stage parents.

I agree with Mr Cawley that the prodigy pushes his parents and never the other way. But even if one isn't a pushy parent, he/she could be a stage parent without realising it. For example, a parent of a prodigious kid did not push him to be so, but she constantly seeks the limelight for him or talks incessantly about his achievements...classic signs of a stage parent.

6:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Cawley,

Perhaps it is not so much the "pushing" that is the crux of the problem, but the desire for media attention which compels some to think badly of others.

For my part, I have seen a documentary featuring a gifted toddler where it struck me that her mother was happy to lap up the media exposure for herself. In these cases, there are legitimate grounds to ask if such parents do truly have their child's interests at heart.


9:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I supposed it's horror stories like Sufiah Yusof that causes this misconception.'working-as-a-prostitute'.html

On the other hand, the press rarely cover stories on gifted children engaging in "normal, happy" lives since it's not that newsworthy.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes. Perhaps there is a distortion created by news priorities. Good news is rarely seen as news at all.

Sufiah Yusof's story is as unfortunate as it is unique. I don't think there has been another case in known history like hers. By this I mean, no other prodigy has turned out the way she did. Most prodigies become experts of some kind...I suppose she did the same thing, but added an "s" on the front.

Thanks for your comment.

6:12 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Anonymous at 6.38 am.

I think it is easy, for some people, to jump to conclusions about others without knowing enough about them. For instance, it is easy to view the parents of a child that has been in the media as "stage parents" - but is this really so? You see the media are a force of their own. Once they hear of a child, they tend to take over and run stories irrespective of the wishes of the family. It is easy to assume that the family have initiated this, when often in fact it is just not so.

Then there are the media events that do not happen. We have, for instance, turned down EIGHT TV SHOWS in the past year. You would never be able to guess or know that were you not told. Would a stage parent turn down eight tv shows...absolutely no way. Yet, because we have been in a tv show, you might assume that we are stage parents. Our behaviour, however, says otherwise...if you actually knew more about the situation.

Then there is the personal level. A stage parent is always talking about their child's achievements to all and sundry, forever and a day. In our case, people we have known for a very long time, have been told nothing about our children at all. If they hear about it, it is not from us...but from third parties. There is no "bragging" going fact, we are very discrete on a personal level on these issues.

Again, this is something that could not be known about the parents of a gifted child that you have noted in the media. You don't know what they are like on a personal level. You don't know how discrete, modest or reserved they might be. If they are in the media, you don't know what was the cause of that media contact - and you don't know how much media they might have declined or wriggled out of. There is lots you cannot know.

So, again, I think people are too quick to make assumptions about such situations.

Thanks for your comment.

10:58 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Anonymous at 9.22 am.

I haven't seen the documentary you have, so I can't say if your view matches mine. I can say this, however. I have noted a tendency among people to conclude that I am thinking thoughts and having attitudes I never thought or had, when I am interviewed. I have been on TV a few times, for various things in my life and it always amazes me how people misunderstand and misinterpret what I was actually thinking, feeling and doing. What is even more amazing to me, is that they are adamant that they are right in their view, and that I am not...despite me being the one who would know!

Another issue: sometimes media attention is essential if the child is to succeed in their endeavours. We must not forget this. For instance, if a child is an artist, they won't sell any art at all, or make any impression on the art world (even if they don't wish to sell) if they don't have some publicity. The same goes for a child writer - no books will sell without it. Or a child performance bookings will come in, without a reputation. You get the idea. Without a public presence, a lot of gifted children cannot succeed in their aims. It is not the fault of the parents of these children that their professions require media attention - it is just the nature of those professions. This must be understood. Sometimes, it is not the parents seeking attention for the sake of attention - but for the sake of their child's career/profession, it may very well be a necessity - and there is nothing they can do to change that, if their child is to succeed.

Thanks for your comment.

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Valentine,

I find your post very interesting and I want to say more about it, but I am in a hurry at the moment.

I just wanted to leave these links with you. I just discovered this boy's story yesterday and I was shocked.

I don't mean to say that I believe it is the parents who are doing the pushing in the case of gifted kids. I will say more about that when I come back.

But here is one example of a mother who did push her son. While there is of course no such thing as an IQ of 298, Justin clearly was very smart; judging by that history paper for example (I'm not convinced about the work done online).

Kind regards

P.S. We have talked before a few months ago (I'm the one who was unsure about being gifted and you said I probably was - do you remember?) but I "lost" my login details so I just use my middle name now.

7:50 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, Maria, I had heard something of the Justin Chapman case before. Given what the mother did...cheat on an IQ is impossible to disentangle the truth of what went on there. We will probably never know how bright, or otherwise, this child genuinely is. The mother seems to have been behaving rather unusually.

There is, by the way, such a thing as an IQ of 298 - or even higher. Some people do attain IQs in that range. However, it is not a deviation IQ but a ratio IQ. It is a ratio of mental age over chronological age times 100 and is used to assess children, not adults. So an IQ of 300 means the child has a mental age of three times its chronological age. This is possible, but very rare. William James Sidis was estimated in the range 250 to 300 for instance.

Yes. This mother seems to have not been satisfied with a bright child...she wanted something beyond bright - and faked it. It is a pity she just didn't accept her child for himself, whatever that self is.

Thanks for the tip. Luckily, I think that Justin Chapman's is a very unusual case (at least I hope so).

7:57 PM  

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