Raising a “Child Prodigy” with an Ordinary Mindset
PureInsight | March 14, 2005
（Translated by Pureinsight Website from my article in Chinese.)
My daughter is considered by many to be a "child prodigy." When she was only 1 year old, she could already recognize hundreds of Chinese characters. When she was four and a half years old, we tried to send her to the local elementary school, two years ahead of schedule. In order for the elementary school to bend its enrollment rules, her father went to see an acquaintance at the district bureau of education and got the chief of the bureau to write a "slip of paper" that asked the school to admit her. Although we had the "slip of paper," the school still demanded that my daughter undergo an entrance examination. The teacher brought a 3rd grade textbook for my daughter to read. She casually flipped to a page in the text book, and read the whole page without any difficulty. The school accepted my daughter, who became the youngest student in the whole school.
The first day of school, my daughter brought home her textbooks and opened her literature and language textbook. Like casually reading a short story, she finished the book from the beginning to end in 20 minutes, and put the book away. I asked whether if there were any words she did not recognize. She replied saying, "nope". Just like that, she finished reading the one semester long curriculum.
At the end of the semester the school hosted a recital competition. She was the youngest of the participants and couldn’t reach the microphone when she went on stage. The teachers got her a stool to stand on, and proudly announced, "This is the youngest student in our school." Dressed in white and a red cap, my daughter enthusiastically recited the story about the Little Red Riding Hood. I was amazed to find that she was a bit nervous. Before that, she had never showed any nervousness in any situation because she was not self-conscious at all. Maybe it was that grand competition and the emphasis in the teacher’s introduction that made her prematurely develop self-awareness.
"Special" Yet Ordinary
I have always tried my best not to let my daughter feel she is somehow "special." For instance, when she first came home from first day at kindergarten, like she just discovered new land, she told me excitedly, "Mama! The little friends in kindergarten don’t even recognize the characters for ‘one, two, or three’!" She wasn’t feeling or being arrogant at that time, she was only a little surprised that others are different than her. I casually told her, "Their mothers just haven’t bothered to teach them that yet, that’s all. It isn’t that surprising. They will learn them later and be able to recognize them."
The first day she came home from elementary school she told me with excitement, "Mama, on New Year’s Day we’re going to perform a musical in the halls and even the Communist Party leaders will personally be there to watch!"
She put such emphasis on "personally", although she was only imitating the teacher’s tone.
I sighed in my heart. Before interacting with society, children are so pure, innocent and clean without any contamination. At the age of 4, my daughter had already become extremely excited that the Communist Party leaders were "personally" going to watch their performance. It was like watching a sheet of clean paper, and seeing more and more ink appearing on the paper with every stroke of the calligraphy pen.
I tried to remove my daughter’s excitement. I told her, "The Communist Party leaders have noses and eyes just like everyone else. There’s nothing special about their visit. When you perform in front of them, you should perform as if you are in front of any audience. All you have to do is to do your best. Understand?"
My daughter looked at me with a mixture of understanding and confusion. However I know that from then she at least understood that "Communist Party leaders" weren’t something worth giving special performances to.
My Daughter Telling Me Stories
I always tried to protect her carefully, so that her pure heart would not be contaminated. However when she was seven and a half something astonishing happened.
On that day I was taking her to the natural history museum. It said, "Free admission for children under 1.1 meters" on the admission gates. When we approached the ticket window, my daughter turned her head a bit and said out loud, "Mama, I am not 1.1 meters yet right?" The ticket seller looked at my daughter and believed her. So she told me that I only needed to buy one ticket for myself, and my daughter could get in for free. I told my daughter, "Didn’t we measure you just a couple of days ago? You are already 1.16 meters now." I went ahead and bought two tickets.
Just as I entered the door of the museum, I felt something was wrong. With my daughter’s smarts and great memory, she never would forget her height that we just measured. Why did she do that then?
I quickly tried to find reasons from within. I remember before going out the door I said that the tickets were too expensive, and that if it was more than ten yuan, we were not going to go in. When we arrived at the museum we discovered that it was 15 yuan. Even though I told my daughter that we would go in anyway, she apparently was concerned about the price and thought that if she could sneak in without paying, then we wouldn’t go over my "budget." Maybe it is us adults who affected her?
So I said to her, "Trying to save money is the right thing to do. However no matter what, we still can’t go to the extreme. To make money is to be able to spend it. Mommy will spend whatever we need to spend."
My daughter immediately said that she understood, and told me a story. There was a rich landlord times ago. He had a many pieces of gold. Because he was afraid of people stealing them, he hid them inside a chest and buried it underground, occasionally digging it up to count. One day he dug up the chest and discovered that the gold had been replaced with a rock by someone. He was so sad that he sat there and cried. Neighbors heard his cries and after he told his neighbor what happened, he said, "Ha! You never used that money anyway, only to count it. What’s the difference between counting a rock and counting gold? Hug your rock and count! No need to cry!"
After she told me this story, I thought with relief: she had great enlightenment qualities, and with one point, she understood my words.
Guarding the Purity
When we came home from the museum, I still felt something didn’t add up. I thought about it and it was that I forgot to emphasize an even more serious point: people should be truthful, and shouldn’t take advantage of people!
So I asked her, "You knew you were 1.16 meters, why did you say you were less than 1.1 meters?"
My daughter looked at me and replied without even thinking, "Oh no, I think I said, I hoped that I wasn’t even 1.1 meters yet." She placed emphasis on "think" and "hope." I breathed in a breath of cold air, and was shocked and unable to say a word. I had caught her telling a lie, yet she had no problem seeing a way out of it. Using cleverness this way is even rare in adults, yet she was only seven or so!
For the longest time I couldn’t even speak, stood there for sometime and walked away. Being a parent, I already noticed long time ago that although every child is like a clean sheet of paper when they’re born, every child’s personality and traits are almost there from birth. My daughter also brought certain things from her birth. For example, children her age don’t have the ingenuity that she has. I believe that this is something that was developed in her previous lives and strengthened in this life. Other than causes from society, I have also done things that I am not proud of and my daughter learned from me.
My daughter is like a mirror, constantly reflecting myself. I believe learning from experience sticks better than just verbal instructions. In this often changing and unstable world with many temptations, holding your purity inside your heart is the only way to maintain one’s inner peace.
The New Task
When I was smaller, I always heard parents say "children everywhere, their parent’s kindness". Only becoming a mother did I understand how heavy the word parents is. It’s a good thing that I already have a determined heart in this world. So I have plenty of confidence that my daughter will have a bright life.
Recently we immigrated to Australia. Compared to the Australian kids of the same age, she is no longer a "child prodigy" in terms of her language skills. How to help her get used to her new environment is a new problem I have to face.
Originally published at :
Chinese version available at: 神童女兒 平常心