How To Raise a Prodigy: Lessons I Learned From Parenting One
I bumped into one of my mentors one night in a coffee shop. He asked about my me and my family and I happily shared some updates, including my eldest son’s latest adventures on the piano. He and his sons were amazed at my story. He said that my son is a prodigy. It was the first time I considered that. He’s right. We have a musical prodigy in our house.
He makes learning music, whether singing songs or playing songs on the piano, look so easy. To him, these activities are as natural as breathing.
I used to play a cd of nursery rhymes/songs to him when he was still a baby. Then, we would dance to the tune of those songs. I would also teach him the actions for those songs. When he became a toddler, he started showing remarkable developments in language and music. He started saying some words before he turned 1 year old and he started singing songs when he was over a year old. When he was already 2 years old, he could sing not just nursery songs but even other songs that he doesn’t hear every ay as long as heard them a few times. We loved asking him to sing songs for us and he would sing a song we request him to sing at the drop of a hat! He was an adorable baby!
He liked playing with musical instruments. His first favorite was the guitar because that’s what he saw his Dad playing. We also got him a small guitar. He would imitate his dad every time his Dad practices. During Masses, he would sit beside the other guitarists in the choir. He wants to be part of the choir too. He also wants to have his own chord book even though he was only 2 years old then! It looked so funny. But we kept on letting him do what he wanted to do and what made him happy. Eventually, he shifted to our small keyboard because he was having a hard time doing the chord on his guitar with short fingers. It was easier for him to play the piano because he only needed to press the keys.
Yanthy just turned 3 years old here. He was trying out a new guitar that his Dad gave him as a birthday gift. He was singing Only a God Like You by Tommy Walker.
Then, when he was around 4 and half years old, we move to a new house near a Catholic church. We started going to Mass daily. I noticed that he would always look at the pianist serving during Masses.
One day, I got the surprise of my life when I heard someone play some of the Mass songs on our keyboard. It was my little boy! I was amazed because no one taught him. My husband and I do not know how to play the piano. I bought our keyboard just before I got married because I wanted to learn how to play the instrument. But I didn’t get to have formal piano lessons and I found the books my husband gave me challenging. In short, I didn’t learn. Then, here comes my little boy, playing on our piano one day. He learned by simply watching and listening.
Last night, he served in the Mass again in our parish. He has been serving as a pianist in this church since he turned 7 years old last year (October 2015). He played a new song titled Here We Are. He just learned this song yesterday. After a few hours, he played it as the entrance song in last night’s Mass. If he is in the mood and we provide him with the needed resources (like chords, music sheets and ample time to play on the piano), he would learn at least one new song each day.
After the Mass last night, he mentioned to me and a few of our friends that there are now 62 music sheets in his tablet. I was amazed! That means that 62 is the minimum number of songs he has learned to play on the piano! And he only started formal piano lessons around 1 year ago! But that’s not all, I said minimum because that number does not include the songs he learned without a music sheet, which is so much more because he first learned to play oido (by ear). He also learned some songs by using the chords only and he improvised on the accompaniment. That number also does not include the nursery songs, classical music, Christmas songs, worship songs, folk songs and many other songs he learned! He said that if we list or count all the songs that he has played since he started, it must be more than a hundred. I think he’s right. Wow!
Now, let me share with you the definitions of prodigy that I found.
What is a Prodigy?
From Dictionary.com: a person, especially a child or young person, having extraordinary talent or ability: a musical prodigy.
From the British Dictionary:
From Mirriam-Webster.com: a young person who is unusually talented in some way.
From Cambridge Dictionaries Online:
(Prodigy in American English) a child who shows a great ability at a young age: a child prodigy on the piano.
(Prodigy in British English) someone with a very great ability that usually shows itself when the person is a young child.
From Oxford Dictionaries: a person, especially a young one, endowed with exceptional qualities or abilities.
How Do You Raise a Prodigy?
It’s so easy to dismiss a child’s accomplishments when a child is still growing. This is because a child’s accomplishments look ordinary in the beginning. What children exhibit at an early age are skills that most adults already can do; and so, the adults around the child can easily ignore these milestones as ordinary or typical. But when one looks closely and uses the guidelines for achieving milestones, parents can sometimes notice what is extraordinary in their children’s milestones or development. This is what helped me discover early on that my eldest son is gifted. I would regularly review the milestones for babies and toddlers from a book that my husband gave me. I would check what things my baby was already capable of doing. I would do this month after month. I would do advance reading also. When I did this, I realized that my eldest was hitting his milestones quite fast, not just in months but in years sometimes. At two years old, he has already mastered concepts taught to pre-schooler and kindergarteners. He was also reading at that age and had a vast vocabulary.
This was one of the songs he learned to play oido or by ear. Eventually, he learned to play this by reading notes. He first played it in full last month at the Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in our parish.
Believe in your child and in his capabilities.
One of the traits I noticed in gifted children or child prodigies is that they have self-confidence. They are risk-takers and they like challenges. They are not afraid to try new things especially in their area of interest. As parents, we can help build their confidence by believing in them, in their potential and their capabilities. When my son was just starting to play in the Mass, I was so nervous. I kept praying that he would not mess up the Mass by playing the piano. I would ask him repeatedly before the Masses if he is sure he can play the songs right. I would listen to him practice at home. When I hear him play the songs perfectly at home, I am less nervous. If not and he decides he will still play it in the church, I would be praying fervently at the pews. So far, he has been playing well. I’m glad I supported his decision to try and believed in his potential and new-found skill. These days, I still get nervous when he plays new songs. But my confidence in his has also grown in the past year that I saw him improve a lot on his chosen instrument. I noticed that my confidence in him helps build his confidence also. He searches for my look of approval whenever he plays. He feels happy whenever I praise him and his talent.
This next video is just last month. It was his first time to play this song for the Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He started learning it around an hour before the Mass. Then, he played it as the recessional.
Provide for your child a nurturing and supportive environment.
It helped a lot that we provided for our son a number of musical instruments he can play with when he was growing. Since we noticed that he likes making music, those are the kinds of toys we gave him. We also gave him a keyboard or digital piano with 88 keys when he asked for it and we got confirmation from his first piano last summer that he quickly outgrew our small keyboard. I also watched him most of the time when he practices and I even take videos of him practicing. Whenever he has learned a new song, I would document it by taking a video of him. He feels happy that I show him my support by doing these things. I praise him every time I see him practice, try to learn a new song or when I hear him play a song well or perfectly. I let him hear me praise him in front of other people. I share his videos to our relatives and friends. I tell him the compliments that other people say about him. My husband and I provide him with books and opportunities that help him achieve his goals.
Find mentors for your child.
Since I am not as gifted in music as he is and my husband is not a piano player also, we looked for possible mentors or teachers for our eldest son. Good thing, the church pianist happily mentored him. Also, I found a Yamaha teacher who lives in our village too so we asked her to go to our house to give him formal piano lessons. then, I discovered a performing school that helps children get ABRSM certification for their lessons. We decided to enroll our son in their piano class last year and this year during the summer months. (You may read about our summer experience here in my previous post.) Right now, he’s still preparing for Grade 1 certification on the piano.
Get out of the way.
This is one of the hard lessons I am learning as I raise a prodigy. My natural tendency as a parent is to protect him. I don’t want him to be too stressed. I don’t want him to be embarrassed. I don’t want him to be frustrated. I tend to throw a lot of caution to him. It’s not that I believe in him. I do. But I just couldn’t shake the fact that he’s just a child. He’s my little boy. But time and again, he proves that though he has the body of a little boy, he possesses great talent in music. What stresses me or terrifies adults like me, can challenge him positively. I think this comes from his innate desire to learn and do good in his field of interest and in his knowledge of his own capabilities. I remember when he first told me that he wants to have a piano concert for his 7th birthday. I could not believe my ears the first time he said it. I thought he was not serious. But he turned out to be; so, I supportive him and he did get what he wanted. (You may read about it here in another blog post.) Another example is when he tries to learn pieces that are above his level. He doesn’t care if a song is for more advanced piano players. As long as he likes the tune, he would start learning it. He is unfazed even when we or his piano teachers would tell him that those pieces are played by those who have been playing the piano for years. I’m glad that over time, I have learned to get out of his way more and more. This has allowed him to soar and do the things he is most passionate to spend time on. Of course, I still give him a lot of reminders, but I give him more freedom now after realizing that he is indeed no ordinary child.
I’m really grateful that I made the decision to leave my full-time job years ago. Otherwise, I’m not sure if we would have noticed right away that our son is gifted. I’m thankful that I was able to find and provide the necessary interventions that helped us support his unique needs. I’m also happy that I’m still able to contribute to the family income even as I stay home most of the time because this raising a prodigy can also be costly.