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Music, Sports, and More: How Much is Too Much?

Gifted and Talented Expert Advice from Rita Culross, Ph.D.

Q: My eight-year-old daughter pestered me since she was three to take guitar lessons. Her hands were too small then and she had no interest in violin, so we signed her up three months ago for guitar lessons. Her instructor is amazed at her abilities and says that she learns three times faster then any of his other students.

Why is she now wanting to stop guitar and take piano? (She has been puttering around with our piano lately, playing songs by ear.) Since I am concerned about letting the interest in piano lapse, I have considered giving her lessons for both, but she already does karate, Girl Scouts, and baseball (which will end soon). How do I motivate my daughter to keep interested and practice on her own without nagging, yet not overload her? How much is too much?

A: One of the challenges of working with gifted children is that they frequently exhibit talents in a variety of areas and have voracious appetites for learning. The term multipotentiality refers to the many gifts that some gifted children possess. Children with talents in the musical arts will often show interest in learning multiple instruments.

As you have clearly articulated, those multiple interests and talents can lead to a very full schedule, which can overload not only the child but also the parent. Gifted children also need free time to unwind and to just "hang out," balanced with other times of high stimulation. Does your daughter's guitar teacher also teach piano? If so, you might be able to get him to integrate lessons across both instruments. If he is on a music faculty at a school or a local college, he may be able to identify a colleague who could help to coordinate lessons on both instruments.

Since baseball is ending, would it be possible to substitute the piano lessons for that sport? Since your daughter also takes karate, she will still be involved in a physical activity.

You can also sit and talk with your daughter about what her priorities are. If she wants to pursue multiple activities, ask her to choose a few to do now with a plan to switch to other activities in the spring or summer. Continue to monitor her for signs of overload. Is she cranky, unwilling to practice, or losing interest in one or more activities? If so, it may be time to pull back.

It's also quite reasonable to indicate to her that you need to pull back. If you have a job, other children, or other responsibilities, you need not feel guilty about setting limits on your daughter's activities.

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Rita Culross is Associate Dean, College of Education, and Adjunct Professor of Psychology and Curriculum and Instruction at Louisiana State University. Culross has served as the consulting school psychologist for a public school elementary gifted program, and has written a book and several journal articles on gifted education.


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