HOW TO HELP YOUR CHILD BECOME A GENIUS

SOME PSYCHOLOGICAL RESEARCH SUPPORTS THE INTRIGUING IDEA THAT PARENTS GET IN THE WAY OF GENIUS

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DOES THE EMOTIONAL ABSENCE OF PAUL DIRAC’S FATHER SUGGEST THAT A TOUGH CHILDHOOD WITHOUT PARENTS HELPS PRODUCE OUTSTANDING ABILITY?

HOW TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR CHILD INTO BECOMING A GENIUS – IGNORE THEM
 
Dr Raj Persaud Consultant Psychiatrist
 
In Graham Farmelo’s stunning biography of Paul Dirac, one of the greatest physicists of all time, commonly described as the ‘British Einstein’, a bizarre and cruel relationship with an emotionally absent Father is horrifically detailed.
 
But could it be that, in fact, this is what partly fostered Dirac’s eventual brilliance?
 
As a child, Dirac couldn’t recall his parents ever dining together, plus his bullying disciplinarian father, who was also a teacher, would force him to speak only French throughout any meal they had together. Whenever Paul made a linguistic error, his father’s iron rule was that any subsequent request would be refused. Given Paul suffered from severe digestive problems, this meant that all pleas to leave the table were refused, so the son would have no recourse but to remain seated and vomit. This happened for years throughout his childhood.
 
One speculation is that Dirac’s own very strange asocial behaviour could be explained by his suffering from some form of Autistic Spectrum Disorder, such as Asperger’s Syndrome. Given its strong heritability, perhaps, his Father’s own lack of emotional warmth towards his son, could also be accounted for by him belonging to the same spectrum.
 
There is a sense that children like Dirac do not experience parenting, so it’s as if they are emotional orphans. Later in his life Dirac would reciprocate by apparently failing to be a proper son. His parents would often first hear of his many achievements (including winning the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1933) from others, or read about it in the newspapers. There remains controversy as to whether he actively declined to take his Father with him to the award ceremony.
 
An extreme form of being an absent parent emotionally is for a child to experience more total abandonment through complete loss.
 
Other cruelties that Dirac suffered at the hands of his Father abound in Farmelo’s biography, but in a book entitled ‘Parental Loss and Achievement’, published in 1989 by a collaboration of eminent Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Psychoanalyst and Historian, an argument is mounted that Power, Leaderhip, Genius and Achievement arise out of disturbed parent child relationships, particularly early parental loss.
 
For example one of the authors, Pierre Rentchnick, a Psychoanalyst, suggests that losing a parent at a young age creates an inevitable identity crisis, which subsequently leads to domineering and aggressive tendencies toward seeking power in order to compensate for feelings of nonexistence.
 
Rentchnick deploys this argument to explain a recurrent historical pattern, whereby the loss of an unknown but idolized father results in dictators such as Hitler, Napoleon, and Stalin. Their early childhood experience means they need to become the leader or father of the group. This fulfills an unconscious will for political power and ultimately a verification of self.
 
Marvin Eisenstadt, a Clinical Psychologist, and co-author of the book, collected a massive data set of 699 eminent people, defined as meriting more than average column space in Enyclopedia Brittanica or Enyclopedia Americana, and found a startling link between early parental loss and subsequent achievement.
 
He found that by age 10 fully a quarter of his eminent sample had suffered the death of one parent, and by age 15, over a third had one parent dead. In comparison with a non-eminent sample, the non-achievers first lost a parent some 6 years later in life on average, and if they lost a second parent, this came on average some 7 years later in comparison with the high-achieving group.
 
There are many theories as to why losing a parent early in life might lead to outstanding achievement. One possibility is that the child has to grow up faster. He or she may have to take on a parental role much earlier as the family dynamic changes. It is notable in Farmelo’s biography of Dirac that his mother came to confide in her son and treat him more as a husband, as a result of withdrawing from the emotionally absent Father, Charles.
 
Another psychoanalytic theory is that all geniuses oppose the prevailing opinion, they challenge conventional authority figures, they are not afraid to buck the hierarchy, and all these tendencies may arise out of an altered attitude to authority, because of their different experience of parenting, particularly if they lost an authority figure early in their lives.
 
A key, though, might be simply that losing a parent, or not being able to rely on usual parental support (Dirac’s Father was frequently depicted as extremely mean when it came to financially supporting his son) means that a child has to learn at a very early age to become self-reliant, and in particular to learn to solve problems by themselves. All geniuses have basically solved a problem in a novel manner, that has befuddled humanity before.
 
Perhaps one handicap of being a helpful and supportive parent is that your child never learns to become independent intellectually and emotionally, as rapidly as they would, if you were less ‘present’ physically as well as psychologically.
 
However, others disagree, The Archbishop of Canterbury in his Christmas Message recently argued children should not be rushed to stand on their own two feet and that their dependence on others should be “celebrated and safeguarded”. Children were being forced to grow up too early in modern society Rowan Williams contended.
 
Of course the dispute could be resolved as being about whether you want your child to be happy, or successful.
 
If you want to discover more about how to raise a genius and the latest psychological theories on the origins of extraordinary achievement come to the ‘In the Psychiatrist’s Chair’ event at the Edinburgh International Science Festival on April 17th when Dr Raj Persaud will be interviewing Graham Farmelo, author of ‘The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius’ winner of the Costa Book Awards, 2009.