It’s been a common theme in my practice over the past month or so. Parents come in frustrated that their kids are no longer doing homework, or following through with practice, or seeming to even try at school. In truth, I typically see this trend starting in about October or November for our gifted and 2e kids. After the shine of a new school year wears off, and they’re faced with the same day in and day out type of assignments, they appear to care less and less. Behavior problems might increase. Homework struggles ensue. Teachers set up meetings to inform us that our kids “aren’t meeting their potential.” And we’re left wondering what happened.
A bazillion and one reasons could be the culprit under these school struggles. And we adults often try to figure it out ourselves and try to solve the problem ourselves. We negotiate. We setup reward systems. We make threats. We handout punishments. We tediously explain why our kids just need to get the homework in. We try to empathize and explain that we understand the work might be too simple, but we tell them we often have to do things we don’t want to do, too, and they just need to suck it up buttercup and git ‘r done. And all of these approaches tend to fail. Or they work for a minute or two and then they fail.
Why do they fail? First of all, we’re trying to solve a problem without one of the key stakeholders. We need to get the child’s input to figure out what the problem actually is. This will take curiousity and exploration on our part. We need to question and probe deeper to get at the root of the problem, and listen without judgment. If they say “I just don’t wanna do it.” With open curiousity ask, “What about it don’t you want to do?” or “Why don’t you want to do it?” They say, “Because it’s stupid!” We say, “What makes it stupid?” They say, “Because there’s no point to it. I already know how to multiply, why do I have to do more worksheets on what I already know?” Or they say, “I don’t see why I’ll ever need to know the chemical composition of table salt to survive as an adult.” Or they say, “Because I have the story ideas in my head and it’s just hard to get it out on paper.” And here we thought they just were being lazy or defiant.
Secondly, we need to validate their concerns. Truly validate them. We often minimize what our kids tell us. We briefly agree with them (“yes, Billy, I know you know how to multiply”), but then quickly brush it aside (“but, it’s just what you have to do to get through 3rd grade”). How disempowering. Instead, what if we offer to problem solve with them? What if we brainstorm alternate solutions? What if we agree to go in to school with our student and discuss it with the teacher? What if we explore alternate education options?
Kids do the best they can. They genuinely want to please the adults in their lives. If they aren’t, it’s a sign that something bigger is going on. Help them learn how to express it clearly and be solution-finders. Be willing to show them how to advocate and to advocate alongside of them. Just knowing that you’re on their side and understand their perspective can do wonders.
It never failed. When I was a child, every holiday I would be physically sick. Every. Single. Holiday. It actually became a family joke of the “rock, paper, scissors to see who’s gonna stay home with Heather this year” variety. As a kid, I had no idea why I would get sick for the holidays. My parents had a vague sense that the illness came from internally held emotions, but they didn’t really have ways to explain it to me or to fully intervene. Having learned more about giftedness over the past decades, it all makes sense to me now.
Many of us gifted people are wired to experience emotions intensely. We don’t just feel a little bit excited, our whole bodies pulsate with the ginormity of our excitement!
Many of us gifted people are wired to experience sensory input intensely. We don’t just hear things, we hear them at 20 decibels louder than the average bear.
And, many of us gifted people are introverted. There’s a significantly higher percentage of gifted people who recharge in solitude as compared to the general population.
The combination of these three things (along with some other stuff), can lead to increased somatic expressions of emotions. Meaning, many gifted people experience physical symptoms due to their emotions.
What does this have to do with the holidays?
First, holidays are exciting for kids. Holidays can be nerve-wracking for kids, too, as they see people they haven’t seen for a while. Holidays can be sad for kids if they are grieving. In short, holidays evoke a whole messy blob of emotions. In gifted kids, holidays can evoke a huge messy ocean of emotions.
Second, many introverted people prefer to avoid outwardly expressions of their emotions, and hold them internally instead. However, emotions have energy to them. That energy needs to be released somehow. If it isn’t, it eeks out in all sorts of sideways ways. One of which can, and often is, physical illness or pain.
Third, the sensory intensity does not just apply to our 5 external senses. Gifted people can have more attuned proprioceptive, vestibular, and interoceptive senses, as well. The biggest culprit to holiday sick is the intense interoceptive sense. Our interoceptive sense communicates our internal body feelings to our brain. It’s the sense that tells us when we’re hungry, or have a headache, or sleepy. Emotions have physical sensations attached to them. Our chest hurts when we’re scared. Our stomachs fill with butterflies when we’re nervous. The more intense the emotion, the more intense the physical sensation. The more intense the interoceptive sense, the more intense the physical sensation.
Extraordinarily intense excitement + extraordinarily intense butterflies in the stomach – outward emotional expression = holiday sick.
So, what to do?
If you or your child experiences holiday sick, be mindful of it.
Talk about it.
Find ways to regulate the emotions effectively. Encourage emotional expression, whether through talking to someone, playing a musical instrument, writing, artwork, etc. Get the emotional energy out.
Come up with plans to regulate the amount of holiday kerfuffle. Pre-organize an escape plan, if the emotions or sensory input or people-ing becomes too big. Opt out of holiday events or activities that are smaller priorities.
Teach and practice relaxation skills. Deep breathe. Color. Sing. Hum. Meditate. Yoga.
And, always keep a barf bucket nearby.
This article was originally published on The Fringy Bit, a website providing real support to people who love someone that’s wired a bit differently. www.thefringybit.com
I’ve always thought Barbara Streisand’s song was weird. “People . . . people who need people . . . are the luckiest people in the world,” as though a human walks this planet that doesn’t need people.
The truth is, we are bio-evolutionarily designed to need people. Back in the day our basic survival depended on belonging to a community, and it takes an extraordinarily long time for our brains to catch up with the changes in the world, so we continue to be pre-programmed to need quality relationships.
Yes, introverts also need plenty of space and alone time. Yes, some people need more friends than others to feel content. But, at the end of the day, we need people. We especially need people who understand our day to day experience. People who simply “get” us.
This can be tricky for gifted kids, but I’m not going to be writing about that today. Today we’re going to set aside our kids for a second and focus on our own need for community. For as tricky as it is for gifted kids to find their peers, it is just as complicated for parents of gifted kids to find their peers.
I remember being in a playgroup when my oldest was a toddler. His vocabulary and attention span far exceeded other kids in the group. Parents would comment about how easy it must be for me since he could be such a good listener and could express his needs. And there was some truth to that. But, there was also some downsides. He was more sensitive, empathetic, and imaginative than other kids – so there were night terrors and excessive caregiving attempts and logically negotiating from the age of 2. Whenever I tried to bring these things up, or ask for support from other parents regarding how to answer the big, tough questions my kid asked, like the 3-year-old asking “does it hurt when we die?”, the other parents would stare at me blankly. They simply couldn’t relate.
I learned very quickly what I could and could not share within a group of typical parents. And the truth was, most of the bigger struggles of my parenting experience were not relatable to parents of more typically wired kids. I also had to be careful about sharing the bigger joys of my parenting experience, as many parents would feel I was bragging. Really, I was just looking for connection and understanding. I was looking for my people.
This parenting of intense, gifted kiddos is intense work. These kids ask the big questions, feel the big feels, engage in life with full force. It can be very hard. And we need people walking alongside of us who get it. We need to be able to share our parenting experiences with other parents who relate. We need to be able to be understood when we talk about our worries that our kids aren’t being challenged enough academically or to share our struggles to set appropriate expectations given the asynchrony of our child. We are people who need people.
That’s all well and good, but how do we find these people?
Join us at the WATG annual conference. We have sessions designed specifically to support parents. We have a room set aside to foster connection between parents. We have other parents who get it.
Search out a SENG Parent Support Group in your area.
Talk to your GT coordinator to see what resources are available or to coordinate your own parent connection time.
Join the Wisgift listserv, or
Seek out online support – there are facebook groups, blogs, websites, podcasts.
Connect with your child’s friend’s parents. We tend to form relationships with people of similar intelligence, and chances are, those parents will relate..
Remember to take care of your own needs as a gifted adult, as well. Join book studies. Audit college classes. Find gifted adult support groups online. Check out Mensa groups in your area. Audition for a community theater production. Take an art class. Do things that will more likely put you into contact with other similarly wired adults.
Remember . . . people need people. It can often feel isolating or impossible to find other parents or adults like you. But they are out there. Promise.
Kitty Ver Kuilen, WATG Board, Guest Blogger
It starts off innocently: a playdate or two for your toddler, maybe a gym class once week. By the time he's in second grade, he's taking art lessons and playing peewee baseball and soccer. A few years later he makes the travel soccer team, which conflicts at times with basketball. But he still manages to squeeze in Boy Scout meetings and saxophone lessons before tackling his homework. You cheer him on during games, even though it may mean sitting in the bleachers, cell phone in hand, as you field calls from your office. You joke that you feel more at home on the road than in your living room. In fact, you are running as fast as you can toward that elusive goal of raising a well rounded child. You are stressed and exhausted, and you are not alone.
Parenting today often feels like a frantic race in which we are forever a few steps behind. Kids today have half as much free time as they did 30 years ago, notes a national study of 3500 children, 12 and under, released by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. "Children are affected by the same time crunch as their parents," notes Sandra L. Hofferth, a senior research scientist at the institute. "As a society, we have talked ourselves into believing that we have to make every moment count, and that we have to fill our children as we would empty vessels," says Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., coauthor of Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less. Hirsh-Pasek, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, continues, "Parents feel compelled to give their kids every advantage they can afford. So they cram their days with art, music, sports, and even weekend enrichment programs."
Is it any wonder that when youngsters have a free moment, they complain that they're bored? More likely, they simply don't know what to do with themselves. "There is a myth that doing nothing is wasting time, when it's actually extremely productive and essential," says Dr. Hirsh-Pasek. "During empty hours, kids explore the world at their own pace, develop their own unique set of interests and indulge in the sort of fantasy play that will help them figure out how to create their own happiness, handle problems with others on their own, and sensibly manage their own time. That's a critical life skill."
What's more, the pile on of extracurricular activities, on top of several hours of homework as they get older, may actually backfire. "Many overscheduled kids are anxious, angry and burned out," notes child psychiatrist Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., coauthor of The Overscheduled Child. "They display a range of symptoms from headaches and stomachaches to temper tantrums, an inability to concentrate in school, and sleeping problems. In the long run, it may be harder for them to make confident choices and decisions about what they want to do on their own." More importantly, by cramming activities into a child's schedule, you deprive him of something very special: The joy of just being a kid.
The Parent Trap: Why the pressure to overbook?
In this multitasking world, in which the push to do more and do it faster is pervasive, perhaps it was only a matter of time that the effects trickled down to childrearing. Yet some experts believe parents have misunderstood the tidal wave of information on child development reported in the last two decades. "This generation of parents has swallowed whole, and in some cases, is choking on, the belief that the sooner you expose a child to learning, the more he or she will learn," says Rosenfeld. "And if they don't get it during those critical early childhood years, well, forget Harvard." In fact, there is a wealth of information that proves exactly the opposite.
"Children continue to learn and develop throughout childhood," notes Hirsh-Pasek. "But they need time to recharge their batteries and process what they've learned. Free time allows them to explore, to be scientists, discoverers, creators, and innovators. They do that when they build pillow forts in the family room, sail away in a laundry basket to a foreign land, or find the remarkable in the mundane." Then, too, kids with time to daydream nurture their inner lives. "They practice making mistakes or tolerating what can go wrong — a child calls them names, they're not picked for the school play. They figure out how to steel themselves against such possibilities," says Hirsh-Pasek. "That's self responsibility and self reliance."
Of course, letting kids just hang out sounds much easier than it actually is. We are raising our children in a very different world than the one in which we grew up. Single or working parents must rely on afterschool or summer programs to keep kids safe. What's more, there is a body of research that shows that activities outside of school foster confident kids, proud of their accomplishments and challenged by new goals, who do better academically than those who don't. But in our well intentioned efforts to give our children the best of everything, perhaps we've forgotten the importance of a balanced life.
"As parents, we have a choice," says Hirsh-Pasek. "We can groom our children to be worker bees — to take in information and it spit right back out — or we can help them be creative problem solvers, to look at a cloud and see dinosaurs or birds, to be energized by their own imaginations and curiosity." That's where doing nothing, sometimes even to the point of being bored, comes in.
Stop the Frenzy
This media savvy generation is being raised to believe that life is a nonstop rollercoaster of overthetop phenomenal fun times — and if every moment isn't filled, well, something's wrong. Now is the time to stop the madness and reorder your family priorities. Remember: Leading a frenetic life is not inevitable or enviable. Parenting is not a competitive sport. So ask yourself, honestly, what makes you think it is.
Pressure from other parents or family members? Concern that your child will lack the extra edge to get into a good college? Children, like adults, have their own threshold for stress. Some families handle a busy schedule better than others, and some kids thrive when involved in multiple activities. If you sense (by noticing her mood, grades, and health) that your child isn't one of them, or if scrambling from one activity to another is not the way you want to live your life, resist the urge to sign up for another appealing lesson.
Scholastic.com: Parent and Child Magazine
I have three wonderful, precocious daughters. I didn’t think of my girls as gifted, especially when they were young before classrooms and standardized tests, but I instinctively knew that they were naturally inquisitive learners with seemingly limitless potential. With two of the three now in college, this seems like a good time to reflect on the years they were at home and how my husband and I tried to nurture their minds and spirits. I still have a lot to learn, but there are a few things that I have gleaned along the way. So here is my list of the top 10 things that I have learned about raising gifted children, but it is really a top ten list for raising any child to remain a lifelong, enthusiastic learner with a plentitude of amazing gifts.
(1) Start with a Sign. A bright baby or toddler can become easily frustrated when she cannot communicate her needs. Before most children can speak, they can sign. I frequently used the signs for, “more,” “done,” “milk,” “eat,” and “airplane” with my children. They picked them up quickly and used them, too. It prevented many temper tantrums and was a lot of fun. Here‘s a list of some of the most helpfu signs: http://www.parenting.com/gallery/baby-sign-language-words-to-know?page=12 .
(2) Make Music. Young brains learn music like they learn a language, with a natural ease. Parent-Child music classes and Suzuki music lessons are among the programs specifically designed for teaching young children in ways that are playful and age-appropriate. Youth choirs are also fantastic as is playing music in the car and around your house! Even if a child doesn’t stick with an instrument, he will gain an ear for pitch and rhythms that is much more difficult to acquire later in life.
(3) The World is a Big Place. Children have a natural ability to pick up languages with little or no accent. Take advantage of this and introduce your child to a second language as early as possible. If you speak two languages, yourself, use both at home regularly. Also look for opportunities to expose your children to other cultures by sampling food, attending cultural events, or by simply taking the time to meet and talk with new people.
(4) Provide Opportunities to Move. It’s important to learn how to balance and control and coordinate body movements. This can be done via dance lessons, yoga, team sports, or with family sports like bike riding and badminton. Learning to control one’s body is something that doesn’t come easily to everyone. It activates a different part of the brain than academic learning and is a great life-long resource for preventing stress, anxiety, and depression--all of which are not uncommon in gifted children. Encourage your child to get involved in something she enjoys!
(5) Open the Door. There’s no substitute for unstructured time outdoors in nature. Let your kids romp and play and explore when they’re little and encourage them to go hiking, canoeing, and adventuring when they are older. Their time spent in nature will seep into their soul and teach them about the natural world around them.
(6) Inspire Greatness. Whether it’s a favorite author, activist, scientist, historical figure, athlete, or artist, seek opportunities to expose children to relevant books, plays, performances, events, or museum exhibits. If their hero is alive and comes to town, make a date to go together. There is no substitute for inspiration.
(7) Nurture Passions and Abilities. What is your child good at? What is he passionate about? Figure it out and seek out enrichment opportunities in those areas whether it is sports, science, math, dance, art, writing, or World War I history. Interest is a mighty fuel for learning.
(8) Provide Opportunities for Great Challenge. For gifted children, many things at school come easily. They may find that they do not have to work very hard to get an ‘A’ and that homework takes just a few minutes. In my experience, this can lead to frustration later in life when she eventually encounters something difficult and hasn’t learned the grit and resilience needed to persevere. I believe that it is important to provide opportunities for a child to do something that is difficult--this could be learning a musical instrument, preparing for a difficult math competition, or playing a sport. Everyone eventually encounters something that is extremely difficult. I’ve found that it’s best if that happens well before graduate school.
(9) Obstacles are just Challenges. Everyone faces obstacles in life. It may be parents getting divorced, dyslexia, ADHD, mental illness, a physical challenge, being bullied, or something else. Be an advocate for your child and be sure he knows that he is not alone in his struggle. You are there to help, as are other adults, and despite this challenge, he is smart and special and capable of great things! Let difficulty and struggle lead to creativity and innovation.
(10) Think Big. Does the universe have an end? How can we stop war or address racism? What happens when someone dies? These and other topics can be explored within a religious community, by seeking out interesting books or speakers, or in spirited discussions at the dinner table. However you do it, find a way to ignite your child’s imagination with the spark of the mystery and magic in our world. Perhaps, one day, she will discover one of the answers!
We can feel it. All of us. The muck and dirt and grime of our society has been bubbling and rising and coming to the surface. Over the past 2 years, it has become increasingly evident that conflict and strife and violence exists in this country. Regardless of religious, social, political leanings, the one thing we all seem to be able to agree on right now is that right now is a highly disagreeable time. Anxiety, fear, violence, disappointment, overwhelm, anger, rage, hatred. We live in a time of ick, and our kids are acutely aware of this.
To be clear, I am more than willing to share my own political, social, religious leanings, but you’ll have to track me down in the hallway at this year’s WATG conference to hear them. This is not an article about that. This is an article about supporting our gifted children through the tough stuff that has been plastered on the internet, social media, mainstream media, and down the street.
We no longer live in a time when we can shield our children from the tough stuff. And, frankly, I don’t think that was a helpful approach in the first place. All our kids are aware of the ick, and our gifted kids, especially, can feel overwhelmed, confused, afraid. They can see the larger connections and empathize deeply. They can sense injustice and adamantly pursue the cause of righting wrongs. They can be pushed down and flooded by feelings of helplessness and pain.
So, how do we help our children face the realities of today without spiraling into self-destruction?
First, we must talk to them. We must ask open-ended questions, to leave no space for the simple yes, no, or I-don’t-know’s that can be so common. These issues are far too complex and messy to be able to be answered with simple black and white answers. Your child may not be prepared to chat, but know that by opening with the questions, by allowing the space, you give them the gift of knowing you’re there when they are ready.
Second, we must validate their feelings. We don’t have to agree with them or even totally understand them, but they must feel heard and listened to. They need space and an accepting adult to simply be with them in the midst of all their messy feelings.
Third, in order to see our children in pain and simply sit and validate them, we must regulate our own feelings. Swooping in to kiss it all better is not going to help, and will only shut down any conversation with one of this intensely-feeling kiddos. Let them rage and scream and cry and feel forlorn. Don’t fix it. Let yourself experience your emotions and use your own tools to tolerate the pain of watching your baby in pain.
Fourth, quote Mr. Rogers. It becomes easy to see the unpleasant and hurtful things in times of hardship, but in the midst of all the hardship there will also, always, be heroes, helpers, love, compassion, kindness. Quote Mr. Rogers, “look for the helpers.”
Fifth, and finally, give them something to do. Few things feel worse to a bright and active mind than feeling helpless and overwhelmed. Help them choose one tiny pin-prick-sized action they can take to make things just a little better. Help them realize their self-efficacy and power to make a difference. Even if all the big things can’t be resolved in one night, helping a bullied kid up off the floor brings resolution for that kid in that moment. Donating dog food to the shelter brings resolution for those dogs. Speaking peace, compassion, and kindness brings resolution to all those who cross your path, and to yourself. And, really, that’s what it takes to change the world.
Given the fact that you are reading this particular article, I’m assuming you have a gifted child. And, if that child is biologically related to you, it’s a fair bet that you are gifted, as well. And I wonder, do you claim that as part of your identity? Are you comfortable acknowledging your own intelligences and talents? Have your talked to your child about your experiences being a gifted adult and what it was like to be a gifted child back in the days of your youth? I know they’d be shocked to hear that schools even existed back in your day, but it’s worth a conversation!
I once attended a gifted conference and the keynoter asked anyone with a gifted child to raise their hand. Nearly every hand in the auditorium shot up. He then asked anyone who they, themselves, was gifted to raise their hand. Only about a quarter of the hands shot up. But, seriously. A child’s giftedness doesn’t usually fall from out of the clear blue sky. There’s a correlation between parents’ intelligence and children’s intelligence. And, we tend to enter relationships with people who are within the same IQ range as we are.
For some reason, it often feels more comfortable to acknowledge our child’s giftedness than our own. This might partially be due to our own childhood experiences. It might be due to an internalized anti-intellectualism, imposter syndrome, insecurity in our own identities. Or maybe you were unaware that you were gifted until you started learning more about how to parent your gifted child and resonated, personally, with the things you were reading. Or maybe you were identified as gifted, but no one ever explained what that means, so you’ve never really claimed it for yourself.
Whatever the reason, most parents I work with will gladly discuss parenting strategies and ways to understand their gifted child, but they laugh nervously and begin to squirm as soon as I reflect their own intelligence and intensities.
Why do I bring this up? Like it or not, our kids learn more from what we model than what we say. They learn how to take care of themselves by watching how we take care of ourselves. They learn how to treat other people by watching how we treat other people. And they learn how to claim their identity by watching how we claim our identity.
Over and over parents enter my therapy office with the one request that I help their gifted child feel comfortable in their own skin, to accept and embrace their differently wired selves. And, yes, us therapists can help with this. And books and proper psycho-education and time with intellectual peers can help with this. But, honestly, the number one way to help your child claim his or her identity and embrace the good and bad of their unique wiring, is to show them how you embrace your own unique wiring. Model self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-advocacy. Stop squirming when someone points out how smart you are. Claim your intelligence and talents. Show them how you regulate the challenges of your intense life and build on the joys of your intensities. Show them that giftedness is nothing to be hidden.
And when a keynoter asks who in the audience is gifted, proudly raise your hand.
If you'd like more ways to embrace our life as a gifted adult, check out Paula Prober's book, "Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth."
I had the honor of interviewing 3 gifted middle school girls for the Fringy Bit podcast today. We simply chatted about life as a gifted middle school girl. They shared their ups and downs of being gifted, made me laugh, and vulnerably gave a peek into their lives in a way that I would never have had the confidence to do when I was 13.
While insightful comments permeated the entire conversation, I particularly wanted to share their answers to one. I asked, “what can the adults around you do to support you better?”
First, all of them acknowledged that they have really positive adult support, which is evident as they seem to be strong, courageous, insightful, and balanced girls.
Second, they all simply asked to be listened to. They said that oftentimes the well-meaning adults in their lives will cut off their verbal, tangential, flow of thought by trying to make them focus on one thing or clarify a thought. But, all 3 of them acknowledged that their brains simply work by firing from one thought to the next to the next and it may seem unrelated or as though it isn’t going anywhere, but really this is when they feel at their most productive and creative. They voiced appreciation for the times in their gt classes when they can simply riff off one another with their wild and spontaneous and sometimes manic-seeming thoughts. One of the girls observed that when they’re allowed to spontaneously run with their bouncing thoughts, this is when their most engaging, creative, and powerful work is accomplished. But, adults will often cut off this flow. So – just listen. Without trying to fix or expand. Listen. And when they’re done – then, if there’s more that needs to be expanded – then we can go back.
Third, they all wanted adults to take the time to understand them. And to understand them as they are now. As their own unique individuals. They felt many adults think they understand them, but they don’t really. Even if we’ve known these kids since they were infants, they are constantly changing, growing, and have unique minds and souls of their own. It becomes easy to fall into the trap of knowing them as we think they are, rather than really sitting back, listening, and learning who they actually are.
So, how do we really support gifted kids? Listen to them. Learn from them. End of story.
I was tempted to simply end it there and make this the shortest article I’ve ever written, but I’ve never been a writer of few words, so I’ll expound.
Gifted kids know they are different. Whether we tell them or not. If we don’t tell them why they are different, they will create their own explanations. I’ve literally had several children come to my therapy office and earnestly tell me that they believe they are aliens. And, I suppose creating their own explanation isn’t, in itself, harmful. The problem, however, is that these stories generally involve some sort of harsh self-criticism and judgment.
Kids are wired to be egocentric. They believe the world revolves around them. This enables babies to stay alive. If babies didn’t believe the world revolved around them, they would never be fed or changed or cared for because they would never make their needs known. Being egocentric empowers them to keep crying until someone meets their needs.
The downside of egocentricity is that kids believe the world revolves around them. Therefore, if something negative happens in the world, if they somehow don’t fit in, it must be because there is something inherently wrong with them. So, gifted kids who aren’t told they’re gifted, feel different, don’t know why, create fantastical stories to explain it, and inevitably blame themselves leading to poor self-concepts.
Additionally, gifted kids need to understand the joys and challenges of having quick thinking brains. If we don’t explain the differences in how their brains work, they will never learn how to learn. Many gifted kids simply know. A teacher tells them something and they follow along and know it. And they believe that this knowing is learning. Until they actually have to learn something.
I had a college junior in my office the other week. Her words to me, “Heather, I just don’t know what’s going on. I thought I was having trouble focusing in class, but that’s not it. I can focus, but my mind is just . . . kind of . . . blank.”
I asked her to explain further and she said that she generally takes notes while a professor is speaking and it all makes sense. She’ll write down her notes and she’s got it. But, in this recent class, she’ll take the notes and understand the words, but she just doesn’t get it. “My mind just goes blank and I’m missing something, but I don’t know what it is.”
“Ahhh!” I said with a smile, “You’re learning!”
“What?!” she asked me with a quizzical look on her face.
I explained the difference between knowing and learning and that up until this point her brain has simply known. Learning involves frustration. Learning involves not knowing. Learning involves blank minds, working through it, making your brain sweat, and then understanding.
“You’re just finally having to learn something,” I said.
“So, I’m not stupid?” she asked, softly.
“You made it til your Junior year in College without having to learn anything. No, you are most definitely not stupid.”
And that’s the harm. Once again, kids’ brains fill in the gaps. If they suddenly don’t understand something, they feel they are stupid. They feel they have simply been an imposter all these previous years. If we tell them upfront and early that their brains work differently than others, it allows them to understand their learning and knowing processes. Plus, it’s helpful to give them things they struggle with so they learn how to learn early on, but that’s another article!
Yes. Tell kids they are gifted. Explain to them what that means. Explain the joys and challenges. Give them a reason for their difference. Remind them that different isn’t good or bad, it is simply different. Being gifted doesn’t make them better or worse than anyone else. But, it does, partially, make them who they are. And they deserve to know themselves. In order to be whole and well, they need to know who they are. Yes.
February. The month of pink and red, hearts, valentines, tiny sugar candies, and love. It would seem to be an understandable month to write about relationships and love languages and all those great ooey-gooey pleasant feelings. But, I’m not. Instead, we’re going to focus on being kind and loving toward ourselves.
Gifted individuals tend to arrive in this world with an innate drive and perfectionism. Their minds are often capable of envisioning perfection and they’re not satisfied until the real world mirrors those perfect images. When our less than perfect world, work, or behaviors fall short, gifted individuals can become extremely self-critical. Additionally, gifted individuals tend to have high expectations put on them and tend to receive an abundance of praise for accomplishments and achievements. We now know that praising the achievements can actually be quite detrimental as identity and worth become psychologically correlated. That’s all fine and good when someone is demonstrating high achievement, not so great the other 90% of the time when mistakes are made, failures are experienced, or mediocrity wins.
Which brings me back to Self-compassion. Self-compassion is the antidote to the poisonous self-esteem movement and our achievement-focused world. Self-compassion has been shown to be effective at decreasing anxiety, increasing motivation, improving mood, developing healthy life-style habits, and maintaining a stable sense of self-worth (see the work of Dr. Kristin Neff for the research, www.self-compassion.org).
According to Merriam-Webster, compassion is “sympathetic consciousness of others' distress, together with a desire to alleviate it.” We see someone suffering and we want to help. Self-compassion, then, is sympathetic awareness of our own distress, coupled with a kind desire to want to help.
Dr. Neff identified 3 components to self-compassion: Mindfulness, Kindness, and an Awareness of our Common Humanity.
Mindfulness: awareness of the present moment without judgment. Mindfulness is simply noticing. Noticing what we’re feeling, what we’re experiencing, what we’re thinking. There are a bazillion and one tools to assist with the practice of mindfulness. One of my new favorites is www.calm.com. Check it out – lots of great relaxing music, images, and guided mindfulness meditations. Why is mindfulness important? We can’t feel moved to alleviate our suffering if we don’t even know it’s there!
Kindness: this one is pretty self-explanatory. Self-compassion involves being kind to ourselves. Saying kind things to ourselves. Providing moments of soul-nourishment and attending to our basic needs for wellness and nurturing. Essentially, it’s choosing to quiet the internal critical voice and speak to ourselves as we would to a friend.
Awareness of our Common Humanity: acknowledging that mistakes, pain, misfortune are inevitable aspects of human existence. We all make mistakes. We all fail. We all experience pain, sadness, anger, embarrassment. Pain, anxiety, and perfectionism can be quite isolating. They deceptively tell us that we’re the only ones who’ve ever screwed up to such a massive extent. There must be something inherently wrong with us that we are experiencing such a difficult time. Of course, these are lies. And as we say them out loud we can recognize them as lies. But, these lies can feel awfully believable and true.
So, what does this actually look like? How can we actually coach our children into increased self-compassion? How can we practice increased self-compassion? Lets use a brief example of a gifted child who comes home having “failed” a test (though “failing” can mean getting an F, a C, or even an A- depending on the kid’s perspective!).
Child comes home miserable about her epic failure. Parent coaches child to take a few breathes and to be reflective on what her brain is telling her.
“That I shouldn’t have failed.”
“But what does your brain tell you it means that you failed?”
“That I didn’t know what I was doing.”
“And what does your brain tell you it means when you don’t know what you’re doing?”
“That I’m stupid.” (etc, etc, etc – and there’s the mindfulness)
“Did I ever tell you about the time that I failed my science test?” (and here’s the awareness of common humanity! Mention how everybody has bad test days or share examples from your own life of when you performed worse than you wanted to, etc)
And now the kindness: “So now you know that I’ve failed things before, too. Does that make me stupid? Does that make me a bad dad or any less funny or less of a good cook? Did that stop me from having an amazing family and job? No? So what would you tell me about failing the test? What would you tell your friend if they felt they were stupid? Can you tell yourself those things?”
It's a work in progress, to be sure. Self-compassion takes a lifetime to fully develop. Our brains are wired to pick out our mistakes and hold on to negativities. But, as you nurture this self-compassion in your child, it automatically becomes more of an impulse in yourself, as well! Win-win!