I’ll admit I’m biased. Being a mental health therapist gives me a different perspective than many and I’ll probably always prioritize psychological and relational wellness over other things, like earning potential or grades.
However, I’m fairly certain that even if I pursued my childhood vocational ideations of being a pediatrician, or a teacher, or a full-time mom of 12 kids, or the first female quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, I would still be frustrated by the typical discourse about gifted kids. I don’t know why the word gifted, or advanced learner, or intelligent, automatically triggers people to start talking about education as if our gifted kids can be distilled down to these amazing brains that just need to be filled and challenged correctly, or as if their other needs will just automatically be met if they’re educational needs are, or as if they aren’t neurologically wired differently than other kids and therefore may also have different social, emotional, psychological, and physical needs than other kids.
It’s always been odd to me that education is so front and center when talking about gifted kids. I mean, when we talk about the wellness of neurotypical children we rarely fixate on school. Sure, education might come up in the conversation, but rarely is it the first focus, nor the sole focus. And yet, somehow, with some rare exceptions, our country has delegated the conversation about giftedness within the walls of the education system.
There was an article posted at Psychology Today in January 2018, “Ten Tips for Parents of a Smart Child” by Marty Nemko. I read it hopefully. I thought that just maybe it would include information about the intense way these kids live, the intense ways they perceive and experience the world, the intense and exhausting journey it is as parents of these children. Sigh. Most of the article centered on strategies to intellectually engage your child. Sure, the last tip said we should remember “Your child is a human being, not just a brain”, but that seemed like a throw away post-script after the previous nine tips reinforced feeding the brains of our kids with smart caretakers, smart friends, and google.
Yes – finding the appropriate educational fit for our gifted kids is important. Yes, we need to allow our kids with amazing brains amazing opportunities to challenge them and grow them and think the big thoughts and challenge the norms. And, yes, if our intellectually intense children aren’t given the opportunities to embrace and enhance their intellect, they will not be able to be holistically well. But that is simply one piece of our kids.
Our kids are often emotionally intense, curious, creative, empathic, socially advanced or socially immature, hilarious, thoughtful, dramatic, argumentative (in all the best and not-so-best ways), mature, silly, wiggly, perfectionistic, justice-oriented, fair-minded, fascinating little creatures. They are as diverse as any other group of people. They have emotions. They have physical needs. They have social needs. They have family dynamics and environmental dynamics and all the things that every other child has, except they can be exponentially more intense. And it is this intensity that makes it exponentially more important to focus on the whole gifted child and not limit them to their brains.
What is the point of this little rant, other than to allow my own catharsis? It is to keep us intentional -- Intentional about seeing the whole of our gifted children.
Educators need to be intentional to include socio-emotional learning into their daily work with these kids. In all of my biased honesty, our gifted kids probably need to be taught emotion regulation skills and social skills and wellness skills more than they need to be taught the academic stuff they’re gifted in. If our gifted kids can feel well and regulated, the academic pieces fall into place because their curious minds will drive them to get them filled. I know – what about the underachievers? Truth is, they probably need a little work on the socio-emotional skills to help them find wellness and learn advocacy and assertiveness skills and they’re achievement will fall into place, too.
Health professionals need to be intentional to learn and understand each gifted child’s unique personality and makeup. Those of us who know about the particular psycho-social traits of gifted kids need to intentionally teach our medical and mental health colleagues.
Parents need to be intentional to help teach their children the emotion regulation skills. Frankly, if the algebra doesn’t get done, but my child learns how to tolerate frustration, I call that a win. Remember that we are tasked with guiding these kids into adulthood. Our job is to provide the skills to be in relationship, to pursue interests, to be well. Let’s be intentional about prioritizing this wellness and character development over physics. Because, again, I all but guarantee that a gifted child who feels holistically well will get her intellectual needs met, too.
Check out SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of Gifted) for more resources to help guide your whole child into wellness.
Join us at WATG 2018 as there are many sessions available that do focus on more than learning. I’d love to meet you at the Pre-Conference workshop that I’m offering specifically for parents.
And let’s all commit to intentionally seeing our gifted kids beyond the academics.
Gifted @ Home
Heather Boorman, MSW, LCSW