It’s official. I am the parent of a teenager. Correction: I am the parent of a gifted teenager, which means all the basic teen stuff times three hundred and fifty-two.
Many of us think about parenting a teenager (particularly an intense teenager) and we instinctually groan, fill with dread, or cower in the corner. In fairness, I’m only 1 week into parenting a teenager, so my story might be different if you were to talk to me in 2 years, but right now, I can honestly say I am super excited for my son’s teen years.
I think teens get a bad rap. Yes, they have hormones coursing through their bodies that can make them act a little erratic from time to time. Yes, their priorities start shifting and they have the potential to make decisions with some pretty big consequences. Yes, their eyes roll and their snark takes on a new level of intensity. But, when we understand them and see the delights of this stage, all of those things are tolerable at worst and maybe even a little endearing from time to time.
Teens have an important developmental job. They are learning to think for themselves and to separate from the adults in their lives to map out their own journeys. The teen years allow our kids to come into their own and play with their identity. This can be painful and cause chafing from time to time, but ultimately, if we can be mindful of their ultimate job, we can better embrace and support their journeys.
Luckily, our gifted kids often give us ample experience parenting teen-like behavior before they even come close to the teen years. The negotiating and arguing and thinking for themselves that parents of typical kids experience during teen-dom often starts when our gifted kids are 2. Or 1. Or at least by 5. This makes the teen years a bit easier because we’ve been practiced in the art of negotiating and explaining our rationale. Many of our gifted kids force us to listen to their voices from a very young age, so by the time they are teens, we know how to validate them in ways that other parents may not.
Also, our gifted kids tend to be more self-reflective than more typically wired kids. This can work to our advantage. They may have a keener awareness of their strength and limitations, their desires and goals. Our job is to listen, provide guidance from the sidelines and when asked, provide opportunities for them to expand and grow or focus on their own path and interests.
Teen years go smoother when we fully accept our kids and their important developmental job as it is.
They suddenly declare themselves pescatarian? Support them in that. You don’t need to alter your own diet if you don’t want to, but you can help them learn recipes, meal planning, and cooking to enhance their chosen lifestyle.
They spend most of their time in their room? Ok. Let them. Many of our gifted kids are introverted and their need for alone time and space may magnify during the teen years. If you provide a loving and accepting environment, they will reappear in the living room at some point. On their time.
They want to quit band, dress all in black, and dye their hair? Why not? Are these really battles worth fighting? Allowing our teens to experiment with different identities while they still live among our walls ensures they have a soft crash pad if it all falls apart.
Model effective problem solving and executive skill development with them. Help them lay out the advantages and possible consequences of a particular choice and then (barring genuine life or death safety concerns), let them decide their next step. Let them fail. Tolerate your own emotions as you watch them face the consequences of their choices. Let them surprise you in their successes. Greet them with compassion through it all.
Dig into the deep existential questions they voice and ponder. Ask them the deep existential questions. High school can be rough for these kids because they tend to be concerned about more global issues than who is dating whom and what Joe said at the party last week. Give them space to explore those questions and help them find other intellectual peers, of any age, to explore those questions with and dad just isn’t the person they want to do that with anymore.
Embrace their sense of peers. If they’d prefer to hang out with people in the mid-twenties who are also into the visual arts. Let them. A big chunk of identity forms in relationship to and with others. Teens can be peer focused, it’s their job, but help your gifted teen broaden the understanding of peer and hook into the places that will most likely provide them those intellectual peers.
Encourage respectful discourse and self-advocacy. Teach your teens the skills to voice their opinions and needs to ways that they will actually be heard and draw people into conversation rather than push people away.
Use this time to model pursuit of your own dreams, goals, social justice. The teen years can be a great time to re-engage with your own passions or try on new passions. Model to your teens what proper self-care and self-expression looks like.
And, above all, choose your mindset. Yes, the eye rolls can be annoying, or they can be loved. Some days my husband and I have an internal contest to see who can get the most eye rolls in a day. (I won, by the way. I’m masterfully skilled at being the embarrassing mom. Just use teen slang and you’ll win at the eye roll game, too!). Approach your teen and this stage of your life with lightness, love, compassion, and understanding. Allow yourself to be excited to watch who they are becoming. It really is a pretty exciting time.
There we were. Me and my son, whom I call Chimp . . . . and the ski school director. I understand why she came over. With skis strewn, sobs a wailin’, legs sprawled, and gloves littering the bottom of the bunny hill, to the uninformed eye it must have looked like a serious injury. To the trained eye, this was just a young gifted child trying to learn a new skill.
For days I’d been prepping my youngest son to hit the slopes. I knew it would be challenging. Any 5-year-old strapping long, odd boards onto his feet and heading down a hill would be challenged. And, I knew he’d get frustrated. I knew his perfectionist desire to learn things easily would be given a workout. And still, we landed at the bottom of the hill in a frustrated, I’m-giving-up heap.
Gifted kids are often not very good with frustration. They often don’t know that learning a new skill is supposed to be frustrating. They wrap their precious identities up with doing well and learning quickly and when that doesn’t happen, big massive frustration ensues.
And (she admits with head hung sheepishly while simultaneously mustering up some self-compassion), seeing the complete and utter lack of frustration tolerance might have triggered up a less than patient response from me. Ok, fine. My own frustration tolerance somehow didn’t show up on the hill that day, either. Yes, I was frustrated because my child wasn’t handling his frustration well. And I handled my frustration by snipping at my son to listen more closely (!), to take a breath (!), to get back up (!) and keep trying (!). JUST HANDLE YOUR FRUSTRATION ALREADY, FIVE-YEAR-OLD!
Yep. My approach worked as well as you can imagine.
And so, more as a reminder to myself than to anyone else, how can we help build up our child’s frustration tolerance?
Step 1 – Breathe.
Step 2 – Breathe again.
Step 3 – Remember that it’s going to be frustrating.
Step 4 – Take a break.
Step 5 – Breathe again.
Now that you’re tolerating your frustration, here’s what you do with your child.
Model Effective Frustration Tolerance. Repeat steps 1-5 as long as you need to so you are providing a calm and secure environment. We must first regulate ourselves.
Put Your Child in Frustrating Situations. Kinda impossible to learn to tolerate frustration if we never feel frustrated. Take your kids to do something new. Intentionally give them difficult work. It’s easy to want to avoid frustrating situations, but trust me. If we do, we’re only teaching our kids to avoid frustration at all cost.
Prepare Them. Let them know that they’ll be frustrated. Talk about frustration. Prepare ahead of time the steps they can take to manage it well. Normalize that frustration is an essential part of learning something new.
Teach Them to Breathe. Teach them to take those belly breaths. Their bellies should get bigger as they breathe in and smaller as they breathe out. Practice it together. Rock stuffed animals to sleep on your bellies as you lie next to each other on the floor. Take breathing breaks throughout the day.
Channel Stuart Smalley. Practice affirmative self-talk. I can do it. This is hard, but not impossible. It’s ok that this is difficult. I can keep trying.
Get Frustrated! OK – now it’s time to actually get frustrated and practice the breathing, the positive self-talk. Remember to do your own steps 1-5. Be encouraging and positive in words and tone. Remind them that they’re supposed to be frustrated. Give them specific feedback on what is going well. Validate the frustration. Share the frustration. Take a minute to look around and notice some beauty around you. Take a moment to look back at what they’ve accomplished so far.
Take a Break. We need time to reset, to re-center, and to relax. Your child probably needs this, too! Tolerating frustration takes a lot of energy. Be sure to take breaks to refill your energy tank and your child’s.
Get Back at It. Try again. Rest and return to the frustrating task.
Praise the Process. Don’t just praise the new skills being learned, but praise that your child allowed themselves to feel frustrated and managed to move through it.
Reinforce their Lovability and Worth. Gifted kids can get mixed up beliefs about their identities and feelings of conditional worth. Even in the midst of the frustration and thrown gloves, remind them that you love them. Remind them that they are valuable and amazing no matter how good they are at this new skill. Remind them that they are so much bigger and more than their abilities.
Chimp and I aren’t still stranded at the bottom of the bunny hill. The ski school director eventually left us alone after she realized her typical tricks just weren’t going to work with my intense kid. I followed steps 1-5, calmed myself down, gave him a hug and said, “This is frustrating, huh?” Chimp nod. “Do you know that I love you?” Chimp nod. “Do you know that you’re one of my favorites?” Chimp nod. “Will I stop loving you if you can’t ski?” Mischievous Chimp grin, followed by a Chimp nod. “What?!” Followed by a bazillion and one kisses and giggles. We gathered our gear. Went in for food and a break. Headed back out for more attempts. Had more frustration intolerance, but ended the day with smiles.
On the drive home, a sleepy Chimp voice asked, “Mom? When can we go skiing again? That was fun!”
This article has previously been published @ www.thefringybit.com.
According to an online dictionary, perfectionist is defined as “a person who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection.” I think this is typically what we picture. A person who is so driven for perfection, and nothing but perfection, that they stop at nothing to get it and destroy everything else in frustration. And while this can, indeed, be what perfectionism looks like, I usually see it in much more subtle ways. Typically, people are wise enough to say, “well, I’m not really a perfectionist. I don’t expect perfection. I know that’s unrealistic.” And yet, these same people are frequently perfectionists. So, what does it look like?
Perfectionism looks like the preschooler quitting an art project because it is difficult or isn’t turning out the way he wanted it to.
It is spending 2 hours scouring the internet for just-the-right song to put to a slideshow.
It is retaking a test because you got a B.
Perfectionism is sitting quietly in a group, meeting, or class because your thoughts might come out wrong.
It is doing the extra credit assignment when you already have an A or B.
It is revising, and editing, and rewriting with meticulous detail.
It is a preschooler refusing to put on his own socks because it is difficult and he doesn’t do it well.
Perfectionism is pretending you aren’t interested in an activity because you don’t think you’ll do it well.
Perfectionism is a child defiantly refusing to do something.
It is procrastinating until the deadline is right upon you.
It is beating yourself up over any mistake.
It is not cleaning because you know once you start you’ll be grabbing the toothbrush and scrubbing out every single corner and you just don’t have the time for that.
Perfectionism is wanting to do your best and feeling like your identity and worth depends on how well you do.
That’s really the core of perfectionism, feeling as though your worth and lovability are conditional on performance or achievement.
For example, perfectionism is strong in my youngest one. He’s impulsive and psychomotorly intense and 5 years old, so he crashes into mistake after mistake most days. When there are significant ones, and he is reprimanded, he immediately crumbles and usually his negative, perfectionistic beliefs come spilling out of his mouth. I give him a few moments alone, and then I scoop him up and pull him into my lap. I don’t expect eye contact, but I do ask if he’s ready to listen. When he’s ready, I ask, “Did you make a mistake?” He says yes. “Were there consequences to your mistake?” He says yes. “Did I get angry and frustrated with your behavior?” He says yes. “Did I stop loving you?” He now knows this is coming and, with a mischievous little grin on his face says, “yes.” I attack him with friendly kisses and giggles. “Does that mean you’re a horrible person because you made a mistake?” That same eye-twinkling grin and “yes.” He’s now attacked with tickles and giggles. We gently reinforce the lesson learned and he moves on his way. Giving voice to those pesky underlying, unhelpful messages makes them weaker and allows them to be rewritten.
Give voice to the perfectionism. Refute that voice.
See the perfectionism under the behaviors.
Remember that everyone makes mistakes.
Remember that mistakes are actually helpful things because they teach us something. In fact, I’ve learned far more from my mistakes than I ever have from my successes.
Encourage and model being kind to yourself.
Encourage failure and trying difficult tasks. Model doing things that are uncomfortable and difficult.
Read up on self-compassion and implement it regularly.
Remember that every human that walks this planet is unique and worthy of love. Remind your child often just how valuable they are, and especially remind them at times when they act the most unlovably.
Perfectionism can be sly and sneaky and tough to conquer, but it can be conquered and softened. Just don’t expect to do it perfectly. 😉
Any other “This is Us” watchers out there? Silly question given that there were 14.76 million viewers of the January 23rd episode alone. I’m one of those many millions who have fallen in love with the show. And not just because of the fantastic acting and writing, but because of their nonchalant, yet incredibly accurate, portrayal of raising a gifted kid and being a gifted adult. I love how the character of Randall shows that giftedness impacts his life without highlighting his giftedness as the defining characteristic of his identity. I love how he lives an ordinary life in the midst of his extraordinary intellect and abilities.
But, this isn’t really meant to be a post all about me gushing my fandom, nor am I making a case that the show gets everything about giftedness right all the time. No, instead I want to explore a story arc from the last episode that had nothing to do with crockpots.
In the last episode, Randall and his spouse bought a low-income housing complex, with the intent of improving living conditions for the tenants. They hold their first tenant meeting and learn about all the complaints and Randall jumps full steam ahead promising immediate fixes for everything. His passion for justice and desire to be helpful and intense excitement oozes out of his every pore. His wife gives him the knowing look and encourages him to “slow his roll”. The episode continues with Randall getting in over his head, making some hasty mistakes, and having to have the “you were right dear” conversation with his spouse. To which she answered (to the best of my paraphrased recollection), “Let me share my knowledge with you and just slow your roll. We’ll get to it all, but we need to slow our roll.”
I don’t know about you, but as a gifted adult, I could completely relate to this. In fact, I believe my husband and I have had several similar conversations with me assuming the role of Randall and Jon being the spousal voice of wisdom. And, as a parent to gifted children, I could also completely relate to this. My kids come to me with HUGE ideas matched by their HUGE excitement and they are ready to dive head first into the project of the day.
The true beauty of this story, lies in Beth’s response to her husband. She has mastered the art of supportive realism. She doesn’t immediately stomp on Randall’s enthusiasm, but she doesn’t jump in head first along side of him, either. Such a difficult balance to find.
I know that I’ve accidentally squelched my children’s dreams when I’ve tried to spare them from future disappointment or mistake making by calling their enormous plans into question. I’ve heard other gifted kids call their parents “dream destroyers” when parents focus too much on realistic expectations and don’t match their child’s enthusiasm. I’ve also been on the receiving end when my husband would question an idea I was intensely excited by. He wasn’t meaning to, but it felt as though he took a little pin and popped a hole right in my beautiful, exciting balloon.
But, I’ve also experienced the mistakes of my hasty over-commitment to one of my intense ideas. And I’ve seen my kids feel the overwhelm of similar mistakes. Which is why I loved the phrase, “just slow your roll.” It simultaneously gives credence and support to an idea, while also providing realistic caution.
So, when your kids come to you with their 32nd AMAZING idea of the day, get behind them. Support them. Mirror their intense excitement. Voice confidence that they’ll be able to do it. And remind them that they don’t have to do it ALL right now. Help them learn project management and planning. Help them move forward fast enough to maintain the excitement and enthusiasm, but not so fast that the snowball rolls faster than they can run. Help them to slow their roll.
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.
Gifted @ Home
Heather Boorman, MSW, LCSW