Martha Lopez, WATG President-Elect
Learning to deal with the emotional intensity of a gifted and talented child or adolescent takes a lot of energy, time, patience, and understanding. Eventually, parents learn to accept their son or daughter’s emotional quirkiness. Parents and teachers need to keep in mind that cognitive strength and cognitive complexity give rise to emotional depth and profound feelings that the child or adolescent needs to express, or rather, is compelled to talk about in detail. In other words, gifted children not only think differently—more quickly and profoundly—but their feelings have a more vivid and encompassing quality of intensity that needs to be expressed and listened to. For example, when your preschooler says goodbye to you, she behaves like she is falling apart because she imagines that you will never return. But your child will calm down. Or when a young gifted child sees a homeless person, he feels and thinks that he needs to save the homeless person or solve the problem of homelessness.
I liken the parenting process of raising a gifted kid to training for a high-strung marathon. I say this because as gifted and as precocious your child is, (unfortunately or fortunately), and as intense as he may become in any given situation, you both can experience emotional confusion and stress. The gifted child needs a parent who will help him calm down and refocus, and is there for the marathon of learning to manage feelings.
Emotionally intense children can present a serious challenge. It is truly a steep learning curve that parents must navigate as they try to give their son or daughter the tools they will need to reach their potential. There is no one-size-fits-all direction that all parents can follow at all times. But, in general, alongside calmness and structure at home, appropriate schooling and socialization are obviously crucial tools. Without a doubt, I can say it is not as easy for parents of gifted kids to find a school and social match as it is for the neighbor’s children, who may have an easier time fitting in.
While the intensity of a spirited gifted child is common and predictable, the degree of his or her emotional reactivity can be confusing to parents, teachers, and specialists. In desperation to end the confusion about emotional reactivity, this gifted problem is often misunderstood and mislabeled. Books and internet articles are written on the differences between gifted children’s behaviors, autistic spectrum disorder, and attention deficit disorder, because children who have intense feelings are often singled out as having difficult-to-handle emotional and behavioral problems. Social-emotional and learning issues of gifted children are very different from issues of children with autism or hyperactivity. Correct diagnostic labels are critical because they prescribe the school and home environment that best fits the child’s special learning needs. For example, boredom in gifted children who are perfectionistic can lead to underachievement. Most people do not understand that boredom in gifted kids is common when they are not in the right school environment. Teachers and administrators very often misunderstand underachievement, as “this child is just not as smart as his/her parents think.” Additionally, difficulty making friends and being bullied—socialization issues—are very common among gifted kids, and evolve out of feeling misunderstood by peers, not developmental delays related to autistic spectrum disorder.
The spirited child’s sensitivity to people and events around them can be alarming to the uninformed and uneducated teacher, parent, or any other person who gets a glimpse of their intense feelings and “over the top behavior.” The gifted and spirited kid’s behavior and mood is often called over-reactive and lacking in perspective because of the depth of feelings that are manifested in a simple situation. “David, you need to brush your teeth now,” can become an opportunity for war with his parents if David does not want to stop what he is doing. Likewise, “Susie, you need to complete your school work,” can become a very nonsensical position for a parent to request if the child finds homework boring or meaningless. “Maria, let’s turn out the lights and go to bed,” is an impossible simple task if Maria suffers from intense separation anxiety and truly believes that she cannot be alone.
To make matters worse and more confusing for parents of the quick and astute child, the child sometimes actually knows when he/she is creating problems, stops misbehaving, and helps out mom or dad. Temporarily, the child’s reasonable and empathic behavior allows the parent to feel relieved and happy. The exhausted and frustrated parent has a glimmer of hope and thinks that her child is not a manipulative tyrant. David decides he can brush his teeth. Susie gets started on her homework. Maria goes to sleep in her own room. The roller coaster is on the level part of the track. But quickly the child forgets to be empathic to her parents and reverts back to her original position wanting their own way. Graceful behavior goes by the wayside, and tyrannical attitudes take over again. This rollercoaster behavior recommences.
Parents of gifted kids are sometimes told that raising their child looks easy, especially because learning comes so easily to gifted kids. Parents of gifted kids, however, (especially those who deal with quirky kids), know differently...
My name is Ayman Napsy Isahaku and I am currently a freshman at The Ohio State University studying Neuroscience. As an eighth-grade student five long years ago, I possessed a deep curiosity for discovery and finding innovative solutions to problems. It was during the beginning of my freshman year of high school that I realized that science was the perfect outlet for my curiosity and drive to innovate. However, although I knew I wanted to become involved in science, I didn’t know how. Of course, I took my basic science classes in school like every other student, but I constantly found myself questioning things I was learning and wanting to understand things further than the level at which we were being taught. I wanted to be more involved in science and be able to contribute, rather than just reading textbooks and taking tests. I wanted to see science in action outside of a controlled classroom lab where the teacher already knew what was going to happen. I decided that I wanted to one day be one of the people that students learn about in school for their contributions to how humans understand the world we live in.
Later that year, my biology teacher provided me with an opportunity that I will forever be grateful for, Science Fair. Science fair is a competition that encourages students to conduct their own scientific research projects to test their own unique hypotheses and predictions about how something works, or to find a new, innovative way to do something. After the projects have been completed, students present their research to panels of judges who are experts is a vast array of scientific fields, competing to see who has the best project. For me, a young student very interested in science and very competitive, I saw it as a golden opportunity. My first year of high school I did an engineering project where I tried to use magnetism and a computer fan to create a perpetual energy device. (This is physically impossible as stated in numerous laws of physics). Unsurprisingly, my project failed miserably. I didn’t get anything to work, my research paper was subpar, and I did not win at the school fair. Devastated, I thought “Oh well, I guess I was wrong, science isn’t for me.” I completely trashed the idea of making a project the next year and joined the school robotics team instead. However, during my junior year, I took AP Biology with Mrs. Jennifer Bault at Nicolet High School, and she reignited my passion for science. In her class I remembered everything that I loved about research and discovery, and decided to give science fair another try. My junior year, I did a project where I measured heavy metal concentration in various water sources and experimented to see the effect of these metals on fish behavior. I began my investigation the same way I had during my freshman year by myself, but quickly realized that if I wanted to be better, I would need help. So, I talked to teachers at my school and was connected with Dr. Michael Carvan, the head of a research lab at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences. He mentored me throughout my project that year, giving me access to his lab to use tools and learn research strategies that are on the cutting edge of modern science. That year I was successful at the Nicolet High School fair and qualified for the Wisconsin State Science Fair. Although I did not place in the top three in my category at the state fair, just being there as one of the top projects in the state thrilled me and made me want more.
My senior year was the last year that I would be eligible to compete in science fair, so I wanted to go big. I crafted my project again with the help of Dr. Carvan, “Metformin as a Novel Neurogenic Method of Methylmercury Neurotoxicity Symptom Mitigation in Danio rerio as a Model for Human Fetuses.” Essentially my project was to discover a way that the diabetes drug, Metformin, can potentially help treat problems that occur in the brains of developing children as a result of exposure to mercury. It was a lot of hard work, having to work at least 14 hours a week for about 4 months straight. But I was enjoying it and in the end, it paid off. I placed first at the Nicolet fair that year and again qualified for the Wisconsin State Fair where I won the first prize, qualifying me for the International Science and Engineering Fair, ISEF, where I competed against the top 1,800 high school projects from over eighty countries around the world. At ISEF, I placed first and won best in category. In addition, I was honored with an expense paid trip to India to meet with researchers about my research and represent the United States at the Indian national science fair. It was and still is by far my greatest achievement and it has opened many doors for me. As a result of my success at ISEF, I was granted admission to many universities across the country and received many scholarships. I eventually accepted a full-ride scholarship to The Ohio State University to continue studying neuroscience which was the field of my science fair project.
Science fair single handedly changed my life and put me on a path that, with continued hard work, will likely breed success. I will forever be grateful to the teachers and researchers that helped me and inspired me along the way. I strongly encourage any students, no matter how much experience they have with science, to take on the challenge and participate in science fairs. It is a lot of hard work, but like with anything in life, if you work hard at it and don’t let setbacks keep you down, you will find that you’re capable of way more than you thought possible. If someone would have told me during my freshman year that in three years I would have one of the top ten high school research projects in the world, I would not have believed that I could ever do such a thing. I encourage any student regardless of their interests to consider participating in science fairs. Aside from the immense growth that accompanies creating your own project from an academic standpoint, you will develop a stronger work ethic and problem-solving skills that will benefit you regardless of which path your life leads you down.
Thank you for listening to my story and if you have any questions regarding science fair, my personal experience with it, or just about high school in general, feel free to email me at Isahaku.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Student and Parent Voices
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