Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why aren't you advocating for your gifted child?

You watched as your gifted child struggled with boredom, apathy and underachievement. And at some breaking point, you decided to do something. You planned to speak with the teacher, challenge the administration, maybe even go to a school board meeting and complain. But then...you backed down. Nothing happened. The moment passed.

What stopped you? What held you back? What were the thoughts, worries, and fears - some realistic, some imagined - that got in the way?

Here are some reasons parents hesitate and fail to advocate for their gifted children:

“I don’t have the credentials”

Unless you have worked in education or childcare, you may not feel qualified or entitled to approach the teacher or school. Challenging authority may be difficult and if you assume that they are the experts, it may be hard to build your case. You can feel stymied if you believe that training as a teacher or school administrator trumps your perception of your child. Recognize that you are a vital part of this team of professionals whose job is to educate your child. The information and perspective you offer is invaluable.

“I don’t know enough”

Uncertainty, lack of information, and doubt can weaken your argument. Gather as much information as possible from your child, the teacher, school psychologist, other specialists, and anyone else who observes your child or the classroom. Read and learn as much as you can about gifted children and gifted education. Know the regulations in your state and community. Stay informed so that you can feel empowered, remain knowledgeable, and counter any inaccuracies.  

“I hate conflict”

Maybe confronting authority is difficult for you. Perhaps you hate conflict. And you don’t want to be disliked. Challenging your child’s teacher, confronting the principal, meeting with the school board all present the potential for conflict. You don’t want to be perceived as one of those parents; pushy and overinvolved, who thinks the world revolves around their child. Keep in mind, though, that you are fighting for basic, fair, and appropriate educational services that your child deserves. You didn’t ask for this battle. (You probably would rather be doing something else.) The school’s lack of resources prompted this fight and you are doing what any parent would - protecting the welfare of your child.

“I don’t want any backlash”

Valid point. Backlash unfortunately occurs when teachers, students or even other parents feel threatened. Although sometimes overt, such as when a child is teased by peers, it is often more subtle. A teacher may “not have time” to follow through on differentiated instruction, offer “extra” homework rather than interesting alternatives to the regular curriculum, or hold your child to a higher standard in terms of social/emotional behavior. And other parents may stop inviting your child to parties or make disparaging comments. It is understandable that you might hesitate in the face of this concern. Yet, if you don't advocate, nothing will change.

“Maybe the problem will go away”

Sometimes it seems easier to hope the problem will disappear. It might be simpler to assume that life will improve for your gifted child next year with a new teacher. Or that your child will outgrow his or her unhappiness or boredom. Sometimes you might just wish he or she were “normal” and would just calm down and fit in like all of the other kids. You don’t want to make waves at school. You don’t want to create a scene. After all, your child is smart; hopefully the problems will work themselves out. Well, sometimes this is true. But other times, boredom, underachievement, isolation from peers, apathy and a poor attitude toward learning only increase. The sooner these problems are addressed, the more likely your child will start to thrive at school.

So, how do you start?

1. Start with the teacher. Find out as much as possible about the teacher's perspective. If your child has been tested, gather information from the school psychologist, and/or other specialists. If your child would benefit from testing, insist on it.

2. Get informed. Learn as much as possible from sites such as NAGC and SENGifted. The NAGC advocacy toolkit is a must-read with excellent advice.

3. Pursue additional channels. If you hit a roadblock with the teacher, you may need to speak with the principal, gifted supervisor, director of curriculum, or other administrators. Sometimes parents even need to meet with school board members to initiate changes.

4. Form a gifted children's advocacy group with other parents. There is strength in numbers, and each parent can provide a wealth of ideas that may propel the group to implement changes in the schools.

5. Consider broader advocacy for gifted children. In addition to advocating for your child, consider lending a hand so that all gifted children can benefit. This may be as simple as speaking up to correct misinformation about giftedness in casual conversation, or as involved as advocacy on a state or national level.

Recent articles in the Boston Globe, Hoover Institution Journal and Medical Daily are examples of writing highlighting widespread neglect of gifted children's educational needs. Yet, these articles reiterate what parents of gifted children already know and live with every day. Who is ultimately more knowledgeable about the struggles gifted children face than the parents who raise them? Who better, then, to advocate for them? Recognize why you're hesitating, what's holding you back, and determine how you can better assist your child and others.

What's holding you back?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ten reasons why your gifted child procrastinates

Procrastination: that vexing time thief so many gifted children face. You watch as your bright, curious child, passionately engaged in so many interests, comes to a screeching halt when a project is due. You coax, cajole, demand, bribe, threaten, and stand on your head, yet nothing will budge. What gives?

While most people procrastinate from time to time, some develop a chronic pattern fraught with avoidance, disorganization and frantic efforts as deadlines loom. Before you nag your child one more time, rush out and buy yet another self-help book, or hit your head against the wall, you may first want to sort out the reasons for the procrastination. Usually there are one or more contributing factors, and if you sort these out, you may be better prepared to tackle the problem.

Here are some possible reasons for procrastination:
1.  Distractibility - Some gifted children are so immersed in their interests that they have difficulty focusing on the task at hand. They become easily distracted by more engaging ideas or projects. Overscheduling can exacerbate this problem; however, distractions can arise even without competing demands once the child's passions and interests take hold.
2.  Disorganization - Gifted children can struggle with poor organizational and planning abilities and can lack time management skills. Despite motivation to complete a project, they may become overwhelmed when it involves more attention to details or long-range planning than usual. Difficulty managing their time and structuring how they will work is frequently the root of this problem.
3.  Apathy - Sometimes gifted children have become so bored and disgusted with school that they lose interest and don’t really care about the quality of their work. They delay completing assignments because the work seems meaningless. They would rather engage in a multitude of other activities than “waste” their time on rote paperwork or assignments that seem too easy.
4.  Past success - Some gifted children procrastinate because they can get away with it. Many have learned that completing assignments at the last minute does not diminish the quality of their work or harm the outcome. They know they can do better, but with a track record of excellent grades behind them, they realize they don’t have to work very hard to just slide by.
5.  Rebellion - Procrastination can be an expression of resistance or quiet rebellion against completing an assignment a child resents. It is a means of devaluing the project, minimizing its importance, and expressing anger about having to work on something unappealing. Even if the project is eventually completed, delaying it until the last minute is a form of silent protest that may feel empowering to the child.
6.  Perfectionism - High expectations of achieving success can create anxiety and a desire to delay that which is distressing. When gifted children worry that they might not excel on a given task, they may put it off until the last possible minute. Clearly, this can be a recipe for increased anxiety and inevitable 11:00 PM melt-downs. 
7.  Self-sabotage - Some gifted children (and gifted adolescents in particular) try to hide their abilities from others. In an attempt to blend in, they may disguise their talents, perform poorly, and disengage from academics. Procrastination may reflect their ambivalence about confronting this dilemma and uncertainty about whether to minimize their abilities or live up to their potential. And if the quality of their work suffers, then they can perpetuate the image they want to convey.
8.  Insecurity - Despite their apparent skills, some gifted children doubt their abilities. They may feel like "imposters" and worry that their inadequacies will be "discovered" at any time. They believe that they have an image to uphold and if they fail in some manner, they will be outed as a fraud. Delaying completion of a project is a means of avoiding the inevitable anxiety that arises when they confront this fear.
9.  Shame - Along with insecurity, some gifted children experience feelings of shame if they fail to excel. They react as if this is an indictment against their intelligence and suspect that others will view them as inadequate. As a result, procrastination can be an excuse; if a less than perfect grade is attributed to a rushed, last-minute effort, then the child can believe that actual ability was never to blame.
10. Depression - Occasionally, procrastination may be a symptom of depression. However, it usually coincides with other signs, such as withdrawal and isolation from peers, apparent sadness, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, and irritability. In these situations, procrastination may be a reflection of feelings of hopelessness and a perception that school work lacks any meaning.
Sorting out the cause of your child's procrastination is the first step toward working on the problem. A one-size-fits-all approach based on the latest self-help ideas may not work for your child's specific situation. Clearly, a child whose procrastination is the result of perfectionism and shame will need a different approach than one whose primary concern is apathy.

Gather information, speak with your child, listen to what your child thinks. Make a decision about whether the problem is behavioral (habits, distractibility, time management), school based (boredom, apathy), and/or the result of anxiety or depression. Determine whether intervention needs to occur at home, school, or both, and whether a counselor, school psychologist, or therapist would help to address the problem. (More on treating procrastination in a future blog post.)

Let us know what you think about procrastination in the comments section below.