Sunday, July 20, 2014

What hidden emotions complicate parenting a gifted child?

What hinders parenting your gifted child? Yes, the usual...time, money, a limited school system, lack of support.

But are there other hidden barriers that we, ourselves, create? Despite our best intentions, can underlying feelings interfere with our child's emotional well-being or academic success?

Parents often experience emotions ranging from excitement to confusion to anxiety when they first learn that their child is gifted. And many feel frustrated and helpless when their child's teacher doesn't "get it" or the school fails to provide educational resources. These reactions are shared by most parents of gifted children.

But sometimes more complicated emotions creep in. Parents need to dig deeper and explore what is often unspoken: those dark, nagging unconscious wishes and fears that lie just beneath the surface, feelings that ultimately influence how we treat our children.

Frequently ignored and sometimes unconscious, those "darker" emotions and behaviors can interfere with parenting. Envy, shame, bitterness, regret, and guilt are no stranger to most parents of gifted children. Competitive strivings, overinvolvement, projection of hopes and dreams, and ambivalence also may come into play. These attitudes, feelings and behaviors may influence decisions without your full understanding. Eventually, though, awareness starts to develop, whether through self-reflection, comments from others, or even confrontation from your child.
This additional difficult aspect of the gifted parenting journey - the sobering jolt of reality when hidden emotions surface - may completely take you by surprise. It can smack you in the face and send you reeling.
It is human nature to avoid self-reflection, especially when what you are facing is unpleasant. By digging deeper, though, and truly understanding your feelings and motivations, you can gain perspective and forestall behaviors that might create problems for you and your child.  The first step is honest self-appraisal. Here is a list of statements/questions. Don't hold back. Check as many as apply.

____  I sometimes feel jealous of other children who receive greater recognition for their accomplishments, and feel they don't really deserve it as much.

____  I am embarrassed by my child's social behaviors (e.g., acting different from other children his age, not fitting in, having unusual interests).

____  I sometimes wish she were "normal" and did not require so much extra time and effort.

____  I push my child to succeed well beyond his wishes.

____  I sometimes think my child's behavior (e.g., underachievement, perfectionism, social discomfort) was prompted by subtle messages I might have conveyed without realizing it.

____  I want my child to be the best and always be number one, surpassing her classmates and friends.

____  I sometimes wonder if my desire for my child to succeed is because of my own unfulfilled dreams, or pressures I felt from my own family.

____  I have become completely immersed in my child's activities and goals, much more than other parents are with their children.

____  I deeply resent that other families seem to have better opportunities and that my child has fewer chances to succeed.

____  I know I have mixed feelings about my child's abilities; I am proud of her, but often wish she would just be a popular kid with "normal" interests.

____  I realize deep down that I am especially thrilled about my child's abilities because it makes me feel better about myself.

____ I feel guilty that I have not done more to push my child to succeed, have not advocated enough, or taken more time out of my schedule to educate him.

____  I worry that my child will be a nerdy kid and adult, and will never have many friends.

____  I expect my child to accomplish a lot, since he has opportunities I never could have imagined.

Difficult statements to consider. What were your reactions as you answered them? Did they evoke any feelings? It takes honesty and courage to admit to these thoughts and emotions. It is hard to admit to feeling jealousy, bitterness and fear. It is hard to admit to competitive feelings toward other children. It is hard to admit that your own personal needs, wishes, and dreams can become entangled in what is best for your child. Yet all of the above statements reflect thoughts and emotions commonly experienced by parents of gifted children. You are not alone if you responded to one, two or even all of the above statements.

Awareness makes it more difficult to behave unconsciously or act in a manner that is counterproductive for your child. Awareness pushes you to take stock in your viewpoint and appreciate that it may not be appropriate. It creates an impetus to change behaviors, find another way of coping, or challenge long-standing beliefs that no longer hold true.

It is natural to want to run to the nearest exit: to flee, ignore, dismiss, minimize or rationalize away these feelings. Some parents feel so much shame about their emotions that addressing them at all is impossible. Others may become defensive and deny that there is a problem. Still others may doubt themselves and their abilities as parents. Acceptance that these thoughts and emotions are commonplace and understandable is critical. Shame, defensiveness and insecurity blur the picture and make it more difficult to move past these feelings and behaviors.

Ask yourself the following:

1. Do I subscribe to any of the thoughts, attitudes, and feelings from the list above?

2. Do I understand the basis for these feelings and beliefs (e.g., family pressure, insecurity, anxiety)?

3. Can I accept, without shame, that it is commonplace and understandable to have these feelings?

4. Can I develop alternative strategies, coping skills and behaviors that are more appropriate?

If you cannot answer these four questions, you may need to seek support from family, friends, or a therapist. You can also gain perspective and validation from parenting advocacy groups in your school community or even online forums. Again, the more you understand your own motives, the more you can support your child. (More to come about emotions and parenting in future blog posts.)

What has been your experience with emotions and self-awareness
as a parent? Please share any thoughts in the comments section below.

This blog post has been part of a blog tour sponsored by SENG for National Parenting Gifted Children Week.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Giftedness explored: An update

Gifted children and adults are different. They know it. Friends and family know it. Society knows it. But differences can sometimes foster confusion, suspicion and uncertainty, resulting in misunderstanding and wasted opportunities. 

Gifted children's needs and challenges are often minimized, sometimes envied, and not infrequently mocked and belittled. Regarded as serious, driven and socially awkward, they are nevertheless expected to be ideal students, requiring little assistance from educators. Parents who advocate for an education commensurate with their child's abilities are treated as demanding and ungrateful, and chastised for requesting resources routinely allocated for average or lower ability students with "greater" needs.

Gifted individuals have IQs of 130 or above, which is two standard deviations above the norm. In other words, they are outliers. Their minds work differently. They think with greater complexity and depth, acquire knowledge at a faster pace, and grasp new concepts more quickly. Whether considered a blessing or a curse, their "gift" is something they are born with and they have to grapple with a learning style that does not easily conform to the world around them. This does not make them overachievers or hard workers; many are notorious underachievers and fail to reach their potential. They have different social and emotional needs than others, partly due to their innate intensity and overexcitabilities, but also in response to a world that often ignores and isolates them due to their differences.

This blog started in January, 2013 as an attempt to share ideas, insights, information and updates about gifted children and adults. As a clinical psychologist, I have worked with many gifted individuals, and have witnessed how intellectual strengths, learning style, and social/emotional needs influence initiative, self-esteem, and interpersonal relationships. I have seen how parents struggle to nurture and support their gifted children. I have witnessed the problems many gifted adults face as they struggle to find their place in the world, or maintain a marriage where there is little room for their intensity. 

Since starting this blog , I have been contacted numerous times by parents with questions about their child's giftedness, school placement, social dilemmas, and the "normalcy" of their child's behaviors. As a result, I have recently started a new service: Gifted Challenges Educational Consultation Services. More about this can be seen on the link above. My intention is to offer consultation in-person or by phone or skype to individuals or families who need some additional support, coaching or advice regarding the effects of giftedness in their lives. I also offer programs in schools. 

I plan to keep blogging, advocating and working with gifted individuals in my clinical psychology practice. Thanks again for reading, commenting and being a part of this blog. Any feedback is always welcome. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Are all gifted children early readers?

True or False: You can tell if a child is gifted by how early he or she starts to read.

Answer: True and False

It's true that many gifted children read at a remarkably early age, amazing family and preschool teachers alike with their almost eerie knowledge of language. Many of these children are also highly verbal, possess a large vocabulary, and seem to grasp humor, subtlety and other nuances of speech well beyond their years. These become the kids who drag home wheelbarrows full of books from the library, walk into walls because they are always reading, and keep a book hidden on their laps during school to cope with boredom.

But not all gifted children read early. Silverman found in her study, and in a review of other research, that approximately half of gifted children start reading on their own before they start school. Those who do not read prior to kindergarten may be visual-spatial learners, have mathematical, artistic, mechanical, or spatial abilities, may have a learning disability, or may have been raised in an impoverished environment. Or they just could be late bloomers.

When children don't read at an early age, parents and teachers may overlook other outstanding abilities and assume they are not gifted. Strong verbal abilities stand out, and when children are shy, less verbal, or have a learning disability that masks giftedness, other signs of high aptitude are often ignored. Parents need to be aware of other gifted traits, request IQ testing, and advocate for gifted services.

Some children may never learn to love reading, though. Competing interests, learning disabilities, a visual-spatial orientation, or the ever-present lure of electronics can make reading a chore. One blog offers guidelines for encouraging reading when it is not your child's greatest interest.

Most gifted children who are not early readers catch up quickly, though, start reading on their own in kindergarten or first grade, and learn to love reading. Rather than decoding phonetically, they frequently surprise their teachers by devouring chapter books that interest them, and skip the "Dick and Jane" books completely. Intrinsically motivated, these children read because they want to, because books captivate their attention. Reading fuels their imagination and can become a safe harbor from the stresses of life. For an excellent article about how gifted students absorb reading material, see Catron and Wingenbach. But simply put: "they read faster and understand more."

As a parent, you can foster this love by offering as many opportunities as possible where your child can read for fun. And advocate when necessary to ensure that your child's reading needs are addressed at school. Even if your gifted child did not read at an early age, chances are he or she will become an avid reader, collect mountains of books and walk into walls, just like all the others.

Final words: A gifted eight-year-old (not an early reader, but voracious by kindergarten) tells his parents, "I know what I want to be when I grow up - a librarian. That way, I can read books all day!" What a disappointment when he learned that librarians don't get to read all day and actually have to work! 

Please let us know about your child's reading experiences in the comments section below.

This blog is part of the Hoagies Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Summer Reading. To read more blogs in this hop, visit this Blog Hop at