Monday, July 16, 2018

Welcome to gifted parenting: A checklist of emotions

Surprise! Your child is gifted.

Or maybe it wasn't such a surprise. Perhaps you saw the signs from an early age - the precocity, the early language acquisition, the endless questioning, the obsession with everything LEGO. Regardless of whether there was any warning, it is a shock, a joy,
and a bundle of anxiety all wrapped in a bow.

Welcome to gifted parenting!

As you grapple with decisions about schools and advocacy, as you search for books/classes/activities that engage your child's passions, you might notice that your own emotions surge at unexpected times. They nag at you when your child seems bored at school. They erupt in anger when she is misunderstood or her intentions disparaged. They swell with anxiety as you lie awake worrying about his future. Fear, envy, pride, resentment, disappointment, anger, bitterness - these are no strangers to gifted parents.

So many emotions

The first step toward coping with the emotions that catch most gifted parents by surprise is to identify them.

Which of the following seem familiar to you?

___ I worry about my child's ability to fit in with other kids

___ I resent the amount of extra energy I have to expend to engage my child's academic needs

___ I am angry that the school offers few (or any) gifted services

___ I feel embarrassed when my gifted child is so immature; sometimes she acts like she's five years younger than her actual age

___ I am tired of being treated like a pushy parent just because I ask for more challenging work for my child

___ I envy other families whose kids seem so "normal"

___ I am frustrated that my child exerts little effort and is coasting through school; he seems to be wasting his potential and the school overlooks this

___ I wish I could show my enthusiasm and pride over my child's accomplishments and not worry that others might think I'm bragging

___ I resent it when others think my child's abilities result from me pushing and prepping her

___ I worry that my child will never reach his potential because of the schooling we have chosen for him

___ I resent that I have to do all of the work sorting out college options - and the school offers little guidance

___ I feel angry toward relatives who don't get it and minimize her abilities and my concerns about her

___ I feel guilty that I don't want to do all of this advocacy work in the schools.

___ I feel in awe of my child sometimes; I can't believe he can accomplish some of the amazing things he does.

___ I worry that I am not doing enough to push her to succeed

___ I also worry that I am pushing her too much and it will backfire

___ I feel heartbroken when my child is excluded from social events because he is so "different" from his peers

___ I wish I could just relax and trust the schools to do their job

___ I worry that she never will be happy - that she always will feel so different from others and have trouble finding friends, a spouse or partner, and a job that is truly meaningful

Do some of these sound familiar? Okay... most of them? 

Parents of gifted children often struggle in silence with emotions that evoke guilt and shame. This is heightened when others imply that they should feel grateful about their child's abilities. After all, high IQ should be a ticket to happiness, Harvard and any job he wants. Right? Well, not exactly! Such myths and stereotypes only compound the stress involved with raising a gifted child.

Parenting an intense, curious, and reactive child, who may be asynchronous, highly sensitive, and out of sync with peers, is not easy. Constantly advocating for academic needs is demanding and overwhelming. And although intelligence certainly offers many advantages, it is no guarantee of success, joy, or even college admission.

What you can do

Parents of gifted children benefit from accepting the challenges of the road ahead; their attention to their child's needs is critical, and can be exhausting. You're in it for the long haul, so get the support you need. The following may help:

1. Read as much as you can about gifted children, gifted education and parenting. The more you know, the more you will understand about what you and your child are experiencing. It will normalize, validate and provide much needed information. A few of the well-known publishers of books about giftedness include Prufrock Press, Great Potential Press, GHF Press, and Free Spirit. A few of the great online information sites include NAGC, SENG, Hoagie's Gifted, and Davidson's. Get informed!

2. Find or start your own gifted parenting support group. These provide support, mutual understanding, and validation rarely found elsewhere. They provide a venue for shared information about what works and what doesn't within the schools, and a powerful tool for advocacy. If this is not possible, at least consider joining an online parent forum, such as Davidson's, where you can find support.

3. Take care of yourself. This goes for every parent, of course, but don't forget to find time for enjoyable activities, relaxation, and fun and silliness with your child. Learn stress management techniques for when you need them, and make time for friends, your partner or spouse, and enriching, meaningful activities. Your child also will benefit from you as a calm, happy parent.

4. If you haven't already realized it, please know that EVERY emotion listed on the above checklist is normal, understandable, and widespread among parents of gifted children. It is understandable to feel angry, alone, resentful and sad about these challenges. Accepting this reality may help with the guilt and sense of isolation that accompanies some of these feelings. Get the support you need from those friends and family who truly "get it," other parents of gifted children, and gifted parent support groups. Don't allow these emotions to overwhelm and interfere with the joy you might otherwise experience with your child.

What were some of your surprise emotions as a parent? Let us know in the comments section below.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Where can I find a friend? How asynchronous development affects relationships

Gifted children, teens, and even adults often possess social and emotional traits - both gifts and encumbrances - that sometimes interfere with establishing and maintaining friendships and relationships.

And the most formidable trait just might be asynchronous development.

While asynchronous development is best defined as a discrepancy in skills or development among gifted children, it is most apparent when a child's advanced intellectual abilities contrast with an emotional or social (im)maturity reflective of a much younger child. A child who tries to converse about chemistry on the playground, for example, and then melts down into tears when rebuffed, is not going to fare well socially. This predictable pattern is frustrating and heartbreaking for both child and parent.

Asynchronous development may continue through adolescence and young adulthood. These individuals often struggle to find peers who "get them." Socially delayed, awkward and insecure, they may delve further into their studies as an escape, or become angry and disgusted with the prevailing social culture. Some retreat and become isolated, socializing with only a few select friends. Dating and sexual experimentation may start later for some of these teens and young adults, further delaying their maturation.

Self-doubt and insecurity is fueled by an excruciating awareness of their differences, and sometimes painful experiences with ostracism and bullying. Nevertheless, most gifted children and teens long for friends who will understand and accept them. Even those who are introverted still crave friendships and relationships that might offer meaningful connection, and allow them to relax and be themselves.

Sometimes gifted teens don't get to "exhale" until college, although even then, finding friends who understand them may be difficult. Their intellect and social differences may be tolerated - and even appreciated - within a university setting, but some asynchronous students still don't fit in. While their peers are out partying and surveying the frat scene, gifted young adults instead might prefer an intense dialogue about existential issues with a few close friends, or an evening spent alone reading, or playing online chess.

Even though many achieve academic or career success, some gifted adults bear the burdens of their childhood scars. The years of outlier status and difficulty relating to peers take a toll. Many still feel like misfits - shy, insecure, and afraid to assert themselves socially or on the dating scene. Some feel like impostors in their careers, especially when advancement comes easily, and self-doubts can extend even further into their relationships.

These scars can make adaptation to adult life more difficult. Add to that the common residual traits of heightened sensitivities and overthinking, and gifted adults may have a tough road ahead. Those who are perfectionistic can be highly critical of any mistakes in school or on the job, and cringe if they commit any perceived social error. A minor miscommunication or a joke that falls flat can seem devastating. Perfectionistic gifted people expect as much from themselves socially as they do in every other endeavor.

How can you help your gifted child?

1. Help your child understand what it means to be gifted. Help him appreciate that giftedness is just one aspect of who he is - and that it does not make him any better or worse than anyone else. You will need to tailor your language to your child's age and capacity to understand, and also explain how asynchronous development may complicate friendships. For ideas on how to talk to your child, you might consider some of the suggestions listed here.

2. Seek out opportunities where your child can interact with like-minded peers, regardless of their age. If ability grouping or challenging extracurriculars are not available at school, investigate what options might be available after school, at local colleges, and during the summer. Sometimes low-cost, free or scholarship opportunities are available. And while the activity should be challenging and engaging, it is just as critical that it serves as a place for making friends. That experience of true connection gifted children long for may not occur until they find such an extracurricular activity or class, and their enthusiasm, relief and sense of wonder when this occurs is palpable.

3. Help your child with social skills and emotions. An advanced intellect and/or social immaturity are no excuse for neglecting to learn social manners, patience, and empathy for others. If your child struggles to contain her feelings, exhibiting rage or melt-downs, help her learn to control and more appropriately express these emotions. In contrast, some gifted children are empathetic to a fault, and overthink every interaction. If your child is shy and socially anxious, or your teen is socially isolated, offer advice about how to proceed, and even ideas about what she might say in social situations. Some ideas for addressing these concerns can be found herehere, here and here. However, when support and guidance from family and friends is not enough, counseling with a licensed mental health professional is recommended.

Gifted children, teens and adults thrive when they understand the social, emotional and cultural impact of their giftedness, when they feel understood and accepted, when surrounded by like-minded peers, and when they are not criticized for any delays in their social-developmental trajectory. As parents, we must help them navigate the path to adulthood, seek out activities where they can develop healthy social relationships, and encourage them to accept, work with, and appreciate their unique differences.

More blog posts about asynchronous development can be found hereherehere, here, and here. Let us know about your experience with your asynchronous child in the comments section below.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Relationships. To read more blogs, click on:

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

When children are torn from their families: A brief note

I am on vacation now, and had not considered writing. But despite my retreat from all things hectic, I can't ignore the current immigration policy where children are being torn from their families.

So this brief post is not related to giftedness. It is about humanity and kindness and support and advocacy for children regardless of their background.

Some might say that those who fled their countries and "trespass" on U.S. soil should know better, and should not bring their children with them. They should "know" that the no-tolerance policy will result in separation. This argument ignores the trauma inflicted upon these children, and the shameful actions of those who allow this to occur.

A local psychologist started a petition directed at local, state and national leaders to remind them of the long-term psychological impact of forced separation. At this point, thousands of psychologists, social workers, and laypersons have signed this petition. I urge you to read it. And please consider signing it if you agree: Stop border separation of children from parents.

Thank you for listening.


Friday, June 1, 2018

What most parents of gifted children wish they had known about college planning

Raising a gifted child is full of surprises. Emotional intensity, asynchronous development, and advocating within the schools, to name a few, become routine challenges most parents face. But just when you think you've got it figured out and life gets a little more predictable, college looms on the horizon.

But why should this be a challenge? After all, getting into college should be a piece of cake for your child. Right? She's smart, talented, gets amazing grades, and probably will ace her SAT's. Most colleges should be thrilled to accept a child like her.

You swore you wouldn't be obsessive and enroll your child in "strategic" extra-curriculars starting in the first grade. You promised you would let her take the lead when the time came - after all, it is her future. And despite the school's dismal track record with her education, you somehow trusted that they had the wisdom to counsel her about college admissions.

So can you just sit back and let the school guidance counselor guide away?

Not so fast.

The nagging reality of college admissions

Many parents of gifted children are blindsided by the competitive nature of college admissions. While your child may shine in his school or community, there are more valedictorians, national merit finalists, varsity sports stand-outs, and science fair winners than openings at prestigious colleges. And despite the media's critique of elite colleges, these schools often provide the best fit for gifted students - where their intellectual abilities are appreciated and classrooms are (finally!) filled with like-minded peers.

In my work as a psychologist and parenting coach, I have spoken with frustrated, bewildered and sometimes heartbroken teens and families who felt betrayed and misled by their high school and the hype about colleges. Parents may have assumed that their highly ranked child would automatically gain admission to the school of his choice, and are stunned to find that he was rejected -  along with thousands of other equally accomplished applicants. They regret relying upon guidance counselors, and wish they had received practical information, and had started planning years prior to sending in those applications.

How students' college dreams get sidelined

Many families learn much too late that the school offers little guidance - especially for gifted children.
Overworked guidance counselors may provide information relevant to the majority of students, but offer little direction for gifted students. And some parents - who might have micromanaged every birthday party and who monitor their teen's activities - suddenly abandon all responsibility when it comes to college planning. It's her life; her choice. 

Yet, expecting your child to assume full responsibility for such a critical decision (at an age when many teens understandably lack that level of maturity) can be a recipe for disaster. How many teens have chosen a college because of its reputation as a party school, or because their friends like it, or because they visited their cousin there and love the dorms, or because they think going there will boost their self-esteem? How many 17-year-olds truly understand the financial issues involved, including what you can really afford, what loan repayment entails, and whether a particular college is really worth the cost? How many teens can assess all of these variables without your input?

I also wish I had known what I know now - before my children started high school. Fortunately, I woke up to the reality that I had to educate myself about the process. The school offered no roadmap and little guidance. Online tips about college planning and information from colleges didn't necessarily apply to gifted children's needs. While my children ultimately made their own decisions, it fell upon us as parents to "suggest" what classes, tests, and activities seemed advantageous, and what colleges might provide the right fit for their academic, social, and financial needs.

Gifted teens thrive in a college environment that pushes them to stretch themselves, instills a work ethic (which may have been lacking for some gifted underachievers), and encourages inquiry and creative expression. Many finally feel they can "breathe" when given the freedom to excel without fear of social repercussions. Finding a college with the right "fit" that fosters this growth and development is essential for all teens, but is especially critical for gifted students.

How can you help your child plan for college - and find several colleges that offer the right fit?

1. Educate yourself 

As outlined in Ten essential tips to help your gifted teen plan for college, it will be up to you to learn the ropes about college planning.  In a sense, you will need to become a bit of an expert on what colleges want, what particular colleges have to offer, and how this relates to your child's unique needs. Develop an understanding of the relative importance of the PSAT's, AP or IB classes, extra-curriculars, and study guides for the SAT's or ACT's, along with the benefits or drawbacks of early action or early decision applications. Learn which aspects of college visits you can overlook (the tour guide's demeanor), and what is important (how your child can show "demonstrated interest"). Start early (ideally before high school begins) and read as much as possible - from college websites to online college reviews.

Encourage your child to take the most challenging classes available in high school, as long as they are appropriate and not too stressful, and help him identify extra-curricular, volunteer, and academic choices that may enhance his application. Colleges are alert to "filler" activities, though, which some students use to pad their applications, such as joining a variety of random clubs that seem to have little connection to their interests. On the other hand, dual enrollment at a local college, internships, and meaningful volunteer work are examples of activities that should be enriching experiences, and make sense to college admissions officers as well.

2. Learn the hidden meaning behind admissions departments' words

Most colleges market themselves with the intention of boosting the number of applicants to improve their statistics. They also have a profile of the type of student they would like to enroll. While they may list strict admissions criteria, there is some subjectivity, which makes decisions hard to predict. Admissions departments from highly selective colleges often speak of "holistic" admissions, or choosing students to complete a well-rounded class. When GPA or SAT score ranges are listed, be advised that unless your child fits what some describe as "hooked" status (recruited athlete; legacy status; ethnic, racial or geographic minority), his grades and scores should correspond with numbers in the top percentile for him to be considered.

If your child plans to apply to a highly selective college, great grades and SAT scores are not enough. He will have to distinguish himself from the rest of the pack in some manner. This might mean one exceptional accomplishment, or a combination of achievements (such as National Merit Finalist, captain of the tennis team, lead role in the musical, and volunteering during the summer in a university chemistry lab). The more you know about what colleges realistically expect and how it corresponds with your child's specific accomplishments, the more easily you and your child can hammer out a list of prospective colleges.

3. Evaluate online, word-of-mouth, and college website information within the context of giftedness

Information about college planning, admissions and the college itself are geared toward any student who might apply, and it may not be particularly relevant to your gifted child's unique needs. Selling points that many colleges promote - sports teams, beautiful new dorms, a new performing arts building, an appealing study abroad program - will be attractive to most students, but can distract from what is critical when determining if the college can meet your child's academic and social/emotional needs.

If possible, visit the colleges your child is most interested in, ask her to get permission to sit in on a few classes, and suggest that she visit or sit in on the extra-curricular activities she plans to join once she is there. If club sports, marching band or dance are critical to her well-being, encourage her to view these events or practices to see if they spark her interest. Find out as many details about academic requirements as possible, and ask your child to envision day-to-day life. Red flags might include a long list of general education requirements; a weak honors program; few opportunities for collaborative research with faculty; large, "stadium-seating" classes; or a majority of classes taught by teaching assistants. Some colleges also make it difficult for students with multiple talents and interests to double major in certain fields. For example, music ensemble or theater rehearsal may conflict with schedules for science labs, making it almost impossible to double major in these areas.

4. Understand your child's needs and the importance of "fit"

Help your gifted teen sort out his preferences to optimize chances for finding the right fit. This includes a place where he will thrive intellectually, but also feel comfortable socially and emotionally. For example, many teens hold strong opinions regarding urban vs. rural, the relative importance of school spirit and sports, the presence or absence of Greek life, the local weather, and the size of the school. If your child was grade accelerated and is younger than his peers, finding a college where he will feel socially at ease is particularly important.

Ultimately, though, access to the academic interests that appeal to your child, meaningful extra-curriculars, and other details (e.g., accommodations for twice-exceptional needs, few general education requirements, the option to "skip" a semester by using AP credits, a great job placement program) are essential elements in making this decision.

5. Take your financial status into account

Unfortunately, sometimes students are accepted into their dream school, and then are devastated to find that their parents cannot afford the tuition. Wishful thinking may lead families to assume that their child will receive a merit scholarship sufficient to cover most of their costs, or that financial aid numbers on the website estimators are wrong. It is critical to take a sober assessment of what is affordable and inform your child before he sets his sights on a particular school. While elite colleges typically provide the most generous need-based financial aid, this may not help some middle- and upper middle-class families. And take note of the difference between need-blind and need-aware colleges, as this can influence admissions decisions.

If you cannot afford (or oppose the idea of paying) the high cost of tuition at a private college that does not offer financial support, consider an honors program at your state university, or a college that will welcome your child with significant merit aid. And keep in mind that some colleges offer a "free ride" of full tuition and room and board to certain applicants, particularly those who are National Merit Finalists (which is another reason to encourage your child to perform her best on the PSAT's in 11th grade, since this test serves as the foundation for achieving NMF status).

6. Be the voice of reality

In other words, be the adult in the room. You adore your child and know she has tremendous potential. But colleges have criteria and quotas, and admissions officers don't really care about what you know in your heart to be true. You might hope that your child's dream school will overlook that C in biology, or her less than stellar Math SAT score. But she will be competing against thousands of equally qualified students, and she may be shut out.

A recent survey of applicants' experiences highlighted the highs and lows of college admissions. One poignant story described a student's despair after rejection from his reach schools on "ivy day," when selective schools send out their decisions:

"Ivy day. March, 2018. This day is marked by memories of crying so long in a vacant parking lot that someone called the police to make sure I was okay. I never thought I would be more embarrassed until I had to explain to two officers why I was alone sobbing while they tried to console me."

Too many students apply to all of their "reach" schools, fail to consider schools that are more likely to be "matches," and end up attending the one "safety" school they reluctantly applied to in haste. There are many wonderful colleges out there, and you can encourage your child to apply to those that are likely to admit her and will provide a meaningful and challenging education. Even if they are not her dream schools.

Help your child make this happen

Both of my kids were fortunate to emerge relatively unscathed from the college application process. They encountered a few bumps along the way, but also some surprises and amazing opportunities, and enrolled in colleges that were well-suited to their different needs. My kids put in the effort; but I doubt they would have succeeded without the necessary information about these schools and the application process.

Unless your child's high school has an exceptionally astute guidance department, unhurried and unburdened by an enormous caseload of students, and with an understanding of gifted student's needs, I urge you, as parents, to become informed and involved. Start the conversation early. Remaining educated, offering your own wise counsel, and staying involved is not helicoptering and hovering - as long as you are attuned to your child and respect his (realistic) wishes. Your child will appreciate it when he eventually enrolls in a college that offers the best possible academic and social fit for his needs.

Additional Gifted Challenges blog posts about college

Ten essential tips to help your gifted teen plan for college
Five tips gifted students need to consider when choosing a college
How the media discredits successful students
Your musically gifted child's road to college
Choose wisely: Some truths about elite colleges for gifted students
April 1st is no joke for some gifted high school seniors
Five hurdles gifted college students must overcome
Sending your gifted child to college: Providing support when fears arise
There is life after high school - even for gifted teens
When gifted kids get to exhale
Choosing the right college for gifted students: The fit factor

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Things I wish I knew back then. To read more blogs, click on:

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Monday, May 14, 2018

Giftedness and mental health

While gifted children and adults are not necessarily more prone to mental health problems, they still experience emotional and interpersonal challenges as a result of their heightened sensitivities, overactive minds, and differences from many of their peers. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I am including some blog posts that I have written about mental health related topics and giftedness.

Stress, conflicts, quirks, and differences: Some difficulties gifted children, teens and adults face

Gifted overthinkers: What makes them tick?

Is your gifted teen socially isolated?

Why do smart girls develop eating disorders?

Are gifted individuals really perfectionists?

Gifted women, gifted girls, and mental health

Choices exclude: The existential burden of multipotentiality

When is it more than giftedness? A psychologist's perspective

Gifted adults and relationships: Ten sources of conflict

When school has an impact

How parents can understand and offer support to their gifted child

Supporting your emotionally excitable gifted child

Tips for helping your socially isolated gifted teen

How to discipline your gifted child

Tips for taming test anxiety (because even gifted kids get anxious)

Tune in to your gifted child's needs

Get your gifted boy through middle school

Sending your gifted child to college: Providing support when fears arise

When you or your child need therapy

A gifted person's guide to therapy

Gifted children and adults: When is therapy helpful?

Five misconceptions about therapists

When does therapy benefit gifted adolescents?

Everyone experiences rough times, mood swings, and stress. Most of the time we can muddle through with the support of family and friends. However, mental health issues need to be taken seriously. Any changes in mood, appetite or sleeping patterns; complaints about depression, sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, apathy, loss of interest in typically enjoyable activities; an increase in angry outbursts or irritability; impulsive behaviors or alcohol or substance abuse; and any evidence of self-harm or suicidal thoughts should be addressed through acknowledgement, support and evaluation with a licensed mental health professional.

Monday, May 7, 2018

When is it more than giftedness? A psychologist's perspective

Sometimes it's not about giftedness.

Let me explain...

Many of you reading this are already aware of the misdiagnosis initiative, and know that many gifted children - and adults - are misdiagnosed as a result of their gifted traits. Asynchrony, hyperfocus, overthinking, social awkwardness, to name a few, may lead those lacking an understanding of giftedness to overpathologize and frame these traits as diagnostic of a mental health, developmental or behavioral problem. ADHD, OCD, and "on the spectrum" are some of the labels these children receive, when in fact, their behaviors may be manifestations of their giftedness.

But what about when the diagnoses are valid?

As a clinical psychologist, I have encountered situations where teens or adults have been misdiagnosed, and when problem behaviors resulted from social/emotional traits associated with giftedness, or the social ramifications of being gifted. I have also seen individuals who are gifted, but have co-occurring mental health concerns.

These diagnostic questions also arise in my work as a coach, where I consult with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. Although coaching is quite different from psychotherapy, my perspective as a psychologist remains an integral part of what I do. I still think like a clinician and take a history and listen through the "ears" of a psychologist.

Over the years, I have noticed a trend where some gifted adults or parents of gifted children, well-versed in the gifted literature, assume that their troubles are exclusively due to giftedness. And while gifted intelligence and social/emotional issues can provoke their own set of unique troubles, sometimes... sometimes... the issue is a mental health problem.

Yet, some gifted adults and families understandably hope that giftedness is the culprit. They dismiss others' warnings and comments - or their own nagging doubts. Perhaps, they needed psychotherapy years ago, or their child is more distressed than they had imagined. It's just Dabrowski's overexcitabilities - not depression - right? He just overthinks everything - he'll get over the anxiety eventually - won't he? They had hoped the problems were less serious. After all, who wouldn't want this to be true?

Remaining attuned to your child's intellectual abilities, emotional and social functioning, and interpersonal needs is much easier said than done, of course. Children have different needs depending on their developmental phase, interests, abilities, family dynamics, and unique personality. As parents, we often are vulnerable to the opinions of others - family, friends, social media, self-help authors, pediatricians, teachers, spiritual leaders. You or your child may be mislabeled, misdiagnosed, or not appropriately identified as gifted. Your child's or your own giftedness may be pathologized, or conversely, used to explain away more serious levels of distress that warrant treatment.

Take it seriously

We need to remind ourselves that children's and adult's emotional struggles must be taken seriously. We don't want to "overpathologize" and ignore how giftedness contributes to social and emotional functioning, but symptoms of distress should not be dismissed as "just a part of being gifted" or "a phase" that will pass. Unlike what you may read in online forums or hear from well-meaning acquaintances, not every ADHD diagnosis springs from corrupt physicians in bed with "big pharma." Not every diagnosis of social anxiety disorder ignores the role of giftedness in your child's heightened sensitivities. Depression needs to be treated and not just dismissed as the existential angst so many gifted teens experience.

Get help when it's needed

Trust your instincts. Listen to your gut. If that nagging voice inside tells you that something more is going on, that you or your child are more distressed, or that additional support will help you navigate a difficult period in time, get some help. Gifted social/emotional traits may shape your child's or your own interests, sensitivities, passions, and quirks, but when these cross the line into distress and psychological symptoms, please seek the support of a licensed mental health professional.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Gifted adults: Embracing complexity

Gifted adults may be surprised to realize that they have not outrun their childhood difficulties. In some ways, we all carry our middle schools selves around with us. But gifted adults often assume they have jettisoned that frustration and grief-filled childhood baggage along with way.

Not so fast.

Gifted adults often face the same challenges in their social, emotional and work lives that created stress during childhood. However, as adults, they possess the resources, maturity and wisdom to manage and overcome these difficulties. They even can learn to embrace and enjoy their complexity! Here are a few examples:


Just like when they were children, gifted adults are prone to boredom. They crave intellectual/creative/emotionally fulfilling and meaningful engagement with the world. Performing rote tasks, or languishing in a dreary job can feel like torture. While it is not always possible to avoid boring situations, learning to manage your reactions, entertaining yourself while bored, and developing more patience and endurance will help. Creating a boredom-avoidance plan is useful. Through this, you identify ahead of time what situations/interactions/tasks evoke the strongest reactions, and strive to avoid them or at least plan for how to endure them.


Gifted people can be impatient when others fail to grasp information as quickly or with as much depth and complexity. While most adults have learned to curb the outbursts of frustration that were directed toward childhood friends and siblings, they still may feel annoyed and respond with impatience, especially in family or work situations. Even if you have developed the skills to hide your frustration with others, developing greater compassion, tolerance and acceptance of others' differences will not only help in those adult relationships, but reduce that nagging irritation that you are working so hard to suppress.

Social isolation 

It is difficult for gifted children to find like-minded peers. Many question whether to remain true to their inquisitive, intellectual nature, or dumb themselves down to fit in. Gifted adults often struggle with similar concerns. Heightened sensitivities, introversion, off-beat interests, and a desire for in-depth conversation are not the makings of a party animal. Insecurity, low self-esteem and emotional scars also may be residue from outlier status or possible bullying during childhood. These scars can interfere with finding and maintaining relationshipsGifted adults need to appreciate that their unique, creative, quirky and complex nature is attractive and intriguing, and their challenge is not to hide these qualities, but to allow themselves to shine. Ultimately, finding friends and a partner with compatible interests and a similar approach to life will provide greater fulfillment and validation. 


Gifted people tend to overthink, obsess, and dissect the fine points of their interactions with others. While an attention to detail, striving for excellence, and critical thinking are all worthwhile goals, gifted overthinkers can take it to extremes. As a result, obsessive worrying, anxiety, perfectionism, and heightened criticism of self and others can become problems. As a gifted adult, you need not repeat these childhood struggles. Instead, you can embrace the positive qualities inherent in your complex mind, and learn to let go of the obsessive torment. This can be accomplished through the use of calming strategies, mindfulness, challenging irrational thinking, confronting your fears, and psychotherapy.

Heightened sensitivity

Gifted children and adults are often not only sensitive to their own emotions, but to the injustice in the world at large. Labeled as having emotional overexcitabilities, now sometimes referred to as "openness to experience," gifted children and adults are not only sensitive to emotions, but to sensory input, intellectual ideas, and their imagination. While feeling for others is commendable, it can be emotionally exhausting unless you learn to pace yourself and limit your exposure to others' traumatic experiences. Gifted adults may need to retreat and recharge since all of that absorbing and feeling can be too much.


Many gifted adults have multiple talents and interests. While multipotentiality may seem like a blessing in young children, who can careen from one endeavor to the next, it may feel like a curse to adults who struggle with choosing only one career path that ultimately excludes their other interests and talents. Rather than bemoaning these choices, gifted adults need to discover how to remain involved with their many interests, by either including them into their career, or pursuing them outside of work.

Gifted adults may have masked their intensity and complexity as children so they would feel accepted by peers. Finally relieved of these pressures, they are now free to fully embrace their creativity, curiosity, depth and complexity, and allow their intellect and emotions free range. In fact, most eventually learn to appreciate their differences and adapt to adult life. For example, in a longitudinal study that followed mathematically precocious youths into adulthood, Benbow and Lubinski found that most gifted adults described themselves as both happy and successful. As a gifted adult, it is time to let yourself fully appreciate your abilities, accept your unique interests, and allow yourself to shine.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Page blog hop on Gifted Adults. To read more blogs, click on:

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Monday, April 23, 2018

How to discipline your gifted child

Gifted children can present quite a challenge when it comes to discipline. Whether throwing a tantrum mid-aisle at the grocery store, or questioning your rules with legalistic flair, your gifted child is no stranger to intensity... or conflict... or pushing the limits.

Parenting and disciplining a gifted child requires some different strategies than might be needed with other children. The following include some of the differences that just might apply to your child:

1. They will debate you

Be prepared for questions, debates, and endless dialogue about your rationale. This does not mean, of course, that you must debate every decision. Distinguish between reasonable requests for an explanation (why we can't get a puppy) and a manipulation to change your mind ("you let my sister stay up later three years ago, so I should be able to now"). Offer a clear, understandable reason and move on.

2. They expect fairness, logic and honesty

All kids do... but gifted kids, in particular, will rebel if they believe they are deceived or if decisions seem illogical. You don't have to share personal information (dad and I are stressed, so we need a weekend out of town), but outright deception (taking her to the dentist when you told her you were going out to get ice cream) will build distrust.

3. Their immaturity will surprise you

Despite their astonishing intellect, gifted children can display a surprising level of immaturity at times. They may melt down at the most inopportune moment, embarrass you with their lack of social skills (often due to asynchronous development), and refuse to use that logic you know they possess. Their immature behavior is more noticeable because of how much it contrasts with their heightened intellectual abilities.

4. They may abandon logic, and respond with emotionality, sensitivity, and rigidity

Although logical to a fault, gifted children are often highly sensitive, and may respond to a variety of situations with intensely emotional reactions. These can include emotional outbursts, oversensitivity, and rigidity (such as refusing to wear anything resembling the school color because of anger about homework). Emotional reactivity is more common among toddlers and teens, although can be a factor for some children throughout their childhood.

5. They may lack motivation if they disagree with what is expected

If the task seems unfair, unnecessary, too difficult, too easy, poorly conceived, wasteful, or affronts their values, they will resist. It may be difficult to coax a gifted child to comply when he holds onto the belief that a task is just plain wrong. Under these circumstances, you need to determine whether to insist that we sometimes do things we don't like (such as attend a cousin's wedding), or explain the rationale and long-term benefits behind a given task (why he must "show his work" in math class, even though he calculates most of it now in his head).

6. Sometimes misbehavior is driven by internal conflicts related to giftedness

Some behaviors that create problems may be fueled by conflicts associated with giftedness. Perfectionistic children might procrastinate, have melt-downs, and refuse to complete a task until it meets their standards. Those who grasp information more quickly than their peers - or siblings - may seem bossy and intolerant of others' relatively slow pace. Gifted children who are highly sensitive might struggle with family norms, such as spending holiday time with extended family, and respond with tantrums, or through acting out when they are older. Recognizing these conflicts will offer some understanding that your child is not purposely trying to be difficult, but merely responding to internal struggles that seem overwhelming.

What can parents do?

First of all, stick with the basics of child-raising and discipline

Child-raising basics ideally include providing love, limits, consistency, age-appropriate expectations, a stable home environment, empathy, open communication, healthy conflict resolution, and discipline that never, ever, involves physical punishment. Obviously, we all slip up. But trying to achieve these basic groundrules is essential.

Avoid punishment by planning ahead

Preventing the need for punishment is ideal. Some children respond best to incentives, where they work to achieve a goal or reward for accomplishing a task. Examples might include an extra hour of screen time for a week of not fighting with siblings, or extra allowance for getting ready for school in the morning without an argument. Since these goals are planned in advance, they differ from bribes, and can be reviewed and revised over time as your child progresses.

Acknowledge good behavior

When life is going well, it is easy to forget that all children appreciate acknowledgement when they are behaving well, complete their expected tasks, and demonstrate mature, considerate, or helpful behaviors. The expression, "catch them being good," still holds. The amount of praise or reward needs to fit the scope of the behavior. But even comments like, "hey, thanks for helping with the dishes," or "it was great to see you and your brother playing quietly at your grandparent's house" can have an impact. Excessive praise for the most minor task is unnecessary; just remember to let your child know how much you appreciate his kindness, cooperation, patience and responsible behavior.

Work with their logic

Gifted children appreciate logic, even if they don't agree with the outcome. Enlist the strength of their logical thinking to help them understand the rationale behind decisions. Of course, this does not mean debating for hours; instead, point out your reasoning, let them respond, and then insist that they move on.

Use discipline that seems fair

Most gifted children will understand that a "time-out" or loss of a favorite toy is warranted in response to unacceptable behavior - even if they don't like it. If the punishment seems out of proportion to the transgression, though, they will resent it. Similarly, offer incentives and goals that will encourage your child to stop engaging in problem behaviors.

Include them in decision-making 

As gifted children get older, you might consider including them in a conversation about what they think is appropriate punishment for certain behaviors, as well as generating incentives and goals. If you agree with your child's suggestions, you could incorporate them into a plan for handling the next transgression. This level of participation gives your child a sense of control and involvement in the process.

Consider consequences that involve taking action

Rather than just using time-outs or removing a favorite object, you could require "community service" at home. The task might be as simple as expecting your child to clean the bathroom or rake the lawn. Sending your child to his room may not seem like much of a burden, whereas expecting some form of action to compensate for a transgression may have more of an impact.

Insist that they make amends

If the transgression involved destruction of property or hurting someone's feelings, insist that your child come up with a plan for making amends. A quick, empty apology is not enough. Ask your child to come up with a more heartfelt expression of regret for her behavior in words or action, such as repairing the damaged item, saving up to purchase the toy that was broken, or expressing a verbal apology that is more than just "I'm sorry." As much as your child won't like any of this, it will appeal to her logic and sense of fairness. It also may help the "victim" of the transgression feel more resolution.

Help predict and prevent situations that may lead to problems 

Your gifted child may become easily overstimulated... or become bored and act up to amuse himself... or overthink and worry about a new situation, resulting in a balky refusal to participate. Help him with these difficult challenges through support, skills building, perspective-taking and role playing. Try to anticipate and steer clear of avoidable situations that create conflict. Develop a sense of when to push and when to let go of your own expectations. Of course, sometimes problems persist due to a range of difficulties - family crises, stressful life transitions, mental health problems, social stressors, etc. Under these circumstances, counseling with a licensed mental health professional can be helpful.

The best form of punishment is one that never needs to be used. Through a better understanding of what triggers your child's reactions, along with a fair and reasoned approach to discipline, your gifted child will recognize that certain problem behaviors won't achieve what she wants. Over time, these behaviors should improve or abate, and life should get easier for all involved.

This blog is part of the GHF blog hop on "discipline and the gifted child." To see more blogs, click on the following link

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Thursday, April 5, 2018

Giftedness and the growth mindset: Lessons from music and sports

What can we learn about the growth mindset from music and sports? 

And how does this affect our understanding of giftedness?

The growth mindset concept, which attributes academic success to perseverance and effort, and assumes that we all can improve our intellectual abilities, has become a popular buzzword in education. There are certainly many benefits to encouraging persistence, drive and confidence in one's potential. The theory emphasizes the role of effort, process and perseverance, and reminds us that it is never a good idea to praise children for their innate talents. So, then, what is the problem?

The problems with mindsets

Like other popular concepts, such as grit and resilience, the growth mindset attracts followers who sometimes misunderstand, distort or exaggerate its original meaning. It has been oversimplified, used to categorize students into dichotomies (having either a fixed or growth mindset), and conceptualized as a character trait rather than a situation-specific approach to problem-solving. Carol Dweck, who launched the concept, has even gone so far as to coin the term "false growth mindset," in response to common misconceptions, such as confusing growth mindset with a positive outlook, or equating it only with praise for effort.

 In addition, some research findings challenge its impact. In fact, a recent meta-analytic study pointed to its relative ineffectiveness. Attempts to replicate Dweck's original results have been unsuccessful. One commentator even asserted that the mindset "'revolution' is mostly a mirage"

Giftedness as a target 

As growth mindset has gathered steam, gifted children have become a target. Despite a lack of sound research, there have been claims that the gifted label is harmful to children's sense of self. Awareness of one's giftedness is cited as cause for developing a fixed mindset; when a gifted child avoids taking academic risks, adherents of this model assume a fixed mindset is driving the child's need to preserve a gifted self-image. A recent study, however, found that gifted students, in fact, were not more likely to develop a fixed mindset.

As Dweck and others have noted, it is never a good idea to praise a child for being smart. However, gifted children already know they are different. Providing a clear, age-appropriate explanation that helps them understand giftedness, and does not treat them as special, is essential and validates what they know to be true. Yet, rather than addressing underachievement or fears that arise among some gifted students, some growth mindset advocates recommend that we keep these kids in the dark, eliminate the gifted label altogether, and try to hide the truth about their abilities from them. Let's just pretend they're not gifted and they'll never know! 

Dweck has gone so far as to claim that what we view as talent or giftedness is merely the product of exceptional effort and drive, and that ability plays no role. In a commentary on talent, Dweck noted the following:

"They tell us that many well-known geniuses - Edison, Darwin, even Einstein - were ordinary bright children who became obsessed with something and because of that obsession ended up making enormous contributions...Mozart, whom we think of as composing in early childhood, did not produce original and noteworthy works until after more than ten years of non-stop composing..." 

Of course, hard work, dedication, and drive are critical to success. But, it is quite a stretch to label Einstein or Mozart as ordinary, or to downplay Mozart's prodigious childhood talent because his greatest works were not composed at a very early age.

Lessons learned from music and sports

The public often responds quite differently to talented musicians, creative artists and athletes than to the intellectually gifted. Talent is recognized as an essential component in their success. Most now realize the false expectations that Gladwell's "10,000 hours of practice" have engendered. We can train all we want, but at some point, we hit the limits of our abilities and potential. Physiology, talent, and wiring play a significant role.

Every talented athlete, musician, dancer, performer, and other creative artist also knows that innate ability is just the start. It takes passion, endurance, and dedicated practice to achieve success. They recognize that perseverance and passion - the ingredients in growth mindset - are essential. An awareness of their talent does not instill a fixed mindset; it is a starting point and provides information about their capabilities and work yet to be accomplished. A realistic appraisal of their talents and limitations informs choices and fuels success.

How this applies to schools

Joshua Raymond has highlighted the flaws in how schools apply the growth/fixed mindset concept, and has suggested adopting a "flexible mindset," where both abilities and effort are acknowledged.

"What is needed is the flexible mindset, incorporating both differences in ability and growth through effort. The flexible mindset recognizes that students should know what their gifts and disabilities are and learn skills to expand their intellectual capacity."

This model is standard procedure in sports, music and the creative arts. Talent, ability and potential are identified and nurtured. Effort, practice, and training are the norm. There are no easy A's - at least if you want to play for an elite team, win a concerto competition, or perform with a respected dance company. Less talented students are still nurtured and trained, but are steered toward groups that best support their unique abilities, such as junior varsity, or the chorus.

Unfortunately, schools often ignore this basic, common sense approach. In "What if Michael Phelps trained in a kiddie pool," the absurdity of withholding opportunities from both talented athletes and gifted students is aptly described. In most school districts, heterogeneous classrooms based on age are still the norm. Students are led to believe that their abilities are equal, even though everyone knows who struggles and who is the smartest kid in the room - just like they can spot the best athlete and who cannot run a mile. Children who struggle in school are told they can achieve anything, even when they sense this is not quite true. Gifted children are expected to suppress their burning desire to learn - until that fire is almost extinguished.

Where does growth mindset fit in?

First, attaining a growth mindset has been suggested as a remedy for gifted students who seem mired in fear and rigidity. They are told they have a fixed mindset, view their abilities as stable, and need to appreciate that challenging themselves will spur growth and achievement. Although this advice is well-intended, simplistic labels will not work with gifted students. Older students will roll their eyes and once again feel misunderstood. Most gifted students view themselves as fairly complex individuals, and will reject the view that perceptions of self and of their motivation are "fixed." Even worse, some gifted students, especially those with perfectionistic tendencies, might assume they did something wrong and blame themselves. I don't even have the right mindset; I guess I am a failure.

Secondly, blaming gifted identification as cause for a fixed mindset and subsequent underachievement or fear of taking academic risks is misguided. A "fixed mindset" alone cannot explain the myriad reasons for gifted students' underachievement, apathy and self-doubt. The possible causes are far too complex to conform to such a one-dimensional concept. An array of factors - peer influences, sociocultural pressures, developmental issues, mental health concerns, family dynamics, and most importantly, an inadequate and lackluster education - are some of the many influences that contribute to these reactions. There should be no room in education - of all places - for the oversimplification and reductionistic view of complex factors associated with learning and human behavior.

Rather than denying their giftedness, or labeling them as having a fixed mindset, perhaps educators could use a more complex, comprehensive approach to understand the causes of underachievement, rigidity or fears when they occur. Combined input from the student, parents, teachers, guidance counselors, school psychologists, coaches, extra-curricular teachers, and all other knowledgeable persons, could provide insight into why the student is struggling. Devising a specific plan with measurable, meaningful goals that address specific fears and motivational roadblocks is a start. And, of course, schools would be expected to provide optimal instruction that facilitates each child's motivation, challenge and drive - before underachievement and apathy arise.

Let's take a lesson from music and sports, and recognize that both ability and perseverance are necessary for success. Let's encourage students to feel confident and strive to reach their potential, but also insist that schools offer a challenging education tailored to each child's unique learning needs.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

No, it's not time to ditch the gifted label

There is still controversy about the gifted label. Yes, some believe that if gifted students know that they are gifted, they will become harmed, or lose interest in school, or develop a fixed mindset, or that an array of disastrous outcomes will befall them.

Gifted labeling is once again under fire.

Recent anecdotal accounts of students who claim that gifted labeling harmed their sense of self and/or thwarted their ambition have been circulated by math education professor Jo Boaler, who advocates for eliminating such labels. Boaler uses her platform as a Stanford professor to promote an emotionally appealing video with a compelling argument against labeling students as smart or gifted. While these students' personal appeals are heartfelt, these few individuals are not necessarily representative of most gifted students, nor should their claims dictate policy.

In the video, Boaler interviews young adults, who believe that awareness of their giftedness affected their motivation or self-esteem. She also interviews children, who point out how it's not fair that some kids are smart, or that it is upsetting when some kids are told they are gifted and others are not. Music swells in the background as these interviews are filmed, aimed to tug at your emotions. Who wouldn't feel for a tormented young adult, burdened by high expectations? Who wouldn't want to reassure a nine-year-old that everyone has the potential to grow and learn?

Unfortunately, this heart-rending video overlooks research about gifted children and gifted education. It perpetuates stereotypes about gifted people, the gifted label, and the myth that everyone shares an equal amount of ability and potential. And although some gifted children may receive conflicting and distressing messages about their giftedness from parents, teachers, and peers, this should not indict the label itself.

Let's consider the following:

1. Boaler uses her status as a Stanford math education professor to add authority to an opinion piece about the emotional well-being of gifted students, presumably a topic outside of her area of expertise.
 I don't doubt the sincerity of her concerns or her compassion for these students. But she is not in a position to diagnose the cause of their psychological distress; she only can speculate. In fact, other than assigning blame to their gifted designation, no other possible explanation for their unhappiness is considered. Did these students feel pressure from parents or teachers? Were they bullied or isolated from peers? Do they suffer from anxiety or perfectionism? Did they struggle with existential depression and feelings of alienation? Did they have a trauma history? The possibilities are endless.

2. Boaler's "sample size" of gifted students is quite small. There is no comparison group of well-adjusted young adults, commentary about findings from the literature, or alternative hypotheses about these students' distress. In other words, there is nothing consistent with commonly accepted scholarly or research practice. This is an opinion-based video that any marketing company could produce - yet it gains credibility because of her academic position.

3. If most of the young adults in the video are, in fact, Stanford students, they reflect a fairly unique and limited subgroup of gifted students. Stanford is one of the most highly selective colleges in terms of admissions standards, so these students are likely exceptionally gifted and/or extremely high achieving. Exceptionally gifted individuals stand out from their peers, regardless of their label, and may have heightened sensitivities, social/emotional struggles as a result of social differences, and a difficult experience in traditional schools. High achieving students tend to be driven, focused, and sometimes perfectionistic, and may dread the possibility of failure. Taking what these (possibly) troubled young adults claim as the root cause of their struggles (being labeled as smart or gifted) ignores other possible underlying factors that may have contributed to their distress.

4. Boaler's premise ignores the fact that these highly intelligent individuals would have been labeled as smart or gifted even if they were never formally tested. Their curiosity, creativity, complexity, and accelerated pace of learning most likely set them apart from peers. They were (and are) different. Their differences may have fueled their distress - blaming the label, and assuming their lives would have been fine without it - is simplistic and unrealistic.

5. These young adults (again, presumably Stanford students) would be considered successful by most standards. Students who gain admission to Stanford typically demonstrate enormous drive and exceptional achievement throughout high school - hardly the picture of those who have been hobbled and disabled by an awareness of their talents. To assume otherwise is disingenuous. This does negate the very real underlying internal struggles they may experience, such as self-doubt, ambivalence, perfectionism, insecurity or anxiety. But in spite of any possible distress, they have demonstrated resilience and the ability to achieve recognized markers of success.

6. The claim that these students received "special" treatment in their early school years because of the gifted label may have been valid for some; however, we know that this is not true for most gifted students. When their intelligence is denied, gifted children will suffer. Many gifted students, especially those from minority and impoverished backgrounds, are underidentified, and most gifted students fail to receive anything close to the education they need.

Nothing new

Boaler's criticism of gifted labeling is nothing new.  Critiques of gifted labeling, gifted education and the negative media portrayal of high achieving students appear with some regularity. While some have used Boaler's claims to support arguments against identifying giftedness, others, such as this writer, this writer, and this writer have challenged her views. And if awareness of giftedness were so detrimental to career and happiness, then how can we account for findings from the longitudinal study of mathematically precocious youth who achieved professional success as adults? Clearly, awareness of their talents and innate abilities at a young age did not seem to limit their career trajectory or self-reports of personal satisfaction.

The NAGC STEM working group recently responded to questions circulated by Boaler's video challenging the importance of gifted identification:

" is necessary to provide these students with 'differentiated instruction in an engaging mathematical learning environment that ignites and enhances their mathematical passions and challenges them to make continuing progress throughout their K-16 schooling and beyond.' Research has shown that this is not only important for students with mathematical promise but for all students with exceptional promise."

The STEM working group summarizes their statement with the following:

"Refraining from offering suitable curricular challenges to students who are ready for them, whether called gifted, talented, exceptionally promising, advanced, or something else because other students are not ready for or do not have an interest in them is not ethically justifiable."

Gifted children know they are different; offering them a clear, age-appropriate explanation that helps them understand giftedness is essential and validates what they know to be true. Problems arise when parents/teachers/society place demands or an inappropriate personal response (e.g.,"I'm so thrilled that you're gifted"), or unreasonable expectations on these children. Problems develop when schools fail to challenge them. Problems occur when they are not permitted to learn alongside like-minded peers and feel like outliers and misfits.

Labels should never imply limits on personal and academic growth, nor any assumption that someone is better than another. It is up to the grown-ups in charge to ensure that children know this. But denying reality in the service of equity is false, serves no one, and as noted above, "is not ethically justifiable." Let's stop pretending every child is the same, and instead, focus on understanding and providing educational and social/emotional support tailored to each child's specific needs.