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:

"...it 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.



Thursday, March 1, 2018

What your gifted child won't learn from academics

What does your gifted child need to learn?

Certainly, gifted students benefit from a challenging education - the basics offered in most classrooms, but tailored to their unique intellectual needs. Engaging extra-curriculars that ignite passion and creativity are an added bonus, along with the self-regulation skills frequently overlooked in gifted children's education.


But what about "non-cognitive skills," sometimes referred to as "character" traits?

In "Why character can't be taught like the Pythagorean Theorem," author Paul Tough describes how teachers' attempts to instill "non-cognitive" skills, such as curiosity, "grit," self-control, and conscientiousness through traditional means often fail.

"...the teaching paradigm might be the wrong one to use when it comes to helping young people develop noncognitive strengths. Maybe you can't teach character the way you teach math.
Rather than consider noncognitive capacities as skills to be taught, I came to conclude, it's more accurate and useful to look at them as products of a child's environment."

Gifted children benefit from the same social-emotional, and non-cognitive skills as every other child. However, their heightened sensitivities, asynchrony, frequent outlier social status, and tendency to question everything complicate this task. They will scoff at rules or values that do not make sense, hide their insecurities, and may be hampered by their own tendencies toward overthinking, rigidity or existential depression.

While Tough suggests how schools can embed non-cognitive skills throughout the educational culture, parents need not (and should not) rely on schools for this to occur. Most of these skills can be taught at home. As a parent, you can offer the following guidance:


1. Tolerance

Gifted children are often compassionate toward those less fortunate. However, they may become impatient and frustrated when their peers cannot keep up with their lightening fast pace of learning. Young gifted children, in particular, may behave in an intolerant and critical manner toward their peers. "Why don't you get it?" "Why are you so slow?"

Your child will benefit from lessons about patience and tolerance starting from an early age. These include strategies for managing frustration, such as deep breathing exercises, attending to the present moment (e.g., mindfulness), imagining herself in her friend's situation, or even counting to ten. Praise your child when you notice her behaving in a tolerant and patient manner, so she knows how much you value this behavior.


2. Humility

Most gifted children are humble about their abilities, and may even doubt themselves. But with all of the praise they receive for their accomplishments and abilities, some can start to think that they might be "better" than others. Of course, this attitude often backfires later when they can't keep up, or lack the resilience to manage failure experiences, or feel like impostors. But initially, young gifted children may feel pride that their talents surpass those of their peers.

Continue to remind your child that he is fortunate to have a quick mind, talent, and creativity, but is no more responsible for possessing these strengths than the color of his eyes. How he directs his energy and behavior is what is under his control. Explain what it means to be gifted, and help your child put giftedness into perspective. Intellectual humility not only fosters a greater openness to others' opinions, but can relieve self-imposed pressure to be the best. Instead of focusing on his innate talents, show recognition for his hard work, self-directed behavior, intellectual or creative risk-taking, compassion and tolerance for others, and collaborative work with peers.

3. Endurance 

While some gifted students are driven, hard-working, and even perfectionistic, others are underachievers who coast through school or sometimes drop out. Since their needs are frequently overlooked in schools, they often learn to excel academically without much effort. As a result, they work well below their potential and have little experience with sustained effort and endurance. Once they are faced with a task that requires extended effort, whether academic, athletic or in the arts, many collapse under the weight of this expectation and give up.

Recently, many schools have embraced the concept of "grit" in an attempt to motivate students. But Angela Duckworth, who launched this concept, has noted the misappropriation and distortion of the term. She has stressed that grit combines both perseverance and passion; however, most schools only focus on perseverance - making grit synonymous with drudgery. Furthermore, meta-analytic research suggests that grit has little effect on improving performance. Perhaps this finding stems from studies of programs that focused exclusively on perseverance and ignored the importance of passion..

You can help your child learn to pace herself, set short-term goals along the way, appreciate the value of hard work, and raise the bar on what she expects for herself. But enduring, persevering and hanging in for the long haul require a level of passion and dedication, and discovering meaning in the task. The more you encourage your child to find intrinsic joy in learning, the more likely this passion will drive future efforts.


4. Social interactions

While some gifted children are socially mature and even excel as leaders, others struggle with asynchronous development that manifests as social immaturity. These children often are aware of their deficits, and may avoid social interactions, become shy and withdrawn, or develop rigid beliefs about whom to pursue as friends. Offering support and specific guidance to younger children may help them feel more confident, and improve their social skills. Gently pointing out behaviors that might be offensive is important, but praise them for their strengths and any improvements, as well.

Gifted teens also struggle. Some may try to fit in by "dumbing themselves down." Others wear their differences as a badge of honor and refuse to conform. Either way, they must learn to accept their giftedness and how they differ from many of their peers. They may feel like outliers, and may be atypical, but hiding and denying their uniqueness will feel inauthentic. Eventually, they will learn to assert who they are, even if this goes against prevailing norms. When they are open to your guidance, offer support and encouragement to help them weather these difficult years.


5. Managing boredom

Most students feel bored in school at some point. But gifted children feel bored a lot. Some parents try to address this dilemma by advocating for changes at school, finding  extra-curricular activities to engage their child's passions, or even choosing to homeschool. However, your child still benefits from strategies to manage his overly active mind. There will be times when he will feel bored, regardless of how stimulating the learning environment - and relying on his phone for entertainment should not be the fall-back solution. Encourage him to use his imagination, creativity, and ideas to engage his mind. Help him come up with a range of entertaining strategies, such as devising stories, songwriting, imagining what he might paint or build, or identifying what problem he plans to solve.


6. Conscientiousness

While some gifted children are driven, focused, and even perfectionistic,  others may be careless and disorganized. They can sustain tremendous focus if they are passionate about their interests, but exert little effort for what seems boring or trivial to them. As a result, many start to fail or at the very least, receive low grades in subjects that do not capture their interest.

Gifted teens who are idealistic, concerned with justice, and sometime self-righteous in their passion for sociopolitical change also may show disdain for social amenities, and refuse to behave in a socially appropriate or considerate manner. They may refrain from basic gestures of social kindness such as greetings and "thank you's," claiming these require acquiescence to false or superficial expectations of which they want no part.

Conscientiousness is a skill/trait that may need to be nurtured in some gifted teens who eschew the concept. Appealing to their logic, and pointing out how it will benefit their progress, facilitate achieving their goals or even help them advance their social justice agenda, may provide a rationale that motivates them. Similar to Duckworth's concept of grit, conscientiousness is one of the Big Five personality traits most highly associated with success in academics and career. Fostering this skill will help your child succeed, but she must first "buy in" to the belief that it is a valuable at all.


7. Confidence

Many gifted children are insecure. They doubt their abilities, feel like impostors, or experience guilt when they realize how they grasp concepts so much more easily than their friends. Those who have struggled to fit in or who have been bullied may feel socially anxious and retreat from activities with peers. Some become clinically depressed and anxious.

Popular confidence-building concepts have focused on resilience and academic risk-taking. Gifted children also benefit from reminders that they are so much more than their abilities and giftedness, that it is okay to fail, and that they will be loved regardless of their accomplishments. Identifying the underlying reasons for their low self-esteem and gently challenging assumptions that are perpetuating this can be helpful. Encouraging independence and self-sufficiency as much as possible is also important. Help your child recognize his "inner compass" - a sense of strength, intuition and self-awareness to help him navigate a variety of challenges.



Of course, all of the above skills can be - and must be - reinforced and nurtured through the schools and other interactive opportunities, as well, including extra-curricular activities, camps, team sports, volunteer groups, or clubs. These skills will not flourish in isolation and require interaction with peers and reinforcement from influential, caring adults. And school is an ideal setting for your child to try out and hone these skills every day. But as a parent, you set the foundation, share your values, and provide the support and encouragement your child needs. You know her best, and can offer the guidance she needs for the road ahead.


This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Page blog hop on Beyond Academics. To read more blogs, click on:  http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_beyond_academics.htm

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Stop ridiculing gifted kids!

In a recent online parenting article, the author admonished parents to refrain from oversharing about their child's college prospects. She claimed that it can be intimidating for other parents, create a competitive atmosphere, and sound like bragging. Point well taken.

She challenged readers to consider why they might need to brag about their children. Fine. But then, she threw in the following comments:

"Why do we feel compelled to brag? Do we need to provide proof that we are better parents than others? Do we need to finally reveal that obnoxious little kid whose parents proclaimed as "gifted", and let his parents know our kid is better than his kid, after all?"

Why is neuroatypical learning ability fair game? 




Yes - another random critique of gifted children. Labeling a gifted child "that obnoxious little kid" perpetuates a common stereotype and fuels stigma. Why is obnoxiousness considered synonymous with giftedness? Would we label any other child - one with athletic talent, or a learning disability, or ADHD - as obnoxious because of a specific trait?  As a society, we strive to avoid stigma based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and disabilities. Why is neuroatypical learning ability still fair game?

Perhaps the author was merely focusing on the parents. Yes, we all have met the proverbial pushy parents who brag and boast about their child. Typically, these are not the parents of gifted children, who usually exhibit exceptional restraint and have learned to quell their enthusiasm. They are more likely the anxious parents of overachievers or average students. And even then, these parents are not necessarily obnoxious braggarts - they may be truly excited for their child and want to share that enthusiasm.       

I don't know why the author tossed in that comment about gifted children. Perhaps it was to get a laugh or create rapport with readers. Given the wording of her sentence, it is possible that she scrambled it together quickly, and it might have been written as an afterthought. My intention is not to attack this particular writer, whose article's overriding goal seems intended toward increasing sensitivity and awareness among parents. Her thoughtless comment about giftedness was most likely stated in ignorance rather than any outright attempt to be hurtful. The stereotyping of gifted children has become so routine, so accepted and so normative in our culture and the media, that many are completely unaware of the stinging ridicule in their commentary.

Criticizing, ridiculing, marginalizing, and snickering about gifted children needs to stop 


Giftedness is not a choice. Gifted children have done nothing to deserve these false assumptions and stereotypes. Gifted children - and adults - come in all shapes, sizes and varieties, with a vast array of talents, abilities, struggles, and potentialities. Just like everyone else. And stereotypically pushy, boastful behavior is rarely the norm among parents of the gifted. They don't deserve ridicule either. 

The next time you hear someone criticize, disparage or mock a gifted child, speak up. Gifted children are routinely misunderstood in schools, in their community, and certainly by how they are portrayed in the media. Often stereotypes about giftedness and gifted education are due to ignorance rather than malice. Let's work together to educate, clarify, advocate, and inform.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Weathering rough times: The highs and lows of raising a gifted child

You adore your child. You appreciate his strengths - and understand his struggles. And you see how giftedness affects every aspect of his being. He thinks differently than other kids and doesn't always fit in. He argues more vehemently. He can be mesmerized for hours. He melts down with an intensity beyond compare. His compassion and wisdom are startling.

Raising a gifted child can be dazzling. You marvel at your child's pure love of learning. At times, your heart swells with pride and wonderment. You are amazed by her early milestones and accomplishments, but even more, by her insight, curiosity, wisdom, empathy, and creativity.



Yet all the added gifted intensity can be difficult. It keeps you guessing. It creates frustration and angst. Your patience is pushed to the limit. You worry... a lot. You lay awake at night wondering whether your child will be "normal," find trustworthy friends, stay intellectually challenged, achieve happiness later in life, or at the very least, just stop having those darn tantrums.

And you sometimes feel guilty when you resent this added burden of raising a gifted child. Others dismiss your struggles. Many envy you and would never understand your complaints. Some don't even "believe" giftedness exists. Still others look askance at your child's asynchrony and wonder how such a bright child's behavior can be so immature.

Questions often arise that surpass "typical" child-raising concerns. How do you encourage your child's intellectual, social, and emotional growth, especially in a school or cultural environment that offers little support? How do you balance this with your family's values and financial circumstances, and take your own needs into account? How do you manage educational concerns, social and extra-curricular activities, emotional overexcitabilities, and long-range goals? How do you get through just one day on an emotional roller coaster of escalating intensity?


Sometimes it seems like there is no end in sight. 



When you are feeling overwhelmed, keep in mind the following:


1. This, too, shall pass

Your toddler's tantrums, your 8-year-old's shyness, your teen's argumentativeness should abate as your child matures. Yes, some traits may remain. Your child may be inherently intense, or introverted, or stubborn. His intellectual curiosity may not be challenged in the schools, and underachievement may thwart his academic potential. You may feel exhausted from calming frayed nerves, or finding engaging activities, or advocating at school, or even providing the schooling yourself. But your child will emerge from this as a mature, sturdy, capable adult.


2. There is a positive side to the struggles

Despite the intensity and emotional storms, there is a bonus; your child possesses the wisdom and sensitivity that leads to compassion, empathy, and the ability to understand others and analyze situations with depth and complexity. Like the dial on a radio, gifted children benefit from learning volume control, and recognizing that if they can modulate how they respond to their intensity, they will more fully appreciate its "gifts." You may need to help your child learn self-regulation skills, calming strategies, and the ability to challenge negative thoughts if overthinking takes hold. It may take some time, but eventually she will mature and develop more control over her emotions.

3. You don't have to be perfect

Sometimes parents cling to expectations of perfection for themselves, which color their reactions and emotions. If you hold yourself to an impossible standard, believe that your child's behavior reflects upon you, or remain excessively involved in most aspects of your child's life, you set yourself up for disappointment. Children thrive on the basics: Love, limits (without use of physical punishment), consistency, humor, family time, encouragement, an understanding of what is developmentally appropriate, and open communication. Notice that this list does not include expectations for maintaining a perfect household, seamless juggling of work and home, the absence of any irritability or grumpiness, or sacrificing all semblance of your own personal time.


4. Your child is amazing

Despite the struggles, keep in mind all of your child's strengths - not just her giftedness, but who she is. Remind yourself of her wonderful, endearing qualities, and how much you adore her. Try to remember how you felt at her age, and what was imperfect in your world. Avoid comparing her behavior to those of other children; you don't live with them and don't know what their parents truly experience. Recognize your own expectations, wishes, dreams and fears, and how these might complicate and intensify your worries and reactions.


End in sight?



And while the end in sight might be your child's eventual self-sufficiency, or at least some calm amid the storm, try to appreciate all that is good at this present moment in time. Even when life is hard*, remind yourself that your child brings love, purpose, comedy, passion, and humility to your family. Enjoy and appreciate your child now - it will enhance your life, and make those tough times easier to endure.


*(Note: even though every family experiences tough times, if problems persist, and if there are signs of depression, anxiety, behavioral acting out or emotional distress, it may be helpful to seek guidance from a licensed mental health professional.)


This blog is part of the GHF blog hop on "the light at the end of the tunnel." To see more blogs, click on the following link.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Ten no-frills articles on college planning for gifted children

Most families of gifted children are blindsided by the array of college choices, scholarship possibilities, and application decisions presented to them. Many don't become schooled in this until their child hits 11th grade, and often feel woefully unprepared. Relying on overworked guidance counselors is risky, since they may have little familiarity with your child's true needs or your family's financial status.

It is critical that families take notice.


As a psychologist who works with teens, I have witnessed countless situations where families have relied upon the schools to guide their children, only to feel misled and disappointed. Some parents also assume that their children are capable of selecting colleges on their own. Remember, these are 17-year-olds, who often cannot decide what to wear in the morning! Their awareness of the world may not extend much beyond their immediate surroundings, and their fantasies about far-off universities can be unrealistic.

Your involvement in the college decision process does not make you a helicopter parent - it is wise parenting, and especially important when your money and your child's well-being and future academic needs are at stake.

It is essential to become informed once your child starts high school. There are many articles online that offer tips about college admission, but sometimes offer well-worn advice, or may describe a particular child's experience. Instead, the ten articles selected below include "no frills, tell-it-like-it is" advice about college planning (including a few of my own blog posts), along with the college admission process, and the unique needs of gifted students.


Ten essential tips to help your gifted teen plan for college

"With all of the competition, uncertainty and financial risk involved, gifted children need as much advice and support as any other child. And sometimes the stakes are even higher, given the potential for merit scholarships, and the importance of finding a college community of like-minded peers."



The disconnect between what colleges say and what students hear 

"Colleges and universities today flood the mailboxes of high school students with materials about their offerings - and some students take that as a message that the school has identified them as someone who they want to admit. That's entirely wrong..."



What colleges want in an applicant (everything)

"...colleges where seats are scarce stir up the nation's emotions. Each year, the world-famous institutions reject thousands and thousands of students who could thrive there."



Five tips gifted students need to consider when choosing a college 

"Most gifted teens look to college as an escape from the boredom of high school. And finding one that provides the right mix of social fit, geographic proximity to home, and extra-curricular needs is critical to ensuring a student's comfort and well-being. But the strength of the school's academic climate is equally important."



List of colleges that meet 100% of financial need 

"If your family will need to depend on financial aid to attend college, your best bet is to find a school that will offer an excellent financial aid package to your child."



Five reasons to consider an elite college (and they're not what you think)

"...an elite college may offer the best fit for some gifted teens in search of a challenging education. They should not be discounted in response to media critique or disparagement."



Six myths about choosing a college major 

"...most didn't think that the advice was especially helpful. Maybe it's because much of the conventional thinking about majors is wrong."



Here are the top seven college visit mistakes

"Get informed, learn as much as you can about colleges, know what your child needs, and use caution when following advice..."



April 1st is no joke for some gifted high school seniors

"April 1 can seem like consolation day for many gifted high school seniors. And it's no joke... Why do so many gifted children get rejected from colleges they are presumably qualified to attend?"



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

"Along with the all too common worries about making new friends, dating, academics and fighting with roommates, gifted college freshman can harbor some particular questions and fears."



Plan ahead and with confidence by getting informed, staying involved, and communicating regularly with your child. No one in the school knows your child like you do, so don't expect guidance counselors and teachers to provide the answers. And don't wait until 11th grade. Your child will benefit the most from your caring, guidance and clarity about such an enormous decision.


Monday, January 8, 2018

Let's get real about gifted kids

Consider this for 2018: Let's stop wasting time debating whether giftedness is real.

So much energy has been expended arguing whether giftedness is an elitist construct, or a parent's choice, or if it exists at all. Debates have raged over the gifted label (admittedly, a controversial term), whether gifted children deserve "special" services tailored to their needs, and if gifted education is even necessary.


According to the critics, if giftedness does not exist, or if it is an achievement that anyone can aspire to with just enough hard work and perseverance (or a boost from wealthy parents), and if providing services for this non-existent intellectual construct deprives other, more deserving children of their education, then let's eliminate the concept - and gifted education along with it. Whew!

These debates appeal to those among us who don't understand gifted people - or envy them - or hold false stereotypes about them - or have been hurt or emotionally threatened in some way by a gifted person. It is easy to blame gifted education (which amounts to a fraction of the cost of special education) for depriving other children of the education they deserve. And after dismantling gifted education, critics clamor to eliminate ability grouping, claiming that it stigmatizes other students (whom these critics assumed were oblivious to their academic struggles until grouping was initiated).


Let's get real; let's accept that gifted children are different.


1. Gifted children possess advanced intellectual abilities



Sounds obvious, doesn't it? But there is push-back against this reality. Yes, we know that many gifted children are underidentified, especially minority and ESL children and those from impoverished schools. Yes, IQ testing is flawed, can miss some true gifts, and ignores talents such as creativity, leadership qualities and performing arts abilities. Nevertheless, those who receive an IQ score of 130 or higher account for 1-5% of the population. Just because we have more work to do within a flawed gifted identification system should not mean ignoring those already identified students. 


How is this push-back manifest?


One tactic is the false claim that anyone can become gifted if motivated enough and offered the right opportunities. This fallacy clouds the truth about giftedness and results in disappointment for many hard-working high-achievers. Gifted children's abilities are innate. Of course, exactly how these abilities are expressed depends upon and can be modified by environmental influences. A childhood filled with encouragement and creativity will enhance learning more than one plagued by poverty and neglect. But while sound nutrition, a safe and loving home, verbal stimulation, and learning opportunities give every child an edge, you cannot instill giftedness through hot-housing, flash-cards or prep classes. Gifted children's brains work differently, as shown here and here and here. Researcher Marcus Munafo points out how genetic denialism dismisses the influence of genes, despite evidence to the contrary, and reminds us that:

"We are born equal, but we are also born different - we should embrace that diversity and use it to understand ourselves."

A second assumption is that we can somehow "normalize" the gifted child by ignoring giftedness altogether. Yet, pretending giftedness does not exist will not tame the child's burning creative drive and intellectual curiosity, nor will it quell the often co-existing social and emotional complexities or asynchrony. It is time to stop debating whether we have a "choice" in the matter. We can choose to work with what we have - and encourage our children to utilize and improve upon their innate strengths and weaknesses. As I wrote in a previous blog post about choice:

"You don't get a choice. You don't get to decide whether your child is gifted any more than you can choose eye color or athletic ability. Giftedness is a mixed bag of strengths, multipotentialities, and social/emotional challenges that are far from easy. You might decide not to "label" your child as gifted: however, your child's academic and emotional needs will not magically disappear."


2. Gifted children have very real emotional needs



In addition to their aptitude, gifted children often exhibit asynchronous development, multipotentialities, and heightened sensitivities. As they are a minority in most schools, they tend to keep a low profile, and may struggle socially. Gifted children are not trying to stand out, become the target of others' frustration, or deprive anyone else of an education. Many "dumb down" their interests so they can fit in with peers. Others are bullied. Acute sensitivities, existential angst, and a heightened sense of fairness and justice color their views of the world around them. A recent study suggests that they are at risk for psychological and physiological overexcitabilities. According to lead researcher Ruth Karpinski:

"...individuals with high cognitive ability react with an overexcitable and behavioral response to their environment. Due in part to this increased awareness of their surroundings, people with a high IQ then tend to experience an overexcitable, hyperreactive central nervous system."

This overreactivity may leave some gifted children open to anxiety, existential depression, apathy, cynicism, and despair. In addition to coping with others' perceptions and misconceptions about their differences, and attempting to fit in to a social world that may feel alien to them, they must manage these intense feelings that affect their self-esteem and well-being.


3. All children are gifts; not all are gifted



Children are precious gifts to the families who love them, and each child possesses his or her unique traits. But not all are gifted. The gifted label unfortunately evokes controversy, as many misunderstand and bristle over the term, assuming their neurotypical child is somehow devalued if others are identified as gifted. For now, we are stuck with this term. But regardless of the label, gifted children are a small minority of students, and possess advanced intellectual abilities. They are not better than other children; they are just different. As one writer aptly noted:

"Children are not all the same and it does them a disservice to claim otherwise. Just like not all children have special needs, not all children are asynchronous and advanced.
Gifted doesn't mean special. It doesn't mean better than everyone else. Gifted is wiring. Gifted is a brain that doesn't think like the standard brain - that doesn't learn the same way, see things the same way, or act the same way. Gifted is different."

Another writer, Mohan Dhall, noted in a recent commentary:

"There is an oft-quoted educational maxim about students that characterises them as follows: 'All students are gifted - in their own way'... However, the actual statement is one of egalitarianism pushed to the point of educational idiocy. In one statement the needs of intellectually able students are wholly dismissed whilst simultaneously, the needs of all students are devalued.
All children are unique. They are gifts, undoubtedly. But only very few are academically gifted and these students should be understood, encouraged, supported and valued rather than disparaged, maligned, [or] ignored"

4. Gifted children deserve an education specific to their needs



The NAGC has highlighted research supporting the benefits of gifted education. Myths about gifted children's needs have been noted and debunked. But gifted services are often an afterthought, provided after other students' needs are addressed. Gifted education is underfunded and unregulated in many areas. Some claim that gifted education is disparaged due to anti-intellectualism, or stigma, or a refusal to appreciate their special needs. Others recommend eliminating gifted education and emphasize improved education for all children. While a lofty goal, most classrooms already serve those in the middle, not outliers like the gifted, and attempts at differentiated instruction in large heterogeneous classrooms are often cumbersome and futile. Gifted children will not learn on their own; many become underachievers and lose interest in school completely.

Some parents resort to homeschooling. Others opt for private schools, although choosing a school can be fraught with uncertainty. Some parents advocate for academic acceleration. Most try to patch something together to fill in the gaps - extracurricular activities, online programming, enriched learning at home. But many families (particularly those under emotional or financial stress) do not have the time or resources to provide this level of involvement or advocacy for their children. Without mandated services for appropriate resources within the schools, those gifted children will suffer the most.


Let's get real


Let's get real about gifted kids. and stop wasting time debating whether giftedness exists or if gifted services are necessary. Let's devote our energy toward ensuring that they receive the educational services, the encouragement, and the understanding they deserve. Just like we would want for any other child.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Five years of Gifted Challenges

It's 2018, and I realize that I have been writing this blog for five years now! So, I guess it's time to celebrate this anniversary.

I started this blog to continue my advocacy for gifted children and adults when my youngest child was finishing high school. At that time, I was co-chair of a parents gifted advocacy group in my children's school district, and also worked with gifted teens and adults in my Clinical Psychology practice. But since my child was approaching graduation, I would be leaving my advocacy role within the schools.

So I decided to write about the needs of gifted children. The more I wrote, the more I read and continued to learn about giftedness, education, and policy. What started as advocacy has become part creative outlet and part mission to inform about the social/emotional and educational barriers gifted people experience. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I never seem to run out of topics.

Since starting the blog, I have continued to write for other publications about giftedness (including a book chapter about gifted underachievement), but also on topics related to psychotherapy, parenting, and college admissions. I have expanded beyond my psychotherapy practice to provide coaching for gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I also offer workshops and presentations about giftedness at conferences and to schools and parenting groups.

So, I want to say THANK YOU!

First, thanks to all of you who have continued to read my blog, as well as the articles I post on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. I have learned a lot about blogging and hope that my writing has improved over the years! I am so grateful that I get to write about something so meaningful, have a blast doing it, and perhaps, can have an impact.

I also want to express appreciation to the gifted community - fellow bloggers, writers, advocates, educators, psychotherapists, parents, and gifted adults who provide support to one another, and who tirelessly advocate for the needs of the gifted.

Finally, I welcome any comments, feedback, ideas, interests, and direction as I go forward. Please let me know!