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.