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, Gifted Unlimited Press, GHF Press, and Free SpiritPublishing. 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 your child's 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: