Sunday, December 1, 2019

Families of gifted teens: Avoid these "worst" college visitation tips

The internet is filled with advice about college visitation. Conventional wisdom  holds that college visits must include a quick information session and tour, with families as passive recipients of whatever the school structures for that day. Some guidelines and advice about visitation may be misguided or not particularly relevant to your child's unique needs. And some are particularly counterproductive for families of gifted teens - who are often already overwhelmed with the college planning process.

The following are some of the "worst" college visitation tips:

Bad tip #1: Skip the information session

Some online advice suggests skipping the information sessions in favor of the tour if you are short on time. Although info sessions can seem redundant when they cover facts already listed on the college website, they still provide a window into the school’s values, priorities, and admission criteria - especially if you listen carefully and read between the lines. Pay attention to the message conveyed by the speaker and to the college as a whole. Is the speaker informed? Is the info session easy to access in terms of parking, registration and seating, or does it require heroic efforts just to find it? Are the staff welcoming, or do they seem annoyed with questions? Do they provide specific GPA and SAT admission criteria? Is the information clear and relevant, or more like a pep rally full of stats about sports teams and famous alumni? How does their honors program address the needs of students who qualify for it? While some information may be vague and filled with fluff, you also may pick up useful gems that may play a critical role in the decision-making process.

Bad tip #2: Listen to your tour guide

Too many families overvalue the advice from tour guides during college visits. They rave about their ability to walk backwards, pepper them with “trick” questions about what really occurs at campus parties, and expect truthful answers about problems at the school. Some even eliminate a college from their list because of a disappointing tour. Keep in mind that most tour guides are 20-year-old students in work study jobs. You might obtain a glimmer of inside information, but it is colored by their perspective, and censored because of their job status. Rather than expecting so much from these students, use the tour to notice the surroundings, buildings, current students, and those visiting on the tour along with you - who may end up becoming your child’s classmates.

Bad tip #3: Pay attention to the dorm visit

Most families look forward to visiting a dorm room during their campus tour. While this can be informative, keep in mind that what you observe is only one of the many dorms on campus, and may not be representative of where your child will reside. Do the research and take an online campus tour to view the available dorms. Similarly, although eating in the dining hall may provide some perspective about the food, one meal does not adequately reflect the quality of the dining services. What may be more beneficial, though, is information you gain from observing interactions among students, how easily students can navigate the dining hall to access a meal, and availability of any necessary dietary accommodations.

Bad tip #4: Stick to the tour

Tours are designed to impress and to present highlights that most families presumably find appealing. They typically cover college landmarks - beautiful buildings, the library, a new gymnasium - but may not provide the information you and your gifted child need. After the official tour ends, go on a tour of your own. Visit buildings you and your teen would like to see. If your child knows her potential major, visit the building where it is housed. This is especially important with hands-on majors, such as art, music, engineering, and the sciences. Go to an extracurricular activity she plans to join. If she is an athlete, a performer, or a musician, for example, encourage her to visit the venues where she will be spending her time. 

Bad tip #5: Sitting in on a class is a waste of time

Some people advise against sitting in on classes, since your teen might encounter a professor on a bad day, or one sporting a less than engaging teaching style. Nevertheless, your child can learn a lot through class attendance. He can witness the pace and complexity of instruction, picture himself in the room, and determine whether the class is much too easy, just about right, or way too complex. He can see how professors interact with students, whether they encourage class participation, or merely lecture to them. He can view how engaged students are, whether they offer ideas, or remain disinterested and glued to their phones. If the college does not provide a list of classes that your child can visit, suggest that he contact the school for more information about how to sit in on a class of interest. Observing several different classes is ideal.

Bad tip #6: A student overnight in the dorms is essential

Some claim that prospective students should spend an overnight at a college to get a feel for the social climate, and colleges often pair admitted students with current student volunteers during visitation weekends. While some high school seniors may enjoy the trip away from home, the visit may paint a limited picture of life at a particular college. Much depends on how well your child connects with her host, if she enjoys the activities available, and how much the events accurately reflect college life. Evaluating the college under these circumstances can offer an unrealistically positive or negative view. As mentioned in #4 and #5, sitting in on classes and observing extra-curricular activities can provide a more accurate view of what lies ahead.

Bad tip #7: Your child should decide where you visit

Your child certainly needs to make the final decision when choosing where to attend college. But sometimes, teens can discount visiting certain colleges based on faulty impressions and biases - and end up eliminating viable options. Parents need to formulate a plan ahead of time, gently encourage visits to additional colleges (not on their child's lists) and challenge any initial misconceptions about these schools. Some high achieving gifted students may set their sights on highly competitive "reach" schools, and refuse to consider other choices. It is essential to include both academic and financial safety schools, and to have at least several realistic choices, since admission to your child’s dream school may not materialize. If college visits are not possible due to financial constraints, check out online tours available on many college websites. These can provide a wealth of information and help to clarify preferences and priorities.

Bottom line: Get informed, learn as much as you can about colleges, know what your child needs, and use caution when following advice (even this article’s advice) that you read online. Recognize that most overworked guidance counselors may not have enough information to guide your gifted child, and responsibility for the college search will fall on you. Be clear about costs, and let your child know if some schools are not affordable. Recognize your own personal needs, wishes and fears, and try to separate these from what you consider the best course of action for your child. Remain available to offer suggestions, answer questions, and calm your child’s nerves - but try to refrain from expressing too much of what you think. Let your child share whatever thoughts, impressions, and excitement arise. And enjoy this wonderful opportunity to share a unique experience with your child!

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Adult Transitions to and through Adulthood. More blogs can be found here.

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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

What many parents wish the "experts" knew about gifted children

Your child is gifted. And the "experts" don't get it.

Maybe you have spoken with pediatricians or school counselors or therapists or life coaches or experienced teachers and none of them fully get it. They don't understand the intensity or overthinking. They don't appreciate the insidious effect of perfectionism or isolation or "impostor syndrome." They don't recognize underachievement in a child who receives relatively good grades, but coasts through school.

Maybe they don't fully believe that your child could long for learning like others crave ice cream. That he was never hot-housed or test-prepped into success. That she still feels bored in "advanced" classes or a fancy private school. That he could be academically gifted and musically talented and an elite athlete; giftedness is not necessarily one-dimensional. Or that despite their potential and presumed opportunities, gifted people sometimes feel sad and depressed and anxious.

You have spent hours explaining your child's "quirks" and learning differences to educators, who hold rigid views of what all children need. You have shared endless examples of what will engage your child, given her intensity and temperament - and your comments are ignored. You seesaw between anger and hopelessness in your desperate attempts to enlist the aid of those in charge.

Unfortunately, many well-meaning, highly trained experts in their respective fields may have little understanding of giftedness. There may be so much you wish they understood about your child... or a day in your life.

What are some of the basic messages most parents wish the "experts" - as well as family and friends - knew about giftedness?

1. Giftedness is not a choice. You don't get to select your intellectual ability any more than your eye color. Giftedness is unrelated to race, gender, income, ethnicity, test-prepping or hard work. You can't stop being gifted - but an impoverished environment or lackluster education can lead to underachievement, inertia, hopelessness, or a suppression of abilities.

2. Gifted children crave learning - as long as it is challenging, stimulating and creative. Their academic environment, and their comfort expressing themselves and revealing their abilities (without fear of reprisal from peers) is critical. A flexible academic environment, equipped with teachers who truly understand giftedness, and with options for ability grouping, clustering, and acceleration, is essential. And despite claims that gifted students will thrive at just about any college, the importance of finding the right fit is just as important in college as in the earlier years.

3. Gifted children do not fit any one particular stereotype. Some are introverted and socially anxious; others are confident leaders. Some are perfectionistic and achievement-oriented; others are underachievers. Many are highly sensitive and empathetic, have an acute sense of fairness and justice, and are creative. Some are twice-exceptional and have learning disabilities in addition to their gifted intellect. Many also possess multipotentialities and face a range of academic, creative, and career choices.

4. Most gifted children have difficulty finding friends or fitting in with age-based peers, regardless of whether they are socially skilled, or if asynchronous development contributes to a lag in social maturity. Unless they find other children with similar interests and views, they may become isolated and insecure. This may lead to feelings of hopelessness and depression.

5. Sometimes, gifted individuals are misdiagnosed because traits associated with giftedness present as other problems. For example, an active, highly energetic gifted child might be incorrectly labeled with a diagnosis of ADHD. Other times, problems that are psychological in nature can be attributed to giftedness, and concerns that warrant treatment may be ignored. Sometimes pediatricians, therapists, and especially some life coaches (who lack training in psychotherapy) miss this distinction. Anyone working with a gifted child or family must understand the complex interplay between giftedness and psychological, social, emotional and intellectual factors.

6. Parenting a gifted child brings unique challenges - worries about their child's future, the burden of advocacy in the schools, and isolation from other parents who don't understand their concerns. While others may assume their life is a breeze, most parents of gifted children struggle with the weight of their gifted child's intensity, additional needs for stimulation, and their own emotional reactions. Anxiety, guilt, pride, anger, and obsessive worry - these emotions are all too familiar to parents of gifted children. Parents need support - yet unfortunately, may encounter judgment and criticism.

How can you get your message across to the "experts"? 

Get educated

Of course, you didn't ask for this. You didn't expect to become an expert in giftedness. But the more you understand about gifted children's intellectual, academic, developmental, and social/emotional needs, the more you will feel prepared to advocate for your child. Read books, scour articles, join online forums, and participate in gifted advocacy support groups within your community (or start one!).

Develop an advocacy plan

This might range from devising a detailed IEP (Individualized Education Plan), to formulating an "elevator speech" where you briefly outline asynchronous development for those puzzled by your child's behavior. Determine what to share, when to apply pressure (or "pick your battles"), and how to best approach friends, relatives, "experts" and others with influence over your child's well-being (which can include anyone from school board members to babysitters or soccer coaches).

Share information in terms they can understand

Most "experts" are knowledgeable in their respective fields. They care about their work, and want to do their best. Show them the respect they deserve by containing your (understandable) frustration, disdain, or despair related to what they don't know. Engage them in a manner they will accept. Share your personal experience, what you know about your child, and what has worked best in other situations (e.g., previous classroom settings, small group interactions, at home).

And when the "experts" won't change...

Try to keep this in perspective. Most "experts" in your child's life mean well. Those teachers, pediatricians, therapists, school administrators, guidance counselors, or coaches care about kids - or they would have chosen other careers. Misunderstanding may stem from minimal education about giftedness, adherence to school district policy about "best practices," or even unresolved personal biases based on negative childhood experiences or interactions at work with a "pushy" parent. Some of the experts learn and grow once they gain a clearer understanding, and may become allies in supporting your child.

It is possible, though, that some may never "get it," despite efforts to enlighten them or advocate about giftedness. When that occurs, it may be optimal to transfer your child, if possible, to a different physician, therapist, coach, or music/acting/dance teacher, for example, or to change summer camps, classes, or even schooling options. With your help and persistence, your child will hopefully find a niche of supportive adults and peers to support the journey through childhood.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Blog Hop on If You Only Knew. To see more blogs, click on this link.

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Monday, September 9, 2019

Gifted advocacy is an education

Gifted advocacy is a mixed bag. It is also an education.

Advocacy, that unexpected, uninvited guest in the lives of a gifted child's family, is thrust upon them with little warning. Parents of gifted children find that they must educate themselves about giftedness - and that it falls upon them to speak up for their child's needs. They must grasp the enormity of their child's intellectual and social/emotional needs (and sometimes, twice-exceptional challenges); assess the local school's limitations, the community's resources, and the state's gifted ed regulations and laws; and decide how to proceed with their child's schooling. Parents of gifted children receive a fast-track education into the world of giftedness and quickly develop a surprising level of expertise. They never bargained for this, yet find that they must assume the role of advocate. Frustrating, demanding, eye-opening, disheartening - and occasionally rewarding - advocacy becomes an endurance challenge. They are in it for the long haul.

Advocacy sometimes receives a bad rap - especially when it relates to giftedness. Advocating for educational needs associated with disabilities, deficits, learning challenges, or disadvantages is justifiably applauded and much deserved. But gifted advocacy is often misunderstood and imbued with stigma, stereotypes and outdated perceptions of what gifted children need. Advocate parents are sometimes unfairly viewed as pushy, entitled tiger moms, eager to ensure that their precious snowflakes receive advantages beyond what "average" kids are allotted. Gifted children are often portrayed as hot-housed, test-prepped rich kids, who are merely high achievers striving to get ahead, and no different than anyone else. Even those who excel are disparaged by the media. Some disavow the concept of giftedness altogether.

Gifted education is not legally protected or mandated in many states in the U.S., depriving parents (and supportive teachers) of any authority to insist on an appropriate education. Even when there are legal supports, many school districts create roadblocks, or plead financial hardship. Some claim gifted programs are elitist or promote wealth inequality. Others recommend disbanding gifted education programs. Rather than identifying creative solutions for addressing inequity, the excellence gap, or underidentification of gifted minority and low-income students, advanced academic programming is sometimes slated for elimination.

Given the startling amount of misinformation, bias, and heated emotion that accompanies this debate, it falls upon parents to be advocates and educators. Yes, educators. You may not have signed up for the job, but you must take up this mantle. Wherever you go, and wherever your child goes - it will fall upon you to tactfully, assertively, insistently educate others about giftedness.

Advocacy may be necessary, for example, with teachers, administrators, school board members, classmates' parents, neighbors, family members, coaches, camp counselors, babysitters, music/dance/acting teachers, physicians, your religious community, counselors, and the person at the grocery check-out counter. Even if your child attends a school for gifted children, or you homeschool, biases and misunderstanding still persist within the greater community, and your insight is needed.

Advocacy education can include any or all of the following explanations and examples:

1. Gifted individuals have advanced intellectual abilities found among only 1-5% of the population, identified through formal IQ testing. This means that their thinking is different, and they grasp information with greater depth and complexity, and at a faster pace. This is unrelated to motivation or achievement. You cannot push, hot-house or test-prep yourself to be gifted.

2. Giftedness does not discriminate. Individuals of all ethnic, racial and socio-economic backgrounds are gifted Some are not as readily identified due to flawed screening tools or impoverished early learning environments. Gifted education is not elitist and is not intended to only target wealthy families. Eliminating gifted programming will not create equity; it will merely abolish gifted education for all students who would benefit, including disadvantaged students.

3. Some gifted children struggle with emotional intensities, and react strongly to situations. They may be highly sensitive, possess a strong sense of fairness and social justice, and may question everything. Asynchronous development may affect their maturity level, and interfere with social skills, social judgment in the classroom, or fitting in with peers. (Your young child may talk a blue streak, and although that meltdown in aisle six might be a surprise to store personnel, you may need to explain that your child's intellect does not equate with his/her behavior.)

4. "Gifted" may be a controversial term, as the word evokes emotional reactions and stereotypical images. Unfortunately, we're stuck with it for now, and need to ensure that the educational/diagnostic term is distinguished from any lay terminology or assumptions. No, not every child is "gifted" - even though, hopefully, all parents view their child is a joyful gift. We all may possess certain gifts and talents; however, giftedness is a distinct label that reflects an intellectual difference from the norm. It is not a choice, and cannot be taught or achieved through hard work.

5. Gifted education is a right and not a privilege. It is not an elitist construct. Gifted kids are not "just fine" when they are relegated to tutoring their peers, or resort to reading novels at their desks while waiting for the class to catch up. Ignoring their intellectual needs can be destructive. Without an appropriate education, they act out, underachieve, feel disconnected from school, fail to learn executive functioning skills, develop a distorted view of "hard work" or what they might achieve, and their potential is wasted. They may become anxious, depressed, hopeless, and resentful toward authority. What is sometimes incorrectly labeled as "outgrowing giftedness" is often the result of inertia, underachievement, or the impact of an inadequate education.

You are not hovering or "helicoptering" when you advocate for your gifted child - or for the rights of all gifted children. Advocacy is not "bragging," trampling on other parents' and students' rights, eliminating your child's autonomy or need for personal responsibility, or "coddling" your child in order to avert any hardship. Gifted children's intellectual needs lie outside the norm and they deserve an appropriate education tailored to their abilities. They also deserve society's understanding and compassion, rather than disdain, envy and, at best, neglect.

You bear witness as your gifted child's intellect and sensitivities unfold, and can best educate others about these unique differences and essential need for services. Educate yourself through books, articles, online forums and parent advocacy groups. Challenge your own fears and hesitation about your "right" to advocate. Then, get out there and help educate others about giftedness!

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Sunday, September 1, 2019

Do gifted children struggle with anxiety?

Are gifted kids really more anxious than others? Are they more likely to be perfectionists, overthinkers, and emotionally reactive?

Most research (e.g., see Neihart) has found that gifted children, as a whole, are no more prone to anxiety than anyone else. In fact, some suggest that there is greater psychological resiliency among the gifted. Dabrowski's overexcitabilities are not generalizable to all gifted people. Not every gifted child or adult is emotionally reactive, sensitive or an overthinker.

But don't tell that to the parent - or teacher - of that anxious, highly sensitive gifted child, the one having melt-downs over social injustice, or a test score of 97, or who won't eat dinner if the vegetables touch any other food on the plate. Many theorists, clinicians, and writers have pointed to the prevalence of anxiety among gifted people (e.g., see Nicpon, Karpinski and colleagues). Anyone who has raised, taught, coached, or counseled gifted children is familiar with the anxiety and reactivity that can ignite at any moment.

Anxiety can be influenced by a range of underlying factors, including, for example, a genetic, biochemical predisposition; trauma; early childhood distress associated with loss, neglect, abuse, or family instability; or a family/social environment that perpetuates fear-based beliefs. Any one of these may need to be present for a gifted child to experience anxiety; however, factors specifically associated with giftedness may trigger the emergence of the anxiety, or how the fears are manifest.

Any debate over norms and averages misses the point; even if not every gifted individual is anxious, some will experience anxiety that is heightened and exacerbated by their giftedness. These individuals may be vulnerable, for example, to perfectionism, overthinking, self-doubt, and existential depression.

How does giftedness trigger or exacerbate anxiety?

Some researchers have reviewed what contributes to anxiety among certain gifted children. For example, Maureen Neihart noted that: "the research suggest that the psychological well-being of a gifted child is related to the type of giftedness, the educational fit, and the child's personal characteristics such as self-perceptions, temperament and life circumstances."

More recently, Ruth Karpinski and colleagues surveyed Mensa members, and found a high rate of self-reported mood and anxiety disorders, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorders, as well as autoimmune disease, when compared to the national average. They concluded that there is a "hyper brain/hyper body" association with high levels of intelligence that may predispose people to these conditions. Of course, Mensa membership is a self-selected group. However, the research is still relevant and could be generalizable to other highly gifted individuals.

Nicole Treteault, a researcher on the Mensa study, describes the neuroscience of anxiety among the gifted:

"Higher IQ individuals have increased brain regions responsible for emotional processing, which is a gift and a curse, leading to intensified experiences of happiness and sadness. The exact brain regions identified for emotional intelligence and processing, anterior cingulate cortex and orbitofrontal cortex, have altered functional connectivity in individuals with greater anxiety. These studies support the idea that some individuals may be more prone to anxiety due to their neuroanatomy."

Giftedness is a mixed bag, replete with creativity, enormous potential and a wealth of opportunities. But the self- and socially-imposed demands associated with that potential, the overwhelming array of choices that accompany multipotentiality, and an inherently active brain, filled with what-ifs, self-doubt, and sometimes circular reasoning, all fan the flames of anxiety.

Gifted children also recognize how much they differ from peers. They may feel like outliers and have difficulty fitting in. Asynchronous development can manifest as social immaturity, and contribute to fears in social situations. Anxiety, along with behaviors ranging from perfectionism to avoidance and underachievement can develop when there is a poor fit between the child's needs and what the school offers.

How gifted children cope with anxiety

When anxiety strikes, it is unpleasant and distressing. Most gifted children (and adults) understandably try to evade it. As a result, patterns of thoughts and behaviors emerge that work to dampen those uncomfortable feelings. These patterns can include any or all of the following:

1. Overthinking - Gifted children may worry, ruminate, and mull over a problem with the hope that if they just think about it long enough, they will come up with a solution. The assumption is that thinking things through, covering all the bases, and ensuring that there is no uncertainty will protect them from disaster. 

2. Perfectionism - Attempts to achieve perfection, excel, surpass their classmates and always do their best is a way to feel acceptable and worthwhile. It is a never-ending struggle to remain on top, though, as any slip, minor flaw, or misstep can be viewed as failure. Perfectionism, when combined with overthinking and unrealistically high expectations, can morph into feelings of shame, self-doubt and unrelenting self-blame.

 3. Avoidance - It is understandable to want to avoid that which evokes anxiety. Unfortunately, this can be maladaptive. If your child is so anxious that she is avoiding school, exams, auditions, social events or interactions with peers, she will continue create a spiral of fear and avoidance that is difficult to overcome. 

4. Isolation and withdrawal - Although time alone can be a healthy, restorative retreat, especially for introverted gifted children, a complete withdrawal from others is a red flag. Isolation and withdrawal may be triggered by anxiety related to social stressors, peer rejection, fear of failure, or hopelessness and depression. 

5. Unhealthy behaviors - Some find their anxiety so overwhelming that they seek relief unhealthy and sometimes self-destructive behaviors. Alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders, risk-taking, shoplifting, excessive spending, and self-harm are all examples of maladaptive attempts to avoid, create a distraction from, or find release from uncomfortable emotions. 

What you can do

If your child is anxious, address the problem directly by finding a quiet time to discuss your concerns. If the anxiety is situation specific, such as test anxiety or fears about conflict with a friend, offer guidance for resolving the problem. When anxiety is more generalized or has developed into unhealthy or self-defeating patterns, a more comprehensive approach may been needed. As a parent, you do not have to face this challenge alone. Enlist the advice of others, including your child's pediatrician, guidance counselor, or spiritual advisor. Comprehensive support might include: coordination of services through the school that address social/emotional learning and approaches that challenge perfectionistic or self-critical behaviors; group counseling; social skills training; cognitive-behavioral/mindfulness/relaxation training approaches to anxiety reduction; and/or psychotherapy with a licensed mental health professional.

More on approaches to reducing anxiety will follow in a future blog post. If you have suggestions that have helped your child, please share them in the comments section below.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Blog Hop on Perfectionism, Anxiety and OCD. To see more blogs, click on this link.

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Friday, August 23, 2019

More back to school tips for gifted teens, middle schoolers and their parents

Three years ago, I wrote a summary of some of my Back to School blog posts for gifted middle school students and teens.

Here is an update of related posts I have written since then. I hope they are helpful. Wishing your kids a wonderful year ahead!

Ability grouping works - and is essential in middle school and beyond

Why is ability grouping off the menu in so many school districts? What is so wrong with letting children learn among peers who grasp concepts at the same pace and with the same degree of complexity? 


Get your gifted boy through middle school

Middle school - that time warp most of us would like to forget! But if you have a gifted middle school boy, it is critical to stay attuned to the pitfalls and challenges that might derail his adjustment and safe passage into adolescence.


The interface of anxiety, overthinking and shame among gifted children and teens

What happens when gifted children and teens recognize their perceived flaws or differences? While those rare few may shrug it off, most will at least ponder their predicament. Many more will respond with anxiety, overthinking, and shame. The self-awareness that accompanies giftedness is compounded by peer pressure, social media comparisons, adolescent hormones, and their own high expectations. 


Boredom, school and the gifted child: Challenging its inevitability

In the recesses of their memory, most gifted children recall the joy of learning, their innate curiosity, the spark of discovery when learning was neither slow nor tedious. But that experience may seem far removed from life in mixed ability classrooms tailored to the needs of the average or at-risk student.


When gifted students feel disconnected from school

It seems clear that gifted students need to find a reason for learning beyond the acquisition of grades or awards. They want to feel engaged and proud of their school - but they often don't have any reason to care.


When gifted kids get to exhale

Neglecting gifted kids by refusing to meet their educational needs - especially when there are cost-effective solutions - not only contributes to years of boredom, underachievement, and wasted potential, but can create social and emotional problems.


Choices exclude: The existential burden of multipotentiality

When faced with making choices, they learn how to let go, and often mourn what might have been... Even when children have one overriding passion that drives their long-term goals, they still may harbor nagging doubts about the talents and skills they left behind.


How the media discredits successful students

Let's not fall prey to the media's routinely harsh and inaccurate portrayal of gifted or high achieving students... Let's stop disparaging those hard working students who exhibit the effort and endurance to achieve.


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

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.


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

In reality, the majority of gifted teens are not overachievers in hot pursuit of perfection and awards. Most just want a good education. A challenging education has eluded many gifted children due to rigid school policies that have marginalized their needs. So college looms large as that one last chance to grasp an enriching learning experience.


College admissions cheating scandal: Its impact on gifted and high ability students

Gifted and high ability students - those most likely to benefit from the stimulating academic environment offered at elite institutions - may be most disturbed by this glaring breach in ethics. These are the students who typically apply to elite colleges, wait patiently, and weather rejections - especially if they are not well-connected, or just not what a particular school wants. 


Your musically gifted child's road to college

How can you help your child decide about college when music is his passion? What options are available, realistic, and financially sound?


Let's hope the school year ahead is fulfilling and meaningful for your child.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

When should your gifted child start kindergarten?

The monumental, tear-jerking transition from preschool to kindergarten seems (gulp) like as big a milestone for parents as it is for kids. Our babies are growing up! And we want them to thrive, embrace learning, and adapt to the social and maturational demands of this new chapter. How do we know when and if they are ready for kindergarten - especially if they are gifted?

Most school districts have rigid, age-based cutoffs that dictate when children should start kindergarten. Some offer basic screening evaluations, where teachers briefly meet the children and assess basic information, such as whether they know their numbers and colors. Parents of gifted children often question whether this age-based cutoff is the best policy, though. Does it take into account their pace, depth and intensity of learning? What about asynchronous development and maturity?

As a result, parents of gifted children sometimes consider any and all of the following options:

1. Grade acceleration

Some parents advocate for their child to start kindergarten at an earlier age. This typically occurs when highly verbal, socially mature, gifted children are academically and developmentally advanced well beyond their age-based peers. They may be very early readers, advanced in math, more independent than most children their age, and already interact well with older peers.

Most research indicates that acceleration is beneficial for gifted students. Given the negative attitudes toward this practice found in many school districts, some parents resort to paying for private kindergarten to bypass the age-based cut-off, and then advocate for their child to skip first grade. Other times, they may need to request an IQ evaluation prior to kindergarten, and advocate for early entry. Either way, it is often a battle. The NAGC offers guidelines for districts on developing policies for early kindergarten entry.

Most gifted children who skip kindergarten or first grade adapt easily to this transition. They grasp material quickly, and many already are advanced compared with their peers in terms of reading and math skills. School districts sometimes refuse to endorse acceleration due to claims that it could negatively impact a child's later social adjustment.

Are concerns about later problematic social adjustment valid? Although most research debunks these concerns, each child is different, and some will struggle as they get older. Questions to consider include the following:

  • How will they adjust if they reach puberty or their adolescent growth spurt much later than their peers?
  • Will they have the social maturity to navigate middle school and high school social pressures at a younger age than others?
  • Will you allow them to date, travel, and go away to college at a much younger age than if they were on target with their age-based peers?

All of the above factors are difficult to predict. But if you have concerns based on your child's current developmental level and social maturity, you might delay grade acceleration - at least until a later point. This is an option that can be revisited when you have more information about your child's adaptation to school, social adjustment, and need for intellectual challenge. Grade or subject acceleration at a later time is much easier to address than managing the possible negative repercussions of a hasty decision to enter kindergarten at an early age.

2. Red-shirting

The trend to "red-shirt" (a term borrowed from sports), where parents delay kindergarten entry, has taken hold in recent years. With the intention of offering children an academic advantage, red-shirting is typically initiated by upper-middle or upper income parents of white, male children, whose birthdays fall a few months shy of the district's age-based cutoff. One study found that parents who delayed their child's kindergarten entry had incomes that were 200% higher than the national poverty level, suggesting that this preference favored those who could afford the extra year of preschool.

Some parents initiate red-shirting to enhance their child's academic advantages, as research has shown that the oldest students in a given classroom tend to have higher test scores. However, most base this decision on more subjective developmental, social and readiness factors. Many red-shirt their sons, in particular, to give them an advantage in terms of height, emotional maturity, and time to adapt to the rigid structure of school - a place not geared toward the learning needs of energetic boys. A recent study found that children who turned five prior to starting kindergarten were more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than those who were six, suggesting a trend toward overdiagnosis and misdiagnosis among some active children who were too young to conform to the school's structure and expectations.

It might seem counterintuitive to red-shirt gifted children, given their need for intellectual stimulation and a challenging learning environment. Yet, some gifted children can benefit from red-shirting, particularly those who exhibit asynchronous development, are less mature than their age-based peers, are late-bloomers, or are twice-exceptional. Some just need the "gift of play" where they have an additional year of free play and creativity before they settle into the demands of school. If kindergarten entry is delayed to allow them an additional year to mature, there still may be options to  subject or grade accelerate at a later time.

If you are considering red-shirting your child, weigh all of the short-term and long-range factors. Visit the school's kindergarten and first grade and imagine your child's adaptation to the structure, social climate and demands. Solicit advice from your child's preschool teachers, pediatrician, or other knowledgeable adults. Seek an evaluation with a psychologist if necessary. How amenable is your child to sitting still and engaging in structured activities? Do your child's academic needs outweigh the social and emotional? Would your child feel bored or frustrated as one of the oldest in the class? While some conclude that there are few advantages to red-shirting over time, many children, and adults report satisfaction with the decision to delay kindergarten entry, and have no regrets. Find out what is permitted within your district; some have negative views about the practice, or do not even allow it.

3. On-time options

In addition to traditional public schools, parents who choose to start their child on-time may pursue other options, especially if these are affordable. They might include any of the following:

  • Private, charter, or religious schools, or schools with a particular philosophical approach, such as Montessori, Waldorf, or International schools that provide language immersion. With the exception of charter schools, most of these are expensive, although some schools offer scholarships or financial aid. Some parents choose to enroll their children in these more focused and individualized programs for kindergarten, and then move them to the public schools for first grade. 

  • Schools for gifted students. In these programs, students are offered the individualized attention they would receive at most private schools, but with a focus on the needs of the gifted. Their peers are gifted, so there is more opportunity for engaging, higher-level classroom discussion and most students feel less driven to mask their giftedness. Kindergarten at such schools may include a balanced combination of challenging academics, creative exploration and play time. Every school is different, so investigate the details.

  • Homeschooling. Some parents choose to homeschool their children, especially those who are highly gifted. They may be able to provide the higher level exploration of topics that would not be available in most schools. They worry that their children would be bored in a traditional school and this might extinguish their love of learning. They also may be concerned if their child has difficulty relating to peers, and want to prevent incidents of bullying or isolation. Since kindergarten focuses on socialization, it is important that homeschooled children still have opportunities for peer interactions through homeschool co-ops or other extra-curricular activities.

The transition to kindergarten is a big step for both the child and family. Some parents have the financial resources to consider various educational options, or question whether to red-shirt or accelerate their gifted child. There are no clear or simple guidelines, and it can be daunting to balance a gifted child's need for intellectual stimulation with social and emotional fit. Seek out as much advice, information and guidance as possible, and recognize that most decisions can be changed at a later time. Consider your child's social/emotional needs and developmental maturity, and how these blend with programs available in the schools. Make a decision, and continue to monitor your child's progress. Your child's needs at age five may differ from those at age ten or 15, and further options (such as additional acceleration) can be considered at a later time. Whatever you choose, you will know that you made a well-informed decision, with the best of intentions for your child.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Blog Hop on Transitions. To see more blogs, click on this link.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

5 tips to help your gifted child become more independent

Would you like your gifted child to be more independent? The following article from guest blogger, Cloe Matheson, offers helpful ideas!

If you have a gifted child, no doubt you’re putting a lot of work into understanding how to raise him or her well. There are plenty of things to take into consideration when it comes to understanding what to encourage. Independence, in particular, is one of the most important traits for any gifted child to take into adulthood. Try the following five tips to help your gifted child become more independent:

Give your child emotional support and the tools to deal with problems

Emotional support is just as important as any other type of support. Make sure your child knows that you’re always there for them, and teach them how to process their feelings in a healthy way. Gifted children are often sensitive, so learning early how to deal with their emotions is extra-important. The earlier they learn how to control outbursts and think rationally, the better off they’ll be. It’s also wise to give your child the tools to deal with everyday problems or setbacks. If your child becomes frustrated, for example, they’ll need an outlet to channel their feelings. They might like to do something creative, or to do something active, like playing an outdoor game with you.

Give them space to breathe and play

It might be tempting to maximise your child’s free time and encourage extra-curricular learning. However, being allowed to relax and enjoy him or herself is just as important as learning for a gifted child. The two can even overlap. For example, play can involve working through real problems or exploring new feelings. What might look to you like meaningless play can also heighten your child’s creativity levels and make them happier.

Encourage them to do things they’re bad at

If your child is gifted in one area, that doesn’t mean that they’ll be a prodigy in everything else. There’s nothing wrong with that! Encouraging your child to do things they’re bad at will help their independence, as they’ll learn early how to take failure in stride. Appreciating that it’s not the end of the world to be bad at something is bound to help them in countless situations, both in childhood and later in life. If your child isn’t very good at something, never make them feel bad about it. Remind them of their strength

Allow them to explore their own hobbies and interests

Many parents of gifted children feel compelled to enforce rigid study rules. However, allowing your child to explore their own interests will help them to become much more independent. Give them the freedom to learn about topics they’re interested in, and help them by purchasing books or offering to research with them. Don’t limit their exploration – help them along the way, and enjoy the results.

Have them work on fostering friendships

Some gifted children are not only perfectionists, but keen to work alone to complete tasks. While this may appear like maturity at first glance, in reality, it’s also important for your child to work well with others. Gifted children are often not quite as socially advanced as their peers, so they may need a little extra push to get involved with their classmates. Arrange playdates or speak to other parents to plan outings together if you need to.

Gifted children are special and should be celebrated, but they also pose unique challenges to their parents. While they may be excellent when it comes to schoolwork, they often need a little more encouragement in more personal matters. Encouraging their independence will allow them to grow into the talented, confident adults they’re sure to be.

Freelance writer, Cloe Matheson, resides in the beautiful city of Dunedin, New Zealand. When she’s not writing for various blogs and sites, Cloe loves to enjoy a cup of coffee while reading up on the latest lifestyle articles. Learn more about Cloe and her published work here.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Never spank your child (and here's why)

I get it. Your child is driving you crazy. Melting down over that toy in aisle five. Whining endlessly. Refusing to get in the car... during a rainstorm. Or maybe you desperately want to stop said child from touching that hot stove, or running in the street.

But here is one of the most essential, and yet, controversial statements in parenting:


And while many of you might readily agree, some of you may view this a lofty but unattainable goal. You might even roll your eyes and dismiss this as another psychologist's ivory tower nonsense, spoken by someone who apparently has never struggled in the trenches. But as the parent of two boys (now young men), born less than two years apart, trust me, I know the trenches. More importantly, though, I know about research on the damaging effects of spanking (see below), myths and assumptions that perpetuate this practice, and the impact on the child.

And while no child should be spanked, gifted children may be particularly susceptible to its negative and scarring effects. So, even though you might disagree with my tenet about spanking, if you are reading this as the parent of a gifted or high ability child, please consider the following:

1.  Gifted children often possess a heightened sense of fairness and justice. From an early age, they will sense that hitting just seems wrong. They question the power imbalance, where you as authority assert an unfair advantage. They quickly recognize the hypocrisy when they are admonished not to hit their friends or siblings, but you, as a parent, are entitled to hit them. On a basic level, they may wonder why a parent who loves them would treat them like this. They might understand the rationale of a time-out for misbehavior; however, the frightening, emotionally charged reaction resulting from a physical assault leaves them questioning whether something is wrong with them - or with you. Ultimately, this fuels distrust, confusion and disrespect within the family.

2.  Many gifted children are highly sensitive. Children who are not gifted may be sensitive as well. But a gifted child's sensitivity is amplified by her advanced intellect, which creates a breeding ground for anxiety, overthinking and worry. Keep in mind that when someone twice your size assaults you, it can be a terrifying experience - especially when that individual is responsible for your well-being. A gifted child who is hit may not be able to "brush it off" or "take it in stride." Instead, she might become anxious, afraid of making a mistake, and vigilant to avoid provoking you and triggering another conflict. Or she might internalize her reactions, feel guilty and insecure, and assume she must be "bad" in some profound way ("I must be a really bad person for mommy to lose it like that and need to hit me."). He might experience physical symptoms of distress that seem unrelated to the assault. Even if your feisty gifted child fights back through arguing and debates, he still may be internalizing a sense of guilt and shame - which may linger for years.

3. Some gifted children exhibit the type of asynchronous development where their social/emotional maturity lags behind their intellect. They may struggle to fit in with same-age peers and feel insecure about their social status. This insecurity is amplified if they feel shamed and anxious due to fears of assault at home. They may be preoccupied with worry, or afraid to misbehave and "get in trouble," or perhaps they have internalized an unintended message from home that they are intrinsically bad. All of this makes it difficult for them to feel confident around more socially mature peers.

Of course, we all lose it with our kids sometimes. We are stressed, and parenting is rife with difficulties. We might yell or snap at them. Parents who believe that spanking is a useful disciplinary tool may justify it with a range of assumptions:
My parents spanked me and I turned out alright 
Children won't listen to reason, but they understand a spanking  
I never spank them when I am angry  
Spanking protects them - how else will they know not to run in the street?  
Spanking teaches them right from wrong

Even if you convince yourself that spanking is a controlled, dispassionate form of discipline, you may be angrier than you think. And kids pick up on that. They will sense your anger, which is transmitted along with the sting of the slap. And even if your parents hit you and you turned out just fine, why perpetuate a pattern that is both ineffective and harmful? 

Research findings

Research has repeatedly demonstrated that children who are spanked or hit show negative short-term and long-term effects. The following are a subset of findings:

  • Durrant and Ensom summarized 20 years of research, which documented an association between physical punishment and childhood antisocial behavior and aggression. Furthermore, they found that: "Physical punishment is associated with a range of mental health problems in children, youth and adults, including depression, unhappiness, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, use of drugs and alcohol and general psychological maladjustment." 

They also cited studies that pointed to breaches in parent-child attachments, increased levels of cortisol in the brain, and slower cognitive development.

  • Afifi and colleagues found that spanking was associated with an increased likelihood of alcohol abuse, street drug use and suicide attempts in adulthood, and claimed that their research was "consistent with the previous work indicating that spanking and physical abuse are on a continuum of violence against children." They suggested that spanking is harmful enough to be included in the list of "adverse childhood experiences - ACE's" along with physical, verbal and sexual abuse and emotional neglect.

  • Afifi and colleagues also summarized previous research from meta-analyses that found a correlation between physical punishment and "an increased likelihood of aggression, lower moral internalization, antisocial behavior, externalizing problems, internalizing problems, poorer mental health and negative relationships with parents." They studied the effects of physical punishment in childhood, and found that even in the absence of more severe forms of physical abuse or maltreatment, it was associated with an increased likelihood of antisocial behavior in adulthood among both men and women.

  • Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended a ban on spanking and all forms of corporal punishment, stating that "spanking, hitting and slapping were harmful for children and don't work." In her commentary on the AAP statement, researcher Elizabeth Gershoff  noted that: "We do not allow adults to hit each other, but for some reason American society has decided it should be legal and even desirable for adults to hit children. We need to end this double standard and provide children with the same protection from hitting that is given to all adults."

  • Gershoff's research contributed to the recent adoption of an American Psychological Association policy, the Resolution on Physical Discipline of Children by Parents. The purpose of the resolution was to promote effective forms of discipline that do not contribute to antisocial behaviors, aggression or trust issues. Based on "strong and sophisticated longitudinal research," the resolution highlights the following:

"...physical discipline does not improve behavior and can lead to emotional, behavioral and academic problems over time... hitting children does not teach them about responsibility, conscience development and self-control... Parents who use physical discipline may be teaching their child to resolve conflicts with physical aggression. Research found that spanking can elevate a child's aggression levels as well as diminish the quality of the parent-child relationship. Other studies have documented that physical discipline can escalate into abuse."

The widely held distinction between physical abuse and physical punishment in the form of spanking is a false dichotomyFifty-three countries have banned corporal punishment. The US is not among them, and in fact, corporal punishment is still legal in the schools in 19 states. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child stated in 2007 that any form of physical punishment, including spanking or slapping, violates a child's right to protection from violence, and should be abolished.

Parenting is hard. Discipline is a difficult task for most of us. Gifted children - all children - suffer when we choose to engage in physical punishment as a form of discipline. Take the time to learn alternative strategies to calm, redirect and set limits with your child. Below are some articles and ideas:

Alternatives to spanking

8 ways to discipline your child without spanking

How to get children to behave without hitting them

13 alternatives to spanking your child

The case against spanking

20 alternatives to spanking

The spanking debate is over

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