Wednesday, February 6, 2019

When your gifted child disappoints


Despite volumes of self-help books on the market, there is no manual that can truly prepare you for the roller coaster ride of parenting. And nothing can insulate you when your child disappoints.




You face an additional array of challenges when your child is gifted, frequently weathered alone, since friends and extended family often don't understand why the heck you are worried. After all, your child is talented, quick as a whip, and is presumed to have innate advantages. Most don't realize that this path is often rocky, circuitous and overwhelming, filled with false starts, disappointments and fears.


When relationships falter



Sometimes your gifted child won't, or can't, or is oblivious to, or lacks the skills for, or is "morally opposed" to fitting in with peers. He might be great with younger kids and adults. She may complain about boredom with same-age peers, who can't converse at the same level. He might have given up on kids who don't share his interests or understand him. Events with extended family, field trips, and even play time with neighborhood children can descend into misunderstanding, arguments, and tears.


Introversion, asynchronous development, heightened sensitivity, and overthinking are just a few of the common threads that affect gifted peer relations. So, instead of fitting in, your child isolates, or sounds condescending, or appears shy, or seems immature. This complicates every interaction outside of home - from the classroom to summer activities. You question whether he is mature enough to try an extracurricular he longs to join, since he might lack the skills to navigate the social scene. And your heart breaks for her when she is excluded from birthday parties or sits home alone on prom night.


When achievement wanes



Perhaps your gifted child underachieves. She procrastinates, lacks planning and study skills, only cares about topics that interest her, or has lost respect for the school and her teachers. She may be torn between multiple interests, delves into only those topics that fascinate her, and refuses to invest effort into the tedious and demanding work required for college admission - or that would challenge her abilities.


Your child might be a stealth underachiever... aka, an underachiever under-the radar. Although seemingly successful at school, both you and your child are quite aware that he slacks off, cuts corners, and is not pushing himself. Yet, he performs well enough to achieve outward markers of success, so teachers leave him alone and accept his lackluster effort. You wonder how he will manage when eventually faced with truly demanding, challenging work, and grieve over wasted potential, lost years, and how much his teachers have underestimated him.


When you cringe with embarrassment



Gifted children can create quite a scene. Meltdowns in stores, at family gatherings, or movie theaters due to perceived unfairness, expectations to socialize (just this once!) or a lone scratchy collar tag (where are scissors when you need them!) can wear you down.

Sometimes the embarrassment stems from our own expectations. We want our child to be "normal." We adore his talents, passion and even his quirkiness. But the asynchrony, hyper-focus and rigidity can seem like too much at times. So when the other middle school kids show interest in their appearance and social trends, we worry about the lag in her development, and resent that we must beg her to take a shower. When he builds elaborate sand castles while the other kids play beach volleyball, we wish he would - could - relate and decide to join in.


Other times, we question our parenting acumen. After all, if she's so smart, how can she not know...(fill in the blank)? How can such a sensitive child rudely tell his teacher she's "not well informed" about politics?  After all the talks about manners, why won't she put the book down and respond politely when the nice sales clerk talks to her? And why can't I motivate him to complete homework assignments on time? As parents, we often blame ourselves when our child responds to his own inner compass, and believe that somehow we have failed.


When disappointment stems from outside influences



Many times, disappointment is triggered by outside circumstance, unrelated to your child's behavior. Schools that fail to deliver. Family and friends who misunderstand your child's asynchronous development, or criticize the gifted label ("all children are gifted in their own way...so stop bragging"). Missed opportunities due to homeschooling or cyberschooling, since high school sports teams, marching band or even school dances may be off-limits or just too complicated to join. Even grade or subject acceleration has drawbacks when a child does not quite blend in with peers, or misses out on some of his grade's activities. Fitting square pegs into round holes requires compromise, frequent adjustments and sometimes, results in disappointment.


What can you do?



There is no easy-to-follow directive that will ease the sting of disappoint. And I am not going to offer simplistic self-help "remedies" that may fall flat and minimize your experience.  Accepting, accommodating, managing, and even embracing the ups and down draws upon all of your strengths. 

Only YOU know what works best for you and your family. But you can gain support and increased understanding through learning as much as possible about giftedness, child development, gifted education, and parenting skills. Seek support from friends and family who understand, teachers you respect, local and state-based gifted advocacy groups, and online forums, such as Hoagie's Gifted, GHF, and Davidson's. Support will help you cope, and also help you to keep your feelings separate from your child. And if you feel burdened by sadness and frustration, consider counseling with a licensed mental health professional who can help you move beyond the shadow of disappointment.


This blog post was part of GHF's blog hop on Myths, Misconceptions and Misunderstandings about Giftedness.

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14 comments:

  1. And don’t forget SENG - Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted - as a resource for support. www.sengifted.org

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    1. Thanks, Jessica. Yes, SENG is a great support. They don't have online forums, but offer a wealth of information through their website and workshops.

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  2. Wonderful article - sums up everything.

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  3. Thanks for this, Dr. Post. It sounds almost as though you have met my son. The kid goes from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye. Half the time he wants to do so much it's a wonder he sleeps, and then all of a sudden he turns into Bartleby the Scrivener.

    I thought it would be easier for a gifted parent to bring up a gifted child, but it seems I foolishly imagined eccentricities could be orthogonal. Where I am round he's spiky, and where I am spiky he's round. It's quite a ride.

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    1. Dr. Dad, Thanks for your vivid take on parenting. You clearly describe what it's like. Good luck with your son. It sounds like you have a good handle on him!

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  4. Thank you for this post. I have a 14 year old son who gets straight As in school but hates being there with a passion. He just doesn't see the point of what he's being asked to learn. He wants to enroll in 'online' school but I am against it due to the isolation. My disappointment is that he's really not interested in anything besides playing basketball (so far) and video games. He is resistant to any other activities and if I do manage to drag him out he continually asks when can we go home. I'm sad that he knows we disapprove of his main passion (becoming a professional gamer).

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    1. Cathy, Sorry you are going through this. There is a lot of maturation that goes on between middle school and when he has to plan a career, and hopefully he will get the message from others outside of his family that gaming may not be his only choice! Middle school is a boring time for a lot of gifted kids, and he may find more of a spark in high school. Perhaps some of his teachers can share some insight on what they find sparks some interest. Good luck!

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  5. My 15 year old now attends an unschool. It has been the best thing for my quirky asynchronous anxious gifted child.

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    1. BarrSuz, So glad you found what works! Best wishes.

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  6. Thank you for this post. It seems that middle school has highlighted struggles and concerns because you start thinking about them being able to fit in at high school while moving towards the next phase of their life. I have felt like 8th grade has made me focus on his asynchronous development and his immaturity because non gifted 8th grade peers are starting to seem so grown up and we are still the same. His meltdowns seem as prominent as ever and I keep thinking “he can’t do that in high school or they will eat him alive”.

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    1. Jennifer, Thank you for your comments. I completely understand - one of the greatest worries parents have is related to their child's social development. It is so worrisome when we see our child's peers behaving in a more "mature" manner and our child does not seem to fit in. Fortunately, these asynchronous kids catch up eventually. The challenge is helping them find another group of kids who "get them" and help them build resilience to weather peer pressure. Good luck!

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  7. Does anyone here know of psychologists who work with gifted adolescents?

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