What if My Kids Weren’t Gifted?

What if my kids weren't gifted

In an alternate universe…

My girls would have turned three and five. They would have done as most children do, enrolled in preschool and kindergarten, respectively. Learned their colors, numbers, shapes. Learned to read. Loved the hustle and bustle of the classroom, the excited sounds and noise. Reveled in the chaos that an early childhood classroom should be.

I would’ve waited my few years of stay-at-home mom-ing. I would now have an amazing amount of free time, and started classes again, full-time even.

In this alternate universe, my girls are five and seven now. Kindergarten and second grade await. I have finished my Master’s degree. I am now a licensed therapist, working with children and teens, doing what I know is my calling and where I am supposed to be. I specialize in gifted families, helping teens navigate their way through the muddled waters of high intelligence and social intelligence and the high emotions that each of these bring.

My girls do well in school. They love their classmates and teachers. They learn every day and are excited to tell me about their pursuits.

Flip upside down to real life, to my universe. My girls are three and five. My five year old began reading chapter books one year ago and shows great aptitude for math and all things creative. She longs to play with the eight year old down the street and and enjoys the company of her five year old friends, but they don’t always understand the games she wants to play. She devours biographies on creative souls such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Georgia O’Keefe. She remembers everything, including my schedule, and keeps me on track better than a DayPlanner.

My three year old follows her sister, doing the same math and picking up coding games faster than I can. She talks about death and worries about when we will all pass, asks me to make sure her heart still beats as she goes to sleep. She cries when children are mean to each other, even if she doesn’t know them. She cries when we read Disney books and the characters go through tough times. We do not watch movies, only shows that have happy endings. Her empathy is deep and wide, overwhelming to say the least.

Now they are five and seven. The seven year old begs for multiplication and division to go to sleep with, and reads books I didn’t read until my teen years. She talks about how it feels to be the smartest person in the class – uncomfortable, awkward, boring, exciting. She dislikes the noise of the classroom – she cannot think with all of the chaos. She’s discovered characters like Hermione Granger, The Mysterious Benedict Society, and Alex from the Land of Stories, that she relates to. She wants to learn chemistry and how to write a book. I accidentally mention the recent events in France within her earshot and find her crying over the victims of the attack, and frightened about our own safety. We talk about how you can only fight hate with love, and what we can do to change the world in our small area.  My breath is taken away while I feel overwhelmed with the thought of what this girl will need from me in the coming years, academically and emotionally.

The five year old continues in the same trajectory. She learns multiplication from her big sister while reading words I didn’t even know she could pronounce in books thicker than I would have thought to choose for her. She still worries about death, and where we will all be buried, and please can she and I be together after we die? I listen and comfort and wonder how I will support this soul as she grows older and more aware of the goodness and evil in our world. How can I protect her big heart?

They love nature and are affected by beauty with a force I can comprehend. We watch sunsets together with tears in our eyes while a voice from the backseat of the car mentions how isn’t it strange that all of this beauty comes from light reflecting off of dust particles?

And me? I am biding my time, very slowly working through classes until I can finish them without feeling like I am taking away from my family when they need me, conflicted by the thought of the other families that might need me too. So many things I would like to have on my plate, but there is just not room for everything I want right now.

I didn’t have the support that my girls have the potential to enjoy. I didn’t come to terms with my giftedness and who I am until my mid-thirties. Barbara Kerr and Robyn McKay state in Smart Girls in the 21st Century,

“Millennial girls trust their moms, share confidences with them, and often work side by side with their moms to nurture their families. For mothers of smart girls, this means a great responsibility to understand that they are, in the most profound sense, the role models for their daughters.”

I feel pressure to be here for my daughters, be the role model and sounding board, and empathetic support. It’s exhausting. It’s exhilarating.

I think I would sound crazy to anyone who didn’t understand this conflicted life with gifted children and gifted parents. Until you’ve walked in these shoes, it sounds like faux bragging of the ridiculous sort.

If you have walked in these shoes, however, you know exactly what I am talking about. On the most difficult days, when you really, really want to trade them in for some fancy heels, a cute new dress and a grown-up job where people appreciate you, you are just like me.

And then you put the shoes back on, grab some coffee and feel so fortunate that these are your children, highs. lows and in between.

I’d love to hear about your highs and lows in the comments below. What do you wish was different? What would you not change for the world?

This blog post is part of the GHF Blog Hop, The Highs and Lows of Gifted Parenting

November blog hop

Words You SHOULD Say to Your Child’s Teacher

This post is a follow-up post to Celi Trépanier’s wonderful guest post, Three Words to Never Say to Your Child’s Teacher.

WordsYou Should Say

B has made it through the first quarter of school. Some of the first few weeks were difficult, and there were moments in which she was ready to throw in the towel and return to homeschooling. She had made an agreement with her dad at the beginning of the year to stay in school for a certain length of time (seven weeks) to make a valid assessment of how she felt about it and she was struggling.

I am far more emotional than my husband, so when she came home from school after a bad day crying and stating she wasn’t going back, I was willing and ready to toss the magic seven out the window and bring her home. I had seen some teacher behaviors in the classroom the same week that I wasn’t very happy with, and I was anxious to protect B. Instead, we had a family talk, and my hubby helped parse out exactly what was bothering her (the boys giving her a hard time, the work is not challenging). He and I decided that it was time to chat with the teacher and B decided she could give school a few more weeks and see if things improved.

I’ve been a public school teacher, a public school parent of an “easy” child, and a homeschooling parent of two very intense kids. I’ve never been a public school parent who needs to advocate for my high ability kid until now. Thinking of walking into a classroom and asking for more for your child is daunting, especially after hearing the many, many stories from parents whose teachers/schools have been less than supportive of their child’s needs.

Back in May, Celi from Crushing Tall Poppies wrote a fantastic guest post here about what NOT to say to your child’s teacher while advocating for them. I took that to heart as well as a few other excellent resources and advice from many parents and teachers. We met with B’s teacher and after a bit of a rocky start, the meeting had a favorable conclusion.

So then, what should you say to your child’s teacher?

1. Give the teacher the opportunity to share what they’ve noticed about your child.

Ask how your child seems to be doing in the classroom and how the teacher sees them progressing. If your child gets a glowing review, it begins the conversation on a positive note from which to build. If the teacher has concerns, this gives you a good starting place to discuss what you are noticing as well.

2. Share what you see.

If possible, start with the positives. In our case, there are several things about school that offer B what she needs – Spanish, music, and math are all subjects in which she is learning and looks forward to.  Move on to the areas of concern using words like “challenge”, “encourage”, “cooperate” and “quick learner”.

For instance, “Mrs. X, B seems to excel in (subject area). She wants to be challenged and learn as much as you are willing to teach her. She is a little frustrated at the level of work that she is being given currently, and would love to do something more in-depth. She is a very independent and quick learner, and if you are willing to encourage her growth in this area, we will do all that we can to cooperate and support that at home.”

Again, do your best to keep it positive. You know that saying about catching more flies with honey…

3. Ask the teacher for his/her suggestions. If they don’t have any, come prepared with your own. 

End your words above with, “What are your thoughts? What do you think would be the best way to challenge her more?”

Some teachers just need to be asked, and they are full of ideas and excited to implement them. Others will circle around the question and talk about the 19 or 27 other students in their class and how you can’t expect them to teach yours individually. Try not to bristle, and offer some suggestions of your own. Your child deserves to learn something new every day just as much as the others.

Some ideas we brought to the table were to let B go to the next grade for language arts, have her work on the same topic but write a report or something more in-depth, more project-based work, and less fill-in-the-blank.

4. Offer to help.

If you are able, be willing to put in some volunteer time, especially in the case of the teacher who is overwhelmed by the idea of differentiating while teaching all of the other learners in her class. I offered to come in several times weekly to work with her behind-level kids, work with my girl and a couple of others in the class who could also use more challenging work, or wherever else she needed me.

In our circumstance, there were many good ideas talked about, and the conversation felt positive and hopeful. However, several weeks later, nothing had changed.

5. Get squeaky.

You know what they say about that wheel…Don’t be afraid to take it to the next level if the teacher is unwilling to try something new or doesn’t implement the ideas you agreed upon.

Set up a meeting with the principal and share your concerns. Begin positively if you can. Share how the meeting with the teacher went and the solutions you and the teacher came up with if applicable. If the meeting with the teacher did not go well, start with #2 and work your way forward with the administrator.  Best case scenario – the administrator will understand your concerns and work with you to meet your child’s needs. Worst case scenario – they won’t, and at that point you’ll have to revisit your options. I always hope for the best and expect the best out of others. Sometimes people rise to expectations, sometimes they don’t, but either way I find that optimism helps my personal perspective a lot.

I met with our school administrator about B, and it was a warm and encouraging talk. I shared my concerns about the teacher, and although she was quick to support her staff, she was also supportive of finding a solution for B. She agrees that putting B in a higher grade level for language arts is a good idea, but wants to wait until after the winter break for an easier transition. (I wanted to ask “for whom?” but decided to bite my tongue.)

In the meantime, B is frustrated with the lack of challenge, and half of the school year will have passed by the time we try something new. It’s difficult to stay positive and patient sometimes.  We’ve made a new compromise with B – stay in school until January to give the new class a try, and take a “mental health” day now and then. We could just withdraw her from school and homeschool again, meeting her academic needs, but the school atmosphere itself is wonderful and I’d like her to be able to keep enjoying it while learning something every day too.

Every situation is different, and some teachers/administrators are much more difficult than the few I’ve dealt with. That said, I hope sharing our experience gives you a starting point to begin the conversation and advocate for your gifted child. I’ll let you know how it goes in January.

More resources:

Imagine a World Where Gifted Kids Don’t Have to Wait, Paula Prober

Advocating for Gifted Children for Beginners, Planet SmartyPants

7 Ways to Advocate for Your Gifted Child, Elgar Mummy

Are you an Advocate for the Gifted?, Sceleratus Classical Academy

Yes, My Gifted Child is a Know-It-All: A Case for Acceleration, Crushing Tall Poppies

Hoagies’ Gifted: Academic Acceleration Page – so much good stuff here!