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

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Teen Suicide is a Serious Issue. You Can Help.

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention estimates that Americans attempt suicide 1 MILLION times annually. Untreated depression is the number one cause of teen suicide. 

SuicidePrevention

When I was a child, I knew I felt a little different. I had big ideas, but it was challenging to find everything I needed to carry them out. (Or my mom’s version: I got into EVERYTHING and it took both her and my grandma’s constant attention to keep track of me.) I enjoyed pleasing the adults who I felt understood me and was adept at hoodwinking those who did not. I was a handful.

When school began, I quickly assessed which teachers “got” me, and which didn’t. I remember my kindergarten, second and fourth grade teachers well – they saw me and it was easy to shine for them. As I found adults who understood me, my peers identified with me less. They spent recess making fun and teasing me with the familiar chant, “Teacher’s Pet, Teacher’s Pet”. I didn’t like it, but I had a safe place inside the school with teachers who challenged and supported me. I didn’t mind being my teacher’s pet one bit.

I moved several times during late elementary school. Some dynamics were constant. I was still an outlier. I was still teased at recess. The most dramatic change was the attitude of my new teachers. Instead of getting to know me better and providing a safe place for me to thrive, they would blatantly turn their back and ignore the playground bullying, adding to the fray with sarcastic or hurtful comments of their own. I knew how to deal with kid-size bullying. I was not prepared for the teachers to be on the bullying side.

The preteen years are an impressionable age and I began to feel worthless. By my teen years, I felt lonely, depressed and completely misunderstood. Some nights, suicide felt like it might be a good friend. I couldn’t tell my family – they didn’t even realize that anything was bothering me. I wanted to handle my life and my worries myself, and telling them I felt so bad that I wanted to die would be a failure of the worst degree.

This was many years ago, but the same scenario persists for many teens. Years of feeling misunderstood, bullied and alone in addition to hormone changes and our increasingly stressful school environments can lead teens to feel as if there is no hope and nowhere to turn.

Teens, especially gifted teens, often keep their feelings of failure, depression and stories of being bullied to themselves. They say they don’t want to worry their families, they feel like no one will take them seriously, or feel like no one cares. Perfectionists may hold themselves to impossibly high standards and may see reaching out for help as failure to succeed on their own. Sometimes teens don’t realize how stressed out they have become until it reaches a critical level. Adults may not realize that teens can have great relationships with their families and strong support systems, while simultaneously planning their suicide.

That’s where Crisis Text Line enters the picture.

Texting is the average teen’s primary method to communicate with family and friends. Nancy Lublin, founder of  CTL and then CEO of DoSomething.org, worked with many teens at DoSomething.org and discovered that they were shockingly honest while texting. This observation led to the idea of a crisis text line and eventually the birth of CTL. (Read more about CTL’s beginnings here.)

“Life doesn’t seem to have meaning anymore.”

“All of the sadness is too much to bear.”

“I’m exhausted. I have to be perfect all the time, and it’s killing me. I can’t go on like this.”

“I’m being bullied at school and now they’re bullying me online. I just want to end it all.”

“I just want to do something worthwhile and good with my life, but I feel like all I do is let everyone down.”

These are words I read on a regular basis. Volunteers like myself offer empathy, active listening and strengths-based supports to help teens (and now adults, too, as of a few months ago) work through these intense emotional moments and stay safe, find coping techniques or simply breathe through a panic attack.

As a parent, it’s frightening. I feel like I know my teenage daughter well, and that we have great communication. At the same time, I know this could be her at any given moment, and I am so thankful that she has a support like CTL available to her.

What can you do?

  1. Make sure your teen knows about CTL.

CrisisTextLine

2. Notice changes in your teen’s behavior. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, or simply remind them that you are available to listen if they need to talk. Remember to actually listen and let them explore their feelings without judging them or trying to fix the problem. Teens often just need to think out loud and feel empowered by coming to their own solution.

3. Become a volunteer or donate. Volunteering requires just four hours of your time per week. My brief shift is one of the most meaningful parts of my week. You can help save lives too – just apply HERE.

4. Get your teen involved in something meaningful. Helping others and spreading kindness is a purposeful way to feel worthwhile. Do it together as a family or help facilitate a group of teens. DoSomething.org has many simple yet important campaigns that are easy to join.

This is a difficult subject but an extremely important one. Keep the lines of communication open with your child and seek professional help when needed.

 

Resources for Teens:

www.reachout.com

If You are Thinking of Suicide, Read This First

99 Coping Skills

Mindshift App for Handling Anxiety

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

81 Awesome Mental Health Resources When You Can’t Afford a Therapist

Resources for Parents/Adults:

Suicide Myths

Facts about Teen Suicide

Texting that Saves Lives

Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide

7 Essential Steps Parents Can Take to Prevent Teen Suicide

{GHF Blog Hop} Parenting and OE’s: Is Sensitivity Your Child’s Super Power?

Our house is bouncing constantly with overexcitability. If you are unfamiliar with that term,

Overexcitabilities (OEs) are inborn, heightened abilities to receive and respond to stimuli. They are expressed in increased sensitivity, awareness, and intensity. Each form of overexcitability points to a higher than average sensitivity of its receptors. As a result a person endowed with different forms of overexcitability reacts with surprise, puzzlement to many things, he collides with things, persons, and events which in turn brings him astonishment and disquietude.” (Dabrowski, 1964)

There are five types of overexcitabilities: emotional, psychomotor, intellectual, sensual, and imaginational. On a regular basis, the members of the family alternate between high levels of emotion, the need to move, and a desire to learn and do everything as often as possible. We each have various levels of sensory comfort and discomfort, and there is no shortage of imagination.
It can make life interesting.
For this post, I am going to focus on the emotional overexcitability, which is most likely my strongest of the OE’s, and we all enjoy a healthy dose of it.  

image: JD Hancock, text added by TSL

 

I have a tendency to take on others’ emotions and react accordingly. I can’t watch or read the news on particularly bad months. I feel the responsibility to make the world a better place, and my heart aches when I am unable to do so.

I cannot make it through an airport without tearing up. It’s a family joke at this point – but the soldiers in uniform meeting their families, the mother with two small children holding handmade “Welcome home, Daddy” signs, and the father nervously putting his 8 year old daughter on the plane by herself, wiping away a tear as the gate closes, send my emotions into hyper-drive.  
I am a big, sappy dork, and the more I accept it, the more pronounced it gets.
*  *  *  *  *
B’s emotional OE often comes in the form of a desire for social justice. She has a sense of urgency and action, rather than tears, when it comes to those who need help. She zeroes in on the homeless, the animals, the families in need. She is unselfish and willing to do whatever needs done. She is extremely environmentally conscious and cannot fathom why we don’t all drive electric cars and use solar and wind power as much as possible already.
Her relationships with family members become volatile quickly. She flies into a rage, she defends with abandon, she loves with her whole heart and soul. She views herself more like a twelve or thirteen year old might, worrying about the blemishes on her face, what she is wearing in public, and how other people will see her.
She is intense. The asynchronies involved make emotions even more complicated, as she feels and thinks like an early teen, but reacts like the six year old she is.
*  *  *  *  *
C is our lover. She is one of the most empathetic children I have known. From a very young age, she would act out in response to my emotions. It took a few years to discover this was the impetus behind her behaviors, and now I refer to her as my emotional barometer.  It can be exhausting, as my bad day becomes her very bad day. We are both learning to adjust to each other. 
C dislikes most movies, especially movies that have a component of bullying, unkind/unfair behavior, or too many bad guys. She can assess when she has a lot of emotion boiling up inside and will ask to watch Spirit (a 2002 Disney movie about a stallion that leads his herd across the frontiers and meets many challenges), so she can “cry [her] sadness out.” I don’t know if I will ever become accustomed to the depth of her emotional understanding.
Her mood swings are hurricanes, but the cycle is becoming predictable. She begins with the quick and violent fury, followed by the passionate cry, then comes the hysterical laughter, and finally the apologetic hugs. She is learning her cycle as well, and I am hoping that with maturity, she will be able to fine tune it.
Both girls have a strong memory for feelings, and expect deep friendship among those they meet. They remember children’s names months after chance encounters at a random playland or the park. They form quick attachments to children of all ages, and are heartbroken when these fleeting acquaintances do not want to expand their friendships. B is overjoyed to begin working with the 8-12 year old group at gymnastics, with whom she fits in much more easily than her previous class. At just barely four, C’s best interactions are with the eight year old boy she plays video games with at the gym while I watch her sister’s class. But, again, asynchronies make these relationships unpredictable when emotions begin to overwhelm.
*  *  *  *  *
So, how does our family function with this circus of emotional intensity? How does my logic-embracing husband handle all of us?
 
I keep a favorite quote on my refrigerator from Corin Goodwin, and read it often.

 “The times when kids need your love most may be the times when they behave in the most unloving ways. Try to understand what is happening in their heads and their hearts, and address that first.”

Empathy and understanding are our foundations. We do our best to meet our children in their moment and support them.  I have adjusted my strategy from a “how can I fix this?” perspective to a “how can I help you right now?” perspective. This approach gives my girls ownership of their intensity, and validates their feelings. They do not want advice or distractions.  They want me to appreciate their sensitivity and let them express it.

We discuss our feelings a lot, and the girls are becoming more self-aware. We use “I feel” statements, and “You feel/you need…am I understanding correctly?” questions.  Yoga is helpful for regulating all of us, and playing outside together clears the mind. We embrace the ecstatically happy moments and hold on tighter during the soul-wrenching sad times. 
 
More than anything, we accept each other, overexcited emotions and all.  I hope with age and maturity, the girls will find that this abundance of intuition and feeling is a super power. Emotional overexcitability opens your eyes and heart to a glimpse of the world that most people never get to experience, and I am grateful for my view.


This has been successful for our family. What works for yours? Please let me know in the comments.

This blog post is part of the December GHF Blog Hop – Parenting OEs, 2Es, and Everything in Between. Check out the other talented bloggers insights on parenting gifted children here!

Resources:

Overexcitability and the Highly Gifted Child from Davidson Institute for Talent Development

Sensitivity in Gifted Children from Ian Byrd

Emotional Sensitivities from Gifted Kids Ireland

Parenting Emotionally Intense Children from Talent Development Resources  – (this article discusses how it feels to live in a society that does not value feelings – great perspectives!)


References:

Dabrowski, K. (1964). Positive disintegration. London: Little, Brown & Co. (Out of print).

 

…A Bushel and a Peck, and a Hug Around the Neck

Months ago, B was in the throes of a terrible fit. I was out of answers, out of patience. I told her that I just didn’t know what to do with her to get her to behave, and asked her how I could help her to stop.

Tears running down her face, she choked, “hug me.”

Thus, what our family refers to as “hug therapy” began.

It isn’t a hold-you-down-so-you-don’t-break-anything hug, or a get-along-t-shirt style hug. It is a genuine hug, full of love and compassion.

When the girls are edging quickly toward a poor choice, or not listening well, or boiling over into a fit…I give them a hug. When I am at my wits’ end, about to venture into the bad parenting zone, I get a hug too.

Feelings get out of control. Emotions build and grow until they explode like a scary, ugly monster. Sometimes, “frustration” becomes an understatement.

During times like this, I take my volcano-girl and envelope her in my arms, let her climb into my lap, and hug her. Some moments, my hug is fiercely returned. Other times, it is fought against. My hug then becomes a loose hug, an “I’m here when you are ready” hug.

image: flickr

B is learning to realize when she is getting out of control, and will growl in the angriest of voices, “I need a hug.” Under the growl, is a sad, angry five year old who knows her emotions have escalated too far, but hasn’t yet learned how to bring them back down.

The hug is is not a “get out of jail free” card, by any means. It is a moment to pull emotions out of overdrive, and back to a place in which they can be handled more appropriately. A silent reminder that I love and will encourage my girls no matter what they do. Once the crying and flailing have ceased, we revisit the source of the problem and figure out a resolution.

My littlest one often cannot stand a hug; the physical contact would be too much in the high-sensory moment. Sometimes, she simply isn’t ready to let go of her fit and fury and find a less tempered spot.  In that circumstance, I give her a quick, loose hug, or just sit beside her, hoping I can express the same love and compassion, without the physical touch. Slowly, though, she is beginning to ask for a hug before she gets to “high alert”.

I am not perfect, and dealing with intense emotions day in and day out can wear on me. During some particularly difficult weeks, I feel as though I do not have one more moment of patience left to give. My temperature rises and I launch into the equivalent of a mom fit. As I begin to fume, however, a little 44-inch tall figure tells me, “Mom. You need a hug.” And I do.

Now and then, I behave like C, and fight the hug…”I’d love a hug, but I don’t have time right now. At this moment, I just need you and your sister to please go put on your shoes like I asked you to so we are only 5 minutes late instead of 15″, I will reply in a strained I’m-about-to-lose-it tone.

“Mom”, She tells me firmly, “there is ALWAYS enough time for a hug.”

Five year olds can be so wise.

I make time for the hug. I feel better. Somehow, we still make it out the door with 20 seconds to spare.

Shel Silverstein had it figured out, didn’t he?

Hug-o-War, Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends

The tantrums have decreased significantly lately. Cooperation has been on high. The kids are improving, too. 😉

It’s working for us. What works for you?

Meltdown City

image: tiffany terry

C has crazy, scary, unpredictable meltdowns. It usually begins with something I say innocuously.

“Please take off your paint shirt before you go in the living room.”

Or something she does, or something that happens. Something I would never imagine would set off the cycle…

“I can’t button my pants!”

“My raisin fell on the floor!”

“I can’t reach that!”

“You put my syrup on top of my pancake instead of beside!”

…turn into yelling, angry face, awful words, hysterical crying, “please hold me, Mama, don’t go, just hold me”, tears streaming, turning into hysterical laughter and the exhausted calm and the “I’m so sorry, Mama. I was just so angry.”

We’ve tried deep breathing. We’ve discussed that all problems have solutions, if you can stay calm long enough to figure it out. It’s that “stay calm long enough” part that tends to be an issue.

She isn’t a spoiled kid, in fact, she is a wonderful, kind, empathetic girl. She doesn’t like to freak out. It exhausts her. She even knows she needs some self-regulation and asks to do yoga after she regains her sanity. (Thank you CosmicKids Yoga on YouTube. You are a necessity in this house.) I know that with time and maturity, (hopefully) she will improve her ability to manage her emotions.

Prior to staying home with the girls, I was an early childhood specialist, doling out advice to frustrated parents who didn’t know how to deal with their child’s out of control behavior.

“He’s doing that for attention. Just let him cry it out in his room. It may take some time. He is in control of you when you let his throw the fit in front of everyone. Remove him from the situation.”

I see now that despite the training and education I was drawing from, I had no idea what I was talking about. I want to go back and apologize to all of those parents. I had at that point so far only dealt with a very compliant 4 year old of typical fit-throwing abilities, and a classroom full of special needs preschoolers who spent just 3 hours of their day with me. I feel as though teachers often are absorbed into their bubble of time and space, and although what they (we) do is very important, we forget that we see our children but a fraction of their lives, and really can’t get the whole picture of what is going on with these kiddos. In my own circumstance, I can look back and see that although I felt like I knew these children inside and out, I knew just a small piece about them, and most likely not enough to venture into advice territory. Perhaps just active listening and compassion would have been a better choice. But alas…that was another lifetime ago.

For a long time, I just felt like an awful mother during C’s meltdowns. It was so frustrating, and time consuming, not to mention trying to keep a schedule and get anywhere on time is next to impossible when you don’t know when the hurricane is about to hit. I practiced my own advice, and found that tossing her in a room by herself only made things worse (as I had cautioned other parents that it would) but instead of eventually calming down, she would just become emotionally frantic. Threatening consequences, bribing with rewards, throwing my own fit…there was no solution and mainly made things worse.

My philosophies have grown and changed since my teaching days. I keep a quote from GHF on my refrigerator now, “The times when kids need your love most may be the times when they behave in the most unloving ways. Try to understand what is happening in their heads and their hearts and address that first.” I re-read it frequently.

The Explosive Child, by Ross Greene is the most helpful book about parenting that I have read in awhile. It gave me some answers, some strategies, and gave me hope that I am not the world’s worst parent. The Highly Sensitive Child, by Elaine Aron was encouraging as well, and helped me understand both of my little girls more completely.  I’ve learned that the most helpful thing I can do for C is weather the storm. hold her when she needs me to, and let her be. Sit on her bed, or lay beside her or hold her hand until she is able to calm down. Let her know that I support her when her emotions become too much, and improve my patience with her during the challenging times.

There are good days, and bad days, and there are just age-typical “I want my own way” days, which are an animal of their own requiring their own response. At the end of the day, though, I make it a point to have the girls find one or two of the best things about the day, and finish it on a positive note, concentrating on the happy moments and proud moments rather than the difficult ones.

Because as Roald Dahl wrote…” if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”