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

{GHF Blog Hop} Budget-Friendly Homeschooling for the Gifted Family

BudgetFriendlyHomeschoolingfortheGiftedFamily

When the average person thinks about homeschooling, I feel like they imagine children sitting around a kitchen table, books stacked beside them, diligently writing in their notebooks.

It does look like that for some families, and that’s okay.

At our house, homeschooling looks a little more like this.

homeschool mess

And if I bring out the textbooks, it looks a little like this.

#ds368 - Rebel Yell
Image: flickr

There are a million terms out there for what we do…homeschool, life school, unschool, child-led learning, child-directed learning, self directed learning…

Our days are rarely the same.

I am often asked about what curriculum I use, how we structure our days, how I keep track of what we do.

The answer is…<<gasp>>…we don’t. How do I facilitate any learning around here without curriculum? Let me share some of our favorite low-cost resources with you.

History and Science

Most of B’s learning is gleaned from books. She knows more about history than I may ever know, unless I read the Magic Tree House series like she did. She has learned all about animals, artists, ancient cultures, weather, etc. from the Magic Tree House Research books. She has learned to cross-reference with other books to check the facts. We recently discovered Horrible Histories and they’ve replaced her stuffed animals in bed.

historysleep

Much of her science knowledge comes from the Basher books. We own Physics, The Periodic Table, Biology, and The Human Body. These books break big subjects down into understandable pieces and make us laugh as well.

I recently purchased the Biology book, which sat on the table untouched for a few days. B finally, reluctantly picked it up, and hasn’t put it down since.

“When we first get Basher books, I’m like, ugh – not those. Then a few days later, I’m like ‘Woo-hoo! I love those!”

Horrible Science and the Monster Science series are our most recent finds, and they are fantastic!

“All of these books sound really expensive! How do you budget for that?”

We use the library for the majority of our reading. If our library doesn’t have a book on our list, we utilize the wonderful interlibrary loan system and find it somewhere else. When I notice the girls checking out the same book multiple times or we find a title we just can’t live without, I begin watching for it in a variety of low-cost places. We frequent the used bookstore a lot. We trade in books the kids read less for new books they’ll enjoy more. We find $1 and $2 deals. Thrift stores have many hidden treasures when we have the time to search. Ebay and Amazon Marketplace often have books for $0.01 + shipping.  For the amount of books we own, we spend remarkably little.

We have memberships to most of our local museums and our local observatory. Quite a few offer an educator’s discount to homeschoolers – just ask!  Many science  centers and observatories are affiliated with the Association of Science-Technology Centers,  which means membership to one center offers free admission to all of the centers on the list. For $60/year, we gain free admission for the whole family to Lowell Observatory (Flagstaff), Arizona Science Center (Phoenix), the International Wildlife Museum (Tucson), Flandrau Science Center, Planetarium and Mineral Museum (Tucson) and Kitt Peak Observatory (Tucson). These are all within a four hour drive in Arizona, and there are members of ASTC in each state if we decide to travel.

Math

Math is another subject that usually involves expensive curriculum and high cost materials. How do we do it?

The girls and I have many math conversations, play lots of math card games (deck of cards – $1) and read many living math books. We are able to find most of these books at the library and have found some great titles at thrift stores for $0.25 each. Math placemats have been a huge hit in our house. C studies her addition/subtraction and B studies multiplication/division while they eat. They have made up countless games to find and remember facts using these. They learn and play without my intervention. I’ve been able to find these for $1.99 at our local Target, and similar sets are often available at the Dollar Store.

Placematmath

For the families who are more comfortable with following a curriculum, NY Engage has their entire math curriculum available at their website for downloading and printing – for free. If you do a quick Google search, many other companies offer this as well.

Every other subject

Most of the learning that the kids and I do occurs naturally, as part of our daily lives. B recently told the dentist when he asked about school, “Well, we are homeschooled, so we mostly just play.”

It’s true! We do what we love, and we learn all day. We go outside a lot, bring along our $0.50 notebooks and clearance rack markers and notice the world around us.

More Free/Low Cost Online Resources:

www.LetsPlayMath.com

www.LivingMath.net

www.FunBrain.com

www.Starfall.com – (For $36/year, you can upgrade to more.starfall.com, which offers reading and math games and stories up through the second grade level. We’ve subscribed to More Starfall for years and still love it.)

www.ShepperdSoftware.com

www.KhanAcademy.com

www.igamemom.com

www.pbskids.org

**Links for books direct you to the GHF Amazon Store. I do not personally receive any benefit if you purchase books from the GHF AStore, but GHF receives a small commission at no additional cost to you.**

This post is part of the GHF September Blog Hop. Read more great ideas about how to homeschool without spending an arm and a leg here!

Healthy Perfectionism and How to Encourage It

Healthy Perfectionismimage: Joe Hitchcock

“Overcoming Perfectionism”

“Healing the Wounds of Shame and Perfectionism”

“Freeing your Family From Perfectionism”

These are just a few of the 1,026 book results I find when I search “perfectionism” on Amazon. “Shame”, “guilt”, “not good enough”, “out of control”, “constant need for approval” are terms I see regularly when searching Google for resources.

I’ve thought I needed to fight perfectionism all my life. I’ve read self-help books like the ones listed above. I worry about my children who have inherited the same traits and hope they won’t ever feel that those words apply to them.

Then I read Giftedness 101, by Linda Silverman. In chapter 5, she describes healthy perfectionism in gifted children as something transformative that pushes them to improve themselves and enjoy facing challenges.

I had an “Aha!” moment as I read it. Her explanation described how I approach the world as an adult and many of the behaviors I notice in my children. It explained the whisper in my head that argued, “But I like being a perfectionist! How can wanting to be better be bad for me?”

So, what’s the difference between harmful and healthy perfectionism?

Harmful perfectionism can be paralyzing. It prevents us from reaching goals and taking chances. Add giftedness and anxiety to the mix, and it can become a stronger force that requires professional intervention.

Healthy perfectionism pushes us forward to meet the challenge, break the record and be the best self we can be. It’s a motivator, not a discourager.

Do you see this in your kids? I see both sides of perfectionism in my girls and I’d like to share some ways we are working to cultivate healthy perfectionism in our household.

1. Encourage Pursuits that they Love

B loves gymnastics. She works hard at practice and has a great attitude. Her coach noticed this and promoted her to the team in January. This led to a rocky period – She was a 6-year-old in a group of 8 and 9-year-olds. Her small stature was a disadvantage and her muscle development was two years behind the others. Gymnastics became really hard. Her coach talked to her about working with a different group and coming back to the team in six months.

I worried that she would feel defeated and give up. I prepared to convince her to persevere and not let a setback ruin something she loves. I began thinking of other activities she could do instead if she didn’t want to continue at the gym. That was my harmful perfectionism talking. The “why try? You’ll never be good enough” voice that plagued me as a child. 

Thankfully, she hears a different voice of perfectionism – one that encourages her to keep going until she gets it. Her motivation grew stronger. She began practicing at home every day and working even harder at the gym. Her attitude stayed upbeat. It paid off – she’s been asked to come back to the team in June instead of September. She is so proud of herself and enjoys gymnastics more with every challenge she overcomes.

What does your child enjoy? Whether it’s art, sports or competitive chess, encourage activities that they love. It’s much easier to face a challenge when it holds personal satisfaction for you. When the pursuit becomes difficult, help your child to see how much progress they’ve made. B loves to watch old videos of herself doing gymnastics – it’s a visual reminder of her improvement over the last year.

2. Be Understanding

Remember that asynchrony plays a large part in your child’s perfectionism. If your 7-year-old has 10-year-old ideas, the distance between what he wants to do and what he is physically capable of may be frustrating. Be empathetic. Share a personal story about a situation that turned out to be much more difficult than you thought it should be and how you handled it. If your child needs to rage about it, let him. It’s good to work through the negative feelings. When the smoke clears, discuss why the goal is important to him, and encourage him to try again. Show him how to break a big project into smaller steps and celebrate taking risks along the way. Help him focus on the joy of the process, not the product.

3. Be a Good Example

I am not athletic at all. I have terrible balance and trip over my own feet if I am not paying attention. I married a natural athlete then had adventurous children and they all like to rock climb. I am terrified of rock climbing. I used to blame it on my short legs, but the truth is, I hate looking stupid. When I rock climb, I feel so inadequate and uncomfortable. I act cranky and came dangerously close to throwing a fit once during some perilous hiking a climb my four-year-old handled with ease. I reflected on my poor behavior and admitted the cause – I didn’t want to fail in front of my family.

I talked to the girls about it and apologized. We came up with worst case scenarios and had a good laugh at the thought of me sliding down a hill on my bum. They encouraged me. “That could happen, Mom, but it didn’t! We’ve never even seen you fall!”

It’s important that they see me fall every now and then so they can watch me get back up, dust off and try again.

 4. Offer “Safe” Opportunities for Failure.

Games have proven to be the best venue for “safe” failure in our home. It hasn’t been easy. We’ve purchased several games recently that involve strategy, taking chances and uncertain odds. I usually introduce a game in a modified version with fewer variables, and we work our way to playing by the rules. The first time we played Rat-a-Tat Cat with all of our cards face down, B had a breakdown. She could not handle the possibility of guessing and making the wrong choice. We talked it through. What was the worst thing that could happen? Would it matter later in the day or tomorrow? Finally, she was able to work through her anxiety and play the game, and it’s one of her favorites now. I’ve seen her generalize these strategies to other areas of her life and it makes me proud.

5. It’s Not Your Fault

Some kids are born more anxious than others and lean toward self-critical perfectionism. You’ve tried read the books, tried the strategies, are endlessly encouraging…and nothing helps. You are a good parent. Perfectionism, along with many other quirks, is a typical part of a gifted child’s wiring and is rarely caused by poor parenting, despite what our judgemental society often tells us. If you feel like your child’s version of perfectionism is beyond healthy parameters, a good therapist can help.

Healthy perfectionism fuels the Olympic athlete, the best-selling novelist,  and the mathematician who spends years proving a theory. The attitude behind perfectionism makes all the difference.

Embrace it. Let it motivate you. Teach your children that mistakes are hurdles, not roadblocks, and prepare them to leap.

Resources on Perfectionism:

The Many Faces of Perfectionism, Linda Silverman (summary)

Perfectionism: The Crucible of Giftedness, Linda Silverman (More extensive overview of perfectionism and how it relates to Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration – excellent read!)

What’s Wrong With Perfect?, Silvia Rimm

Real Learning: Meet the Perfectionists, Lisa Natcharian

This blog post is part of the May 2015 GHF Blog Hop – Perfectionism and Other Gifted/2e Quirks. You can find more posts on this subject here

{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).

 

{GHF Blog Hop} The Case of the Car Seat Fury

C hates her car seat. She has hated it from day one. When she was a baby, we rarely ventured more than 20 minutes away from our home unless we were prepared for Ultimate Scream Fest. B was the same way, but her cry was much more mellow and, as awful as it sounds, much easier to tune out when a longer car ride was inevitable. Still, the switch to the booster seat was SUCH a welcome moment for B, and the end of many degrees of stress.
C is almost big enough to make the switch. As in one-half inch and three pounds from the recommendations. The cautious side of me would like to wait another three or six months to promote her to the booster seat. We do a lot of highway driving, and I want her to be safe.
But on the other hand, the screaming and fighting when we get in the car is getting old. She is strong enough to be a problem, and I have to plan ahead 15 minutes to leave the house, knowing that there will most likely be an incident before we can go to our destination (frustrating, multiple times daily.). Once safely buckled, she moved the chest buckle down as far as she can (unsafe), pulls on the adjusting strap and loosens the belt (unsafe). She wiggles, she groans, she states where and how this car seat buckle is ruining her life. I don’t like to think it is affecting my driving abilities, but it probably is. She’s pretty distracting with the trying to escape and all. We need an extra 10 minutes once we reach our destination so she can compose herself and act appropriately. I tallied it up the other day. We went to three places, which means in and out of the car three times….so roughly an hour of our day (plus the time IN the car) was spent on C dealing with her car seat hatred. That’s like 30 hours of my life PER MONTH.
We tried the Ride Safer travel vest. That was a disaster for a week. B liked it, but it took away her independence, because her hands just weren’t quite strong enough or dexterous enough to maneuver the belts, so that added another 5 minutes to every trip, along with some extra frustration on both of our parts. (On those three trip days, that was another 15 minutes! 7 ½ more hours per month! All together, with Little Miss Scream, that’s equivalent of THREE DAYS spent on car seat trauma, you guys.) C didn’t like the feel of the vest around her body – it’s much like a water safety vest, and those are a whole separate calamity. She didn’t like that it held her still in the seat. She began to wiggle and groan and state how this seat belt vest was ruining her life.
So, I decided enough is enough. I bought the high back car seat this morning. I am just hoping that it isn’t too straight, or too itchy, or the car seat belt isn’t too “wrong” or whatever else she might come up with. My only other options are to stay at home the rest of my life or invest in some duct tape and really, really good ear buds to drown her out.
I’ve commiserated with other parents about this… what options have worked for you?
**Edited to add: The new booster seat seems to be working well, with the exception of one seat belt removal experience while in the car. C loves the colors, silver and purple, and is actually thrilled to go places now. She also promises she will never, ever remove her seat belt again while the car is moving. We arrived everywhere on time this week. No fits were thrown. It was a miracle!
This blog post is part of the GHF April 2014 Blog Hop. Be sure to visit these other fantastic bloggers’ posts on promoting health and wellness in the gifted/2e child!

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