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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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!

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

When Your Unschooler Wants to go to School

WhenYourUnschoolerGoestoSchool

I began homeschooling when B was two years old. We started out with a lot of structure and over time evolved into unschoolers. Unschooling has many definitions. For our family, I define it as respect-based learning. We respect each other’s time, needs and interests.

B has never been a child who liked to stay inside of the lines. She is quirky and confident. Her own person, she loves the story of Stephanie’s Ponytail, by Robert Munsch and is known to make every day crazy hair day.

2015-04-23 15.22.29

At age 5, she attended her first sleepover, a slumber party at her gymnastics center. It was Harry Potter themed, so she packed Book Four along with her pajamas and other necessities. I questioned her choices. I mentioned that people don’t usually bring 700+ page books to sleepovers. She had made her decision, though, and off she went, huge book and all. As it turned out, the theme of the night was based on the tri-wizard tournament, and her extensive HP knowledge led her team to victory. She wasn’t a weirdo; she was the hero!

In February of this year, B said she’d like to try public school. This was difficult for me to hear. It felt like a failure on my part – what was I doing wrong that caused her to want to go elsewhere? Then the worry began. How would the school keep up with her learning needs? Will I be able to effectively advocate for her if they don’t? Will her creative spirit get shushed in the classroom?

Once I finished having my fear/pity party, I looked at her desire through the lens of her needs. She wants to try something that is novel for her, something the majority of kids get to do all the time. She feels the need for deeper relationships. She’s hoping to make friends, connect with someone. She’s looking for a new challenge. Her expectations are high. She is extremely self-aware and has analyzed the pros and cons of the public school setting as well as benefits and disadvantages to her personal lifestyle. This is what she has decided she needs right now.

I’m not certain that public school will fill these needs, but with a respect-based learning philosophy, I have to respect all of her learning choices, not simply the choices that I like. I will be sensitive to her interests and give her the space and trust she’s asking for, especially when it’s difficult. No matter what happens, she will know for certain that the next time she wants to take a leap and try something new, her family will support her every step of the way.

She picked out her clothes for her first day. This child, who wears her best dress to be properly attired for a friend’s barbecue, picked out running shorts and a t-shirt covered with hearts. Comfy for play, but unusual for the first day of a new adventure. I chose my words carefully. “B, sometimes kids dress up for their first day of school. Wear whatever is comfortable for you. I’m just letting you know since you haven’t been to school before.”

She wore her comfy clothes and didn’t bat an eye at what anyone else wore. She’s strong, brave and independent, and she makes me proud.

Listening to our kids’ needs is complex sometimes, especially when they don’t coincide with our ideas. What situations have you dealt with in which your desires and your child’s didn’t fit together? How did you find a middle ground?

When You Aren’t Smart Enough for Your Six Year Old

Image: Lotus Carroll
Image: Lotus Carroll
B informed me the other night that she “gets all of her brilliance from Dad.*”

It’s rough when your own kids perpetuate your imposter syndrome.

I politely disagreed, but she explained to me that he knows far more than me. I rebutted, stating that he knows far more than me on a variety of subjects, but there are some in which I am the proficient one of the family.

(Like handling your messy emotions, Kid. Let me leave you with Daddy during a meltdown and we’ll see who you think has done more research.)

She persisted with her opinion. Again, I countered.

“You know, brilliance isn’t all about how much you know. It’s also about how much you want to learn and how much you are willing to work for it, especially when you are frustrated.”

The next morning, B got stuck on a Trivia Crack question**, and ran into the office to ask her dad for help. I told her the answer, but she disregarded my words and waited for him. He was in the middle of finishing some work, and answered her (with the same answer) just as she ran out of time.

“Dad! You didn’t answer fast enough! I am out of time!”

To which I replied, “REALLY? I JUST GAVE YOU THE ANSWER. THE SAME ANSWER THAT YOUR FATHER GAVE YOU TOO LATE.”

She shrugged. “Well, I asked him. Not you.”

I swear I’m going to start telling her to go look it up next time she has a question that involves a detailed, time-consuming reply. Because, you know, I am probably just not bright enough to answer her anyway. 😉

*     *     *     *     *

*Dad does not support or reinforce this opinion!

**We all went through a few weeks of Trivia Crack addiction in our house. It unwittingly became a learning tool. B played with her dad and me and picked up an astounding amount of knowledge from it over the course of a few weeks. Do your kids play?