Want your children to succeed? Then dial back on trying to “rescue” them.

As a gifted child mom, I know how much you want to provide every opportunity for your bright children. They may learn quickly and with little repetition. They may be artistic or play a musical instrument before they even started school.

But ask yourself honestly. Do you let your children struggle and persist? If they stumble on a word or a math problem, how quick do you jump in with the answer? I am admitting, this is my greatest weakness as a parent and as a teacher. I always wanted to help too much.

This week, I babysat my grandchildren. We had a new 48 piece puzzle of the Avengers. I tore open the package and explained that with so many pieces, it would help to find the edges and do them first. I fumbled around and put 3-4 pieces together before I had to leave the table and help my two year old grand daughter with her baby doll across the room. I was only across the room a few minutes, but when I came back to the table, the 5 year old sat there, with a perfectly completed puzzle. It was the look on his face- the sense of accomplishment- his calm and satisfied look that reminded me- it was his puzzle to solve, not mine.

My daughter says he is really good at puzzles. I am not. I need the edges to form a frame before I can figure out how the puzzle goes together. That did not mean that he needed that strategy. His visual perception of patterns and colors helped him put the puzzle together much faster than he would have with my help.

Children develop what teachers call “learned helplessness”. If we interfere too much, they will let you do everything for them. You doing it yourself seems to make you happy, and children want to please their moms.

A curious child may give up that curiosity if you are the one who always solves the problem. Why try? Even worse, what if your highly sensitive gifted child perceives your help as being somehow because you think he/she is not smart/good/clever enough to do it on his or her own?

Whether it is a 5 year old with a puzzle, or a 12 year trying to balance an Algebraic equation, help by asking questions rather than finding the answer yourself. Allow think time. Count to 15 after you ask a question to give the child time to think and answer. Help your child if they ask, but usually the help they want is your attention and reassurance that they can be successful, not the actual answer.

You will be a better gifted child mom if you help your child persist and build his/her problem solving skills instead of making things too easy.

The Slightest Scratch Cuts to the Bone

All children feel sadness and pain, but the really bright ones may seem especially intense or sensitive. A young child  may wail and have a meltdown over not getting their way, but a gifted child of any age may have a meltdown about things that are experienced less intensely by most people. They can be especially vulnerable to anxiety about things most children “tune out”, such as politics, natural disasters, or war. Addressing their fears and validating their feelings without enabling their extreme behavioral responses, is a tough tightrope to walk.

Parents can help their children in several ways. First, limit young children’s exposure to television. The news and reality based programs often are presented in a style that sensationalizes graphic violence or content. Children can become overwhelmed emotionally by images they see but do not understand.

If your children are upset or have nightmares about something they saw in a movie or on TV, be sure you spend time comforting and above all, listen to them. Don’t dismiss their feelings. Don’t say “Oh, don’t be silly!” or trivialize their feelings. By dismissing their feelings, you are implying that the children themselves are not important. Ask questions. Why are they afraid or upset? What did they see that made them sad or scared? How did it make them feel? Listening is the best gift you can give them to overcome extreme emotions. Gifted children need to believe that someone is listening and understands them.

There are several calming techniques that can help calm a scared or angry child. Dr. Ruby Payne, in her new book, Emotional Poverty (2018), recommends several different calming strategies that can really help. Her term, Emotional Poverty, is not a clinical diagnosis, but a term she uses to describe children of any age that feel “less than or apart from” others in a group, such as a classroom or even in a family. It is a life-changing read. You can buy it here: https://www.ahaprocess.com/store/emotional-poverty-book/

Ruby recommends several calming techniques to help children overcome emotional outbursts. One technique is tapping. Many therapists use tapping to help distract the brain and calm down feelings of sadness, anger, or fear. As Ruby says, “It is easy to do, and it can’t hurt you!”

There is a picture book for children about tapping:

My grandson memorized the spots to tap in one reading and liked the idea of being able to distract himself and overcome his emotional meltdowns.

If you want to read an adult book about how it works for adults or children of any age, you might like this book:

Tapping is certainly not the only technique to help children understand and ultimately be able to control their emotions appropriately. Sitting quietly and holding the hand of a raging child can be very calming. Human touch is soothing. Trying to rationalize seldom does anything but make them even madder. A reference book of different techniques is good for any family. Try this one:

Intense emotions is actually a characteristic of giftedness. Learning to manage them is a part of a mom’s job. Validate their feelings, actively listen, ask questions to help guide them through their thinking. Help your children decide what the best options are to solve the problem, or if it is a problem that cannot be solved, how to live with it.

An example of a problem that can be solved is: “The boy on the playground called me names. It hurt my feelings.” The best response a mom can give is to help the child understand that this kind of interaction by a bully is about power. A person who calls others names feels insecure about himself. If his words hurts your child, it gives him power. Learning to say, “OK, so what?” and walking away to find another friend to play with solves the problem. Staying in the conversation and trying to defend himself/herself that he/she is NOT …(an idiot, stupid, a loser, whatever) feeds the bully’s power.

An example of a problem that can’t be solved by a child is world hunger or a hurricane destroying a home. Your child can’t fix it, but they can learn what actions they can take to help others. I know a boy who likes to say, “This is the worst day ever!” when he doesn’t get his way. Telling him that he is fed, healthy, and actually spoiled rotten is not going to change his feelings. Doing something nice for someone else- something thoughtful and selfless, gets his mind off his own desires and actually will help him feel better. It is an easy distraction technique but at the same time, it is teaching the value of service. So go get your raging child, make a batch of cookies with him/her, and take them to someone who is in worse shape than your child and help them learn to get over their emotional outbursts by focusing their mental energy on something positive and selfless. It works.

 

Are you an exhausted gifted child mom?

As a mom and grandmother of gifted children, I understand if you feel overwhelmed by parenting a child with high potential. Bright children seem to also be emotionally extreme, either timid and introverted, or explosive with bouts of great anger or great joy. How you react to their emotional state can determine whether or not they can learn to self-regulate their moods.

Children learn to regulate their feelings as well as their actions as they mature. The more self-reliant and confident they are, the more likely it is that children will develop the traits that will help them be successful. Many moms of children with high potential worry that their children are too “different” from other children. They may be intellectually advanced, but emotionally immature. When children are emotional and intense,  moms may try to intervene when they struggle to avoid a tearful breakdown.  In trying to rescue the child for emotional reasons, you may actually be keeping them from developing certain traits that can only come from working hard at something that requires practice and intense focus.

One of the unintended traits your bright children may develop, regardless of their personality, is called Learned Helplessness. It is where they give up easily and don’t finish something, saying it is too hard or takes too long. If you give them assistance too often or let them stop before they finish something, they are not developing persistence.

Persistence is the key quality that helps gifted children successful. Several experts, including Dr. Joyce Juntune at Texas A&M, and Dr. Joseph Renzulli at the University of Connecticut see a triad of traits that successful gifted kids possess. Intelligence (ability), creativity, and task commitment (persistence) make up the triad. Someone who is not as smart, but has persistence, may be more successful in school and life in general that a highly gifted child that cannot stick to something and complete it.

Ever know an absent-minded professor kind of kid? Children may be super smart, but if they are thinking about many different things, all  at the same time, you may notice them in the middle of doing one thing and wander off to do something else. Most children do this, especially a two or three-year old. If he or she pays attention to anything for ten minutes, they are super focused. But school-aged children who never finish tasks or cannot start them (because they can’t decide among several different choices of what to do) may be misdiagnosed as having attention deficit disorder. Misdiagnosis is a common problem for gifted children who do not have persistence. The leading expert in this field is Dr. James Webb. Read this book to get more information about misdiagnosis.

If your child doesn’t know what you mean about persistence, or grit, there are a few good books you can use to set an example. Read these with or to your child:

My grandkids love this book:


You also can use your WORDS to encourage persistence. Instead of letting your children say the can’t or don’t know how to do something, encourage them to add the word  “yet” to their sentence. They “don’t know how to do it YET.” It works on their mental image of the task as something that can be achieved instead of something that is impossible.

I love this book.  Persistence is a necessary tool of inventive minds and this biography is a true story that will inspire children to become inventors themselves.

So what does persistence have to do with you being exhausted? A LOT! If your bright children learns to persist on homework, sports, and on projects, there is less time available for them to bug you whining that “they can’t do it” or saying, “MOM! I’m bored!”

Seriously. All those questions are exhausting. So spend some time teaching your child to work on something for two minutes, three minutes, eventually ten minutes before they ask for help. Eventually, they will only ask for help when they truly are stumped and need you. Get some rest, mom. Your bright child is on his or her way to becoming an independent, confident young adult. Model persistence in things you do. The gifted child will be aware of your example and will more likely want to make you proud of them by being persistent and completing the things they are doing, too.

 

Does Unstructured Free Time Make You Anxious?

Are you taking Tylenol or reaching for a Xanax because your kids are driving you nuts when they have unstructured playtime? Does it make you want to sign them up for summer programs, just to get them out of your house?

The younger your children are, the more you have to supervise their play. Don’t expect a four year old to play alone for more than 10-15 minutes. It is not going to happen. And if your child does play alone for even 15 minutes, he or she still need to be supervised so he or she doesn’t get hurt. That is called being the parent. It is hard, but the years will go quickly and when they are older, you will be sad they don’t need you as much.

Here is a book you might read about this subject- unstructured play and what it does for your child’s brain. Seriously, this book is the best, and the audiobook is free!:

What kind of things can a child play if they are not good at playing make believe alone? Some kids need something kinesthetic to stimulate their mind (something to touch and manipulate with their hands.) Although a little screen time (ipad, Xbox, TV, whatever) is fun, no child under 10 should spend extended time staring at a screen. They want it, they crave it, because it is addictive! But it is a one way process of stimulation. It is not as interactive as a conversation or handling a toy.

Here are a couple of games a child can play by themselves that can make them curious and stay engaged:

For children over 7:

For younger children, shape sorting, matching games, lacing cards, and colorful non-toxic clay help them organize and classify things.  Using their hands to improve their fine motor skills, their eyes to tell the difference between different colors and shapes, and their brains to decide what to do with these things helps them grow and develop their thinking. Good old blocks and Legos are popular for a reason. There is more than one way to use them! Making a tower that doesn’t fall over after trying and failing is teaching persistence as well as balance. Here is a good set for little hands:

So give your child something to create or problem solve. Then sit back, have a glass or wine, and read this blog, or one of the others for moms of bright kids. You are doing a great job, Mom. Then sit on the floor and help your child build a fort. You will find some unstructured play is therapeutic for yourself, too!

Play games that teach your child’s brain to solve problems.

You cannot start playing too soon with your children. When you play “peekaboo” with an infant, you are doing it to see their surprised expression and smile when it sees your face again. But what is going on in your child’s brain when you play peekaboo? The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” is totally true with a baby. If it can’t see your face, you might as well have left the building. The baby’s brain is trying to make sense of the napkin or towel you put over your face. The baby wonders, “What is that?” “Where did Mommy go?” “Is this thing going to feed me now?” It is less scary if they hear your voice, saying, “Where is Mommy?” or “Where’s Daddy?” while you are hiding, but it is still really surprising to a baby when it can see the face it recognizes again.

It will only be a few months until your baby will start repeating your actions and playing peekaboo back with you. Ita brains learned how to do something that makes you smile. The arms and muscles learned how to hold a napkin and put it over its eyes. Its brain grew the connections to be able to do that. The child’s brain learned how to solve the problem of not being able to see you by moving the thing that covered its eyes.

Copying what you do is a primary teaching tool that parents have with them all the time. That is why you have to watch your language and watch the TV shows you think they are not watching (but subconsciously, they are). You also need to monitor your attitude in the way you interact with children. Sarcasm and impatience are both responses that children can learn from you, but so is patience and empathy. Think about it. What are you teaching your child’s brain to do?

Here is a really good baby toy that helps your toddler repeat a 2D image in three dimensions. It isn’t always easy to find, but it is worth it if you get it.

The older your child gets, the different kids of games they can play to improve their memory, their math skills, their eye hand coordination, and their ability to make decisions and follow directions. Unlike the others, making decisions is a prefrontal cortex thing. It has to be developed and organized for children to understand consequences, and learn how to make decisions. Chess is that kind of game. Here is a couple of chess games for different ages:

5-8 year olds

Older kids can pick from many different theme chess games, like this Star Wars set:

Playing games helps your child’s brain organize itself so that it can problem solve, plan, and make decisions. Why is that important? Because brain science proves that if the prefrontal cortex is not well developed to plan and problem-solve, it is unlikely to be able to understand consequences or be able to predict. Reuven Feuerstein believed that intelligence could be modified. Google that name, or you can read about his work in cognitive psychology here:

He would tell you I am right. Play games. Change your child’s brain.