It is that time of year again. Back to school puts children through a lot of emotions. Some of them can be intense. Anxiety for mothers is also a real problem this time of year. There are financial worries about new clothes and supplies, but the highest anxiety often comes from worrying about your child’s new teacher. Will the teacher be too strict, too lenient, or heaven forbid, not a good teacher at all? Some studies show that children that endure a year with a poor quality teacher in first, second, or third grade have gaps in their learning that can impact their achievement in middle school and beyond.
Teacher turnover causes parents to worry that the “new” teacher may not have the skills to teach their child well. Some studies show that in this age of accountability, rigorous evaluations can weed out weaker teachers, allowing the principal to bring in better or more enthusiastic teachers. Read one related study here: https://www.nber.org/papers/w21922.pdf
Gifted children may continue to make straight A’s with a teacher that has not been trained on meeting their academic needs, but over time, without proper differentiation, the compliant gifted child may give up their thirst for knowledge and by third grade, be on the same level as an average ability child. Even worse, a gifted child with a stronger, more dominant personality may become a behavior problem when they are not challenged. An unruly gifted child that is challenged in their area of interest is often so engaged in learning that the behavior problems seem to disappear. Here is a research article about gifted children and behavior: http://www.k12accountability.org/resources/Gifted-Education/Fully-developing-the-potential-of-academically-advanced-students.pdf
If you are interested in reducing your anxiety as a gifted child mom, you may want to keep a journal that tracks your parenting and your child’s gifted milestones. Reflecting on your parenting strategies and reading current research can help you consciously adjust the way you interact with your child, hopefully reducing both your child’s and your own anxiety. You can get one here! Start the school year off right and keep your anxiety in check for your own happiness and your child’s well being.
Do you have a child 8-18 who has trouble telling you what she/he thinks? Is your child going through the stage where he is trying to decide how he feels about different things? If your child can write in sentence, a journal may be an appropriate gift. This journal has guided prompts to respond to such as, ” Of what are you the most afraid?” Or “What makes you feel proud? It asks a lot of “why” questions, prompting your child to elaborate.
If your child hates to write, this journal won’t make him/her want to write. If they like to write, this can be a helpful place to put their thoughts and ideas on paper.
Brain science shows that you remember what you write on paper better than what you type on a keyboard. Give a journal as a gift that will be developmentally helpful for the gifted kid who is figuring things out. You can buy it here! Just click on the picture.
If my child is so smart, why does he/she act like such a baby?”
Part of it is called asynchronous development. That means that one part of your child, their intelligence is not “in sync” with their physical and emotional development. An average six-year-old will look like they are six. They will be similar in height, weight, and demonstrate expected physical abilities of a six-year-old, such as kicking a ball and running . They start losing their teeth. They learn to tie their shoes.
But a gifted child may be intellectually two or three years ahead of their chronological age. They may read and understand Harry Potter at 6. Meanwhile, they may be physically clumsy or uncoordinated. They may be emotionally immature and melt-down like a three-year old. Part of it is the frustration caused by being intellectually frustrated with other six-year olds who want to play make-believe or have a tea party when they want to talk about ending world hunger or global warming. Emotional intensity is not a universal trait of all gifted children, but it is a common one. This book may give you more insight into this behavior:
Another melt-down trigger may be bullying by other children who call them a nerd, or a baby if they cry easily. Children want to be liked. They want to fit in, but gifted children sometimes are more comfortable with their intellectual peers rather than their age peers. So if your gifted child is school age, he or she may benefit from being accelerated to a higher grade to be with intellectual peers. They may be emotionally or physically out of sync, but at least they will have others around them that they can relate to intellectually.
It depends on the child. Making the decision to accelerate is a very individualized decision. Check out these books for more information on academic acceleration. Often, the emotional benefits of being with intellectual peers lessens the negative aspects of asynchronous physical or social development. They have so much information and so many reasons to consider acceleration, it is in two volumes!
A good resource to connect to other moms to read about emotional intensity is on the “blog hop” on Hoagies Gifted Education parent web page: http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/parents.htm . This website bugs me because it is so crowded with so much information, but if you are persistent and dig deep (did you read my previous post about this topic?), you will find some great resources.
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 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!
Why in the world would I show a featured picture of a cow in a field with the moon rising above the hill? A couple of reasons. One, I took this picture myself, and I like the colors. Second, it is a calm picture. If you are becoming offended, thinking that I am going to make a metaphor about the cow representing a gifted child and the fence is the boundaries you should impose on him or her, well GET OVER IT! Instead, it is a beautiful, peaceful animal eating its dinner and it represents YOU, mom. Wouldn’t you love to be this peaceful, all alone on a cool spring day with no worries, outside with all the beauty of nature around you will an unlimited supply of your favorite food to eat?
This kind of peace, free from stress and the noise in your head, can happen if you can overcome the fear that you are somehow going to mess up at being a mom for a precocious child. Instead, I want you to replace that worry with an inner peace that comes from knowing how to help your child be confident, self-sufficient, and best of all, mentally organized. If they are mentally organized, they will depend less on you to entertain them. The constant whine of “Mom, he hit me!” or “Mom, I’m bored!” become a quieter hum in your house. The hum is the sound of self-sufficient children busy playing.
Have you heard the saying, “Happy wife, happy life?” Want to become a happy mom? Happy, self-sufficient, confident children can make a mom happier than she has been since that first baby shower. And it will free up your time to spend more of it “relaxing in the pasture” (like reading this blog) instead of refereeing a fight between two strong-willed children with light sabers.
When I taught school, I thought I taught kids. Now I know that what I really did was develop brains. When children play, their brains are organizing everything around them, naming it, giving it value, deciding how it fits into the schema of the environment. How do I know that? Because Neuroscience told me.
(Warning: scientific study stuff is coming. If you like that stuff like I do, click on each hyperlink to read the science that backs up what I am saying.) If you don’t like scientific proof and just want me to tell you what to do, then skip the links and do what I tell you to do. Seriously, it won’t hurt you or your bright child.
Developing a child’s brain to be able to organize things is the first step needed to be able to apply, analyze, and create new knowledge. Teachers call that “higher level thinking.” Educational Theorists call it Bloom’s Taxonomy. Lower level thinking is recognizing a color or knowing that a cat is one animal, but a dog is a different animal. Higher level thinking involves different parts of the brain, including the pre-frontal cortex. This part of the brain does not fully develop until the early 20’s, but amazingly, gifted children display the ability to use this part of the brain at an early age. It is what makes parents say, “How did he/she know that?” Want to read more about how teaching a child is really changing their brain? Then read this book:
Too much for a mom with no time to read? At least read the preview of it in Google Books. You will be amazed at how a child’s mind changes when you talk to them and ask them questions.
How can you help your child’s brain become more organized? One way is to play games with them. Here is the science behind how playing games motivates children, develops problem solving skills, and uses their prefrontal cortex to make decisions.
How does this help you as a mom? Once they learn to play the game, they can play it with a sibling or by themselves (depending on the game). They are becoming self-sufficient, and you will have earned some time to read your own material, like this blog.
All children benefit from the right mix of freedom and structure. Highly intelligent children can become anxious if routines change unexpectedly or if consequences are inconsistent. It is easy for a book or blog to tell you that your life as a mom would be better if you were organized, but I am not talking about rearranging the pantry or your sock drawer. I am talking about helping you child actually develop the parts of the brain that sort and classify things in ways that they can interact with their environment in a more organized manner.
As a career educator, I find that I trust educational research much more than I do colorful Pinterest pages (even though I love Pinterest!) or a Facebook post (and I really love Facebook) that isn’t backed up by hard science. That may be boring to you, but to me, if someone makes a claim that something works, I want the study cited that proves it. Here are a couple of studies that can help you learn how to help your child’s brain develop and organize itself. And guess what? They are free! Feel smarter. Read these studies. Write down something you can do when you play with your smart child to make them even smarter.
This is a great article about how play develops the brain. It is an easy read. Best takeaway, (and a way to decrease your own stress) – limit the amount of organized play you sign your kid up for this summer. Rather than hauling him to art classes or golf lessons, give them something to play with at home- like a big cardboard box, some markers, and a pair of scissors to make themselves a race car, or let them use a blanket and a table to make a fort. Unstructured play allows your child’s creativity to take over and it really will change their brain.
The third thing I hope you will do with your gifted children to help them develop their already advanced brain is to read aloud to them if they are under ten, or read WITH them even if they are an adolescent. If your child is reading a book for school, you read it too (or a synopsis)- again, Google Books previews are a time saver. They discuss it with your child. Studies show that it is the interactive discussion between parent and child (not a child and an iPad), that makes language stick in the brain, and most kids enjoy it. Reading aloud to (or with) a child also helps you bond emotionally with your kids. Read this free article on how it works:
When children play games, free play creatively, listen to you read to them, and talk about books you read, you are helping them organize their brain. The brain grows, makes new synapsis, becomes more complex, and with your support, your smart kid will also be a happy kid, because they have a parent/caregiver to which they are emotionally attached.
Put in the up-front time and work to help your child organize their brain and your reward will be some time to develop your own, because brain plasticity keeps developing throughout your life. Don’t believe me? Well, then you asked for it! Here is another study to prove it. Keep learning. Keep developing your brain.
Hey there! If you found this blog, it is probably because you were searching for answers to parenting questions that most blogs or websites don’t address. If you have a child that has a surprisingly creative streak, an above average vocabulary, and prefers adults or older acquaintances to playing with his or her own peers, than this is the right place for you.
I am writing this blog in an attempt to provide some answers to parenting questions related to raising a gifted child. Maybe they are in public school, but complain that school is too boring or easy. Perhaps you are trying to homeschool, but are frustrated by the demands and responsibility of teaching your child yourself. Regardless of how they are being educated, are you worried that you as a parent are either too lenient, too strict, too pushy, or too accommodating to satisfy your child’s insatiable curiosity and love of learning? I hope I can provide some guidance and resources that you will find useful.
I am not concerned with formal labels. After 15 years as a GT (gifted and talented) coordinator, I know that there are children who qualified for gifted programs in schools that looked at their standardized test scores and saw giftedness that was nurtured by a privileged home environment. I also know that there are children who had equal potential, but were overlooked because the system could not “see” that their potential was being masked by cultural, racial, or economic bias. What I care about is that every child, including your child, reaches their own true potential according to their individual ability.
This is the right blog if you stayed up last night worrying about how to help your brilliant child:
Fit in socially
Learn to listen to others
Be a good leader, but not a dictator
Set goals and plan how to reach them
Appropriately express and handle their emotions
Understand and value themselves
Respect others around them
Be a socially responsible global citizen
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