Hi there, Moms!

Someone commented they could not tell who was writing this blog, so I thought I would reintroduce myself. I am Ellen Williams, Ed.D. I retired after 35 years in public education. I taught 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade before I became the gifted and talented coordinator in Cypress Fairbanks ISD in Houston, Texas. Next I moved to Kerrville, TX, which is NW of San Antonio on I-10. I was Senior Director of Advanced Academics there for over 12 years.

I have two kids, a daughter and a son, and four grandkids. I like everything education. I like to talk about motivation, passionate learning, differentiation, and parenting. I often refer to myself as a crone. Since I retired, I worry that I am seen as too old too be relevant. Young teachers might “glaze over” if I walked into their classroom and tried to show them how to do something, but old crones know stuff. They have life experiences that they can share. Think of the 3 witches in Macbeth who predicted 3 things in Act One of Macbeth. Macbeth ignored their warnings, but all three things came true. Those old crones knew stuff too.

I am not a witch and I don’t give warnings, but I do want to offer reassurance to young women who doubt their parenting when dealing with children with high potential. I know stuff. I have 42 years experience in teaching students. I have nearly as many years being a mom and grandmother! I made a lot of mistakes, and I have a lot of success stories to share. My greatest pride are my children and the students who I taught that are now successful adults across Texas and the nation.

I hope to share some of those stories over the next few weeks. No names, no intent to embarrass, but I hope that the stories of bright children and their struggles and triumphs will inspire you to look forward to the future with your children with hope and joy. There is nothing as precious (or as quickly fleeting) as childhood. Don’t let it slip away from you because you were busy worrying about what to do next.

I do suggest you keep a journal, preferably on paper, but online if that is your thing. If you do keep your memories in the cloud, consider printing it out once a year or two. Clouds crash. Electricity goes out. Hurricane  survivors will tell you that paper melts and floats away and backing it up in the cloud is all that  saved their pictures and documents. But part of writing a journal is a tactile experience you cannot get from a keyboard. Pencil or pen on paper works best with your brain according to neuroscience.

Writing by hand makes short term memories go to long term in the brain.  I also think the same things might happen in reverse. The memories come from your brain, down your arm, and onto the page. Or keyboard. One way or another,  write your child’s story down so when they are  grown, they can look back and get your perspective on their story. Your children’s story has two versions- the one they know and the one you remember. Both are precious.

Facebook, photos, and videos always show the positive side of life. Writing gives you the chance to put down the thoughts, the worries, the dreams and the hard work that went on behind all those happy pictures. It makes the story richer.

Here are a couple of journals you might like to use. They are small enough to put in a diaper bag, but are big enough not to get lost between the seats of the minivan. Like I said, I have been there.

Here is another one that is colorful, and has a great message.

Can you be Happy and be a Gifted Child Mom?

Do you watch Ted Talks on YouTube? If not, they are wonderful lectures on many subjects, including parenting. I watched one today I wanted to share with you: Happiness is a very high bar

Once upon a time, we expected our children to work by our side, whether in a factory or on the farm, and help the family survive. That changed at the end of the industrial revolution and we sent our children to school.  School became their job. We expected children to do well in school. Now middle class parents have put expectations on their children’s success in extra curricular activities.

Success in sports competitions has become the new job we pressure children to master. The pressure we put on them is the pressure we put on ourselves. Be sure to watch the video to hear how the speaker deals with expectations. It will make you feel better.

I never thought about the pressure Moms put on themselves when my children were young. I was too busy and too tired. Moms are usually the ones who sit with the kids to help with homework. Mom is the one that drives to soccer, baseball, scouts, and piano lessons. Many Dads do the sport things and carpooling, but I don’t know if Dads feel the same pressure. Dads can write their own blog.

On top of the usual parenting expectations set by the media and in popular baby manuals, consider that you have to multiply it by the factor of Giftedness. The expectations become both higher and heavier.

Gifted Child Moms worry that they are not enriching their children enough. They worry if their child is an emotionally immature, but intellectually brilliant child who cries when he/she has to go out to recess because he/she wants to keep reading a favorite book. The more you worry, the unhappy you feel.

How can you be a HAPPY gifted child mom? Best advice is get off social media. Your house will never look like Pinterest. Your friends’ Facebook pictures will always look happier than you feel. Quit thinking you have to be more to be a good Gifted Child Mom. Instead, do less.

Plan less. If your children are under ten, try this. When your children comes home from school, instead of rushing off to lessons or play dates, do 3 things:

1. Have them sit down with you and talk with you. Don’t be on your cell phone while they are talking. Listen. Look right in their eyes and see what they are NOT saying. Do they seem happy? Sad? Worried? Tired?

2. While they are talking, give them something to drink and eat. Did you know that children think the most clearly 10 minutes after they drink 8 ounces of water? A hydrated brain is a smarter, better functioning brain. They will talk more.

3. After at least ten full minutes of interacting with your children without any interfering technology (no TV, IPad, phone for any of you) and a snack, ask about homework. If they say “Nothing” or “I did it on the bus”, ask to see it. Reviewing homework lets you see if it correct, complete, and legible. It shows you care about homework being done and done well. If they really don’t have homework to do or do over, congratulate them and sit down WITH them and read. For little kids, read picture books together for 15-20 minutes. Grade-schoolers who can read independently should read 15-30 minutes. While they are reading, you should sit down and read silently too. No washing dishes, no talking on the phone, just sit and read. You are modeling the love of reading. They will emotionally connect the love of reading with the love of being with you.

If they are resistant to reading alone, read aloud WITH them. “I read a page, you read a page” is a great way to lessen the stress and share an experience. Trust me, reading together and talking about what you read helps build both comprehension and vocabulary. Having this two-way conversation with your gifted children, you will start to feel…happy. All together, this should only take about an hour of time.

Enjoy your children. At every age, there are magic moments that if you are busy worrying or running around, and you will miss the magic.

If you think, “Well, soccer is at 4 on Tuesday-Thursday and the other kid has brownies on Wednesday, and, and, and…take just one week off from everything extra curricular, like you would do if they were sick. For five days, do just 3 things- talk, have a snack together, read together. It is one hour. At the end of five days, see if you feel happier and less stressed. You may want to go back to lessons and practice, which is fine, but anytime you are overwhelmed, take a break and just be a mom with your child. Take an hour and interact. In a year, the few lessons you skipped won’t matter at all.

What you will remember is the hour you and your children interacted and read together, not the hour you spent in the car on the way to practice. Be happy.

Emotional Meltdowns and the Gifted Child: What is a Mom Supposed to do?

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!

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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.

Here is a blog I particularly like, because I know the author, the fabulous Lisa Van Germert:  http://giftedparentingsupport.blogspot.com/   Lots of good articles here for parents.

So gifted child mom, do you have any comments about emotional intensities? I would love for you contact me and share your story.

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.

 

Being a Leader but Not a Dictator

The brightest minds are not always the most compassionate or caring among us. Children who think quickly and draw conclusions that generally are accurate may believe that their answer will always be seen as the best option available. The problem is, in cooperative learning situations, where compromise is necessary and there may be multiple methods to solve a problem, the gifted child may display anger and frustration if his or her solution is rejected.

Ruby Payne, author of an really eye-opening book called Emotional Poverty (2018), https://www.ahaprocess.com/store/emotional-poverty-book/  explains that the brain responds to emotions many times faster than it does to reason. As  children mature, their prefrontal cortex will begin to regulate the limbic system and its emotional responses to stimuli in the environment. They don’t have the “melt-downs” they had at two if they learn that throwing a fit doesn’t get them what they want.

No matter how brilliant your child is, he or she will respond to feelings faster than he or she will understand why a decision was made. I remind you, Mom, that you are training a brain in addition to raising a child. One of the things children have to learn is that there is more than one way to do something and the way they want to do it may not be the only way, or even the best way. Here is a good book to help you train that child’s brain:

You want your child to be a natural leader? Remember, a leader is someone who has the ability to inspire others to follow them. A good leader can trigger a positive emotional response in others.  People like leaders. They trust leaders. It rarely is intelligence that inspires that admiration and trust. It is a kind of charisma, a likeability, that makes others want to be with the leader.

If your child is a domineering personality and tries to force others to do things his way, if he or she is bossy and demanding, they are not being a leader. They are becoming a dictator. Gender bias causes girls who have leadership ability to often be seen as bossy. This book is an interesting read for parents of bright girls:

You may wonder if highly gifted children can also be leaders. The rare, highly creative gifted child is less likely to fit society’s mold of acceptable leadership traits. These personalities may appear more dictatorial, and prefer to work alone rather than be part of a collaborative team. You are not raising a child in a bubble, even if you home school them. An introverted child or a child that is resistant to group dynamics can still be highly successful and creative. With your help, Mom, they can be effective leaders as well. Here are some inspirational examples of leaders whose leadership styles fell outside the norm:

Helping your child reach their potential, whether academically, socially, or as a leader is not an easy accomplishment. There is not one trick that works for every child. What I know from my experience as a mom, grandmother, and educator is that the social and emotional part of parenting is even more important to children’s future success than their academic enrichment. A child that is confident and secure is more likely to become a leader than one that is insecure. A gifted child can act like a dictator because he or she feels threatened by the popularity of another child. They may try to force others to like them, which is seldom a successful strategy.

I think this book is a good all around resource for helping your bright child develop a positive self image. Reading it and following its recommendations may help your child become a good leader.

I encourage you to comment or email me at DrEllen@williamsed.com if you would like to discuss how I can help you parent your gifted child. Have a great 4th of July!

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!