The 8 Great Gripes of Gifted Parents

by Ben Koch and Emily VR

In one of our courses for parents of gifted students, we spend a session on “the 8 great gripes of gifted kids” as presented by Jim Delisle and Judy Galbraith in their landmark book, When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers.  These gripes, garnered straight from the unfiltered mouths of gifted kids themselves, are an excellent heuristic for parents to help children reframe many of the struggles they experience both in and out of school.

During class, however, we discovered that our parent group was also using these student gripes as a launching point, and was cruising along a heartfelt parallel track that could only be called, “The Great Gripes of Gifted Parents.”  It’s only fair, we thought – if gifted kids get the opportunity of a therapeutic clearing of the air, then parents of the gifted should, as well!

So, we asked our parents to formally gather their thoughts on their OWN gripes and submit them to us.  And because “8 great gripes” has such a nice alliterative ring to it, we condensed and consolidated the list to a total of 8. Just as the student list facilitates deeper, more meaningful discussion than a simple “list of complaints,” we hope that this list might serve as fodder for fruitful discussions and conversations around the unique challenges facing parents of the gifted today.

Tell us:  are your top “gripes” represented here?  Add your own in the comments!

1 – My Kid Isn’t Challenged in School

Unless your child attends a full-time gifted program or school, this is probably a familiar feeling!  Even in the best districts and best schools, parents of the gifted express frustration with “resistance from some teachers and schools… providing for the kids’ academic needs.”  They note that “teachers in elementary school (outside of the GT teacher) don’t give gifted kids enough time/work” at their level.  Sometimes the academic needs of gifted students can be tricky to pin down, and teachers of large, mixed-ability classes often have their hands full.  When gifted students are limited to “very easy” work, however, parents correctly observe that it becomes “difficult to instill any kind of study ethic” in students.

“Too much emphasis on ‘the test’ …leaves the brightest to flounder”

“My child doesn’t need extra work, he/she needs different work”

Initially, this might seem like a problem with a teacher, administrator, or school – but in reality, it’s a problem nationwide.  Some states have laws requiring GT programs and opportunities for academic acceleration, and some do not.  Myths and misconceptions persist about the abilities, characteristics, needs, and outcomes of students testing in the gifted range.  Schools struggle to juggle increasing state demands, large classes, and inadequate funding.

The best solutions address individual student needs, but meeting gifted needs generally requires a basic understanding of research and best practices.  If that is missing, parents can sometimes work with schools to raise awareness.  Consider joining or starting a parent support group, connect with advocacy organizations in your state/area, and check out some of the reading suggestions below.

2 – Teachers and Other Adults Just Don’t Understand My Kid

Betts and Neihart revolutionized our monochromatic view of giftedness with their research on the 6 gifted profiles in the 1980’s. Far from being a predictable, homogenous group, gifted students represent a diverse panoply of behaviors, personalities, and traits. While it may be an easier proposition for a teacher or other adult to “get” what Betts and Neihart classify as a Successful Type (extrinsically motivated, achievement-focused, pleaser), that Creative Type (divergent thinker, non-conformist) in their classroom, or at their child’s birthday party may come across as abrasive or eccentric. Several parents expressed frustration at being unable to control the perceptions of teachers and other adults have about their gifted child.

“Others may not ‘get’ my kids and get frustrated with them.”

“People view gifted education as elitist/exclusive instead of much needed differentiated instruction.”

“People think it’s super easy having a gifted child because they do so well in school.”

Being able to openly communicate and commiserate with other adults who DO understand your unique challenges is key. Strong parent-based gifted advocacy groups can be crucial. They generate opportunities for student interactions and parent networking throughout the year. Check with local gifted teachers, administrators, or parent organizations about gifted parent organizations in your area. Most are NOT exclusive to families who attend a specific school district and welcome homeschoolers and families from neighboring schools and districts.

3 – Help! It’s Hard Dealing with Gifted Intensity & Behavior at Home

Sensitive.  Extreme.  Overwhelming.  Intense.

Children with certain temperaments and personalities can exhibit these characteristics, but the words take on new meaning when it comes to gifted parenting.  Living with Intensity is a well-known book about emotional development in these children, and the title often describes the home life of many families.

“There is no winning an argument with a gifted child… they often make good points which negate your good points and then some.”

“…they are too much like you – overthinking, analytical, self-critical, perfectionistic, overly excitable, sensitive”

Gifted-identified children often exhibit one or more overexcitabilities, or intensities.  “Their minds and sometimes mouths don’t turn off even when your mind and ears are exhausted,” notes one parent.  “My child is just like me,” laments another.  They often struggle with global and existential worries, and can even suffer from existential depression.

Fortunately, there is hope:  a growing number of books and articles offer coping tips and techniques for helping children to manage and channel their intensity in positive directions (reading suggestions below).  Parent groups and classes can offer emotional support, validation, and advice on coping with specific situations.  Simply being aware of the prevalence of gifted intensity can make it more manageable; as one gifted parent noted, “knowledge is power.”

4 – Social Distortion: So Many Awkward Social Situations between My Kid and Other Kids, and Me and Other Parents!

The comments from parents in this gripe covered a wide range of issues related to social situations and communication. Although research has not shown gifted children to be any worse off in social adjustment than average children when in appropriate academic settings, the stereotype of the socially awkward “brainy” kid persists. More important than spouting research numbers, though, are the subjective experiences of students and parents. If gifted students do not have opportunities to interact with like-minded peers who share their passions, talents and abilities, the sense of “feeling different” or even lonely is likely to increase (Rimm, 2008). The solution? Give students the opportunity to interact with intellectual peers and give parents the opportunity to interact and empathize with parents in similar situations (see note on parent groups above).

“My child has no/few friends.”

“I’m embarrassed by my kids lack of normalcy in certain situations like the soccer team.”

Right here on The Fissure last March we published a post called Solutions to Sticky Social Situations which also begins to propose some practical approaches for students to approach different social scenarios successfully.

5 – Asynchronous Development: My Kid is 8 Going on 30!

Asynchronous development is a hallmark of giftedness. The National Association for Gifted Children describe it as “the mismatch between cognitive, emotional, and physical development of gifted individuals” and, in their official definition, highlight that “because asynchrony is so prominent in gifted children, some professionals believe asynchronous development rather than potential or ability, is the defining characteristic of giftedness” (See full NAGC definition).

“Hard to find appropriate reading material or appropriate any material- lack of resources.”

“I expect so much from them because I know their potential, but I forget they’re still just kids with their own developmental and social issues. And they’re not perfect. And they don’t have 42 years of perspective like I do, so it’s hard for them to see how things fit into the big picture.”

“Criteria for starting kindergarten early is more of a system of deterrents than a means of identifying kids who are ready.”

Our primary advice for parents is to nurture those areas of high ability, potential, or passion and remember to scaffold in areas that are not as accelerated. An example might be a 2nd grader excelling at 8th grade Math when given the opportunity to immerse with intellectual peers, but who needs a social buffer to remediate emotional outbursts when the going gets too tough. Remember it’s not always the case that social/emotional is lagging behind intellectual or academic abilities. In fact, research on overexcitabilities clearly shows us how a child can show advanced empathy and emotional processing without the vocabulary (verbal intelligence) to communicate it appropriately.

6 – What’s the Remedy? My Son/Daughter Has Caught Perfectionism!

The spread of Carol Dweck’s ideas on growth vs. fixed mindset over recent years has brought a renewed sense of the importance of focusing on the process of learning, rather than on products. When you see learning on a continuum, as an evolution of skills and knowledge moving toward more and more depth and complexity, there is no “done.” There is no final product to be judged as perfect or imperfect. That’s a growth mindset and shifting to THAT framework, in our opinion, is the best remedy for perfectionism over time.

“The kids get caught up in society’s obsession with quantitative measurement of learning (grades, percentages and GPAs) of their learning rather than qualitative measures.”

Delisle and Galbraith (2002) propose shifting students to “the pursuit of excellence” as an antidote to fixating on perfection. The mantra we’ve developed to remind teachers, parents, and ourselves to make this shift is: “Perfection is a product. Excellence is a PROCESS.”

7 – Struggles Squared: Does Twice-Exceptional Mean Twice the Challenge?

Though it may come as a surprise, children can be identified as gifted and can also have one or more disabilities.  Sometimes a child’s abilities can mask a disability, making it difficult to diagnose.

“My kid’s disability can’t get diagnosed by the school system because he’s so dang smart he appears average.”

Sometimes an undiagnosed disability can impact testing, and can delay identification of giftedness.  Gifted children with disabilities have two (or more) areas of difference and needs – which is why they’re called “twice-exceptional,” or 2e, for short.

In the best scenario for 2e students, both their gifted abilities and their disabilities are identified and supported.  Too much focus on a child’s areas of weakness can have a negative impact on self-esteem: for this reason, experts recommend focusing first on a child’s areas of strength (appropriate challenge), then supporting areas of weakness.  Unfortunately, these students can be tricky to diagnose and help!  Even once needs are identified, helping 2e students can feel overwhelming for both parents and educators.  Parent education, as well as support from other 2e parents, can help enormously.  To learn more, check out the articles available through the nonprofit SENG (Supporting the Needs of the Gifted), the 2e Newsletter, and some of the sources below.

8 – Time Keeps on Slipping… The School Day is So Inefficient for my Kid’s Needs

Gifted children often learn more rapidly than their age-peers – which can make the school day frustrating for both students and parents.

“The day is too long and inefficient — not enough learning/hour.”

“Too much sitting, and not enough play breaks… I think all of the kids – gifted or not – would benefit from a few short recesses.”

Educators:  make sure to communicate with parents about the ways your school accommodates rapid learners!  Sometimes parents may be unaware of curriculum modifications providing depth and higher-level thinking opportunities for gifted learners.  Some gifted students may benefit from a form of acceleration, and some can benefit from the pursuit of passion projects during extra school time.

Parents:  while you are engaged in positive advocacy for your child at school, in the meantime, to help maintain or recover motivation, you can provide enrichment opportunities outside of school.  Enrichment can take the form of after-school or weekend classes and events, online courses (formal or informal), school clubs, summer camps, mentorships in areas of interest, museums and travel, or just visits to the library… the possibilities are almost endless.  Current research supports increased physical activity during the school day, so the tide may be turning in favor of more recess and opportunities for movement.

Unfortunately, as you can see, there aren’t many quick fixes to gifted parenting challenges.  Fortunately, however, there are many other parents (and educators!) who care deeply about these children.  If you have difficulty connecting locally, it is easier than ever to find resources online – as you’ve done by reading this post!  If you have found it helpful, we invite you to follow our blog, to find us on Facebook, and to join a growing community of parents and educators who want to make a difference in education.

Remember – you are not alone.  Raising a gifted or twice-exceptional child may be one of the greatest challenges you’ve experienced, but it will also be one of the most rewarding.  Remember to celebrate and to enjoy the journey.

***

Further Reading

Nature, Needs, and Parenting the Gifted

Delisle, J. and Galbraith, J. (2002).  When gifted kids don’t have all the answers: how to meet their social and emotional needs.  Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.

Daniels, S. and Piechowski, M. M., Eds. (2009).  Living with intensity.  Tucson, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Rimm, S. (2008).  Parenting gifted children.  In Karnes, F. A. and Stephens, K. R., Eds., Achieving excellence: educating the gifted and talented.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Webb, J. T., Gore, J. L., Amend, E. R., and DeVries, A. R. (2007).  A parent’s guide to gifted children.  Tucson, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Webb, J. T. (2013).  Searching for meaning: idealism, bright minds, disillusionment and hope.  Tucson, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Whitney, C.S. and Hirsch, G. (2007).  A love for learning: motivation and the gifted child.  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Advocacy and Additional Needs

Assouline, S. G., Colangelo, N., VanTassel-Baska, J., and Lupkowski-Shoplik, A. (2015).  A nation empowered: evidence trumps the excuses holding back America’s brightest students.  Iowa City: Belin-Blank Center, University of Iowa.

Castellano, J. A. and Frasier, A. D., Eds. (2011).  Special populations in gifted education: understanding our most able students from diverse backgrounds.  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Delisle, J. R. (2014).  Dumbing down America: the war on our nation’s brightest young minds (and what we can do to fight back).  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Webb, J. T., Amend, E. R., Webb, N. E., Goerss, J., Beljan, P., & Olenchak, F. R. (2005).  Misdiagnosis and dual diagnoses of gifted children and adults.  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Web Resources

Hoagies Gifted Education Page – the website for everything gifted

Gifted Homeschoolers Forum – a wonderful resource for meeting all gifted needs

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“Poke the Box”: Inviting Students to Wonder and Initiate

by Ben Koch

In his 2011 book, Poke the Box: What was the Last Time You Did Something for the First Time?, prolific marketing and business expert Seth Godin implores us to reclaim the curiosity that drives INITIATION. Simply put, initiation is the will, the habit, the discipline, and the audacity of starting things. New things. Risky, untested things with a pretty good chance of failure. His metaphor of “poking the box” invokes that unique mix of boldness and insatiable wonder that drives the doers of the new economy. When you poke the box, you are curious enough to want to manipulate, analyze, and maybe even reverse engineer it, despite the high risk of failure. How’s that thing work?! This, says Godin, is the true path to innovation.

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Click to view book on Amazon.

While the book invigorated and inspired the entrepreneur in me, it was the educator and parent in me who began to mentally overlay Godin’s vision onto the world of schools and classrooms. I asked: are there not just opportunities, but in fact invitations to “poke the box” in the learning environments we create for students?

I asked: are there not just opportunities, but in fact invitations to “poke the box” in the learning environments we create for students?

Poking the box is so crucial, asserts Godin, because “without the ability to instigate and experiment, you are stuck, adrift, waiting to be shoved” (p.4). Hmmm. I think back to the hundreds of classrooms I’ve seen, and I realize I’d never thought of the classroom environment in quite that metaphorical light–how is a classroom that values compliance and linear, pre-ordained objectives like a BULLY that shoves students into submission?

Godin frames this desire to initiate in terms of types of capital. There can be financial, network, intellectual, physical, and prestige capital, for instance. All crucial to some degree for success. The most important capital, though, the one difference-maker, says Godin, is Instigation Capital: The desire to move forward. The ability and the guts to say yes. “The ability and the guts.” I like that his definition includes guts, because guts imply courage, and courage implies risk. Are our learning environments creating students willing to take risks? Because that’s the key stepping stone, the primal ingredient for developing students into adults who later possess instigation capital.

If set expectations and the fear of failure are the gravity that keep us in an orbit of the familiar, than I like to think of curiosity as the one force strong enough to break us free from that orbit. The rocket fuel to leave the atmosphere of Planet Status Quo. Indeed, in his mini chapter Where Did Curious Go? Godin laments the fade of true, insatiable curiosity, that hungry, hellbent drive to just KNOW: “Not the search for the right answer, as much as an insatiable desire to understand how something works and how it might work better.” (p. 24). He’s careful, though, to distinguish between the merely creative person, and the person with initiative: “The difference is that the creative person is satisfied once he sees how it’s done. The initiator won’t rest until he does it” (p. 24).

In the context of the business world, Godin highlights the contrast between that which is  “allowed and not-allowed.” Invariably, employees can rattle off a running list of what’s not allowed at work. But who knows what IS allowed? Why not focus on that, on the realm of the possible? Godin feels we “might be afraid of how much freedom we actually have, and how much we’re expected to do with that freedom.” (p. 37) I immediately applied this filter on the classroom. Pick a random student and ask her to list off all the rules of what not to do to avoid getting in trouble. Now ask the same student what IS allowed. She’s likely to give you a most befuddled look. Classrooms are about constriction and control, not about expansion and possibility.

If set expectations and the fear of failure are the gravity that keep us in an orbit of the familiar, than I like to think of curiosity as the one force strong enough to break us free from that orbit. The rocket fuel to leave the atmosphere of Planet Status Quo.

Three years ago, after over a decade in the public school classroom, I walked away to launch my own education company with a friend and business partner. I didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate it at the time, but looking back now, I see the classroom as a box, slowly but surely becoming a hermetically sealed cube, not to be tampered with. The quest for correct answers driven by high-stakes testing has created a system which values conformity and douses curiosity like a dangerous torch. By upper elementary, most students have complacently accepted the “A, B, C or D world” and stopped wondering about the off-the-page option, let alone how to initiate it.

So, through our company, we started poking all kinds of boxes, seeing what OTHER ways we could enrich the students who needed it most. What types of programs and curriculum and learning environments, when “unshackled” from the constraints of mainstream schooling objectives, really work? Turns out, having the freedom, the curiosity, and the guts, to see education with new eyes, as a system to POKE, has been extremely fruitful.

Well, here are 4 well-wrought and tested pieces of experience-wisdom from these last 3 years of creating “alternative” learning spaces. Am I sharing these to get your kid into one of our programs? While that would be swell, my real motive for sharing is because I sincerely believe these lessons can be applied in virtually any learning environment. Whether you’re a radical unschooler or still teaching in a traditional classroom, there are degrees to which the following can spark up your learning environment to increase initiation capital for your students:

1 Create Mixed-age Learning Interactions

Research on asynchronous development tells us the arbitrary “date of birth” metaphorically stamped on your gifted child’s behind might just be the least important thing to consider (watch a thought-provoking animation of this from Sir. Ken Robinson’s Changing Paradigms talk), and yet our entire industrialized school system hardly wavers from that one organizing principle. We thought, “well, they say intellectual peers are key for gifted kids, so let’s open up the environment to let those connections happen organically.” Nearly all our programs, from our flagship summer camp to our after school enrichment courses, are mixed age, open to grades 1-8. Parents are encouraged to let students gravitate to a course based on their passion. Because where there’s passion, there’s curiosity, and where there’s curiosity, there’s…you guessed it, the drive to initiate!

2 Take Leaps of Failure

Some of the greatest moments of discovery over the last 3 years have taken place when I, as the teacher, stood at the brink of an unknown step right alongside a student. “Will this work? I don’t know! What’s gonna happen? No idea. But is it right? Who cares?!” True, sometimes these mystery steps ended up as face plants onto academic concrete. But many times these moments of unknowing revealed wildly unforeseen solutions and pathways that, had I been the “expert,” we never would have facilitated. Our notion of teacher as “sage on the stage” was so exploded, in fact, that we had to invent a new term to describe our role with students: inspirator. Part educator, part inspirer. An inspirator drives ahead with the same curiosity of his student, and willingly takes leaps of failure.

3 Remove the Burden of Grades

We create academically rigorous, interdisciplinary courses designed to push kids through their zone of proximal development. This ain’t fluff, folks. And we’ve never offered a single numerical/letter grade. Yet students carry through to the very end, digging deep, creating elaborate final projects, and beaming with excitement for the “next step.” How do we do it? Why do students even care? Turns out there’s life after the carrot and stick! Remember when you were 6 and you spent 5 solid hours building a LEGO universe, because your whole being was invested in it? When students meet authentic, passion-driven curriculum that aligns with their own curiosity, there’s a chemical reaction of which the by-product is intrinsic motivation. It’s a thing! And no it can’t be bottled!

4 Embrace Creative Play

Many of our programs are based on the concept of creative play–that students “open up their minds to what’s possible, take chances, solve problems, collaborate and become better creative thinkers and doers” (see the Imagination Foundation).

One event, for example, is inspired by the remarkable story of Caine, the (then) 9 year old boy who transformed his dad’s parts shop into a “maker” arcade of cardboard, tape, and trinkets. I’m still overcome with emotion every time I see it. We host an annual event (like many others around the world with the encouragement of the Imagination Foundation) called the Cardboard Challenge, in which students show up and are presented with one simple challenge: “Here’s a bunch of random stuff, mostly cardboard. By the end of the day, we need a functioning arcade game. Go!” In the beginning, we worried about perception. Would parents see value in this? On the surface it appears loose and unstructured–few see the hours and hours of prep that had gone into creating this open learning environment. Then, at that first event, we saw magic happen. Real, intense, mind-bending alchemy of extraordinary imagination, creativity and problem solving. By not placing boundaries with expectations, young INITIATORS searched for their own boundaries. My first thought, to be honest, was lamentation over the years of wasted opportunities in my classrooms when I’d had too little faith in the organic power of creative play.

You don’t have to be a zany “edupreneneur” like us to approach your gifted students’ learning in this way. Wherever you are–a homeschooling mom, a Middle School principal, a 3rd grade public school teacher–poke that box! Initiate a new learning situation. See what happens.

References

Godin, S. (2011). Poke the box: When was the last time you did something for the first time? Irvington, N.Y.?: Portfolio/Penguin.

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