Relational Aggression and Learning

by Emily VR

Words can do lasting damage.  As we know from tragedies involving social media, bullying isn’t limited to black eyes or stolen lunch money.  Thankfully, “sticks and stones” beliefs are finally disappearing as more adults recognize the harm caused by verbal aggression and social exclusion.

In schools, educators work to reduce bullying through awareness, prevention efforts, district policies, and interventions.  There is no universally accepted definition for bullying, but generally, it is said to include a real or perceived power imbalance, multiple incidents, and an intent to cause harm.   Some experts debate whether bullying should also include “relational aggression” and two of its forms, “peer rejection” and “ostracism” (Zins et al., 2007); depending on the facts, these behaviors may or may not meet bullying policy definitions.  Unfortunately, when anti-bullying programs focus on a narrow definition, adults may miss opportunities to both foster empathy and address harmful behavior – which can negatively affect the learning environment.

What exactly is relational aggression, and how does it impact education?

Relational aggression defined

Relational aggression, or RA, is also referred to as “social bullying,” “friendship bullying,” “covert aggression,” or “female bullying,” though it is not limited to one gender.  RA behaviors are intended to hurt another person, and they involve emotional rather than physical harm.  In her book Mean Girls Grown Up, Dr. Cheryl Dellasega defines RA as “the use of relationships to hurt another,” or “verbal violence in which words rather than fists inflict damage” (Dellasega, 2005).  Dellasega explores short and long-term harm from RA at all ages.  Behaviors can include:

  • manipulation using friendships or other relationships,
  • excluding an individual from a group,
  • spreading negative or false information about another person,
  • deliberately unkind treatment (either in private or in front of others),
  • criticizing and belittling another (Coloroso, 2008; Dellasega, 2005).

RA behaviors can involve efforts to gain or maintain social control (“queen bee” behavior), avoidance of admitting one’s mistakes, taking credit for others’ work, gossip, reputation damage, and/or negative treatment of an individual perceived as competition, threatening, or inferior (Coloroso, 2008; Dellasega, 2005; Oiker, 2011).   Aggressors often exert efforts to look good to perceived superiors and give preferential treatment to beneficial relationships.  Barbara Coloroso notes, “devious and manipulative, [the aggressor] can act as if she is a caring and compassionate person, but it is… a tool to get what she wants” (2008).  An aggressor may single out only one or a few individuals.  The intent and frequency of RA behaviors determine whether they qualify as bullying under an existing definition or policy.

RA can deeply hurt children, and it often involves someone the child had perceived as a trusted friend.  Attempts to confront the aggressor may be unsuccessful: as a ninth-grader explained to the author of Odd Girl Out, “‘she’ll turn it around,’ ‘she’ll make it about me,’ or ‘she’ll get everyone on her side’” (Simmons, 2002).  Bystanders or “middle bees” may enable or facilitate RA by passing along rumors (Dellasega), or, out of fear or a desire to “fit in,” may fail to speak out against RA behavior (Coloroso).

While it is thought that media exposure may play a causal role (Ostrov, 2013), children can engage in RA at surprisingly young ages: preschoolers have been observed attempting to exclude children from play (Reddy, 2014).  Aggressors may suffer from insecurity, or they may observe and learn RA behaviors from other children and adults, including parents.  As suggested by the title of one of Coloroso’s chapters, “it runs in the family,” parents may engage (sometimes unknowingly) in psychologically manipulative tactics with their children, may focus heavily on competition, or may model RA behavior toward other adults.  Several sources discuss adult RA in the workplace, volunteer organizations, and other groups, including groups connected with schools.  An article from the National Education Association notes that children who witness parents “practicing exclusion or manipulation of friends or family members will likely exhibit the same behavior in school” (Ross).

Impact on learning

RA in the school setting can cause the victim to dislike school (Zins et al, 2007), and it can also have an impact on academic performance and future educational options.  According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, bullying can result in school avoidance, higher rates of absenteeism, decrease in grades, inability to concentrate, loss of interest in academic achievement, and an increase in dropout rates (PACER, 2015).   While research continues on bullying and race, it is thought that bullied Black and Hispanic youth are more likely to suffer academic harm than their white peers (Stopbullying.gov).  In some cases, bullying of students with disabilities or other specific differences (race, religion, ethnicity) can trigger the protections of federal civil rights laws.  RA occurring outside school, such as in social groups and extracurricular activities, may also impact students in the classroom.

The impact of RA on education is not limited to bullying between children: several sources discuss negative incidents involving some teachers’ treatment of students (Kam; Price, 2015), bullying between parents, treatment of teachers by colleagues or supervisors, and bullying of educators by parents.

Students at risk

Who is most vulnerable to RA?  Any child may become a victim, but children with special needs have been targeted by peer bullies more frequently than other children (PACER, 2015).  Children identified with gifted needs are also at increased risk of psychological harm from bullying (Medaris, 2006), possibly due to academic and social/emotional differences in the gifted population (Price, 2015; Taibbi, 2012).   Students perceived as different in other ways may be at additional risk.  Differences can include religion, race, ethnicity, national origin, gender identity, and sexual orientation (SPLC; Stopbullying.gov).

What can educators and parents do?

Simply teaching students to “be kind” is often not enough:  for students engaging in RA, the ability to engage in kind behavior is often not the issue.  Aggressors can be very kind toward those who benefit them.  The deterrent for both aggressors and bystanders involves empathy:  students must learn to understand and relate to different perspectives, to feel the suffering of others, and to choose to prevent harm caused by aggressive behavior or inaction.

Part two of this post will explore a few promising (and less promising) strategies for fostering empathy at school and at home.  In the meantime, when considering bullying in schools, the first and most important steps in addressing RA may be (a) recognizing the threat RA poses to students’ well-being and learning, and (b) taking a fresh look at how we help our students and children to relate to the feelings and experiences of others.

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Because of the increased risks for gifted children, this post is included in the Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop on Gifted Social Issues.  Contrary to myth, gifted students are not necessarily high achievers, and their needs and characteristics can be misunderstood by peers, parents, educators, and other professionals.  For additional resources on gifted children, please visit Hoagies Gifted Education Page.

The Fissure Blog is proud to participate in blog hops from Hoagies!  For additional posts, please click on the below image (credit Pamela S. Ryan).

August Hoagies Image

Sources and Additional Reading

Books and articles

Ayer, R. (2014, Dec. 1).  UGA study finds it’s mean boys, not mean girls, who rule at school.  UGA Today: University of Georgia.  http://news.uga.edu/releases/article/uga-study-mean-boys-not-mean-girls-rule-at-school-1214/

Babbel, S. (2011, March 15).  Child’s bullying consequence: adult PTSD.  Psychology Today.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/somatic-psychology/201103/child-bullyings-consequence-adult-ptsd

Coloroso, B. (2008).  The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander:  From Preschool to High School – How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence.  New York: HarperCollins.

Dellasega, C. (2005).  Mean Girls Grown Up: Adult Women Who Are Still Queen Bees, Middle Bees, and Afraid-to-Bees.  Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Kam, K. Teachers who bully.  WebMD, Health and Parentinghttp://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/teachers-who-bully

Medaris, K. (2006).  Study: Gifted children especially vulnerable to effects of bullying.  Purdue University News.  http://www.purdue.edu/uns/html4ever/2006/060406.Peterson.bullies.html

Oliker, D. M. (2011, Sept. 3).  Bullying in the female world: the hidden aggression behind the innocent smile.  Psychology Today: The Long Reach of Childhood.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-long-reach-childhood/201109/bullying-in-the-female-world

Ostrov, J. M. (2013, August).  The development of relational aggression: The role of media exposure.  Psychological Science Agenda: American Psychological Association.  http://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2013/07-08/relational-aggression.aspx

Peterson, J. S. (2016).  Gifted children and Bullying.  In M. Neihart, S. I. Pfeiffer, and T. L. Cross (Eds.), The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children: What Do We Know?  (pp. 131 – 144) (2nd ed.).  Waco, TX:  Prufrock Press.  A service publication of the National Association for Gifted Children.

Price, P. (2015).  Gifted, Bullied, Resilient: A Brief Guide for Smart Families.  Olympia, WA: Gifted Homeschoolers Press.

Raison, C. (2009, March 21).  Can schoolyard bullying lead to PTSD?  CNN: Expert Q&A.  http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/expert.q.a/03/31/bullying.ptsd.raison/

Reddy, S. (2014, May 26).  Little children and already acting mean: children, especially girls, withhold friendship as a weapon; teaching empathy.  Wall Street Journal.   http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304811904579586331803245244

Ross, D. M.  Parents’ role in bullying and intervention.  National Educational Association.  http://www.nea.org/home/56805.htm

Taibbi, C. (2012, Aug. 26).  Bullying and the gifted: welcome back to school?  Psychology Today.    https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/gifted-ed-guru/201208/bullying-and-the-gifted-welcome-back-school

Whitson, S. (2012, Nov. 9).  When friendship is used as a weapon: revealing the hidden nature of relational bullying.  Huffington Post.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/signe-whitson/girl-bullying-_b_2093158.html

Zins, J. E., Elias, Maurice, J., and Maher, C. A., Eds. (2007).  Bullying, Victimization, and Peer Harassment: A Handbook of Prevention and Intervention.  Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press.

Web resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2016, June 8).  Safety and children with disabilities: bullying.   http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandsafety/bullying.html

Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page.  Bullies and Bullying.  http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/bullies.htm

NoBullying.com.  Let’s understand relational aggression.  http://nobullying.com/relational-aggression/

PACER, National Bullying Prevention Center:  Bullying and harassment of students with disabilities.  http://www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/students-with-disabilities/

Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).  Bullying Basics.  Teaching Tolerancehttp://www.tolerance.org/bullying-basics

Stopbullying.gov.  Bullying and youth with disabilities and special health needs.    http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/groups/special-needs/

Stopbullying.gov.  Considerations for special groups.  http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/groups/

The Ophelia Project (organization discontinued, website still available online) http://www.opheliaproject.org/about.html#mission

Blog posts

Gordon, S. (2016, June 17).  8 ways bullying affects gifted students: why gifted students are targeted.  Verywell.com: Bullying.  https://www.verywell.com/how-bullying-impacts-the-gifted-student-460594

Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop:  Bullying across the gifted/2e lifespan.  http://giftedhomeschoolers.org/blog-hops/bullies-bullying-gifted2e-kids/

Gross, G. (2013, Oct. 3).  Girls who bully and the women they learn from.  Huffington Post: The Blog.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-gail-gross/girls-who-bully-and-the-women-they-learn-from_b_4034100.html

Trépanier, C. (2014).  The burdens of gifted children.  http://crushingtallpoppies.com/2014/03/06/the-burdens-of-gifted-children/

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How Distance Running Prepared me for Parenting a Twice-Exceptional Child

Parent perspectives by Nikki C.

There was a time in my life when I couldn’t imagine anything would compare to the experience of running my first marathon.

At the starting line, I was confident and full of energy.  I was so happy that I had made it through training and that the big day had finally arrived!  My excitement did not last, though.   As the miles racked up, my energy faded.  Anxiety set in, and this turned into full-on fear and self-doubt.   I was digging for strength I wasn’t even sure I had (there might have been some tears and praying at this point).  Eventually, fierce determination kicked in, and I found my confidence.   By the time I crossed that finish line, I had come full circle, back to happiness and excitement.

Challenging, rewarding, and intense…  and what an emotional roller coaster!  I didn’t think anything could compete with those highs and lows, especially in a single morning.   Then, I became a mom – a mom of a remarkable child, who, among other things, is twice-exceptional (gifted with other special needs).   My life with him can involve all of the above emotions on any given day.  I happen to love roller coasters, and I am not complaining in any way. I am grateful, though, that before I became a parent of a 2e child, I learned some important lessons through distance running.

Lesson #1:  There is no such thing as the “best shoe”

Many new runners walk into specialty running stores, announce that they will be starting distance training, and ask for best shoe available.  These new runners soon learn that there is no such thing as the best shoe… at least not the best shoe.  Due to differences such as body mechanics, foot structure, and cushion preferences, each runner needs to find his or her own best shoe.  It might not be the one they hoped for – the one so many of their friends have, the brand they know, the price they expected, and so on – but with some work, they can find their best shoe.  More importantly, they will come to love their shoe, even if it was not what they expected.

The same is true for many aspects of raising a twice-exceptional child.  When you combine giftedness with a disability – not forgetting asynchronous development and overexcitabilities – it often takes some work to find your child’s “best shoe.”  An example: finding the best educational path for your child.  Before my son started school, I believed that public school was a given for us.  I went to public school, and it seemed to work well for most kids.  With my son, I quickly learned that this shoe did not fit well – it was like a supinator trying to do speed work in a motion control shoe (yes, only running geeks will understand that!).  In other words, the metaphorical shoe was holding my child back and was close to causing serious problems.  We found homeschool to be our “best shoe.”

Homeschooling led to another discovery: there is no best curriculum. Talking about curriculum with other homeschool parents is as much fun as talking about running shoes with other runners, but again, you have to find what’s best for your child. For a 2e child, a boxed curriculum is probably not going to work.  Finding my child’s best fit could be compared to the searches of runners who, even after finding their best shoes, still need custom orthotics, tricky customized lacing, and very specific socks to make everything function optimally.  Oh, and expect to have to buy new “shoes” more often than the recommended time frame.

Even basic parenting choices require finding our “best shoe.”  Most parents we know have some common rules: sitting with the family during mealtime, not jumping on the furniture, sleeping in your own bed… heck, sleeping, period.  When kids don’t abide by these rules, timeouts and sticker-chart rewards are common solutions.  I’ll just say that I am almost at the point (almost) where I can laugh at what a disaster those were for us.  We needed different rules and different methods to handle problems.  It makes my head spin to think of all the outside-the-box methods I have had to use, but it has been worth the effort.  Finding our “best shoes” has taken us from 5K to ultramarathon confidence (on some days, and metaphorically speaking, of course J).

Lesson #2:  Join a running group, and find your running buddies

When you’re a distance runner, you’ll log many solo miles, yet I found that joining a running group was also essential.  My ideal group includes runners with varied abilities and experience levels.  Seasoned runners, with their vast knowledge and experience, help newcomers.  Faster runners help slower runners improve performance.  New runners remind you how far you have come.   My favorite part of a running group, though, is the camaraderie.  Runners love to talk about running. They love to share stories – the good, the bad, the ugly. You learn fairly quickly that non-runners don’t necessarily want to hear all you have to say about running… and you have a lot you want to say about running! Runners can laugh and cry together about things others just don’t get.

The same has been true with parenting a 2e child.   My “running buddies” include special needs groups, gifted groups, twice-exceptional groups, and homeschool groups, local and online.  The things I’ve learned from experienced parents have been invaluable, and their guidance lowers my anxiety level.  It can also be immensely rewarding to see that not only does your work impact your child’s progress, but that you, too, can help parents new to “running.”

Parent groups also allow you to speak freely about topics you can’t discuss with those who aren’t “runners.”  Discussing issues related to your child’s disability and its perplexing parenting dilemmas can be overwhelming for some who live outside of that world.  Discussing your child’s giftedness and its challenges can be even harder.

So, find groups that are full of optimistic people.  Find your running buddies.  They can enable you and your child to run the best race you both possibly can.

Lesson #3: Remove the word “can’t” from your vocabulary

I’ll admit, I was a sucker for motivational running quotes when I first started.  For me, they provided inspiration comparable to listening to the theme from Rocky.  This one made the most difference for me:  “Running a marathon: how to single-handedly remove the word can’t from your vocabulary.”   In my first “training” run, I could barely make it ten minutes before I thought my lungs would never recover.  I didn’t say “can’t,” though.  I got over that hurdle, then got over the next one, over and over.  Soon after, I realized that I could apply this concept to many aspects of my life – and now, to parenting a 2e child.

When you are raising a twice-exceptional child, hearing the word “can’t” comes with the territory.  You might be trying to help your child through another public meltdown, or trying to persuade the school into testing your child for the gifted program even though he has a disability, or trying to assure your friend that you have not lost your mind when you pull your special needs child out of public school.  You might be trying to encourage your child to try something new despite their fear of mistakes.  You know your child better than anyone, you have more motivation than anyone, and you are making decisions based on the best interest of your child… so, guess what?   You can!  Removing the word “can’t” encourages perseverance, enhances endurance, and boosts confidence.  These things help when you need to take the road less traveled.

When your child needs you in their corner, it’s not an option to think “’I’m not strong enough” or “I can’t do this.”  After removing the word “can’t,” now you think, “how do I get strong enough?”  My son, along with giftedness, has an autism diagnosis and sensory processing disorder.  Some days are hard.  Some days being a mom to this child of mine wears me out.  At these times, I ask myself, “how do I get stronger?”  With your child as your inspiration and some help from your “running buddies,” you will find that strength.

Lesson #4:  You can’t effectively treat an injury until you know the source

There is one thing runners can be really bad at… handling injuries.  We ignore early warning signs, we slap a Band-Aid on a more serious issue, or we aren’t consistent with the recovery plan.  Since we want to get back on the road, we are often shortsighted.  Usually, running injuries that are ignored or masked do not get better on their own, and often they get much worse. After incurring several running injuries, I learned that many are preventable, and others can be remedied more easily if you figure out the source of the problem.  For example, if a runner starts experiencing a slight pain in the knee area, and if all she does is wear a knee sleeve, the problem will probably get worse and could require more drastic measures.  On the other hand, if at the first sign of knee pain, the runner learns about possible causes and gets to the root of the problem, the outcome can be much better.

Listening to my child’s signals and finding the root of challenges have been critical for us.  We have been blessed to have the assistance of several behavior therapists who reminded me that finding the root of a problem is always the best way to find a long-term solution.  Instead of feeling like I’m supposed to be a disciplinarian when my child does something that seems inappropriate, I become a detective.  For instance, through research, consultations, and evaluations, I learned that my son is a sensory seeker and he’s full of psychomotor overexcitabilities.  Occupational therapy and a better understanding of giftedness have worked miracles for us.  In a different setting, his behaviors could have been reprimanded, labeled as problematic and possibly misdiagnosed.

I want to be clear that I am not discouraging needed medication:  my concern is about viewing medication as a first step when the root of the problem has yet to be addressed.  A 2e child who is acting out in a classroom might be doing so because he’s not being appropriately challenged academically.  In this situation, investigating and working to find an academic fit appropriate for his ability could provide a constructive, long-term solution.  When a 2e child is acting out, it is also possible that he is trying to exert some control in an environment that feels out of control to him.  In my experience, sensory integration therapy could provide tools to cope with sensory overload that could benefit him for years to come.

Soon after we entered the autism world, I read this quote:  “If you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.”   When we entered the gifted-identified world, I heard the same quote in reference to gifted children.  What should the quote be for our 2e kiddos? “If you have met one person who is 2e, you have met one person who is 2e… and you will continually encounter new aspects of that person. You better enjoy doing research, and you better find all your stamina, because knowing this individual will give you a complex, intense, thrilling, and awe-inducing ride that will change you in ways you never imagined.”

Sometimes all the research and possible parenting tools can get downright overwhelming. Many times, in a difficult situation with my child (especially those that happen in a crowded public area), I find myself not knowing what to say because my head is swimming with all the things I’ve learned.  What’s the right thing to do at this moment?  I don’t know!  I feel like everyone is staring at me and waiting for me to do the right thing…and I can’t think! When fear and self-doubt rear their ugly heads when I am trying to be a good parent to my 2e child, the lessons I learned during that first marathon come back to me. I need to find my strength, and when all else fails, I do this…  keep my head up and keep moving forward.

From one runner to another:  remember to enjoy the journey… and remember to breathe.

 

April16GHF

We are proud to include this post in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hop!

7 Reasons to Team Up: Special Education and Gifted Needs

by Emily VR

Remember the saying, “there’s strength in numbers”?  When it comes to supporting both parents and schools, the expression holds true.  Whether your child has special needs or gifted differences, he or she may need accommodations and/or services in school.  Did you know that you can start a parent group or PTA Committee for ALL special needs and learning differences, including gifted needs?  You can also forge partnerships between existing parent support groups, even if they focus on very different types of needs.

Why should you consider advocating for both Special Education and gifted needs, and how will this benefit students with all kinds of learning differences, disabilities, and strengths?

  1. All kids with differences need understanding at school!  For special needs of all types, school accommodations and services exist for one purpose: to make it possible for our children to access an education and to learn at school.  Your child may have a 504 Plan or an IEP.  He or she may receive therapy or pull-out services for learning differences, or may need special equipment during the school day.  He or she may be in a gifted education pull-out program, or may be accelerated in a subject or full grade.  Each of these students requires services or adjustments in order to learn in the classroom, and to avoid the negative effects of unmet needs.  Raising awareness about differences and school needs can benefit students with all diagnoses.
  1. Precedent for partnership.  Special and gifted education partnerships are not a new idea: the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) was founded in 1922, and it is the largest international professional organization dedicated to improving the educational success of all individuals with disabilities, with gifted needs, and with both (gifted students with one or more disabilities are called “Twice-Exceptional,” or 2e).
  1. Educators need your support!  Whether your child receives services from specialists, therapists, aides, Resource teachers, and/or Special Education teachers, these individuals can be some of your child’s strongest advocates.  Unfortunately, although it’s not intentional, these special people may not receive the same PTA/PTO volunteer support and appreciation as regular classroom teachers (those things do matter!).  Joint efforts can help.  District departments for Special Education, Dyslexia, Counseling, and Gifted Education may need the support of parent groups in order to accomplish goals.  Positive partnerships can improve parent-school relationships and student services in numerous ways.  Including all special services in support and advocacy can strengthen a district for everyone.
  1. Combined groups can facilitate friendships.  Parent groups can host family events, either as fundraisers or casual gatherings, and these can allow children with special and gifted needs to form important friendships.  All students with differences can feel misunderstood by peers, and sometimes, can suffer social isolation.  Forming bonds with others who feel different can help a child feel less alone.
  1. Families with disabilities need your advocacy.  Differently-abled children can have a wide range of strengths and needs, but all of them deserve the chance to maximize their potential.  Special Education laws and funding do assist children with disabilities, but families and schools still need advocacy and support.  These parents are heroes, and they have incredible demands on their time and energy.  Combining efforts can expand the reach of their work.
  1. Twice-exceptional children need understanding.  The needs of 2e children can be complex, and in groups focused on individual diagnoses, parents may have trouble finding others who can identify.  Combined advocacy can provide 2e families with support, a voice, and better understanding from both educators and other families.
  1. Gifted needs are special needs.  When special and gifted education advocacy is combined, parents can help dispel myths about giftedness, and can reframe discussions about gifted education.  Too many parents and educators still equate giftedness with high achievement and view gifted accommodations as elitist.  When gifted education is included in joint advocacy efforts with Special Education, parents and educators may be able to see gifted needs through a more accurate lens.

Parent support groups for specific diagnoses are still important for emotional support and exchanging resources – but geographically, few families with identical needs may be near one another.  For your child’s diagnosis, there may not be enough local parents to effectively advocate and support your district.  It’s possible to have both individual and combined groups:  in the district where I live, parents belong to groups for specific needs – such as dyslexia and gifted needs – but we also have a combined PTA committee for Special and Gifted Education.  This committee includes every type of special need and learning difference, it’s one of several in local districts, and it’s working to make a positive difference.  If your local PTA isn’t open to something similar, don’t give up:  you can (and should) still establish partnerships between existing groups!

If you’re starting a new group, a number of resources can help:  for gifted groups, check out the below links and other posts in the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Blog Hop (below!).  Whether you start a group or collaborate with existing ones, remember these tips:

  • Stay positive in your advocacy
  • Adopt a team approach when working with educators
  • Advocate with integrity and respect
  • Work to see issues from multiple perspectives
  • Ask how you can help
  • Consider affiliating with state or national organizations, and/or advocating at the state/national level
  • Support the teachers and administrators in your district as well as your group’s parents.

Parenting a child with special needs or learning differences can be a lonely job.  Fortunately, in a parent group, you don’t have to be alone.  Special and gifted education partnerships don’t just benefit your own child:  they create a community, they help teachers and schools, and they can improve awareness and education for all children with differences.

AprilHoagies

We are proud this post is part of the April Blog Hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!

Blog Hop graphic by Pamela S Ryan – click above for more Blog Hop posts!

Additional Resources

Council for Exceptional Children:  https://www.cec.sped.org/

Start a Special Education PTA:  https://www.pta.org/content.cfm?ItemNumber=2100  from National PTA (You can also create council or school PTA committees combining Special and Gifted Education advocacy.)

The below resources focus on gifted groups, though some advice can apply to groups for other diagnoses:

Starting a Gifted Parents’ Group: https://globalgtchatpoweredbytagt.wordpress.com/2016/02/15/starting-a-gifted-parents-group/  from Global #GTCHAT, Powered by TAGT (Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented)

How parent advocacy groups can make a difference:  http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10339.aspx  from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development

Forming a Parent Group: http://www.iagcgifted.org/committees/parent-affiliates/the-nuts-and-bolts-of-forming-a-parent-group.html  from the Illinois Association for Gifted Children

Starting and Sustaining a Parent Group to Support Gifted Children: http://www.nagc.org/sites/default/files/Parent%20CK/Starting%20and%20Sustaining%20a%20Parent%20Group.pdf  from the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC)

Establishing a Parent Support Group:  http://www.txgifted.org/establishing-psg  from the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT)

What Makes a Parent Group Successful:  http://www.txgifted.org/files/What-Makes-Parent-Groups-Successful.pdf  from the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT)

Parent Support Groups: https://pty.vanderbilt.edu/parents/parent-support-groups/  from Vanderbilt University – Vanderbilt Programs for Talented Youth

The Oxygen Mask: Gifted and 2e Parenting

by Emily VR

Despite decades of research and advocacy, misconceptions about gifted students persist. Among the myths listed by the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), this one may be the most damaging: “gifted students don’t need help; they’ll do fine on their own.”

The same myth could be used to describe parents of gifted children.

Fortunately, help is available. A number of organizations and university programs offer parenting resources. The nonprofit SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) was founded after the suicide of a gifted teenager, and it works to support families and raise awareness about gifted differences and needs.  Several states require gifted programs or accommodations for gifted-identified students. A few states require IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) for gifted students – just as for students served by Special Education. A number of gifted parenting books offer advice for home and school, and local enrichment options are often available. For families living in areas without gifted programs, online resources continue to expand for gifted homeschooling and enrichment.

Even with help, meeting the needs of a student with differences can be complicated and exhausting – especially if your student is twice-exceptional (gifted with other special needs), is highly to profoundly gifted, or belongs to another special population. In many ways, gifted parenting is similar to coping with other learning differences. It often requires school advocacy. It requires learning about a label and recommendations, and about how characteristics manifest in your individual child. It may require keeping up with research, and searching for outside resources, evaluations, and/or therapy. It can involve misconceptions and assumptions, and you may feel isolated. It requires educating others about your child’s differences and needs – year after year. It requires – well, dealing with your child. On a daily basis.

When encouraging parents to practice self-care, experts sometimes use the example of an oxygen mask. In airplanes, flight attendants tell parents to put on their own oxygen masks before helping their children. Just as children are more likely to survive a plane emergency with conscious parents, children are better equipped to handle life’s challenges when parents take care of themselves emotionally. Dr. Ann Dunnewold, psychologist and author of several parenting books, uses the metaphor of a pitcher of liquid, or of an emotional bank account. When parents constantly give of themselves emotionally, if they never pause to replenish, they eventually run on empty.

For parents of children with special needs, self-care often seems like an impossibility.  There is always more for a parent to do – more to research, more recommendations to follow, more interventions to try. Yet carving out time to care for your own needs isn’t a selfish act: it can recharge the energy you need for your children. It can make you more efficient and effective.

It can make you a better parent.

So, when you have a gifted or twice-exceptional child, where can you find your oxygen mask?

• Seek support from other gifted parents. If your area doesn’t have a local parent group for gifted families, you can ask if a group for special needs will embrace gifted parents.  You can also begin a group.  SENG offers local and online parent support groups, and a number of gifted organizations offer discussion forums.

• Take a day or weekend for yourself, if you are able.  In her book Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Lunch Box, Dr. Ann Dunnewold notes that Maya Angelou recommended getting away for a day, regularly, to put one’s life in perspective.

• Take care of your physical and mental health.  Several sources offer advice on finding practitioners experienced with gifted children and adults.  In A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, for example, Dr. James Webb’s chapter on “Finding Professional Help” offers tips which can apply to both gifted children and adults.

• Cut yourself some slack.  Perfectionism can take a toll on both parents and children. Dr. Dunnewold suggests a paradigm shift. Instead of trying to be “perfect,” you can focus on being “perfectly good,” on being yourself, and on accepting your human limitations (more tips in June Cleaver).

• Pursue your passions!  Sir Ken Robinson’s book The Element explores the potential of finding where talents and personal passions intersect, and the journey of seeking fulfillment.

• Protect free time. A rush-free parenting approach may ease stress and allow for unstructured time and creative pursuits.

• Nurture your needs through books!  Bibliotherapy can be effective for both gifted children and adults.

• Learn about your own intensities. A growing number of articles and books address issues facing gifted adults.

• Seek friends who support you.  Some parents, sadly, engage in “mommy wars” and relational aggression, which is similar to childhood bullying.  As noted by Dr. Dunnewold, parenting is not a contest, and you do not need to tolerate this behavior. You can find parent friends who appreciate you and your children for who you are.

• Frustrated with gifted education? Help make it better.  Many educators of gifted children wish they could do more for their students, and they need parent support. Groups and individual parents can volunteer to help teachers, schools, and state or national nonprofit groups.  They can advocate at the district and state level. Getting involved may help some parents cope with feeling powerless, and can make positive change after a difficult experience or year.

Parents facing your same challenges may be few in your area – but they are out there, looking for support. You are not alone.  Not every strategy works for everyone, but we can all find our oxygen masks. Whatever yours may be, remember to use it, to breathe, and to include yourself in your daily care.

If we want our children to take good care of themselves, and to seek help when they need it, we must lead by example.  In the meantime, our self-care helps our children: it gives them happier, more fulfilled parents.

Hoagies Help

We are proud this post is part of the How and When to Ask for Help Blog Hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!

Blog Hop graphic by Pamela S Ryan – click above for more Blog Hop posts!

Resources:

November 2014 Hoagies’ Blog Hop on Gifted Self-Care:
http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_gifted_self_care.htm

Myths about Gifted Students, National Association for Gifted Children:
http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/myths-about-gifted-students

Gifted Education by State, National Association for Gifted Children:
http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/gifted-state

Your True North: A Course on Sir Ken Robinson’s Finding Your Element, by NuMinds Enrichment: http://numien.com/online-courses/

Books by Ann Dunnewold:
Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Lunchbox: Cut Yourself Some Slack (and Still Raise Great Kids) in the Age of Extreme Parenting (2007).
The Motherhood Club: Help, Hope, and Inspiration for New Mothers from New Mothers (2002), with Shirley Washington.

SENG Model Parent Support Groups:
http://sengifted.org/programs/seng-model-parent-groups

SENG’s 25th Anniversary Conference: Reflections on SENG’s History by James T. Webb
http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/sengs-25th-anniversary-conference-reflections-on-sengs-history

Finding the Right Mental Health Provider for Your Gifted/Talented Child, by Tiombe-Bisa Kendrick:
http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/finding-the-right-mental-health-provider-for-your-giftedtalented-child

Tips for Selecting the Right Counselor or Therapist For Your Gifted Child, by James T. Webb: http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/tips-for-selecting-the-right-counselor-or-therapist-for-your-gifted-child

Can you hear the flowers sing? Issues for gifted adults, by Deirdre Lovecky
Retrieved from Davidson Institute for Talent Development:
http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10229.aspx

Review of Searching for Meaning by James Webb:
https://thefissureblog.com/category/books-and-movies/

The Power of Special Connections: Gifted/Special Needs Friendships

by Emily VR

When you open books about gifted-identified students, you will usually find discussions about the social needs of gifted children.  Experts frequently discuss students’ need for friendships with other gifted students, with older intellectual peers, and with adults.

There is another relationship, however, which has been equally important to our family:  friendships with students who have special needs.  A few sources mention these connections, but I hope to see them explored further, both in G/T resources and school programs.

The first time our son learned about developmental differences, it was accidental.  At age three, while boarding an amusement park boat, he noticed a much older child who was visibly agitated about the ride.  The boy had special needs.  When we explained that the child’s brain worked differently, our son walked over and sat beside the boy.  Our son talked to the child, explaining why he didn’t need to be afraid of the ride, and continued to comfort the child until the ride ended.  (The ride staff noticed, and gave our son a note, to help him remember that day.)

One of our son’s preschool teachers gave him another opportunity.  A child in the classroom next door had been diagnosed with selective mutism – the child spoke at home, but could not speak at school.   The teacher asked our son if he would be the child’s buddy on the playground, when classes were combined.  Both children seemed to enjoy their time together, and our son took his responsibility seriously.  The teacher said that my son gave her reports: “‘I think we’re making progress,’” he told her.

During elementary school, our son has had multiple friends with differences.  One year, he came home distraught when he felt that a classmate’s needs were not understood.  He spoke up for a friend with special needs.  Outside of school, both of my sons enjoy time with their friends, including differently-abled friends.  At the beginning of one school year, one wonderful teacher sent home questionnaires about students; after learning about my son, she let me know when she saw him helping a classmate.

He came home happy.  He had helped his friend write a thank-you note.

As much as I love my son, and love that he makes these friendships, he isn’t alone in this respect.  We know of other relationships like these, and they can mean the world to gifted students.  Why?  Just like children, the reasons can be unique, but I see at least two themes.

The first:  I think the best friendships involve acceptance without judgment. Too often, children learn hard social lessons early.  Not all friends are loyal.  In efforts to fit in, classmates can succumb to cliques and gossip.  In our family’s experience, children who struggle with significant challenges can be more genuine and less judgmental in their affection toward others.

The second:  these groups of children can have a lot in common.  Like students with special needs, gifted students are often aware that they’re different from their age peers.  In same-age general education classrooms, depending on the type of disability, both groups may learn and/or think differently from classmates.  In order to learn, both often need curriculum or classroom modifications – and they can’t help it.  Both develop differently from average, in some way, and both may be learning to cope with unusually intense feelings.  Both may sense or perceive the world differently, and may process information differently.

Both know what it’s like to be misunderstood by classmates, and sometimes, even, by parents and teachers.

Readers familiar with G/T and Special Education policies may note that classroom grouping cannot ignore academic needs or accommodations.  Books on gifted students further note that students should not be used as tutors in lieu of appropriate level work (also, not all advanced students have the ability to teach).  Opportunities for friendships do not require group work, however.  My son was glad just to be seated near his friends with special needs.  Friendship opportunities can be provided outside of class or school, as well:  students in self-contained G/T and Special Education programs may enjoy combined enrichment and volunteer opportunities, either informally or as part of a school program.

As a parent, I cherish these memories, and they also have personal meaning.  My cousin had autism and significant developmental delays.  She was nonverbal, but she knew how to give hugs, and she could show love better than most of us.  Because of her, in high school and college, I researched autism and took Special Education coursework.  Following her unexpected death, a friend helped me find a place to volunteer through a nonprofit, monitoring care through visits to a state-run residential facility for disabled adults without families.

In school, it can be hard for differently-abled children to find friends.  Some children rarely receive invitations to outside events.  Not all children and adults understood and welcomed my cousin, though she was an incredible person.

As a parent or teacher, please consider making opportunities for friendships between students with differences – especially for young children.

When students with differences spend time together, it’s okay to be different.  

In learning about one another, children can gain perspective, and can see the world in new ways.   They can celebrate the unique strengths in each of us.

Our family loves all of our friends, and we love our friends with special needs.  My sons never met my cousin, and I want them to know and love children with different abilities.  I want them to feel proud of everything their cousin accomplished.

I hope that she would be proud of them, as well.

Further reading for children:  The Junkyard Wonders, by Patricia Polacco.  I learned about this book from one of our amazing G/T teachers – it is a true story about a class of students with special needs, about their connections, and about potential.  Our family loved it.   http://www.patriciapolacco.com/books/junkyard/index2.html

blog_hop_gifted_relationships_smallWe are proud this post is part of the Gifted Relationships blog hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!

Helicopter vs. Free-Range: How the Parent Label Debate Hurts All Parents

by Emily VR

Sometimes, in parenting, labels are helpful. When we research to understand diagnoses or challenges, and when we search for others with similar circumstances, labels help us find communities and support.

Sometimes, however, labels don’t help. When we categorize the parenting decisions of others – decisions we know very little about – this can be divisive and hurtful.

One current example: references to “helicopter parenting” in the “free range” debate. Parents who support “free range” parenting generally self-identify with the label, and favor less parental supervision than their local norm. “Free range” can describe a child’s unsupervised play in local public places, such as a park, or unsupervised walking/biking between locations. Some parents use the term more loosely, simply calling for a return to the days of fewer precautions and more unstructured time.

One mother-turned-author describes the label on her website:

“Free-Range Kids is a commonsense approach to parenting in these overprotective times.” www.freerangekids.com/faq, May 13, 2015

Free range parents raise issues which concern most of us: the need for children to learn independence (yes), and the harm caused by excessive scheduling and stress (yes, yes!). Unfortunately, a few free range choices come into conflict with local safety expectations, and sparks fly. More unfortunately, in defending their choices, some free range advocates have gone on the offense, labeling not only their critics but other parenting styles: “over-involved,” “overprotective,” “helicoptering,” and so on.

The “helicopter” term is not new; years ago, it described parents who “hovered” over adult children in college, complaining to professors about grades. In today’s parenting discussions, however, the label seems fair game for a wide range of parenting decisions, from playground etiquette to educational advocacy – almost anything deemed excessive by the person invoking the term.

Strangely absent from most “free range” and “helicopter” discussions are exceptions for children with physical, psychological, and developmental differences.

It should be obvious, one might argue, that these debates don’t cover special needs.  When the parent of a child with diagnosable differences comes across lists of “helicopter parent” offenses, and the parent sees that he’s committed most of those offenses – should that parent assume that we all know which families don’t count, for purposes of the article?

Judging others’ parenting decisions involves assumptions. As my son observed in preschool: our friends who have autism don’t look different on the outside.  Diagnoses of special needs don’t come with neon signs, but they usually require extra supervision or intervention, in public and/or at school.  These parents often don’t have the luxury of making many “free range” choices. They must monitor and intervene to keep their children learning, healthy, and alive.

What types of situations, then, deserve exemption from the “helicopter” label?

  • Food allergies: up to 8% of U.S. Children
  • Developmental disabilities: approximately 1 in 6 children
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder: 1 in 68 children
  • Children receiving Special Education Services: about 13% in 2010-2011
  • ADHD: 11% of children ages 4 – 17 in the U.S. in 2011
  • Dyslexia: 1 in 5 people
  • Auditory Processing Disorder: about 5% of children
  • Mental or addictive disorder causing impairment: up to 21% of children ages 9 – 17
  • Asthma: about 10% of children in the U.S. in 2009
  • Sensory Processing Disorders: 5 – 16% of school-aged children, impacts coordination, behavior
  • Temperament: impacts intensity and activity level; different parenting strategies are needed for different temperaments
  • Cognitively gifted children: 2 – 5% of children, as measured by psychologists, have specific needs and characteristics; unmet needs can result in negative outcomes. Some gifted students have additional special needs/disabilities, increasing difficulty at home and school.
  • Lifelong medical conditions: diabetes, epilepsy, immune deficiencies, and more.

Some of these categories can overlap.  Some can be compatible with many “free range” practices.  Yet each diagnosis requires parental action that wouldn’t be needed without the diagnosis.

Back to parenting labels: if we set aside self-identified “free range” parents and “average” parents, and we then set aside special needs – who’s left? Is it possible that we’re wrongfully labeling families who struggle with misunderstood or undiagnosed challenges?

In schools, negative labels can cause damage. Parents of children with differences must make requests of overworked teachers and administrators. Educators struggle with large class sizes, state testing requirements, and insufficient resources – and must then think about federal and state laws (and in an ideal world, best practices) for students with special needs. These needs can be difficult to diagnose and meet, and despite best intentions, students can fall through the cracks. Parents must navigate paperwork and meetings about disabilities and learning differences, and must request to follow the recommendations of doctors or psychologists. When educators have limited training in specific conditions, parents must unexpectedly become experts. These parents need our understanding, not judgment.

In our efforts to become better parents ourselves, it can feel reassuring to embrace a branded parenting philosophy that works for us and our children. When that happens, I believe it’s important to use language carefully, and to remember that not all children are like our own. Some free range advocates hold the media responsible for the ugly side of this debate, and for the labeling and criticism of so-called over-parenting – yet many still contrast their own decisions with “helicoptering” and “hovering.” I admire parents who advocate for better understanding and flexibility for their own parenting choices – but not at the cost of furthering stereotypes about the decisions of other parents.

This, then, is my request: please keep an open mind about and show respect for the experiences and decisions of others. If we can do this, perhaps we can set an example for our children to do the same.

The importance of that, I think, is something we can all agree on.

Sources:

https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/8-Percent-of-US-Children-Have-Food-Allergies.aspx 8 Percent of U.S. Children Have Food Allergies. American Academy of Pediatrics. Web. June 4, 2015. Data and Statistics. CDC. Web. June 4, 2015.

http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/developmentaldisabilities/features/birthdefects-dd-keyfindings.html Key Findings: Trends in the Prevalence of Developmental Disabilities in U. S. Children, 1997–2008. CDC. Web. June 4, 2015.

http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html Data and Statistics. CDC. Web. June 4, 2015.

https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/pdf/Indicator_CGG/COE_CGG_2013_01.pdf Children and Youth with Disabilities. National Center for Education Statistics. Web. June 4, 2015.

http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html New Data: Medication and Behavior Treatment. CDC. Web. June 4, 2015.

http://dyslexia.yale.edu/MDAI/ Multicultural Dyslexia Awareness Initiative. The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. Web. June 4, 2015.

http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/ears/central_auditory.html Auditory Processing Disorder. KidsHealth. Web. June 4, 2015.

http://www2.nami.org/Template.cfmSection=federal_and_state_policy_legislation&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=43804 Facts on Children’s Mental Health in America. National Alliance on Mental Health. Web. June 4, 2015.

http://www.cdc.gov/VitalSigns/asthma/ Asthma in the U.S. CDC. Web. June 4, 2015.

http://www.ucsf.edu/news/2013/07/107316/breakthrough-study-reveals-biological-basis-sensory-processing-disorders-kidsi Bunim, Juliana. Breakthrough Study Reveals Biological Basis for Sensory Processing Disorders in Kids. University of California San Francisco, July 9, 2013. Web. June 4, 2015.

http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/resources/wwb/wwb23.html Allard, Lindsey T. and Amy Hunter. Understanding Temperament in Infants and Toddlers. Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. Web. June 4, 2015.

Research on the psychology, education, and challenges of the gifted can be found through multiple organizations. Some of my favorites: SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted, http://sengifted.org), NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children, http://www.nagc.org), The Gifted Development Center (http://www.gifteddevelopment.com), and in Texas, TAGT (Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented, http://txgifted.org).