A gifted individual is a quick and clever thinker, who is able to deal with complex matters. Autonomous, curious and passionate. A sensitive and emotionally rich person, living intensely. He or she enjoys being creative. -definition of giftedness written by the Netherlands Study on Giftedness in Adults

Monday, July 18, 2011

Living on a Tightrope

It’s an honor to be blogging for SENG’s National Parenting Gifted Children Week. Please follow the blog tour all week for fantastic writing on giftedness and parenting this special community.
National Parent Gifted Children Week is hosted by SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted)
Download SENG's free NPGC Week ebook, The Joy and Challenge: Parenting Gifted Children

There are so many pieces to the puzzle of parenting gifted children, that it's frequently hard to know where to start. How do you balance all of a gifted child's often-divergent needs? In our case, trying to balance the high need for intellectual stimulation, with the strong reluctance to perform due to performance anxiety, with intense emotionality - and you get a pair of parents that feel like they are balancing a tightrope while being chased by a tiger.

We are at a crossroads, it seems. The kidlet is starting high school - a bit early, but he's clearly ready to move ahead. But I'm not sure he's going to learn much that is new. I believe it will, once again, be another disappointment in a long line of intellectual disappointments. The good news is, because we are homeschooling we can take it at a pace that at least will feel like we are going somewhere. The bad news is - he's ready for that level of information, but can he produce work that is commensurate with that which is expected of a high school student? This is our tightrope - do we hold him back intellectually so that he can produce the proper amount of work so that he can take a test that will open doors to college? Or do we allow him to enjoy the learning he is doing, take it where it will and not worry if he cannot write a 5-page paper adequately? 

Dr. James Webb, founder of SENG, spoke a keynote address during Saturday's lunch at the SENG Conference in Seattle over the weekend. The title of the address was, "Preparing Gifted Children Children for College... or Preparing Them for Life?" The point of his address was that not everyone has to go through the accepted route to success - college. There are plenty of examples of highly successful people who didn't finish college (Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Steve Jobs being some of the examples given), and some who never started. Now, I'm not going to say that my little engineer doesn't need to go to college in order to be successful in his chosen career, but Dr. Webb's words did underscore the thing I keep considering for my own kidlet - is all of this going to make him have a happy life? Or is there another way to go about this that will help him achieve his goals and 
bring him joy? Sure, there are things the kidlet definitely needs to add to his repertoire of abilities before he can take the next step toward his dreams (prose being one of them). But I'm not sure it has to look the way most people of our generation assume it will.

And that is the balance we parents are constantly trying to keep. I cannot hold back his intellect and creativity to wait for the rest of him to catch up. And I don't ever want to send the message that he cannot begin to make a change in the world until he has jumped through certain hoops (I feel fairly confident he will get that message enough "out there").

So we walk our tightrope - at a sprint at times, and sometimes just hanging on for dear life. And that tiger? He's doing the same thing.


  1. How do we get "the message" to our children if they are not really "out there"? Especially if we are homeschooling a child that is socially impaired? Some of those hoops you speak of almost HAVE to be jumped through to have a happy life. That is if you define at least part of a happy life as being able to interact with others at a certain level of success. This is my struggle. I struggle with whether to spend bulk effort on social therapy rather than "intellectual" therapy at my child's age. I lean toward emphasis on social therapy.

  2. Yes - there are some hoops that will make a huge positive difference in our children's lives if they jump through them (trying to convince them of that is another thing entirely!). My kidlet wrote a whole paper on how it was stupid to have to write a paper because he won't ever need those skills (handwriting, in particular - and he's got a point, with the prevalence of computers and word processing there are fewer and fewer times when handwriting is needed).

    Social skills are some of those - as you point out - that will lead to a better life. For our family - and this is just us - we see frequent enough moments of social maturity to know that it is an issue of maturity, not a social pathology. So I figure, with guidance, eventually the gears will click together and start working. If you don't see maturity happening (keep in mind it's maturity at your child's pace - nobody else's), social therapy could be helpful.

  3. Dealing with social and intellectual therapies needs to be looked at as a scale even though it may feel like a tightrope. In my work, I see too many people who fail to reach a balance in their children's lives. We all want our children to be happy, but need to guard against making this the overwhelming goal in their lives. In the end, parents need to be more guidance counselor rather than sole provider of needs. Happiness comes from within. Social impairment is in the eye of the beholder.

  4. I keep reminding myself that all of those things we all think we want for ourselves and for our children really aren't what is important. Somehow our culture tells us that "success" looks like a well-paying job, spouse and two children, a nice house and a nice car, etc. But that isn't the ultimate goal, is it? Sure, maybe all of that falls into place, but maybe it doesn't. As the kidlet's parent, I have to be okay with allowing HIM to make those decisions. My job as his parent is to make sure that, by the time he walks out the door, he has the skills to succeed according to what HE needs. I like your imagery of the scales - balance is the key, isn't it?

  5. I think part of the issue is 'labeling' "what grade are you in?" is the first question my kids get asked.

    Kylie doesn't really know how to answer. She's 'supposed' to be starting second, is a full year ahead globaly, will be doing 5th-6th grade reading (older reading is too long, working on patience) 4th grade language arts and math, and 2nd grade spelling (sigh).

    I picked math as the defining subject, where they are with math is what I call em. :) They learn anywhere on a scale 1 below to 6 years ahead depending on the subject.

    As for socialization...I think social therapy is for children with real problems and I've seen moms who homeschool gifted kids jump the gun on this one. Kids need peers and gifted kids have such a hard time finding those, social therapy doesn't fix that, time, patience, and showing them that their peers don't have to be as smart as they are (playgrounds rock for that).

    Honestly I'd call him by his age grade or one level above and just teach him the basics of that level that he's missing and throw everything else at him at HIS level that he can take. He'll graduate with more knowledge than the rest of his college class, but he'll be able to emotionally handle being 'out there' on his own (that said you can also look at colleges for courses in enrichment for him and see how he handles them, my university will allow it for qualifying students.)

  6. Mona, I so enjoyed meeting you last week! We homeschooled, too, and it gave us a lot of freedom to mix and match grade levels. Part-time college classes worked very well, as did taking only those standardized tests that were necessary for what our son wanted to do (he took the SAT only once at age 14). Now that he's in college, I'm especially grateful that he could avoid much of the hyper-competitive nature of high school.

    Thanks for such a thoughtful post!

    ~ Lisa

  7. Is that asynchrony part of why you homeschool? I have no experience with it (with homeschooling, I mean, I have plenty with ansynchronous development). My son reads at a higher level than he writes, too, but it's not so much the quality of his writing but the speed at which he writes (very slowly) that sets him aside from his peers.

  8. Yes... asynchrony is why we homeschool. We did a fairly thorough search of public and private school options in our area, and decided that we were unwilling to put him in an environment that either (1) would stifle the creativity and love for learning by trying to force him to learn at a far slower pace than he needs; or (2) would put him in a place he is emotionally not ready to handle. Our asynchrony is mostly between the intellectual and emotional capacity - but the writing piece is a concern as well (as it turns out, we were working on writing a paper yesterday and he said nobody had ever told him how to write a proper paper with introduction, three points, and a conclusion - say what you're going to say, say it, then say what you've just said. Hmm, maybe that's why he can't do it).

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