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, September 12, 2011


If there is one thing I am trying to teach the kidlet, it is the amorphous quality of resilience. You know, that thing that makes you keep trying after something doesn't work out quite right, or that makes you push through when something is hard. 

Wikipedia starts its article on resilience like this: 
Resilience in psychology is the positive capacity of people to cope with stress and adversity. This coping may result in the individual “bouncing back” to a previous state of normal functioning, or using the experience of exposure to adversity to produce a “steeling effect” and function better than expected (much like an inoculation gives one the capacity to cope well with future exposure to disease).[1] Resilience is most commonly understood as a process, and not a trait of an individual.

Resilience is important for everyone, but it can be elusive for gifted people. Since most things come easily for someone who is gifted, they don't encounter enough push-back in early years with the frequency that most people do. So they don't learn how to move through it and find the successes on the other side. In fact, for highly gifted or broadly gifted people, even the slightest bit of resistance can lead to full melt-downs or quitting. 

We have spent quite a bit of time recently dealing with the inadequacy of the kidlet's resilience level. He hates being unable to do something, so he refuses to try. My favorite illustration of this was back when he was closing in on 4 years old, and not yet potty-trained. His younger cousin had just been potty trained, so I asked the kidlet when he was going to do it. He asked me when he needed to have it done. I told him that I'd heard if he wasn't potty-trained by the time he was 4, we'd have to go to the doctor to be checked out. He told me then that he would be trained when he was 4. He still refused to try out the potty chair, but what do you know - on his 4th birthday he put on big-boy underpants and never looked back (for day or night!). He had to be sure he could do it before he'd be seen trying. It's been the same story all along - riding a bike, sports, handwriting, and especially anything to do with academics. Frustration builds fast and ends up in melt-down mode when challenged to try something that is difficult. 

Most people know that most things that are worth doing take a little bit of work - but someone who has never had to work for anything doesn't connect the level of work with a positive result. If you've never had to work hard/ think hard/ try hard / practice hard /etc. in order to accomplish something that gets accolades and rave reviews, once you hit that point where you need to work (and in order to really succeed at something, you've got to hit that point), instead of giving you that sense of, "okay, I can do this!" - it feels like a failure. 

One of the final straws at the last school kidlet attended was when the math teacher told me that she wasn't pushing the kidlet to do hard math problems because she didn't, "want to frustrate him." After three years of that kind of attitude, his resilience level is on the Delicates cycle. So we've been pushing him pretty hard to work through the tough problems and get the right answer (and go back and check it to make sure before you move on to the next math problem). I love hearing the sound in his voice when he finishes some exercises and says, "I got 100%!" - or even when he is re-doing some problems he'd done poorly on and says, "I improved by 200%!" Not only does that tell me that he is understanding the work, but that he is getting positive feedback from his attempts at resilience. And next time, maybe it won't be so hard to find the courage to keep trying.

A piece of paper in the kidlet's work area quotes Albert Einstein: "One should not pursue goals that are easily achieved. One must develop an instinct for what one can just barely achieve through one's greatest efforts." It is there to remind the kidlet (and me!) that effort is not only worthwhile, but a positive aspect of achievement. 

Sadly, when faced with something that is difficult, it is all too easy to quit. But then you never get the satisfaction of knowing that you conquered something that was hard. Resilience definitely builds upon itself - the more success you find (and that great feeling that this was hard but you did it anyway), the more you will be willing to keep trying when failure looms. 

Keep going, kidlet! I know you can do it! But you need to know it, too. 


  1. Thanks for sharing this. My son has the same struggle with resilience and giving up too easily. His tendency to underachieve used to baffle me until I figured out that it was caused by his fear of failure, since every area of learning (up to 1 year ago) came very easily for him so he does not like the sense of frustration that comes with "not understanding everything in two minutes".

    We have been working through the idea of 'keep going' and are seeing positive results. However, because I have not allowed my son to give up on things that I know he can work through, I have been labelled by some as 'pushy'. Nonetheless, no one else knows my son as well as I do, so I'll keep doing what's right for him. :-)

  2. I just found your blog which I am enjoying a lot, thanks for sharing. I was wondering, what was your son like as a toddler? With my son, I've been working on the "try again" idea since he wants to do things perfectly the first time, gets extremely frustrated, and gives up. A lot of the times he can do things quickly, so persevering when he can't is a struggle. My son is two and I don't know if he's gifted or not, but he's definitely INTENSE so I've been looking for some insight.

  3. The kidlet gets frustrated easily, too. We started playing lots of board games with him, and giving him opportunities to win AND lose, and probably more importantly, to see US lose well and play again. We watch a lot of sports and see our favorite teams win and lose - and talk about how you can't get it perfect every time, but you always keep trying. The tough part is knowing when to let them step away from the frustration when it's too much, but encourage them to come back when they're ready to try again.