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

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Challenge and Frustration

I'm not a psychologist or expert in education, but over the years I've learned a few things about that razor's edge between challenging my gifted child, and frustrating him. 

100% is not a good sign. I know, we all love to see those perfect scores. But in all honesty, 100% isn't a great thing. In most cases, it means that the material was not challenging enough to cause the student to struggle to answer the questions. Until I got to college, A-grades came easily for me. In high school, I generally studied for tests in the class prior, finished tonight's homework during class, and read maybe a third of the assigned reading (I became really good at skimming). This could be a scathing report on the quality of the education I received, but it was the same in two different school districts, so I think had more to do with a gifted child who was lacking in sufficient challenge. School was easy - until college. College was a shock to me; I had to do all the homework, pay attention to the whole lecture, and read all the assigned readings! Kudos to my professors who recognized that I wasn't stupid or lazy, I just needed to learn some study skills -  and they helped me learn them. Despite a 3.97 GPA in high school, I had never needed them before. Perfect doesn't leave any room for challenge.

I see this in the teenlet as well - he loves to score 100% on a math test or chemistry assignment, after all, who doesn't like to be perfect? But I have to admit that I'm glad he doesn't do it all the time. Because I know that he needs to keep learning, and learning has a challenging edge to it. 

When the tears come or the anxiety rises, the first place I look is at the level of challenge he is facing. The teenlet's weakest subject has always been writing - it's been a real struggle from day one. The physical act of writing is hard, for sure, but even the process of getting ideas down on paper is a struggle. And writing assignments are always where his biggest meltdowns begin, when it all becomes too much and he turns into a puddle of words. He will sit in front of the computer, literally, for 3-4 hours, and have four words on the page. This is after his topic is chosen, research done, ideas are formed, and even an outline written - all that's left to do is turn his ideas into sentences and sentences into paragraphs. We know now that we have to take this process very slowly, break it down into smaller bits, and keep him moving forward. Because it is hard for him. He needs to learn it, but we can't push too hard or he will fall apart and we lose the opportunity to learn something. You see, when something is TOO challenging, learning stops.
PS. As he gets older, he is managing this MUCH better now than he used to, and his writing is coming more fluently and freely - see, learning! But we're taking it SLOWLY.

Keep the learning coming. As you can see, too little or too much challenge is a hindrance to true learning. And, if we know one thing about teenlet, it is that he has to keep learning. But it is a tricky balance to try to keep, to make sure what he's learning is appropriate in content and difficulty.

But it's hard to tell sometimes with the teenlet - if he isn't doing well, is it because he isn't attending to the work (another sign it may be too easy)? Or is it too hard and he can't manage it? 

A while back, I signed the teenlet up for a college-level cryptography course. It sounded really interesting, and he's done a lot of learning about cryptography (think Enigma, secret codes, deciphering, etc), so we both thought it would be awesome. It wasn't. It really was a course on computer security, and it was waaaaaay over his head because he hadn't done anything on a computer except for basic word processing and playing a few games. I was so proud of him when he came to me and told me he didn't want to continue the course. I asked him why, and he said because it was too hard and it was frustrating him because he didn't know any computer coding and that's what they were talking about. So he dropped the course and started learning computer languages so next time he'd be ready. That was wise because he knew that we'd crossed over that line and it was beyond him, and we needed to pull it back. But the coolest part, I thought, was that he started taking action so he could understand what they were talking about in that class - and that's when you know that even though you've hit the edge of his ability, he's still being challenged. It made him think. And get ideas. And see something he needed to know and learn. 

And isn't that what it's all about? 

This post is part of the New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour. Please click the picture above to visit the many fantastic posts included in the tour!


  1. Great article ! Would love to follow as time passes.

  2. I have a very intense 10 year old girl. This intensity hasn't played itself out at school yet more at home with her inability to let things go and her unwillingness to accept authority. She will restart homework as it doesn't look perfect and expects perfection from everyone around her . I know she is going to excel in her chosen field one day as this intensity also pushed her along.

  3. I so agree with the 100% not being a good thing. I tried to explain this to teachers and to explain boredom by saying "how would you like to sit and draw ABC's every day of your life? It's like that for my kid." I have a very hard time here getting teachers to go off the group teaching of keeping this "level" or that "level". Gifted in math and perceptual reasoning, having raised an art/music gifted...unwilling to private school.

  4. This is a GREAT perspective, Mona. I've been feeling the same about many things lately- love that you said "100% means it wasn't challenging enough." Thanks for sharing.

  5. I wish school administrators would "wake up" and pay attention to what we as gifted parents are saying. I honestly feel at times that I get better response from my wall. When your child's teacher admits that she doesn't know what to do with your gifted child (who always gets 100's), then you know you have a problem.

  6. I love the 100% comments, too! My daughter had nearly 100% in every subject for the entire school year on her report card, and when mentioned my concerns about this, her teacher replied that she just learned everything correctly the first time, so had very few errors. I took that as a sign that she could be learning more and at a deeper level, but the teacher was not concerned at all. I also find it interesting that attempting something too far out of reach, with no context or prior knowledge on which to hang the new information, causes so much frustration. I see that with both my son and daughter, but hadn't heard it voiced this way before. Thank you for your thoughts...so helpful to think about what to watch out for!

  7. My 15 year old has EXACTLY the same challenges with writing, and unfortunately, has completely shut down. It is so good to read that we aren't the only ones facing this. I wish he would let me help him, at this point he hides assignments and doesn't bring things home in an attempt to avoid them. We are in the process of trying to figure out the best approach for next school year.

    1. Sounds like our 12year old. Writing - same problem. He now uses a laptop, but still gets stuck with ideas in head and they just don't come out. We also have the problem that his teachers cannot comprehend how it is possible that someone who delivers high quality work and is so knowledge-able for his age can be so disorganised, has such poor organisation skills. They just don't get it. Sad, really. We are working on this - one step at a time... hard work.