One minute she's discussing the depletion of the ozone layer, or solving an advanced calculus problem, or teaching herself Portuguese, and the next minute she's crying because her older sister won't share the Legos, or because you won't let her stay up past her bedtime, or because she struck out in the bottom of the sixth inning. Welcome to life with a highly gifted (HG) child!
Coping with Intellect and Emotions My husband and I used to wonder at the start of each day: Who will emerge from the bedroom--our daughter or her evil twin? Really, though, the surprise at any given hour or minute of the day with HG kids is which will surface: their intellectual selves or their emotional selves? Toddler feelings and teenage hormones don't seem to care much about a child's IQ; they wreak equal havoc on them all. Parents of HG kids have to be a little more on their guard, ready to switch gears at a moment's notice.
Sometimes it's hard to remember not to penalize them for acting their age. We start believing that our children are their intellectual ages, not their chronological ages. However, all 4-year-olds sometimes throw temper tantrums, whether they can read at a fifth-grade level or not, and 14-year-olds are mean to their little brothers whether they are getting A’s in AP Chemistry or not. Much of the time, though, HG kids are amazingly grown-up, able to have wonderful conversations on an adult level, and interested in the world in a way that keeps the whole family hopping.
Unending CuriosityOne of the main characteristics of highly gifted children that affects the entire family is their unending curiosity. Sometimes this takes the form of an in-depth passion for one thing, and other times it manifests itself as a desire to learn something about everything, but either way it can lead to adventures and ongoing learning for all family members. My children are good travelers, and our family vacations always turn into educational experiences, even if we don't plan them that way. For example, on our long drive to Lake Tahoe last summer, what was supposed to be a brief rest stop became a fascinating hour learning about tufa formations and brine shrimp at the Mono Lake Visitors Center.
Such intense curiosity, though, can also be daunting to the parents of a highly gifted child; you are expected to know the answer to every question. You will do yourself and your children a favor by teaching them, at a young age, how to learn. In second grade, my children had a very wise teacher who taught them how to use a dictionary, encyclopedia, and thesaurus, and her three favorite words were, "Look it up! " It is important to realize that parents and teachers cannot possibly answer all of an HG child's questions. These children need to know how to find out the answers on their own. It is a skill that will last their whole lives.
The Perfectionist StreakIt is also important to remember, and to remind your children, that they are not necessarily highly gifted in everything. We all have strengths and weaknesses-subjects in which we excel and subjects which are hard for us. In kindergarten, my highly gifted daughter was in awe of her classmate who, although she didn't know the alphabet, was a jump rope champion. Parents of the highly gifted are often torn between wanting to encourage their children to reach their potential and helping them learn to accept their limitations, but both are valuable lessons.
A related concern is teaching HG children how to deal with challenge and frustration. Because perfectionism runs rampant among the highly gifted, it is critical for parents to let children see them make mistakes and accept these mistakes calmly. I know one mother whose children were so afraid to make mistakes that she purposely broke a glass in front of them one day, just so that they could observe that it wasn't the end of the world!
If your family includes one or more highly gifted children, you might be too tired to finish reading this article! It can be physically exhausting to raise HG kids-they tend to have a lot of energy, and it is hard to keep up with them sometimes. Most parents of highly gifted students also find that they must spend extra time advocating for their children throughout their school careers. Every September, you might have to speak to your child's new teacher to educate him or her about the characteristics and special needs of highly gifted students or to offer help in creating an appropriately challenging curriculum for your child. In middle and high school, you may need to intervene with your children's guidance counselors to ensure that they are being programmed into the right classes.
Raising highly gifted children is a challenge, but the experience is rewarding. You may have to work a little harder as a parent, but your child will benefit from your nurturing, and life in your family will certainly never be dull!
Reprinted with permission of the author and California Association for the Gifted.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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