One of the goals all parents can agree on is a desire to raise resilient children, meaning children who are able to bounce back from disappointments, willing to take risks, and willing to stick with something, even when it is difficult. Resilient people actively look for ways to solve problems. Resilient people are capable. They are willing to face a challenge rather than to look for a way to escape it. Our goal is to help our children learn the skills they need to handle challenging situations. The skills of resilience can be taught and should be practiced. Parents of gifted children are interested in discussing not only what it takes to raise a resilient child, but also on what is different or challenging about raising a resilient child who also happens to be gifted.
Parents can model resiliency. Children can see and hear their parents or caregivers make mistakes and deal with those mistakes. “Oh, rats. I put salt in the recipe instead of sugar. Can I fix it? Should we have something different for dinner? What can we do with the wasted ingredients?” Parents can talk with their children about times they made mistakes, “Remember when we got lost on our way to…?” Children quickly realize that people aren’t perfect and people can develop ways to recover from mistakes or misfortunes.
Exceptionally talented youngsters don’t experience failure or the need to practice or the need to do homework often enough. School work and many other things come easily to them. How do we give our talented students the opportunity for a challenge? Outside-of-school programs such as academic summer programs, online courses, or weekend enrichment classes can offer such a challenge. Parents can encourage their children to try a new activity, a new sport, a new hobby, or something else that requires them to practice a new skill.
Parents can help their children work on “self-talk.” We should avoid words like, “stupid” or “idiot” and replace them with words like “human,” “made a mistake,” need to practice more.”
Talk to your children about how to be a good friend. Help them to find friends who value them. These friends can help provide the support network we all need when going through difficult situations. It can be difficult for gifted students, especially highly gifted students, to find very many other children like themselves, and parents may have to step in (especially when the children are younger) to try to help them find others like themselves. It’s OK if they have just one or two really good friends. These friends might even be a couple of years older or younger. It’s not necessary that they have a lot of friends their own age. As children get older, it does get easier for them to find friends, since they can get involved with more varied activities.
Training can help us to be resilient. This can mean practicing failure, or this can mean learning specific skills. Young people who take a first aid class gains have some idea of what to do in an emergency situation. They learn they might not be able to solve the problem, but they can take some positive steps to be helpful. These skills provide confidence. What other skills can your child learn that will provide confidence?
Let them take charge sometimes. What kinds of tasks can your child do at home that will provide a challenge and give him a chance to grow? Being responsible for feeding a pet each day, setting the table, or planning the next family vacation are all jobs that can give a child satisfaction and a ‘can-do’ attitude. Gifted students can handle complex jobs, such as doing research on the Internet for the best driving route, hotels, and activities for a family vacation or even finding reviews and other information about a new car.
Practice helps us gain confidence. Putting children in challenging but not dangerous situations provides opportunities for growth. For example, allowing a child to walk to the library alone. Parents have to decide at what age they are comfortable with these new opportunities, but they need to be conscious of continually giving children more challenges and more responsibilities.
Teach children how to cope with failures and disappointments. Life is full of setbacks. Parents might think of not always protecting their children from disappointments, but instead allowing those disappointments to occur. This gives the child the opportunity to experience and deal with failure. Techniques for handling failure include: Take a walk, allow yourself to have some time alone, cry, talk about the situation with a good friend or a parent or trusted adult, think about what I could have done differently, and figure out how to get back into it. Even though this seems like a big deal right now, will it really matter next week?
Think about “stress” and “stretch.” A little bit of stress provides stretch. It can be intimidating to stand up in front of a class and give a speech, but giving that speech and surviving it gives a child satisfaction today and helps him to gain confidence the next time he is asked to speak in front of a group. Everyday life is full of stresses and we can't avoid them. We want to teach our children how to handle them. A skinned knee is can be OK. Maybe she just tried roller skating for the first time. Maybe he fell off his new bike. When the kids get back up on those skates or on that bike, they feel a sense of accomplishment. We can’t protect our children from every little bump and bruise, and those bumps and bruises actually help them to grow. Of course, good, old fashioned common sense is important in protecting the children from truly unsafe situations.
The 7 C's of Resilience
Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg (2006) defined “The 7 C’s of Resilience.” Competence is the ability to handle situations effectively and is acquired through experience. We help our children build competence when we focus on their strengths and when we let them make “safe” mistakes. Letting your children do jobs around the house, even though you can do a better job, is one way to help them build competence. Allowing children plenty of time for free play alone and with others is a way to help them develop competence. Children learn to solve problems and work out disagreements when they aren’t always involved in highly structured, adult-directed activities.
Confidence is the belief in my own abilities. Parents help their children build confidence when they give honest praise about specific achievements, such as, “I liked the way you kept trying, even though it got hard.” You can ‘catch’ your child being good, generous, helpful or kind and tell them that you noticed it. Parents should seek the right balance between pushing them to take on more than they can handle and pushing them so they stretch a bit. Focusing on what a child is doing wrong doesn’t build their confidence. Reminding them of what they are capable of doing well does.
Making connections with family, friends, school and community provides a sense of physical safety and emotional security. Parents can help with these connections by having a common space at home where you can spend time together as a family, helping your children to participate and take pride in their ethnic, religious or cultural groups, and making themselves available when the children want to talk. Family rituals are very important, and they can be as simple as eating meals together, walking to the library once a week, or baking cookies together.
Children with good character are developing a fundamental sense of right and wrong. They have a good sense of self-worth and confidence. They demonstrate a caring attitude toward others and are able to stick to their values. Parents can help their children to see themselves as caring people. Parents can model the importance of caring for others, a sense of spirituality, and avoid hateful statements or stereotypes. Parents are actively helping to develop their children’s character when they notice acts of kindness in their children and in others, show how they treat others well, and reinforce the importance of including all children. It is OK not to spoil your children; you can explain that something is too expensive to buy or that they need to wait until a birthday for a special gift. Practicing patience helps build character. Encouraging them to give to charity and volunteer their time does, too.
Parents can help their children make a contribution by instilling a sense of purpose and helping them understand the importance of serving others. Parents can create or take advantage of volunteer opportunities that are kid-friendly, such as participating in a food drive, helping at an animal shelter, or volunteering in the library. Children learn many skills, such as salesmanship, organization, and responsibility. By volunteering, children and their families forge connections with their neighborhoods and other communities. All of this gives us a sense of purpose. Not only do they gain valuable experience with people of all ages, but also they may learn leadership skills.
Children need to learn a wide variety of positive, adaptive coping strategies. Parents can model these strategies, for example, they can model tackling problems step by step, rather than reacting emotionally when feeling overwhelmed. Parents can model relaxation techniques (“Wow, I had a rough day. I'm going to go up to my room for a little while and rest. I'll be back downstairs in about 15 minutes.”) Coping strategies can also include activities involving creative expression, such as scrapbooking, knitting, or playing an instrument. Life is stressful, so we need to prepare children to handle it effectively. Engineers build fire trucks so they can be repaired easily. They don't expect them to be perfect and never to need any repairs. We can think of ourselves the same way -- how can I prepare myself for the inevitable stresses of life?
A resilient child knows he has internal control. Parents can help their children understand that events are not purely random, that they can have influence on what happens. Nobody can control all circumstances, but everyone can shift the odds by choosing positive or protective behaviors. Resilient kids can be decision-makers and problem solvers who control outcomes. Parents can think about disciplining their children in a manner that teaches self-control and delayed gratification. They can help their children learn how to make decisions and then to trust their own decision-making skills.
Resilience and Gifted Students
Since their school environment is typically not very challenging, gifted students may not encounter academic situations requiring them to develop strategies of resilience such as coping with failure or learning to persevere in challenging situations. Activities such as school gifted programs, honors courses, summer classes, lab experiences, or math competitions provide not only the intellectual challenge the students need, but also the opportunity to develop their resiliency skills. Students can try something difficult, deal with the reality of not always being first, and have the chance to see themselves make progress in a challenging area or new activity.
Gifted students may encounter situations at a younger age than most children, or they may encounter unique situations because of their talents and abilities. Again, these situations can help them build their skills of resilience. Gifted students frequently possess characteristics such as sensitivity and a strong sense of justice and an early sense of right and wrong. These characteristics can present special challenges in developing resiliency. Other characteristics of gifted children—such as excellent problem-solving abilities, sense of humor, and intellectual curiosity—support the development of resilience.
Since gifted students may be more mature in the way they look at the world, they may experience a mismatch with their age peers. They may feel like they can’t find friends who understand them and they may experience the burden of loneliness. Parents may have to help their children to find one or two good friends who are similar to themselves. This might mean connecting with others through online courses, participating in summer camps where they can meet other similar students, etc. Parents should also be prepared for their children to prefer interacting with slightly older children, since they are more likely to have similar interests.
Ginsburg, K. (2006). A parent’s guide to building resilience in children and teens: Giving your child roots and wings. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
Neihart, M. (2008). Peak performance for smart kids: Strategies and tips for ensuring school success. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
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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