When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Let's talk about our gifted children
"Gifted... children are intricate, contradictory, and complex, and the brain that drives them seems to intensify everything they do. [They] can be exhausting, demanding, and perplexing enigmas. They often amaze, delight, and confound the adults who know, love, and teach them. Any day with a gifted child can bring a multitude of intense experiences for the adults who interact with them as well."
~Living With Intensity, 2009~
I don't often say much about the fact that Matt and I are raising two gifted boys. Even though Noah and Will's highly developed cognitive abilities and their emotional and physical sensitivities influence all aspects of our family's daily life and leave us asking many questions, I'm usually reluctant to talk outright about these experiences, for fear that my sharing might be misunderstood as some kind of bragging. Even now as I write these words, I am self-conscious about other parents thinking that I'm only talking about my boys' brains because I'm trying to score some kind of bonus points in the very competitive society we live in today. In my experience, the word "gifted" seems to make some people bristle.
The truth is, though, that most of the parents of gifted children I've met want to talk about their kids, not to draw attention to their wonderful abilities and potential, but in an effort to find information, understanding, and support around the challenges they face in raising them. While every gifted child is unique, many of these kids experience life in ways that are hard for others to comprehend. Along with deep curiosity, intense mental activity, and a rich imagination often come high energy levels that manifest themselves in constant movement and/or talking, heightened senses that can make experiences sometimes seem overwhelming, and the capacity for deep and intense emotional responses. (Further reading about Dabrowski's concepts of overexcitabilities in the book Living With Intensity will offer some fascinating insights on these qualities often seen in gifted individuals.) Gifted children can struggle with anxiety, with perfectionism, with fitting in with children their own age who don't experience and understand the world in the same ways they do, with finding the appropriate educational opportunities to match their talents and abilities. While it is a wonderful, enriching experience to parent such children, it is also not easy.
I have been on a fascinating, emotional, and sometimes frustrating journey as Noah and Will's mom; trying to figure out exactly what they need and how to provide it for them has become a real passion of mine. Today I want to talk about gifted children, and more specifically, where I've been able to find resources to help me parent and educate my own two. I hope that this will be helpful to other parents who have learned that they have a gifted child and are looking for information and help.
The Association for Bright Children of Ontario (ABC Ontario)'s website is an excellent starting point for parents. It provides a great deal of information in the form of definitions, articles, links to other useful websites, and opportunities to connect with other parents of gifted children in an online forum. There are also links to individual chapters of ABC that exist in different cities within the province, so you can find out what is going on for gifted kids and their parents near you.
The Hoagies' Gifted Education Page, the Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted site, and the National Association for Gifted Children site are also great resources.
Books: There are many books written on the subjects of parenting and educating gifted children. I've found this reading to be incredibly interesting, and several books I've come across so far have provided especially valuable insights.
Being Smart About Gifted Education, 2nd Edition by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster is a wonderfully informative guidebook for parents that addresses what giftedness is and how it develops, answers questions about assessment, discusses the different options for meeting gifted learners' needs in a regular classroom and through alternative options, and suggests how to promote gifted children's well-being with respect to social, behavioural, and emotional concerns. I found this book really helped me to know what sorts of educational experiences were possible for my boys, so that I could advocate with and for them at their school, working in partnership with them and their teachers to ensure that they continue to be challenged and engaged in new learning.
Living With Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitablility, and Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults , edited by Susan Daniels, Ph.D. and Michael M. Piechowski, Ph.D explores the various sensitivities and intense experiences of many gifted individuals in relation to Dabrowski's concepts of overexcitabilities. This was a very powerful, enlightening book for me that greatly improved my understanding of my boys' emotional needs.
The Gifted Kids' Survival Guide and The Gifted Teen Survival Guide by Judy Galbraith and Jim Delisle are great books to give to and/or read with your gifted children. The books are full of definitions, advice, quizzes, quotes, resource lists, discussions, and strategies presented in a kid-friendly format to help your children learn more about themselves and how they can thrive.
I've come to realize over the years that a gifted child's insatiable curiosity and desire to learn and create requires a rich variety of educational opportunities, some of which need to be provided outside of the school setting. We are fortunate to live in a community that values exploration and innovation, and we have available to us various summer camp and weekend or evening enrichment programs that we take advantage of. For example, the LEAP program at Wilfrid Laurier University, and ESQ and Math Circles at the University of Waterloo allow curious and highly able learners to explore their interests in engaging and in-depth ways. We also frequent libraries, museums, and special events in our area so the boys can be exposed to a wide variety of reading materials and interactive exhibits that interest them. The local chapter of ABC (Waterloo) has also been a good way for our family to learn more and connect with other gifted families: it offers meetings, social gatherings, and lectures given by knowledgeable guest speakers. Take a look in your own community to see what kinds of activities, programs, and groups might interest your gifted children.
Sometimes it may be difficult to find all of the answers we need to help our gifted children grow happily. Engaging the help of a psychologist can provide us with more tools. In addition to completing a psycho-educational assessment to identify giftedness and any other exceptionalities, and providing recommendations for home and school life, a psychologist can help gifted children (and their parents) cope with perfectionism, anxiety, and other big emotions. Look for a psychologist who has experience working with gifted children, and one that you and your child feel comfortable talking with.
It is my hope that more parents will be open to talking about their gifted children and what it is like to raise them, so that we may clear up misperceptions about what being gifted means and encourage better understanding and opportunities for children with this exceptionality. Through sharing our stories, we offer valuable insights and support for one another as we strive to help our children live happy, inspired, and fulfilling lives.
You'll find additional information and suggestions for parents of gifted children in the comments section below. If you have any of your own to add, please do share them there. We are all engaged in an on-going learning process!