Strange Advice for Parents of Bright Kids
Awhile back, I posted here my "Strange Advice for Bright Kids." Today I offer the same gems again, but tweaked to fit the parents of remarkably bright kids. I am once again calling it "strange" advice because I like to look at things from unusual angles and this advice comes from perspectives others may not consider.
1) Ask for help. As you have likely discovered, being the parent of a gifted child isn't always the cakewalk that a lot of teachers, friends, and parents of average intelligence kids sometimes think it is. These bright lil' buggers can be INTENSE, which means keeping up with them can be exhausting. They can debate you into a corner, even at a very young age, rationalizing their way into controlling the conversation. Some gifted children have extremely high energy levels and may not need naps at an age when other kids still do. Their sensitivity can catch you off guard as seemingly nonchalant moments turn out to be the impetus that causes a meltdown. Their keen sense of justice means they're interested in causes beyond their years - and they enlist you to help them save the world. With remarkable focus, they become so immersed in the interesting task at hand that they are impervious to you struggling to tell them it's time for dinner. And your ten-year-old is having a mid-life crisis, exhibiting his existential depression by asking you questions you haven't even considered yourself yet ("Why am I here? Why is the world so cruel? What if I can't make a difference? What's the point if we're all going to die someday anyway?"). Plus you know that if you tell your friends you're worried about your seven-year-old because she's reading four grade levels above but only being given grade-level material and instruction - that their reaction will be a cynical snort.
Yes, raising a gifted child is a journey often full of joy and fun surprises, too. But when moments like those above overwhelm you, it's okay to reach out for help. Consider contacting NAGC's Parent Resource Advisor. Subscribe to "Parenting for High Potential." Join the National Association for Gifted Children as a Parent Associate Member. Start a Parent Group to connect with other parents of gifted children. Visit the website for SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) and check out the wealth of helpful information in their Articles Library. Attend SENG's summer conference (in Seattle this July). Read "Raising a Gifted Child." Read "A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children." Visit the Parent Page at the Hoagies site. Contact your child's Gifted & Talented teacher. Contact your state GT Association. Check out the many online support options for parents of gifted children. Reach out. Ask for help. It's okay.
2) Love hard work. Parents are (obviously) in a position to have a powerful influence on their children's lives. And you can model some important life lessons for them by how you handle your own life. Because learning and school typically come so easily to gifted children, they frequently skate by, achieving success with little effort. They then develop a mythology in their minds that everything will always come that easily to them, that they should always be able to do or accomplish something the first, second, or sometimes third time that they try. But we as adults know that won't always be the case. We need to help them relish a struggle and love a challenge and know how to persist through twenty, fifty, or one hundred tries. And one way we can help them see the value in tackling a challenge and persisting through the difficult is to model our own love of hard work. Make sure your children see you struggling with - and then conquering - difficult tasks. Talk with them about the times in your life you failed and had to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Take on a family project together that requires hours and hours of both manual labor and mental "figuring." Let them witness you persisting when the going gets tough. Talk with them about the important role hard work has played in your life. Assign chores that help to build a respect for the value of hard work. Celebrate staying in the struggle.
3) Know when to keep your mouth shut. It's so easy to offer advice, to speak up and step in when we see children struggling with a task, to rescue them from not knowing, to shower them with our pearls of wisdom. And there certainly is nothing wrong with any of that. But if we never allow them to discover one of life's truths on their own, if we always step in and show them the way, if we are a constant nagging voice of "shoulds" - then we only end up minimizing the effect of our words on them. Sometimes we need to keep our mouths shut and allow them to reach their own conclusions, make their own discoveries, solve their own problems, and find their own way. Stepping back sure isn't easy. But the self-reliance and self-confidence they develop as a result of doing or making it on their own are very powerful tools they will take with them for the rest of their lives.
4) Do what you love. Parenting is more than a full-time job, and finding time to fit your own hobbies into the mix can be a bit of a challenge. Additionally, current societal norms seem to tell parents that everything they do should be about and for their children. Not that I don't support parents being involved and "there" for their kids, but I think there's value for the children when they can see their parents also being involved (though not over-involved) in tasks that they love. It's another way that modeling comes into play, as we show them what happy and healthy adulthood looks like. It also helps children come to know us as people better. Think also of the messages you send your children when you talk about your job. Do you love what you do for a living? Do your children know it? Do you complain about work in front of your children? Do they then not want to grow up and be unhappy in a job someday, too? Share with them what you love about your work so they can look forward to loving their work someday, too. Let them see the joy in pursuing what one loves, and let them see that fulfillment comes from that passion for what we do, not from the paycheck we get for doing it.
5) Look out for #1. And for parents that is a position shared by both you and your child. You are their guides and protectors, comforters and beacons. It is your job as parent to look out for that cool little kid with the quirky brain and sly little smile. Advocate for his learning needs. Consult with her teacher. Cheer at the basketball game and sit in the audience during the Band concert. Be involved to a degree that is healthy for both you and your child. And keeping that involvement healthy also means looking out for your own needs. Get more sleep. Eat well. Exercise. Take a Mommy or Daddy Time-Out. Learn how to quit something if you are over-extended. Running yourself into the ground isn't healthy for you OR for your child. We all have our limits and it's okay to acknowledge that you, too, - being a "mere" human - have limits. If you don't take care of you first, you'll be less effective as a parent and as an advocate for your gifted child. As Theodore Roosevelt said, "Do what you can, where you are, with what you have." You're "only" human. And that's a great thing to let yourself be. It's also a great thing to let your child see you be.
So... Ask for help, love hard work, know when to keep your mouth shut, do what you love, and look out for #1. Hopefully some of this advice can help you learn how to manage the topsy-turvy's :o) Feel free to offer your own gems of sTrAnGe advice, too.