My kids have always been different from other children. As toddlers, this presented itself in longer, more intense meltdowns than their peers. My son has an intense need to control everything around him, from whether or not I wear jewelry to where we sit at the table. We have spent hours discussing what “they don’t FEEL RIGHT” means to my daughter every time we shop for clothes.
In 2nd grade, my son was doing a reading worksheet with a story about camping, and they asked the question, “What does Tim need for camping?”. He couldn’t choose an answer out of the multiple choices because the “right” answer included marshmallows, and that isn’t a “need” for camping, just a nice accessory.
My daughter loves music and took on playing piano for the jazz band (in addition to 5 other instruments) this year without ever taking a single piano lesson. She teaches herself how to play new instruments and makes it look easy. Yet her anxiety about social situations is frequently paralyzing.
There have been many times when their special quirks have made me feel like a lousy mother, as though I must be doing something wrong to end up with 2 kids who have such big feelings, ask so many questions, and (loudly) observe everything around them. If I am being completely honest, there have even been a few times when I told my mom that I would trade just a couple of IQ points for the ability to have my children be slightly less “on” all the time.
Here’s the deal. My children aren’t doing these things on purpose. I have to remember that they aren’t trying to challenge the adults in their life, or to drive their mother crazy.
They are gifted.
And frequently, that doesn’t feel like a gift.
In my son’s case especially, he also struggles with asynchronous development, in which children may excel in one area, such as reading, but their emotional development is delayed. Or they may be behind in writing or fine motor skills, but are able to do complex math calculations in their head. There was a point last year when my 4th grader was consistently in trouble with his teacher. One of the issues they had is that emotionally, he was more at the level of a 2nd grader. But when he would finish his class work early, he would ask for an Algebra worksheet for fun.
Since he wasn’t emotionally mature, she would punish him by withholding challenges and have him do remedial work instead. For a gifted child, having to repeat skills they have already mastered feels torturous. By the end of the year, his agitation level was at an all-time high. The Vice Principal knew my voice because we talked so often, and my son’s self-esteem and confidence were shot.
After a horrible experience in 4th grade, I decided to have him tested. Testing opened up a whole world to us that I didn’t know existed! The psychologist who tested him offered resources, books, and suggestions on how to keep him engaged at home and at school.
She explained that although his IQ places him in the top 4% of intelligence, his emotional age and range is much younger, which is why we see so many of the flashes of temper, odd freakouts, and general frustrations that happen in our family. I felt like someone had just handed me the users manual for a child who has been a challenge for me since day one! It didn’t mean that our lives became easier overnight. But now that I understand what being gifted truly means, and how misleading the “gifted” label is, I am working to incorporate activities that will support and challenge my son. We had my daughter tested also after such a good experience, and it showed us a whole lot of ways we can support her and help manage her anxiety.
Keeping both of my kids engaged feels like a full-time job. Coming up with new challenges for them wears me out sometimes, and we still see a lot of the huge mood swings with my son. However, now that we know what is happening with his brain, it has helped us to guide him and find the right tools to give him so he can accelerate his learning and find balance with his emotions.
There are communities for parents of gifted children online. The Duke TIP program offers fantastic resources for parents and students, and we have recently discovered Khan Academy, which is a free resource offering everything from Kindergarten math to Calculus, so once kids have mastered a skill, they can move on to the next one. If you have other resources or questions about the challenges and successes of your gifted child, I would love to hear from you!
Hang in there, mamas. You are not alone!