Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Social and Emotional Needs of Gifted Parents

Yes … you read that right! The experts love to discuss the social and emotional needs of gifted children, but what about their parents? Sometimes they are ‘included’ in an article about social- emotional needs, but only concerning how it relates to their children. Bah.

Where do I begin? Talk to any parent of a gifted child and you hear … all about how gifted their child is. That’s it? What about you? You do have needs, too. Being a good parent to a gifted child can only be enhanced by discovering and meeting your own needs along the way.

Here’s how the story often goes: baby is born; baby discovers Socratic learning; pre-school years arrive and it appears the child doesn't quite fit in; child is assessed with uncommon abilities … parents left wondering (for the most part) … how did this happen? Parents begin down the path of discovering exactly what it means to be gifted. Surprise! It’s suddenly apparent that they are on a parallel path … to self-discovery.

It’s one thing to have a social-emotional child. It is quite another to be a parent with unmet social-emotional needs and try to parent that child. Society is quick to judge perceived ‘bad parenting’, but it has even greater disdain for parents of gifted children who don't get it right.

So what’s a parent to do? Let’s check in with the few experts who do understand that it’s a tough job parenting these kids. Since they're experts, it’s a sure bet a few strategies have been devised to deal with the situation.

Strategy No. 1: Hit the books and the Google before it’s too late! Since it would be a bit presumptuous to start during birthing classes, the next best thing would be to learn all you can about ‘giftedness’ once it has been determined that your child is showing signs of accelerated development … the sooner; the better.

Strategy No. 2: Find a peer group. How do you do that? Often times, other adult gifted people do not admit they are gifted or simply do not know it. That makes the search for peers rather difficult. The best place to start is with groups … online groups found in places like Facebook, Twitter, SENG, and offline groups such as state gifted organizations with local affiliates and gifted parent support groups.

Strategy No. 3: Admit your own giftedness. You don’t need an IQ test to realize that you are different. The Institute for the Study of Advanced Development has a fantastic checklist of adult characteristics that will make identification fairly simple. A few of the characteristics listed there include: out-of-sync with others; overwhelmed by interests; passionate, intense feelings; and love intense discussions.

Have I piqued your interest? It is as important to discover and work to meet your own needs as it is to do the same for your child. It will make you a better person and a better parent. Understanding who you are and why you are that way will bring hope and enjoyment into your life. You will no longer be defined by what you feel others think about you. Now, isn't that reason enough to start down the road to self-discovery?

I've included a few links below to get you started:

Discovering the Gifted Ex-Child” by Stephanie Tolan 
The Gifted Identity Formation Model” (click filename) by Andrew S. Mahoney

Monday, June 24, 2013

Ungifted Intelligence Redefined … My Take

When I first heard about this book, my first thought was to ignore it and maybe it would go away (far away … like into the discount bin at Barnes & Noble). But here we are in June 2013 and Ungifted has just been released to glowing reviews by some very impressive, dare I say eminent, persons in the fields of psychology, neuroscience and education.

Everyone loves a winner! And Scott Barry Kaufman is quickly proving himself to be a winner. This is his third book out this year! And it’s only June. His educational background would be the envy of any gifted kid ~ he received his B.S. in Psychology and Human Computer Interaction from Carnegie Mellon University (co-incidentally at the same time my children were attending the ‘gifted’ program, C-Mites, at CMU); his M.Phil. in Experimental Psychology from Cambridge through a Gates Scholarship;  and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Yale.

Impressed yet? He is an adjunct professor at NYU; blogger for Scientific American; co-founder of The Creativity Post; and Chief Science Advisor for The Future Project. In 2012, he won the Mensa Excellence in Research Award. But I digress …

Ungifted – it’s a title that will definitely sell books and spark debate in more fields than SBK holds degrees. And it should. It is well written, well researched (there are 50+ pages of notes and references) and if nothing else – well thought out. In fact, I'm guessing this book took root early in his life when he was mislabeled Learning Disabled. He subsequently remained misplaced until the ninth grade when he took matters into his own hands and self-elected out of the program into regular education classes.

Personally, I would have felt more comfortable with the title, Unlabeled. Labeling and all the implications attached to it are a recurring theme throughout the book. It is foremost about intelligence; a fact not to be overlooked. It also presents the author’s Theory of Personal Intelligence. I would tell you what it was … but you'll have to read the book.

I received my copy of Ungifted from the publisher with the intent that I would review it. I made no promises. I am not eminent in any field; which in the eyes of many would classify me immediately as ungifted. I did, however, read this book from the perspective of someone who has taught as a substitute and worked as a paraprofessional in special education for the past 11 years; who advocates for gifted education; and perhaps most importantly, as a parent. Much of what the author wrote struck a chord with me … with my heart.

A casual reading of Ungifted might result in the reader thinking that SBK believes “all children are gifted”. Say that in a room full of gifted parents and you better have your escape route planned! In the author’s own words, “This is not to say that at the individual differences level of analysis we are all equally intelligent, even by my definition.” (p. 305) 

And from the prologue, we glimpse his reason for writing this book:

“I firmly believe we can recognize and value every kind of mind without diminishing the value of others. I don't see intelligence as a zero-sum game: just because someone is talented (whatever that means) by the standards set by society doesn’t mean that the person who isn’t doesn’t have dynamic potential for intellectual functioning.”

So … why should the gifted community take notice of this book? We always talk about how we think our children should be challenged; so, why not all of us? This book challenges many long held beliefs. It should ignite a discussion on the potential of all children. Proponents (myself included) of the message that “giftedness is as much about who you are as about what you achieve” need to make a reasonable and intellectual assessment of Ungifted and then respond accordingly.

Read this book. I think you'll be surprised at the many areas of agreement you’ll find. And as a reminder … understanding and empathy are gifts we should all cultivate.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The High Ability - Gifted Conundrum

Recently, I read one of those posts that makes you think ~ this person has hit all the right notes. Tom Bennett, in his article, “How BestAre the Gifted Lifted? Above Average But Below the Radar: The Problem ofG&T Kids” is spot on in his analysis of the state of gifted education in … well, just about everywhere.

If there ever was an argument for the existence of ‘gifted’ children, I believe it would be that they exist everywhere … globally, all socioeconomic strata, all races … and behave in much the same way. The Bennett article has a decidedly ‘British’ bent, but what he says and speculates could apply in all cultures and countries.

His own experience as a Gifted and Talented Coordinator provided Bennett with a respectable basis to assess the situation of high ability students in England. I will not repeat his post here, but I will try to explain it from an American perspective; simply because of the many shared attributes between English and U.S. approaches to education.

It is interesting to note that the referenced post was in response to a report this week from Ofsted, “The Most Able Students: Are They Doingas Well as They Should in Our Non-selective Secondary Schools?” It’s important to understand first exactly what Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, is and does. From their website :

“We report directly to Parliament and we are independent and impartial. We inspect and regulate services which care for children and young people, and those providing education and skills for learners of all ages.
 Every week, we carry out hundreds of inspections and regulatory visits throughout England, and publish the results on our website. We work with providers which are not yet good to promote their improvement, monitoring their progress and sharing with them the best practice we find.”

This report has created quite a stir and rightly so. Many of the conclusions have an impact on the education of England’s gifted and talented. Additional information may be found on Tim Dracup’s Blog, Gifted Phoenix, in his post, “Driving Gifted Education Forward.” 

As in the U.S., many gifted students are looked upon as not needing additional services simply because they have achieved expected norms. They will succeed on their own and do not deserve the expenditure of already limited resources by schools. The anti-intellectualism mindset is prevalent on both sides of the pond.

Too often, the life-cycle of a gifted student goes something like this ~ Stage 1: Elementary School - 7 years of unchallenging work leaving the student to breeze through school; stifling potential creativity; an incubator for a ‘why try’ attitude. Stage 2: Middle School – more of the same; but now with under-achievement becoming a way of life. Stage 3: High School – high stakes testing works its magic to further encourage the system to all but ignore the highly-able student and center its resources in areas perceived as much more deserving. Sad, isn’t it? The same pattern repeating itself here, there and everywhere.

So … what is the answer to this conundrum? And even more importantly, if acknowledged … will the ‘system’ ever change? After 15 years, I've become rather cynical. Here is what Tom Bennett proposed in his well-articulated post ~ Identification, Provision and Monitoring. Sound familiar? Would it work? Of course it would. It’s simple and straightforward.

Identification: This is not rocket science; or is it? Our identification process is fraught with misdiagnosis, misidentification and mislabeling resulting in misplacement of some of our brightest minds. But done right, it can work.

Provision: As already mentioned, public opinion sways academic decisions in the direction away from supporting intellectually gifted students. An informed electorate could make all the difference here.

Monitoring: Limited resources make it a sure bet that this will not happen in most public schools in America. But 'the times …they are a changin' and history is on the side of coming up with a better system.

Is there hope that things will change? Can this cynic become an optimist? Of course, there is hope! You know why? There is hope because of people like you; the reader. Parents of gifted children who seek to understand and advocate for their children.

In actuality, things are already changing with the advent of homeschooling gifted children, residential academies for high-ability students, the quiet return of flexible ability-grouping in many schools, the realization of the importance of recognizing the social-emotional needs of gifted children and the recent development of a call to seek out gifted students from all socio-economic levels and ethnic groups.

A conundrum is a confusing or difficult problem. When advocating for a gifted child, a parent goes through many stages. At first it can seem confusing for parents who did not expect to have a gifted child or who are not familiar with how the education system works. There is a whole new language to learn. Interacting with schools and teachers may be overwhelming at times. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and resources are plentiful to assist you in guiding your child to become successful!

Special thanks to the New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour for including Gifted Parenting Support. We hope you enjoy the many great posts from this year’s tour.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Are You Nurturing Your Gifted Child?

This may sound like a simple question and most parents would respond with a resounding, “YES!” Of course, you feed and protect your child. However, nurturing also means to support, to encourage, to bring up, to train, and to educate. Do you do this or do you allow others to do it for you?

This isn’t a nature vs. nurture debate. If your child has been identified as gifted, do you nurture them. Believe it or not, I have worked with many parents over the years who take it for granted that their gifted child/children have needs beyond food, clothing and shelter. They lead busy lives and too often overlook the fact that parenting gifted kids is an {awesome} responsibility.

Let me ask the question in a different way. Do you spend quality time with your children? Do you talk to your children about their feelings, their dreams, the things they are anxious about? Do you read to your children even when they can read themselves? Do you model the behaviors you hope to see in them? Do you support your child while encouraging independence in tough situations? Do you listen to your children; really listen? Really?

Many of the world’s problems could be solved if we as parents spent more time nurturing our children ~ our ‘gifts’ ~ guiding them into adulthood and beyond. Parenthood is truly a never ending story. From toddler to teen to young adults … they need you to be there for them.

Recent research tells us that peer relationships have a much greater influence in the lives of our children than do parents. That doesn’t mean that we stop trying; it means we must work even harder at being a part of their lives.

Don’t know how to do this? Network with other parents of gifted children. Educate yourself about the meaning of giftedness {{self-discovery may come into play}}. Plan family activities that encourage creativity and critical thinking whenever possible. Believe in your child even when they doubt themselves.

It’s not an easy job ‘to bring up’ a gifted child, but it certainly is rewarding! Don’t sweat the small stuff; it’s not worth it. Find joy in every moment you spend together and then you can, indeed, say that you do nurture your gifted child!