Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Deep, Dark, and Scary World of Gifted Children Part 2

So what is this all about? Why am I writing this. I am writing about this because I was recently reading a blog where a woman's daughter would "guest write" from time to time. Her words were so beautiful, so well thought out, so powerful. Although her mother never mentioned it, you could tell her daughter was quite the gifted child. Not just because she had an amazing vocabulary and an extensive command of the English language, she was also good at so many things (dance, academics, etc.). She also had emotional intensity and was working her way through negative thinking that had plunged her quite often into depression. As I read her amazing words she wrote I often saw my own kids. Although there were quite a bit younger than this fourteen year old - there seemed to be a kindred heart as I read her writing. Then I got quite startled because I remembered why I was reading her blog postings - it had just been posted on a listserv that I belong to that this sensitive, wonderful, amazing young girl had just fallen to her death as she jumped from a 5th story window of an abandoned building. This wasn't her first suicide attempt, but like many gifted children she was unfortunately bright enough to eventually get even that right. Her mother's blogs showed that she had tried hard to help her daughter, but just couldn't lift her from her despair. This was enough to know we needed to continue to work hard with our children. While all three are still very young, they won't be young forever. We must build in them to skills to stop the self hate, to manage the negative talk, to have a realistic expectation of themselves and the world around them.
So, what are we doing? The first and most important step we took when my eldest was three years old. We found a psychologist. Having a psychologist that specializes in working with gifted children is key. I encourage anyone within a 5 hour (yes hour) drive of metro Atlanta to check out Spomenka Newman (, but there are other such people across the country. If you know a good one that you can recommend, please post it in my comments section! The psychologist isn't just for your children, you need an advocate who you can turn to for advice and support. This is hard, this is so very hard. I know many gifted families that co-sleep with their children. Maybe not the entire night, but whenever their children come into the room at night they make room in the bed. Its because we know that whether they be 3, 5, or 15 - they are coming to our bedroom door because they are feeling scared and alone and dealing with something deep and also a bit scary for themselves. They have come to the one place they can find comfort and support, the only place they can find a bit of rest. We know if we turn them away they have been left to fight that despair, that fear, the pain all alone and they just aren't quite yet ready. I know of families that have two mattresses pushed together on the floor - they, like us, have multiple gifted children and even a king sized bed can get crowded!
The second thing I feel is important is to find peers - you need to know other families with highly gifted children. There are just some things only your true peers can understand. You need other people that realize when your child says "I am the worst person in the world" - they truly believe that at the time. Someone who understands when your son breaks down to cry it isn't because he is a "wimp"; its because he is knowledgeable beyond his years but still very much a child and he is just overwhelmed by what he knows is wrong that he can't seem to fix.
The third thing is to find an appropriate educational environment for your child. It is estimated that half of all profoundly gifted children are homeschooled. This means that half of them are traditionally schooled. Ensure that your child has exposure to teachers that understand gifted children. This will ensure their expectations are not unreasonably set, the teacher will know to look out for perfectionism, and the teacher will be skilled in handling emotional intensity. Ensure the lines of communication are open. For homeschooling families, read the emotional signs of your children and be comfortable letting school work take a back seat every once in while for the sake of mental health.
Explore all possible contributing factors to your child's emotional needs. When we had our eldest tested for dyslexia, we found he also had some vision issues. Upon vision testing we learned he was dealing with Moro Reflex issues - are natural reflex that happens in babies in utero that should be gone by age one.  Because his wasn't, his upper and lower body were still working as one unit. This meant his "startle" reflex was still on - big time. This issue often leads to extreme emotional intensity in children. Imagine your "fight or flight" natural reaction activated all day, every day. This was the emotional life of our child. Everything that happened to him would trigger the fight or flight reflex - his poor little body was in a constant state of shock. This physical reaction was taking a toll on his emotions. He felt everything deeply, not just emotionally, but physically as well. Our first task in therapy was working on his Moro Reflex, those loose his body from this physical and emotional prison of the extreme.
A fifth piece of advice: Get educated. Thankfully today there are plenty of resources dealing with the emotional lives of gifted children. Some resources I have enjoyed, or am now reading include the following:
Living with Intensity by Susan Daniels and Michael Piechowski
Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking by Tamar Chanksy
The Out-of Sync Child has Fun: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder by Carol Stock Kranowitz
The Mislabed Child by Brock and Fernette Eide
Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter more than Peers by Gordon Neufeld
There are more great resources out there - feel free to list your own in the comments section!
A final note is to understand and acknowledge your own gifted struggles. Gifted children aren't planted here by alien seed - they are the product of their genetic make-up. The biggest struggle I have had is acknowledging my own giftedness; allowing myself to relive those deep and dark places of despair I visited as a child. Trying to be sensitive to my children as my natural mind tells me to simply say "toughen up" or "its not that bad" is almost cruel to hear for a child going through it in the moment. I remember being a gifted child and it did feel that bad, the world did seem the cruel, and life did seem that hard. If you have unresolved issues - get professional help. It isn't too late. And don't just do it for your child, do it for you.
Those with other advice - feel free to post in the comments section. We are a family, all in this together!

The Deep, Dark, and Scary World of Gifted Children Part 1

Oh how I have toiled and prayed about this blog posting. However, it is time.This is the topic that makes parents of gifted children want to spit when we here "but ALL children are gifted". Really? All families deal with this? What is "this"? This is the area of raising a gifted child that sends parents to their first visit with a psychologist. In the profoundly gifted population - the visit happens rather early. For us, it happened when my eldest was just three years old.
I was encouraged to start this blog to help other parents of gifted children and hopefully build an online community of where parents can say "yes, there is someone going through what I am going through". Now is the time to tackle the issue that probably sent you searching in the first place. You see, parents of gifted children don't stay up at night unable to sleep because their child started talking in complete sentences at 15 months old, or because they found them reading Harry Potter at the age of four. Its the "other" side of gifted, the side no one ever really sees or experiences unless they also have a gifted child. Its the first time your child collapses into a heap on the floor and cries for hours because they made a mistake. Its when your child thinks they are "stupid" because they got an answer wrong while independently doing work created for children twice their age - or more. Its when your child looks at you with tears in their eyes and says "I'm bad, I need to be punished" when they make even the most common mistake. And when that child is just three years old its hurts even more. You know that look, you can see it in their eyes; the self loathing and self hate because they are not the perfect person you never even asked them to be.
"This" comes in many different categories, attached to many different labels. Sometimes it is simple perfectionism - wanting themselves to be flawless for every task, no matter how great or challenging. They can see quite clearly how the wiggled just a little when drawing their first letter "A". You try to console them "honey, its great, it was your first try, your only two - many kids don't draw their first letter A until they are five". It doesn't help, the meltdown has started and there is no stopping this flood. They have seen themselves as less than what they thought everyone else expected them to be and they feel they must be punished. While people on the "outside" are in awe at all the things your kids can do; inside you cringe every time you see a mental leap coming on. Every time you hear those words "mommy, I think I would like to learn". Doesn't matter what they are learning - advanced quantitative physics or tying their shoe - you know in your heart this is going to rip them apart, because learning takes time. And even though they do it three to four times faster than most people, that isn't fast enough for them.
Another category is emotional intensity. Oh my word most people can't understand just how high a high can be or just how low a low can be. The first time I saw emotional intensity my eldest was nine months old. He wanted to nurse while he slept, I wanted to sleep. So, while rocking him in a rocking chair I slipped his pacifier into his mouth. He sat up, took his pacifier in his little baby hand - and threw it was such force across the room when it hit the wall my husband ran into the room thinking someone had fallen. We have calmed him significantly from those baby days - with gentle parenting (no hitting, no yelling). However, those victories are only surface, because while he doesn't have violent outbursts - he has turned that rage and frustration on himself. When he does something wrong, no matter how slight - he will send himself to his room. When he fails to be a perfect little boy he will shout at himself with anger "you are so bad, I am so mad at you!" My sweet, gentle, honest, kind, loving little boy looks at himself with disgust because he sometimes forgets to put a toy away. I am left with nothing more to do but hold him and hug him and cry to myself as I try to emotionally pull out all that "stuff" - he is too little, too young, to vulnerable for feelings like this.
Yet another category is negative thinking. Gifted kids are so acutely aware of the world around them that they can find the negative in a rainbow. "But mommy, isn't the color black sad that it never has an opportunity to be a part of the colors of the rainbow". We went through a tornado and had two trees fall on our home - only to flee to my inlaws home just 30 minutes before an F5 swept through their neighborhood. It was such a scary experience - to everyone. But to my kids, this has become their life. One of my three year old twins continued to ask "how did those houses fall down". 1/3 of the homes in the neighborhood were lost and my son was confused because these were big strong brick houses. Being a fan of the "3 Little Pigs" he continued to demand to know how do brick houses get blown down like we - we had told him for years that brick houses were strong. Well, I never knew to make the exception while reading the story "except in the case of a rare F5 tornado". He had nightmares, his behavior changed, he started to frequently wet the bed. His little three year old mind is still, three months later, trying to come to terms with the fact that mommy and daddy kept this possibility from him. Now every wind brings him close to tears - could this be another tornado? Could our brick house fall down? What else did mommy and daddy keep from me - is there an F6 tornado? How do we know there isn't an F6? Why did God allow an F5 tornado? What happened to the people that were in that house the completely collapsed? What happens if we are outside and a tornado comes? What is daddy is a work during a tornado - can he get home? What happens when you "get dead"? My little three year old son should be thinking about fun things, having a good time, being a kid. Instead, he is wondering the tornado rating of every building he enters - who built it, how strong, how do we know it is strong enough, what if it isn't strong enough?
Do you see your kids in any of these stories? Do any of these experiences speak to you? If so, please read Part 2 which will be posted shortly. In part 2 I will talk about what compelled me to bear my soul and open up the box that is often shut tight and left inside of most homes with gifted children. And I will talk about the ways we deal with this dark and scary side of gifted in our home.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The "socialization" thing - again!

Call me naive, but I fully expected to "not" have to deal with the whole "what about socialization" question when it came to homeschooling my children. Especially from people that know our family and realize we don't live in a cave or underground bunker. Doesn't it seem a tiny bit ridiculous to ask us while we are actually out socializing what we are going to do for socialization?
I understand individuals that don't home school might be curious about the socialization practices of our family, but that is a very different question than "what are you going to do about socialization; you realize they need to be around other kids at some point". For the record, my children have had traditional "socialization" experiences in a traditional school setting. They did one year in a private school (twins in Preschool; eldest in K). While there were some good experiences, I wasn't real happy about my five year old being threatened with being stabbed by another student - is this really the "socialization" people fear my kids will miss out on?
Instead of continuing to lament about the all the ills of traditional school based "socialization" (though I may throw in an example here and there) I will discuss how we view socialization and why we believe this route is not only healthy, but the correct route for our family - you choose what is best for yours.
According to New World Encyclopedia: socialization is used by sociologists, social psychologists, and educationalists to refer to the process of learning one’s culture and how to live within it. For the individual, it provides the resources necessary for acting and participating within their society.
This definition is important. The first thing to point out is that socialization is about people learning to live in the culture in which they live. Our children do not live in an age segregated, geographically assigned culture. The cultural values of our family are about our children learning to live in the world at large, to be contributing members to society at large - not simply learning how to live amongst age mates and peers in a public institutional setting. I got my first job at the age of 14, so I have been in the workforce well over 20 years. I have NEVER worked in a setting in which everyone was my age; I have never worked in a setting in which everyone was within four years of my date of birth. My closets colleagues and friends have been as much as 30 years my senior. How would being in a age normed setting prepare me for this? In fact, having been educated my entire life in a traditional setting, this was one of my biggest and hardest adjustments - living around and working with people that were "just like me". My entire childhood was spent with people "like me" - same geographic area, same socio-economic status, most the same race, most the same religion, and from the age of three - most of my waking hours were spent with children all within 2 - 4 years of my age. College was my first experience with people somewhat different from me, but even that was limited as I went to a mid-sized state university. So, most people were from my geographic area. I didn't form a friendship with an international student until my PhD program. I was so lost in terms of understanding that not everyone grew up poor, or in the Midwest, or in a single parent home. I thought I knew what "Black" people were like, "White" people were like, "rich" people were like - I honestly never even thought about Asian people or knew of the existence of Haitians or Greeks.
My traditional schooling socialized me well - I was perfectly capable of living around other people that grew up in my neighborhood! I had to start all over in the "socialization" process when I packed my bags and headed off to college - just two hours away. When I took my first trip out of the country at the age of 21 - I was again blown away by how narrow my world view had been. I was very good at socialization - I just had very limited opportunity to socialize outside of very narrow circles.
I didn't want that for my children. I want my children to know this world is big and vast with lots of different people, beliefs, cultures, customs, ideas, traditions, and experiences. I want them to be socialized not just for our neighborhood - but for the larger world in which they live. In the real world, people are not broken arbitrarily into age normed groups with a defined leader tagged "teacher", and a clearly defined list of assignments and rules and expectations. I want my children to learn how to navigate in a world full of people that don't always look like them, talk like them, believe like them. Socialization in a traditional school setting is easy - the groups are clearly defined and you know fairly quickly what group you belong to. The language is agreed upon and the rules for success are all defined (sometimes formally, sometimes informally). Not so in the real world - we have to learn to communicate with people that don't speak our language, learn to get along in a world where the rules change constantly, learn to work side-by-side with people with whom we adamantly disagree - and there is no defined administrative arbitrator who will declare whom won or lost.
So, what about socialization? We also agree it is very important and one of the many reasons why homeschooling is the right choice for our family.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

100 Books for fun

Having a gifted dyslexic child can be challenging. He has compensated for his dyslexia in such a way that makes intensive phonics work seem unnecessary to him (until we get to phonics rule 50 or so and it becomes "new"). As a result, I needed something to encourage him to work with me and read, read, and read. Of course, he thinks he can already read. When tested a few months ago he was reading at the First grade, six month level. Not bad, but definitely well below where he should have been (he was in K at the time). I wanted to do something to encourage him to stick with me and for him to see light at the end of the tunnel as well as progress.
Looking through an Oriental Trading catalog I saw many resources celebrating " First 100 Days of School". Light bulb went off - lets read 100 books! With dyslexia, it is important to get kids to read, read, and read. It is also important that they read out loud and become comfortable with reading (reading aloud also lets the parent hear where they are struggling). So, we are doing the "First 100 Books". I got a an amazing cardboard train with 100 numbered large and colorful train cars. We will write the name of each book he reads aloud on a train car. We will start with simple Bob Books and work our way up to more complex chapter books.
I told him he got to chose a reward for reading 100 books. In typical, gifted child fashion, his chosen reward (and absolutely nothing was off the table) was to build a robot at night! His robot building has to be during the day, but he would like to be able to stay of late to build a robot as a reward. Not your typical reward, but it is motivating him to get started on his journey! If we are successful I will continue on to the next hundred. The moral of the story is to find a passion for your child as a way of motivating them to do the hard things. Reading a book out loud is a hard thing for a dyslexic child - if robots is what is needed to encourage my little guy to read 100 of them - I am all for it!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Life of Fred - Elementary Series review

Being and admitted curriculum junkie (meaning I buy way more books and other resources we will probably never get to use), I thought I would put my "bad habit" to good use! So, this is my first of many reviews to come. This review is on the new math series by Stanley Schmidt - creator of the Life of Fred Series. Life of Fred is a common staple amongst families homeschooling gifted children - especially children that love literature based mathematics or understanding the "why" as well as the "how" of math.
The Elementary Series is a welcome addition for parents like me - that purchased his books on Fractions through Calculus knowing it would be a long time before we were ready to crack those books open! So now, here is a math series that even the youngest of gifted children can enjoy!
Here are some of the really basic things to know about the series. First, the books are sequential; this isn't necessarily obvious on the surface as the books have the names: Apples, Butterflies, Cats, and Dogs. Of course, you see the pattern (A, B, C, D) - thus for a child just starting out in formal math education, you can start with Apples. For a child already firmly adding and subtracting, and even doing multiplication and division - it might be best to wait for some of the later books in the series (there should be one released in October 2011 - with ten total books planned for the Elementary Series).
There are a couple of reasons that I LOVE these books for gifted children. The first is that it understands the "less is more" concept that gifted children often times don't need excessive repetition to understand a concept. What takes an average person 7 - 8 repetitions to learn a gifted child can learn firmly with 3 - 4 repetitions. So, Fred (the main character in all the books) will introduce a math concept (by having a real life problem that needs the concept to solve), and the child will have 3 or 4 questions to solve to show they have also learned what Fred learned. Not to worry about your child not getting a firm foundation - the books use a gentle spiral method by re-looking at a concept in later books, using more advanced formulas.
Another great thing about the books is their use of language. They don't just show math concepts, they use the proper terms for various mathematical phenomena (consecutive numbers, commutative law of addition, functions). So, children are learning very early on the proper terms for the problems they are solving, why those terms are important, and when those concepts are used. I also love that it takes mathematics out of the theoretical world and places it firmly in the real world where is belongs. In the Life of Fred series children learn from the beginning that in mathematics, numbers represent units of things - real things. That 2 + 2 = 4 means that there is now four of "something" and that mathematics is used to solve real problems.
Probably the best thing that I love about these books and why they are great for gifted children is because they go beyond just math. They introduce and cover (even just lightly) all sorts of interesting things that gifted children normally don't get a chance to explore (but are capable of exploring) at a really early level - literature from Beowulf to Robinson Crusoe, Morse code and creating your own codes, geography, and even Archimedes. Children are also allowed to quickly move from small numbers (single digit addition) to addition using numbers in the millions.
How much do I love these books? The series is brand new (just got released a couple of weeks ago) and I am so impressed with them that I am scrapping my well crafted plans of using Singapore Math as our spine and switching to the Life of Fred Elementary Series as our spine. I still LOVE Singapore Math - but we will now use it to reinforce concepts from Life of Fred instead of the other way around!
And, for those families that are not home schooling - Life of Fred would be a GREAT after school supplement. It reads like a great book series with math concepts to explore. No longer needing to just hand your child a workbook, you can work together laughing at the hilarious adventures of Fred!

Hope this helps!