Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Top blogs about gifted children, gifted education, and parenting

There are so many great blogs about gifted children, adolescents and adults, each of which provide a somewhat different perspective.

These blogs are written by teachers, parents, therapists, and researchers. They describe parenting dilemmas, personal triumphs and struggles, and research-based strategies that work. While there are also many wonderful websites, books, and blogsites specifically geared toward gifted education strategies, the blogs listed below were selected because of their focus on the social and emotional aspects of giftedness, parenting dilemmas, or advocacy.

Watch out for Gifted People

We Are Gifted 2

If I have inadvertently overlooked a blog that you would like to suggest for the list, please let me know! (Some blogs may have been excluded, though, if they have not been updated within the past year, list only a few  posts, are affiliated with much larger organizations, or whose sole purpose is to sell a product.) Again, let me know your thoughts or recommendations in the comments section below.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sending your gifted child to college: Providing support when fears arise

As families pack up their new college students for the journey ahead, emotions can range from exhilaration and relief to anxiety and sorrow. But coupled with the all too common worries about making new friends, dating, academics and fighting with roommates, gifted college freshman can harbor some particular questions and fears.

Many gifted teens are academically and emotionally unprepared for college.

Even those gifted teens who achieved high grades or received scholastic awards may have coasted through school feeling bored and unfulfilled. Many never had the opportunity to master truly challenging academics, face failure, or exert much effort despite achieving good grades. The end result can be underlying self-doubt, a poor work ethic, and/or an overinflated sense of their talents.

As Elaine Tuttle Hansen, executive director of Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, stated several months ago in her column on college-bound students, “it's time to acknowledge that even top students may have college-readiness problems.” 

Inadequate academic preparation may be the most obvious challenge for some, and may come as a rude awakening to gifted adolescents who exerted little effort in high school. Despite efforts to find the right fit, college can present a range of challenges. Late night distress calls home, however, are often more reflective of the emotional rather than academic challenges these teens face as they start college. The questions gifted students may have include the following:

Will I fit in?

Gifted teens may have gotten used to being viewed as different, outliers, or non-conformists, yet eventually settled into a familiar niche by the end of high school, even if they longed for something new. Entering a completely different social environment, though, may reawaken anxiety about peer acceptance, memories of earlier incidents of bullying, or insecurity about their interpersonal skills. They may worry about rejection, and question whether they should be true to themselves or suppress their natural curiosity or quirky interests.

Parents can remind them that they have new opportunities to meet different friends, that anxiety is common for most incoming freshman, and that they could look for clubs, groups and other activities where they can find like-minded peers. Point out that they eventually found their place in high school, and this will happen in college. If they continue to struggle, appear depressed, or show signs of excessive anxiety, they should be encouraged to seek out support from the college counseling center.

Will I be noticed?

The small fish, big pond world of most college campuses is a harsh reality for many accomplished students, especially when praise and recognition have bolstered underlying insecurity. Even small colleges can seem overwhelming when no one knows an individual’s abilities. While it may be a welcome relief to share classes with so many equally talented students, it can be a humbling reminder to gifted children that they are not so special after all.

Parents can point out that they will find their niche eventually, that it takes time to build connections, and that they are “special” regardless of how much they shine. Their “job” is to learn, grow and gain a good education. They do not have to be the best; they need to work hard, develop new skills, and find their path.

Will I succeed?

Praised for their talents and permitted to languish in “easy” classes, many gifted adolescents have no idea about what it takes to achieve success. College may provide the first awareness that talent is not enough; drive, hard work, organizational skills, and vision are necessary to get ahead. This sobering reality may force them to master new skills that are unfamiliar to them. To belabor a metaphor, the “small fish” may also feel like a fish out of water. Conversely, some gifted students have been perfectionists from the start, and place even more pressure on themselves once they reach college.

Remind them that college is not just geared toward academic learning, but toward the development of life lessons and skills toward a future career. They are learning what some of their peers recognized years ago; you have to work hard to achieve what you want. They also may have to ask for help, develop study skills, and reach out for guidance in difficult academic subjects. Perfectionistic students need to challenge their self-imposed standards and recognize when their expectations are too extreme.

Who am I without my talents?

Some gifted adolescents have become so identified with their talents and accomplishments that they question what might become of them without continued success. Their identity has been interwoven with recognition, awards and perfect test scores, and they may worry that any digression from this would betray loved ones and teachers who have championed their strengths. Even more, they may fear losing a sense of themselves if they fail to perform at a high level. While some existential anxiety is common for most college students, gifted students who overidentify with their achievements might limit class selection or career goals that present any risk, or feel guilt and despair if performance does not meet expectations.

Gifted adolescents need to be reminded that they are loved and appreciated for much more than their talents and abilities. Point out that they need to take risks to try new skills, take on new challenges, and investigate different forms of learning while in college. Remind them that what is most important is their intrinsic strength of character unrelated to their intellect. If they continue to experience feelings of depression, anxiety, or obsessive worrying about performance, counseling should be considered.

On a positive note...

Despite these fears, most gifted adolescents feel relieved and even thrilled to be in college. They are finally in an environment that values higher level thinking, intellectual engagement, and achievement. They no longer have to “hide” their interests and abilities due to fear of being criticized. They are surrounded by like-minded peers who also want to learn.

Best wishes for your child's safe, joyful and enlightening journey.

Friday, August 9, 2013

A life lesson for gifted children: failure

Let your gifted child fail.


Many parents of gifted children, hardened from years of advocacy, might bristle at the idea of allowing their child to fail. They have encouraged their children to fulfill their talents, to strive for their best, to take on new challenges. Passively accepting a failing grade or poor performance may seem alien.

But it’s often the best life lesson a child can receive. And it’s better if it comes early.

Why is it so important?

Gifted children are used to doing well, accomplishing what they want, rising to the top. Although some may struggle with learning disabilities or deficits in a few areas, most grasp learning with ease. Many coast along and rarely push themselves as a result. We do them a disservice if they rarely face a challenge, if they never struggle, if they never fail. We rob them of the opportunity to learn resilience.

What is resilience?

Simply put, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines resilience as "an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change." The American Psychological Association expands this definition to include both a process and a learned behavior. According to the APA, “Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity…. Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.”

When learning comes easily, tests are a breeze, and there is little challenge, children don’t get to develop resiliency skills.  Often this occurs when the curriculum is too slow or basic. The obvious solution is to ensure that gifted children receive an education that is stimulating and challenging. Other times, though, gifted children may avoid academically demanding situations because of their fear of failing. Not only do they deprive themselves of finally experiencing a true academic or creative challenge, they never get to flex their “resiliency muscles.

Some reasons gifted children avoid taking risks include:
  • Perfectionism – Not all gifted children are perfectionists, but those who are feel compelled to produce a stellar performance or piece of work, even when others do not expect this. Perfectionists often avoid challenges when the outcome is uncertain or where they might perform poorly.
  • Heightened sensitivities – Highly sensitive and emotionally intense, many gifted individuals can overreact to even mild criticism. Comments intended to enhance growth may be perceived as overly harsh and taken as a global stamp of disapproval. Their sensitivity also may result in an avoidance of risk-taking.
  • Defining self by ability – Some gifted children define themselves by their talents and abilities, and dread the possibility of failure. When consistently praised and recognized because of their talents, they can become overidentified with them, and believe that it is essential to maintain their standing as the “best” at what they do.  If they fail, they may feel devastated, as their sense of identity can feel threatened.
  • Previous failures in social situations – Sometimes introversion, asynchronous development, or having interests that differ from those of their peers may have contributed to uncomfortable social interactions that felt like failures. Some gifted children may retreat into their intellectual or artistic pursuits, and fear the thought of losing this refuge if they were to fail.

The experience of failure itself is not helpful. What matters is what the child learns from it. 

Supportive encouragement to learn from the particular situation, challenge misconceptions about what occurred, and quickly move on can help children accept disappointment and develop resiliency. Resources for building resiliency in children are available in print and on the web, such as through the APA help center. Yet gifted children may have somewhat different needs.

What can you do to help your gifted child develop resiliency?

1.  Encourage your child to take academic risks. Achievements are more satisfying when they initially seemed out of reach. Don't let your child settle for shortcuts, or lavish praise over accomplishments that come too easily. Urge schools to provide appropriate gifted education that truly challenges your child.

2.  Distinguish between process and outcome – Offer an appreciation of how learning is a process involving uncertainty, excitement, confusion, and a range of unsolved mysteries. Your child’s job is to take on challenges he or she has not already mastered. Let your child know that you care as much about how he or she approaches learning as what is produced.

3.  Teach coping strategies – Help your child learn how to accept disappointment and loss without either blaming others or engaging in harsh self-criticism. Teach how to put adversity into perspective. Help your child learn to comfort, soothe, distract, seek support, and appropriately discharge feelings. (Note: Sometimes these skills may warrant support from a therapist.)

4.  Emphasize values – Promote the importance of ethics and integrity, cooperation and collaborative work, and taking responsibility for one’s role in the classroom.  Let your child know that actions and behaviors speak more about character than accomplishments, and that how one behaves is more important than always being the best. 

While most children find school to be reasonably demanding, gifted children frequently view academics as easy and even boring. Without a challenge, they may develop a distorted sense of their own abilities, a skewed perception of others' strengths, and a fear of taking risks when eventually faced with real challenges. Encouraging academic risk-taking at an early age, before fears and avoidance behaviors become entrenched, should help build confidence in their ability to master adversity and future challenges.