(April 2012) "Why Do People Look At You The Way They Do When You Tell Them You Have A Gifted Child?"
If you are the parent of a gifted child you know what I'm talking about. That look you get ever time you use that word...GIFTED. There is usually some sort of sigh or comment that goes along with the look. A couple of the ones I've heard? "Well, every child is gifted in one way or another." "What makes you think YOUR child is gifted?" But, usually you just get a smirk or an uncomfortable squirm. Their honest thoughts are, "Who in the hell do you think you or your child are!" and "How dare you say that your child is better than mine!" Although, you didn't say that at all.
To be honest, I don't blame them for their response, after all I use to be one of them. Yes, I too use to cringe at the word and for that matter those who used it. So I knew first hand what people would think, way back when my daughter Abbey was first tested and entered into the gifted (GATE) program at school. I was afraid to, and never did call her gifted. Because of my own fears of what response I would get, or worse yet what response she would get. I knew that Abbey tested in the top 1% of the country in language arts and patterns and the top 3% for Math and overall academics, started talking early, started reading at age two, had an incredibly mature and hilarious sense of humor, an intense love and appreciation of art at a very young age, and so much more. But still I hesitated to call her gifted. To be honest, in the beginning, I didn't even know if I believed in this whole gifted thing. What did the word gifted even mean? And for that matter how would I know what a "normal" kid was or was not? I didn't have much of a reference, my daughter was my only child and I didn't have her until I was 39 years old. How would I identify that she was some how, different? But more than all that stuff, the most important thing I didn't know back then that I wish I did - was that that word gifted had an entirely different side to it - a social emotional side- that would affect and follow Abbey throughout her entire life.
The truth is that I have been thrown into and educating myself on this new gifted world for over two years now, every since my daughter had to leave public school due to severe emotional bullying due to her "uniqueness," and the panic attacks and emotional break down that followed. In the beginning I was afraid to tell people, even my own family, that Abbey was gifted. I was afraid of everything I wrote about before, about their looks or comments or not believing it was true. But after the breakdown and leaving school, the thing I was most afraid of? That Abbey would never recover, that I would never find the right support for her or learn how to help her, that we both would keep feeling so deeply hurt and alone, and never find anyone to talk to that understood.
My next blog will be about the beginning of my journey to find information, education, and HELP, for my daughter, and myself... From there I will continue on to how we found it...and how this all ended with the start of a support group for gifted children and their parents so that no gifted child or parent in my county, would ever have to feel alone in all this again.
Maybe you understand or have a similar story - feel free to comment.
(10/14/2013) "Abbey's Public School, GATE, & Bullying Years"
Three years ago, my daughter Abbey left public school because she had an emotional breakdown. My previously outgoing, adventurous, super-social, couldn't get enough of learning Abbey, was now unable to go to school, having panic attacks, and couldn't even leave the house. She couldn't go into any store or building, couldn't tolerate any social activity outside our immediate family, and all because of severe emotional bullying by 1 boy and 3 girls in her classroom. At least I thought it was all caused by the bullying, unbeknownst to me at that time, the bullying experienced was being magnified by Abbey's emotional sensitivities and intensities that came along with her being a gifted child.
In my last post I said that next I would go into how I started to get information and help for Abbey, but after thinking about it, to tell the whole story, I think I have to go back a ways, back to when Abbey first tested for the GATE (Gifted And Talented Education) program in Elementary School.
I don't know if you've experienced this, but when they first want to test your child for the GATE program, they send home a note. The note says that your child's teacher (or other school faculty) has identified some traits in your child that makes them think they might be gifted. They send you a form to sign, saying that you agree to have your child tested. After your child is tested, they send the results home to you. When this first happened, my daughter Abbey was in 3rd grade. They show you a chart that shows how your child tests in comparison with the rest of the country. This was the first time I ever saw proof that Abbey was ahead of her peers, that she may be "gifted." I remember looking at that chart, and seeing that Abbey tested in Math and overall academics in the top 3% of the country, and in language arts and patterns, she tested in the top 1%. I remember thinking, "that can't be right." I went back to that chart probably 20 times, trying to figure out where I read it wrong. Abbey was my only child and I had no reference to know if she was advanced in any area. I thought she started doing certain things early, and things seemed easy for her to learn, but I really didn't know if that was anything special. Still, I accepted their tests results and I signed the paper saying that I agreed to put Abbey in the GATE program.
That 1st year Abbey was in GATE she had an incredible teacher. She was kind and attentive, she loved Abbey and went out of her way to make sure Abbey was happy and had friends. She was super animated in her teaching style, and Abbey just loved her. For the most part, Abbey was happy and thriving in 3rd grade, until she started to be bullied by one of the boys in another class. He would tease her, she was sensitive and he liked that he could make her upset. She would also get upset because of all the "drama" she said was happening with the girls on the playground, she didn't understand why friends would argue so much. She wanted to help them get along, but sometimes she couldn't and it would bother her. For a short time in 3rd grade, she would come home and tell me, "I cried again today." I would ask her about her problems and we would talk them out, I would give her a pep talk, and she would be happy again. At this same time when Abbey was sensitive or sad, Abbey's wonderful teacher would take the time to take a walk with Abbey, and talk over her problems. I remember asking Abbey's teacher about the problems Abbey was having at school and how she came home crying so often. I asked if she thought it was normal stuff all kids went through and if she felt Abbey fit in? She said, "There is nothing wrong with Abbey, Abbey is fine as she is and doesn't need to "shrink down" to the other kids level." I thought that was a strange statement for what I knew was a good teacher to make...but now I understand. I realize what she was talking about was Abbey's optimism and intelligence, her joyful love of learning and sharing those newly learned facts with others, her sensitivity, kindness and natural sense of morality and wanting to help others, some of the very things that made her a target for bullies, may have made her different than some, but not "less". She saw that I was still worried and she said, "I"ll have to get you a book on gifted children, I think it will help you." But, she never did, and I never thought of it again that year. I knew with this wonderful teacher at her side, Abbey was being taken care of and would be fine. In 4th grade, the year Abbey later had to leave school, Abbey had a new teacher. This teacher was nice, but she was dry and had a serious teaching style. She didn't bake cookies to alleviate stress before the STAR testing like Abbey's 3rd grade teacher did. She would tell Abbey "It is not an appropriate time for that, Abbey," when Abbey would clap for a fellow student who received an award. Abbey came home one day and said, "If I could describe my classroom, I would say it was the color gray." Abbey would come home from school crying or saying she cried at least 2 times a week. Three of her best friends had all of the sudden moved away because of the declining economy, and she was having a difficult time finding friends that year. Three of the girls and 1 of the boys in her class didn't like her, and would do everything possible to tease her and make her cry. They said terrible things to her and I sent many emails and had meetings with the teacher about the problem. At that same time GATE testing was being held again. Abbey again was put into the GATE program. When I went into sign the GATE papers her teacher was there along with a GATE director. I noticed on the paperwork her teacher had written, "Abbey seems to have difficulty finding friends." I thought this was odd, and wrong! Abbey always had friends, she had just lost 3 best friends who moved, and she was having bullying problems. She also wrote, "Abbey is sensitive and cries a lot." Again I was offended, of course she cries a lot, she is bored in your class and she is being harassed daily by the other students. I didn't know the teacher was probably trying to help by stating these things. I started to cry and said to the two of them, "How could I have screwed her up so badly that she cries so often and is so unhappy?" The director and her teacher tried to console me and said it had nothing to do with me, that was just who Abbey was, she was born that way. They shared with me that they had three children each, and they all were different from each other from birth. But there was still no mention that these issues may be related to Abbey being gifted. As I look back now, I could have really used that information at that time. After that the bullying was being dealt with somewhat, and things seemed to get better for a little while. But inside, Abbey was changing. She wasn't happy and excited about school and learning anymore, she started to say she didn't want to go to school anymore. She would cry and cry after school saying how she just wanted a friend. To make a long story a little shorter, eventually at an after school event. Abbey panicked, broke down, and begged us to leave and go home. She never went back to school again, she started having daily panic attacks and couldn't leave the house.
After leaving school, we were at home supposedly starting to homeschool. My daughter was having panic attacks and was severely anxious and depressed to the point of being fearful of everything. There was no way she could do school work, she had extreme depression and anxiety, panic attacks and fear. I immediately got on the phone and computer looking for a therapist for her. I had this feeling that I should find a therapist that knew about gifted kids. I searched and searched but couldn't find anyone in our area. I found gifted psychologists, but they were in other counties, and because of my fibromyalgia no matter how hard I tried, I just didn't think I could manage to drive that far on a regular basis. I looked for a gifted support group or play group with other kids who had gone through bullying like Abbey, but it was the same, there weren't any in our area. So everyday it continued, I took care of Abbey the best I could. We would have long talks and cries about everything she went through, and more and more details came out about the severe emotional bullying she had experienced. When I could, I would be on the computer looking for gifted therapists and support in our area. When Abbey would sleep I would stay up all night, searching, I just kept thinking, I must be missing something, there has to be something here to help us. I would make phone calls to therapists that said they had gifted or bullying experience, just to find that they didn't, or they that they weren't accepting patients, or they didn't take our insurance, and on and on and on went the frustration. As I continued to search I started to find articles and websites about gifted children. I started to read everything I could to see if I could find something that would help. I started to see Abbey in the pages I was reading, it was like they were writing our lives. Those words in those articles described my daughter so well, I was sobbing as I realized this was the answer to our/her problems - there was nothing wrong with Abbey - she was just gifted! I learned that meant she had a special personality or makeup that included social/emotional super-sensitivities and intensities. This is what had made the bullying experience so much worse for her, things started to make sense. I was relieved and happy, but I also felt an urgency to get Abbey the help she needed. I had this instant realization that the way to Abbey's recovery and regained happiness, was in finding a gifted psychologist who would understand her, and getting her around other kids who would "get her" and accept her - because they were just like her - they were gifted. I started reading everything I could and started to learn more about gifted kids and that it wasn't all about their being advanced academically like the schools had focused on, that there was this whole other side to it, a social/emotional side that would stay with them their whole lives. I was happy as I learned, because now I understood, now there were answers to Abbey's problems, and hope. But at that same time, I also started to feel frustrated and angry. Why didn't anyone ever tell me about the social and emotional issues that can go along with raising a gifted child? I thought, if I had of known, maybe I could have done something different, demanded more action at school, a new teacher that taught in a way Abbey could understand and would keep her love of learning alive, maybe I would have understood why she was bullied and why the bullying was so bad and affected her the way it did, demanded it stop and get her the tools she needed to deal with it! I just didn't understand! Why didn't anyone at the school tell me about this stuff? Why wasn't there a hand out or brochure about the social/emotional side of being gifted that goes along with the stack of GATE paperwork they give you? How could the education system not understand that we as parents would need this information desperately in order to make sure our children were happy and could even take advantage of the education they were being given, much less excel at it or develop their unique gifts?
In my next blog I will go into how we started homeschooling and how Abbey's negative experiences at school and her gifted related perfectionism affected her love of learning. How we're dealing with that, and how we finally found an incredible therapist that has helped Abbey to heal, and given her tools to use to help with her gifted related anxiety, sensitivities and intensities.
In the next blog after that, I will talk about how Abbey and I started our gifted support group, what affects that has had on Abbey and myself, and then hopefully end up at the present time where I hope to write a weekly blog about raising a gifted child and our experiences with our gifted support group. Thanks for listening, stay tuned and please feel free to comment.
(7/25/2015) "There are no bad kids, only kids with unmet needs or unresolved pain"
Ok I know, I'm going out on a limb here, but honestly this is something I really believe in, wholeheartedly, "There are no bad kids, only kids with unmet needs or unresolved pain." I started thinking about this again recently after reading a pretty good article, "8 Ways We Make Parenting Harder On Ourselves." I agreed with 99% of the article, but one of the statements just didn't sit well with me, it was, "All kids are naturally selfish." I know what they were trying to say, they were talking about when we give kids what they want when they want it - we feed the instant gratification beast, and they learn to take it all and only want more. The problem I have with this idea that all kids are naturally selfish is that from what I've experience as a parent, I haven't found this to be true at all. Because of a support group we belong to, I'm around a lot of gifted and/or highly sensitive children (HSP/HSC), many who seem to have been born unselfish - having incredible compassion, thinking of others and their needs first many times, sometimes to a fault, some of them even to the extent where they say they can actually feel other people's feelings; embarrassment, disappointment, or pain, as if it were their own. So, since my gifted daughter is my only child, this is the only example of how a child acts that I have, so no, I don't agree that all children are naturally selfish.
Lately though, I have to admit that I had this conviction of mine challenged, not by someone else, but by myself. Recently my daughter started saying she didn't want to hang out with her best friends anymore. Friends who had been there for her from the beginning, who were the first friends she made after having to leave school and all she ever knew. But, all of the sudden, since she became a teenager (I thought), she started saying she didn't care about seeing them anymore. I'm embarrassed to say, that even with my strong convictions and my daughter's wonderful example of unselfishness, when she started saying things like "I don't know, I just don't care about them anymore!" I instantly thought "Oh no, she's a teenager now, and since she's doing better and has more friends now, she's just being selfish and not thinking about their feelings!" But then I caught myself and thought, why would these seemingly selfish and uncharacteristic words be coming out of my daughters mouth, maybe even more importantly, why would I be having these thoughts that my daughter was all of the sudden being selfish? Then I realized....MY PARENTS!!! That was the way I was parented, little trust, expected to go the wrong way, have the wrong intention, make the wrong choice, to be selfish. Those old ideas were still in my head and now I was applying them unfairly to my daughter. But I soon calmed down enough to think things out. I remembered my belief, "There are no bad kids, only kids with unmet needs or unresolved pain," and thought, what need is it my daughter is having that I am not addressing, or what unresolved pastpain is she still dealing with that is causing her to act out?
I remembered from previous study and past experience, that even when a child doesn't think they know why they are having certain thoughts or feelings, that they often do have the answers inside of them. You just have to get them to open up and start talking and they will often answer their own questions, even be able to solve their own problems or at least be able to communicate the unmet need or unresolved pain behind the difficult feeling or behavior. So I made some time to talk to her alone, I asked her to try and explain to me what she was feeling when she had the thoughts about not caring about hanging out with her friends anymore? After asking her to say what she was feeling, instead of what she was thinking, the first thing she said was, "I just want to hang out with B (we'll call the friends/sisters B & C)! I don't want to always - every time - have to hang out with C (her younger sister) too! I thought, she was right, they came as a package - two people she loved a lot but that were always together. I thought, maybe this was just about growing up, she was a teenager now, maybe her unmet need was that she needed more time with B, someone who was her own age, a peer, someone who would understand what she was going through at this time in her life. That made sense. Then I asked her, "What has changed since the last time you played with both B & C and you enjoyed it?" She said, "I just don't like it when C talks about ___." I said, "Didn't you use to like talking to her about those kind of things?" She said, "Yeah, but I'm over those things now and I don't feel right just faking it that I like them, over and over again." I said, "Did you tell C you weren't really into those things anymore?" She said, "No, I didn't want to hurt her feelings." I thought, she didn't know why she was thinking she didn't want to play with her friends anymore, but she knew what she was feeling - and what she needed. Also, the tone of her words sounded selfish, but the reasons behind her words were actually - unselfishness - worrying about hurting her friends feelings...hmmm, interesting. I told her, "It's ok to tell a friend that you aren't really interested in a certain subject anymore, it's better to tell them honestly that you aren't interested in the same things they are than for them to feel you pull away and think you aren't interested in them...I think that is what C might think if you don't tell her what's really going on." She said, "Ok, I just didn't want to hurt her feelings because she likes those things so much." I assured her, "It's ok, she'll be ok." Then she added on her own in a sad, solemn voice, "I don't know why I haven't been as excited about seeing them as I use to be." I said, "When do you think that changed?" She said, "Back when we didn't see them for months at a time, every year in the winter time when people get sick and their Mom doesn't like to go out, that hurt me. I missed them a lot, so pretty soon I just started liking and making new friends with the other kids in our group. I have a lot in common with them and I get to see them a lot more." I said, "That makes sense that you would be hurt missing your friends and that you might be afraid to get close to them again. But, I know their situation, and I think it has changed for the better a little bit, I think they will be getting out more now. Why don't you try to trust just one more time and open up your heart to them again?" She said, "Ok, I'm going to call B now." After that I heard her leaving a voice message, she said, "B, I just wanted to talk to you.......I'm, I'm sorry I haven't called you much lately, can you call me back and we can talk?"
I was so proud of her. I was kind of proud of myself too that I didn't let that old voice in my head tell me that my daughter's seemingly selfish words were just her being "a teenager." I see so many parents do this. It's really hard to look at or listen to a kid or teen that is sounding defiant, rebellious, selfish.... and not want to reprimand them for it. It takes a parent's patience, love, and trust, to actually take the time to listen to their kids, talk to them in a non-judgmental way, and get to the root of the problem - their child's unmet need or unresolved pain. For us it was the unmet need of needing quality time with peers and good friends, the unmet need of a parent's help in figuring out how to handle a difficult situation and confusing feelings, and fear of being rejected, lonely or abandoned again, related to unresolved past pain.
I think when we as parents don't react in the right way to an outspoken child or a seemingly selfish teen, what happens when we rush to judge them as inconsiderate, spoiled, selfish and the like...since often they don't know why they are having difficult thoughts or feelings themselves, they just start to believe us. If we think the worst of them, then that is what we are telling them they are, and that is what they will begin to believe to be true...and subsequently become.
Emotional outbursts, defiance, selfishness, I see as opportunities to sit down with our kids to help them figure out what emotion or unmet need is driving their behaviors, what problems they are dealing with, what fears or emotional pain lies beneath their behaviors. Sometimes we will hear that their issue is with us. That's when we are really challenged to trust that what are kids are telling us they feel or need is actually so. Respecting our children means seeing them as individuals, with wants and needs separate from our own. Listening to what those wants and needs are, letting go of our preconceived ideas of what we may have wanted for their lives is essential to keeping the communication lines open and keeping a reciprocal bond of trust.
Not sitting down with and really listening to our kids is to me so many missed opportunities to fulfill our basic parental responsibility of preparing them for this world. Through our trust, they learn to trust and believe in themselves, through our open communication with them, they learn how to identify and feel safe in communicating their feelings, wants and needs with others. Through our taking the time to really listen and help them work through their thoughts and feelings and identify their needs, we give them the tools needed to deal with difficult emotions and situations in a healthy way. That to me, is parenting.
If we would instead of judging our kids as naturally selfish, give them our trust and a listening ear, be the example we want them to be, and instill in them the belief that they are naturally awesome, unselfish, compassionate, caring and deserving people, maybe that is just who they will continue to be.
If you relate to our experience, you may like to check out more of our story, our gifted children support group, FB parenting blog.