20. October 2014 · 8 comments · Categories: News
Time for another GHF Blog Hop! Our topic this time around is “Gifted Grownups”. Be sure to check out all the terrific posts out there.
apple tree graphic
There is a saying we probably all know : “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” It’s frequently invoked in describing a child who has some trait or habit or characteristic that a parent displays. It comes up a lot when I work with gifted or 2e children, and surprisingly, many of the parents I meet don’t see themselves as “the tree”.
Here’s the scenario: a parent contacts me for help with raising their gifted child. They describe the child’s intensity, passion for their own interests, sensory quirks, asynchrony, and learning differences. They may hope I can help their child with emotional regulation, or with finding an educational fit. We talk about resources, I point them at books, articles and organizations, and we begin to find ways to make life a little smoother.

At some point in this process, the conversation inevitably comes around to the parent’s childhood. Maybe it’s in the form of a comment such as “I know exactly what the teacher is talking about — I was that way too at that age”. Sometimes it’s more direct, as in “I just read that article you gave me to help understand my child, but it felt like it was talking about me!”. Or the especially poignant “Why couldn’t I have had some of these options growing up? I would have been so much happier.” At this point, the conversation turns to the idea that maybe the child isn’t the only gifted one in the family, that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. Many parents are taken aback, especially those whose giftedness was not apparent as they were growing up, due to things like learning differences, or an environment that wasn’t supportive of their social, emotional or intellectual needs. They might sputter, and say “But I flunked out of high school!” or “I can’t be gifted, I don’t draw ….. at least that’s what my second grade teacher told me.”

Gifted adults blog hop imageOne of the most interesting parts of the journey as the parent of a gifted or 2e child is being able to apply to ourselves the things we discover in the process of helping our children. This generation of parents may be a pivotal one in the history of gifted development, because the world is a vastly different place in which to grow up gifted. We may still have a long way to go, but the resources and understanding about giftedness and 2e which are available to our children simply didn’t exist when most of us were young. If members of the parents’ generation were lucky, we had maybe a magnet school or other special program, but many of us did not even have that, and many more wouldn’t have qualified anyway because of being twice-exceptional. It’s not uncommon for a parent to carry lingering (or even currently ongoing) anger, shame, resentment, embarrassment or a negative self-view because of unaddressed issues related to growing up gifted or 2e with no support. Indeed, many of my adult clients who came through the door asking for help with their child have ended up staying on for themselves.

So the next time you find yourself rejecting the idea that “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” when it comes to your own child, I urge you to embrace the fact that you, too, are a tree. Read, talk, find other trees in your area (or online…). Give yourself the gift of self-understanding and self-appreciation, even if you need some support to do it. It’s never too late to have a happy gifted adulthood!
yoga props
Yoga props. You know, the blocks, rolled blankets and fabric belts that some practitioners of yoga use to support themselves? Someone asked me the other day what “scaffolding” is, and the best analogy I can give is “yoga props”. Yoga props are used to help a person explore a pose, stretch perhaps deeper or farther, relax more….getting a more profound and personalized experience out of their yoga practice than they would without these supports. People are all built differently — some are more flexible than others, some are stronger than others. Some people are recovering from injury, and need to be gentle on parts of their bodies. Yoga props allow many different bodies to be able to get a fuller experience out of the practice.
So too, for scaffolding. Scaffolding is intervening in various ways to allow your child to get a full experience — socially, academically, emotionally, sensorially — by bridging gaps in their development, compensating for difficulties they may have, or providing support to emergent skills. In the old days, we used to refer to this as “accommodations”, and making accommodations is one aspect of scaffolding. But scaffolding can be so much more: everything from simply being near your child, all the way to organizing and strategically engineering entire experiences can qualify as offering scaffolding for a child who may not otherwise be able to engage in an activity or event.
One of the challenges in providing scaffolding is knowing what is coddling, and what is scaffolding. Consider this situation: A slightly agitated mother sits outside her daughter’s second grade classroom, waiting to speak to the teacher. There is a field trip to a large natural history museum coming up tomorrow. This will entail lots of loading of children into cars, long drives, unstructured time and more chaos than usual, even for this groovy sort of alternative school. Once they arrive, the children will be put into groups to do information-gathering activities, as a way to structure their visit.
When she sits down with the teacher, the mother tells him that she has worries about tomorrow and asks that her daughter be put with certain children, hopefully in her own car. She also expresses doubt that her daughter can hold up during the long day and whether it’s absolutely necessary that her daughter do the group work that is planned for the visit. You be the judge: coddling, otherwise known as “helicopter parenting” or appropriate scaffolding?
Helicopter parenting, if you distill down all the various perspectives, seems to be used to describe a parent of a child at any age who gets involved in order to make things easy for their child, to assure their success (read: get good grades and get into a good middle school/high school/college/grad school/professional school), and to line things up so that their child has an easy time of it. It is problematic, say the critics, because by engaging in those behaviors, parents typically stand in the way of their children’s opportunities to grow through mistakes, disappointments, and other unpleasant, but totally normal, human experiences. The concern is that, athough helicopter parenting might make things easier in the short-term, in the long run, it impedes the child’s development of perseverance, resilience and grit.
So how do we evaluate our second-grade situation? By asking one simple question: What is motivating this mother’s behavior? What if this second-grader struggles with sensory processing issues? Loud kids in a car for a long drive doesn’t sound very appealing. What if she is on the autism spectrum, or cognitively far ahead of her age-peers — working in groups might well be a huge stretch. How about anxiety, especially combined with any of the previous issues? Boy, all the change and the long day is going to wear her out. Take into consideration, too, that for any learning to be accomplished, the brain has to be relaxed and receptive, not stressed and worn out. If any or all of these factors are present (and in our hypothetical situation, many are,) mom’s behavior starts to look a lot more like appropriate scaffolding. Managing who is in the car, and being close to her child will allow her to either modulate the overstimulation, support her daughter in dealing with it or both. Discussing whether or not her daughter has to engage in the assigned group activities may be helpful in lowering the stress, so that actual learning can take place. And in general, being there allows mom the flexibility to be close to provide a lot of guidance, or just to be nearby in order to reassure her daughter that if she gets into any scrapes, she won’t have to handle them on her own.
Both a helicopter parent and a scaffolding parent will say they are engaging because they want to support their child’s success, and both may even become a little confrontational in order to achieve their ends. It can be difficult to distinguish between the two from the outside. Sometimes it’s even hard to determine from the inside — I frequently discuss this with parents who are not quite sure whether the interventions they are setting up for their kids are appropriate or not. So here’s my handy-dandy question to help clarify these situations:
Are you keeping your child from having to stretch, or are you shoring them up so they are able to stretch? Scaffolding is the latter — filling the developmental gaps so a child can grow in an area that would not be available to them otherwise. Our fictional mother above is thinking in terms of how to mitigate the stress on her daughter’s brain so it is free to engage and learn, not so that her child doesn’t have to do experience difficulty, or take a risk that might endanger her grade. As long as we adults are providing scaffolding, those yoga props of development, the support we offer will be appropriate and our children can grow to be their most complete selves.
Turkey in hatI spend a lot of time on what is hard about gifted, 2e and QuASIE. Between wallowing in my own challenges and helping other people with theirs, life can look pretty bleak. I realize that’s a skewed perspective — after all, people don’t darken my doorstep and pay me to tell me that everything is hunky-dory in their lives.
However, because Thanksgiving is coming up in my part of the world, it seemed like the right time to mull over some of the good things that have come my way because of raising my 2e kid. So here’s my list:
  • Parenting a 2e kid gives me compassion for other parents who are struggling. I think I’m less judgemental (gosh I hope I am…) when I see parents out in public whose kids are having a hard time, or when I talk with parents who are feeling overwhelmed. I get it, I’ve been there, you don’t have to convince me.
  • Parenting a 2e kid makes me a better parent. I think that a 2e child will tolerate nothing less than the most mindful, carefully thought-through parenting. I have to be on my toes, manage my own emotions, and keep trying new stuff. Maybe one day my child will realize this, but in the meantime I can be pretty confident I rock as a mom (except of course when I doubt myself…).
  • Parenting a 2e kid helps me appreciate the small victories. One of my clients mentioned the other day that they sometimes feel goofy getting excited over what would look like a small thing to other parents — some little sign of improvement, like their child writing a thank you note, or managing a long car drive. I so resonated with that — when you have a child who struggles with things that come easily to others, “small things” aren’t small.
  • Parenting a 2e kid led to MY FAVORITE JOB EVER. I wonder, does the fact that I love what I do show?
  • Parenting a 2e kid has given me an opportunity to make the world a better place. Like a lot of gifted folks, I want the world I leave to be better than when I showed up. This is a really hard thing, when there are so many things wrong. I’m really lucky that the world of 2e fell into my lap, and gives me nearly daily feedback that I am making a difference.
  • Parenting a 2e kid has let me have a comrade in silliness and laughter much sooner than I think I would have otherwise. Advanced sense of humor? Yep, we got that at our house. And being able to share jokes, puns, laughter and silliness with a young person is priceless. I mean, being there when he sees Monty Python the first time? What’s not to like?
  • Parenting a 2e kid has brought me closer to my spouse. Ok, this is not a given, and I realize I’m incredibly fortunate on that score. We did infertility together, which sucked. We were in the lucky group — not just because we ended up with a baby, but because the experience didn’t break us up. So it goes for parenting our puggle — the level of connection and teamwork necessary has forged even stronger bonds.

So that’s my list — what’s yours?

Author’s Note: This is the first in an occasional series of posts focusing on common concepts and terms that I use when I write, speak or teach.
Entrepreneurs and engineers have a concept: failing quickly. The principal is to move quickly through ideas, like prototypes, or market research ideas, looking to weed out the unsuccessful ones as quickly as possible. This is looked upon as a way of being efficient and ultimately successful — by not spending too many resources on something that will turn out to be a waste, and by being able to consider many possible ideas.
“Failing Quickly” has some interesting applications in parenting puggles as well. First, since so many of us struggle with perfectionism, it builds in the idea of failure as a natural part of the process, and gives us lots of practice failing. Second, instead of getting wrapped up in how a certain idea or parenting tool didn’t work, we simply check that one off and move on down the list. It’s amazing how frequently we can get stuck trying to make a thing work, even when our rational mind knows that doing the same thing expecting a different result is crazy.Prohibition Disposal with quote
I think part of the reason we puggle parents can get caught in the trap of continuing with an unsuccessful strategy is that we can become very attached to ideas, and philosophies. I’ve seen this play out with various families I’ve worked with who really love a particular approach to parenting, for example NVC (non-violent communication). They take classes, learn about the methods, and are very committed to not wielding their power in their relationship with their children. Which is great, if the child got the memo, but NVC doesn’t always work, especially with QuASIE kids. Instead of trying to shoehorn the family into the approach, why not check that one off as a failure and move on.
A third good reason to practice failing quickly is that it loosens the attachment we may have to a single perfect approach to raising our puggle. I can’t count the number of times a parent in my office has wistfully said “can you just point me at the right parenting book for my family, and I’ll take it from there?” If we know we have a laundry list of things to try, we then can feel confident that as long as we keep failing quickly, will will hit upon something that works better than what we have now.
Finally, there is always this reframe: There is no success or failure, there is only data. And failing quickly just gets us data quickly, all the better to position us to find the successful strategy sooner.
So go on out there today, and and practice failing. In the words of leadership development expert Skip Prichard: It’s a rare person and a rare culture where you can shout, “Yes! I just figured out that this is doomed! Awesome!”
Blog Hop - surviving the holidays Another Blog Hop! Yay — and just in time for the holidays. Don’t forget to check out all the other goodness that my friends and colleagues are offering. I know I can use all the help I can get around now…
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…..”, or not, depending on how you observe holidays and how well that works for your QuASIE kid. Gee, why wouldn’t disrupted routines, strange beds, odd foods, unfamiliar people, neurotypical expectations from extended family and surprises (even good ones) be a smashing success? I can’t make the holidays go away (and maybe you don’t want me to — there can be some fun moments), but I can share with you a little process I dreamed up that has really helped me (and some of my clients) face expected difficult situations.
Before I go into the details, though, one thought comes to mind, and that is the usefulness of having a process at all. You might decide that mine isn’t quite right for your circumstances, and that’s fine. But having a process that you have decided to use when faced with a challenging parenting moment in and of itself reduces your stress — you don’t need to figure out how you are going to handle it, you just set up and crank the process that you are familiar with. This can also support you (the parent) through the inevitable ickiness that is “goldfish bowl parenting” — when you need to deal with your “outside the box” child with all sorts of onlookers and find yourself swayed by a need for approval or to fit in.
So here is the process that I came up with, which I lovingly have named IPSE — because an acronym can help me when all I can think is “What I am supposed to do again?”
IPSE Cycle Picture
Let me take you through the four steps one at a time:
I is for “Investigate your Influence”

  • This means looking at the situation coming up, and identifying those aspects you can have control over. You may not be able to make a stressful event go away, but perhaps you have control over when it starts, how long it lasts, and what other people’s expectations of you may be. For example, there may be a company party that you are expected to bring the whole family to attend. You can’t skip it, but you might be able to bring two cars to allow part of the family to leave early or come late (assuming of course that there will be two adults to share the load at this event), bring along a quiet game to retire with to the back room, let the host know that probably an hour is the most your 10-year-old can tolerate, etc.
  • You can also look a little wider, and make plans to have less stressful times bookending the “target”event. You might skip out on a regular weekly happening in order to “leave room” for the difficult event. If your child is a physical kid, maybe scheduling an extra exercise time right before the event would be a good choice. The goal here is to do everything in your power to set the child up to be entering the situation with resources, and paring the situation down as much as possible to reduce the likelihood that those resources will be overwhelmed. The more creative you can be about strategically positioning yourself and your child, the better your outcome will be.

P is for “Plan and Practice”

  • Having tweaked the bits that are tweakable, you can now start to build a plan, together with your child. This is the place to give them a detailed picture of what might happen, along with any possible variations you can come up with. This is a great time to play the “How many different outcomes”game — take turns imagining all the different ways this event could unfold, including the ones that are likely to be problematic. Aunt Janey hugs too much? Cousin Elmer follows you around the whole time? Granny insists that everyone clean their plate? Uncle Rob grills you with questions to see how you are doing in school? What are some things you can do?
  • Having identified some of the challenges, practice practice practice. Depending on your kids’ age(s), this can be in the form of conversation, role play, puppets and dollies acting things out, or just the traditional conversation on the way to grandma’s house:

You:  Ok, kids — do you remember what to do when you open a present?
Them: (rolling eyes, sounding like a robot) Yes, mom, I say thank you….

S is for “Support and Scaffold”

  • So now you are actually in the situation, and your puggle is struggling. This stage is the hardest for parents, I think, because this is the place where you have to ignore those watching eyes and judging minds, and do what is right for your kid. This is not the time to go on auto-pilot because you are at a family gathering and really want to connect with your sister whom you haven’t seen in a year (no really, I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work). This is also not the time to test out your child’s independence skills. Recognize how difficult this is for your child, and how hard they are working to keep it together, and do everything you can to help them be successful. They may need hands-on guidance, they may need you to broker breaks from the event, they may need you to run interference with Uncle Rob, or they may need to eat before dinner is served (you of course brought snacks, right?).
  • Bolster yourself through this stage with a mantra like “I’m here as a parent” or “Junior is doing the best they can at this moment”. It can also be helpful in this stage if you enlisted the support of your spouse or other helpful person, who can remind you that you are doing a great job — scaffolding isn’t just for the kid!

E is for “Examine the Evidence”

  • When the dust settles and it’s all over, sit down with your child and go over the event. Be sure to wait until any recovery, or even a night’s sleep, has had time to do its wonders. Then evaluate what worked, what didn’t and what to try differently the next time. Be sure to find a way to focus on what DID go right (to counter the inevitable human habit of discounting the positive). Doing this collaboratively may give you an interesting window into your child’s experience as well — their “best and worst moments” might be different from yours.
  • Having done the last step, you are now better positioned to set up a positive experience the next time an event comes around.

In spite of how complicated the holidays can be, I hope this process will give you some ideas about how to weather the storm of expectation and challenge of the upcoming season, and leave you some space for joy, peace and renewal.

16. September 2013 · 1 comment · Categories: News · Tags: ,
Blog Hop -Sleep & Parental Self CareI’m participating in my very first Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop! Our topic is parental self-care (a subject that is one of my favorites…) I’m going to propose some thought experiments that might be just as useful to your brain, body and stress level as things like sleep and exercise (and chocolate….never forget chocolate…) Be sure to check out the other great posts from the rest of the group!
I believe that one of the biggest contributors to stress in parenting a QuASIE (Quirky, Anxious, Sensitive, Intense, Excitable) kid revolves around expectations — specifically our expectations of ourselves and of our children. Those expectations begin forming from the time we are quite small, and are woven deeply into the fabric of who we are. There are explicit ones, implicit ones, ones rooted in our own childhood. Our fantasies about what parenthood ought to be, our family traditions, the culture we choose and the culture that bombards us all play a role in setting our expectations. Which would be fine, if we had a typical child….
Enter our atypical, QuASIE, awesome, frustrating, joy-inducing and exhausting offspring. Some of us knew from the moment we set eyes on our progeny, others of us realized it over time, but all of us who parent one of these kiddos have to deal with the gap between what we were expecting and what we actually have.
These expectations are insidious things. They sneak up on us and kick us in the shins when we are not looking. They come sit on our chests and keep us awake at night. They rob potentially joyful experiences with their “yes, buts” and “what ifs”. They get in the way of us seeing our child clearly for who they are right now, and they wreak havoc in our relationships with our spouses, parents and friends. They get all twisted around inside, so we find ourselves starting to believe that we have done (or left undone) some vital thing and caused our child’s difficulties. And of course the nastiest bit: We frequently don’t even realize that we are operating from a place of expectation, because we aren’t used to questioning our assumptions (psst: that’s why they’re called assumptions; because we just assume without thinking critically).
But here’s the good news: Expectations reside in our minds, and we can choose to change them. With a bit of work, and a bit of support, learning to shift our mindset is entirely possible. The first step is to uncover what those expectations are. Discovering our unspoken assumptions about our child, our relationship with them, and our beliefs about parenting allows you to make choices.
Here is the thought experiment I alluded to earlier. The purpose is to give you an opportunity to discover what those unspoken expectations are. Consider the following sentences:

  • Of course my child will ______________________.
  • I can’t wait until I can ___________________ with my child.
  • In our family, everyone learns to ______________.

Or answer this question from a family member:

  • Don’t you think it’s time for (your child) to start ________?

The beginner level exercise is just to complete the sentences. More intrepid explorers could compare how you would have answered in the past (maybe even before parenthood), versus how you’d answer now. Also worthy of consideration is how your experiences with one of your children influences your expectations for another of them. Finally, after having each explored your own personal answers to these questions, you might want to discuss them with your spouse. Once you have uncovered those assumptions, you can then evaluate if it is helpful to continue with these expectations, or whether it makes more sense to adjust them (hint: if what you are doing now isn’t working, try something different…)
I have a couple of other tips to help with this process:

  • Be very choosy about where you get your parenting information. If you have a habit of combing every book, internet site, friends’ opinion, mommy blog or magazine for ideas or feedback about what to do — STOP! Most of the information you will glean from generic sources will miss the mark entirely, and probably make you feel worse in the interim. There are a few, specialized groups, Gifted Homeschoolers Forum among them, which can be good resources, and please DO go there for help and support.
  • Consult with a knowledgeable professional if you find you are struggling hard with changing those expectations. Some outside support can be very validating and helpful in making the shift in how you relate to your child.
  • Permit yourself (or on the hard days, order yourself) to spend some time every day simply being with your child — no agenda, no multi-tasking, no worrying — just meeting them where they are. This exercise is an important complement to the work of uprooting old expectations. It helps replace the fantasy pictures with real experiences of how your child is.

Shifting your mindset about your child, focusing on what they can do rather than what they can’t do, and consciously choosing how you form your expectations probably never were on your mind when you were considering being a parent. But this work on our part can translate into significant increase in ease and harmony in our relationship with our children and our family. In my book, that counts as self-care!


Welcome_mat_2tap, tap, tap
Is this thing on?

….takes a deep breath…

Ok then — welcome to the Gifted Matters Blog! This is a project I’ve been wanting to make happen for years, and I guess now is the time. I’m a homeschooling parent of a twice-exceptional teenage boy, and also a psychotherapist specializing in gifted and 2e issues (in case you hadn’t seen my website…). My intent with this blog is to share resources, musings and ideas I come up with. I’m especially interested in supporting parents who are raising QuASIE (Quirky, Anxious, Sensitive, Intense, Excitable) children. I think we can find ourselves exhausted and isolated and frustrated and worried a lot of the time…which is not fun…so I aim to improve the situation, and this blog is (hopefully) another way to do that.

You can expect a variety of things here: ideas from some of my talks, reviews of books I’m reading, tips and techniques that have been useful to me and my clients, and probably the occasional rant about education policy. I’ve been teaching and writing and presenting on this stuff for a number of years, so I’ve had a lot of ideas brewing that I want to put down in one place, and hopefully engage in some meaningful discussion as well. I invite you clever fabulous people to join in the fun!