Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Being the Mom of Gifted and Talented Kids

Dave, with guitar, Grandpa, Karen (making an odd gesture), little Stevie and me (bottom right).

 Having grown up being the youngest of four smarty-pantz kids, I was accustomed to the high-expectation litany from teachers. “Oh, you must be good at math, being Steve’s little sister!” “Oh, Dave got such high grades in History. In fact, with his photographic memory, he'd read each page of the text then rip it out because he didn't need it any more.  I can’t wait to see YOUR work!”  “Karen was such a great artist!  I’m so glad YOU’RE going to be in my class!”

This is really and truly one of Karen's recent paintings. I KNOW. 

Naturally, I was tragically bad at math, Physics made NO sense to me, and my art skills?  Well... Want to see for yourself?

My sibs and I were “gifted and talented,” as it was coded in our school district.  My talents were more in the reading, writing, spelling, science, and music areas.  Our parents liked to see the A’s on the report cards, but (luckily) supported me as I struggled through math and physics, and never made me feel bad about my lack therein.
Not THAT kind of G&T, sadly.

As the parent of G&T kids (Oddly, until just now I didn’t put together that G&T stands for both Gifted and Talented AND my favorite beverage, Gin and Tonic.  Interesting.), I am faced with people’s mistaken assumptions.

1:  A G&T kid is gifted in ALL AREAS.
    Um.  No.  My little brainiac daughter is awesome at math and English, but her PHYSICAL coordination? She has been known to trip and fall, even when standing still.  As a preschooler, she almost always had a bruise on her forehead from smacking into car side-view mirrors in parking lots.  She did not understand how to throw a ball TO  someone until I explained the geometry of it.
My off-the-charts brilliant son cries and lashes out in anger over improbably small hurts, and when upset, babbles nearly incomprehensibly in frustration.  He also can’t seem to draw anything except stick people and buildings (usually with lightning or possibly gunfire -- it’s hard to say).

Dana, a friend of mine who is very passionate about possibly debunking G/T mythology was taught that these kids are actually most identifiable by the extremity of their asynchronous development. In some areas the child will be extremely precocious, mastering skills or hitting milestones much more quickly than the average developmental timeline. However, there will be developmental areas in which the child will be slower than average to develop. The three main spheres of development are cognitive, social/emotional and physical. Developing much more rapidly in any one of those spheres almost always results in one or more of the other spheres looking relatively stunted in comparison. With that in mind, look how much more sharply the truth about a G/T kid comes into focus.

2:  G&T kids are well-behaved.
    BWAAA. HA.  OMG, these kids are exploding with ideas and thoughts and FRUSTRATION.  They have SO many ideas that their little bodies can’t handle, and this causes anger, anxiety, impulsivity, and sometimes even sadness.  They routinely get into fights with each other over who gets the dictionary, who gets to read the newspaper, and who came up with the best description of the color blue.  Seriously.  They will cry because the other one knows how to do multiplication up to the 12s, and the other (younger) one only knows up to the 5s.

3:  G&T kids like to do schoolwork/homework.
    YOU try to get a kid interested in writing all their 5th-grade spelling words 5x each AND put each one into a sentence when they are actually at a 12th grade reading comprehension level.  It’s like pulling fricking teeth.  And any kid who easily learns things HATES to find out they can’t figure something out in a split second.  Trying to deduce how to carry the 2?  If it doesn’t make sense RIGHT THEN, it’s Armageddon.

4:  G&T kids can apply their knowledge to their lives in practical ways.
    Oh, I’m wiping tears of laughter away at this one.  They might be able to come up with an hypothesis and method and result for a science fair project, but when a PENCIL BREAKS?  They stand there and stare blankly at it, wondering what force on Earth could possibly solve this problem.  Never mind that there is (a) a cup full of mechanical pencils on the shelf, and (b) an electric pencil sharpener on the table.  Nope.  “The pencil is DEVASTATINGLY BROKEN. It’s a sign that I need to go watch Spongebob.”

Welp, I guess that's that.

5:  All the kids in the family will display similar G&T tendencies.
    Yeesh.  That’s like saying that all the kids will like green beans or the RED dental floss.  As the youngest myself, this was the worst one.  There’s nothing like having a teacher regard you brightly that first day, thinking, “Oh, THIS one will be such a breeze to teach,” and then when you get up to the blackboard to do the problem, you feel her eyes narrow as she cocks her head to the side and asks, “Umm, honey?  Remember the Order Of Operations? Ohhh. You don’t. Really?”

6:  G&T kids get good grades.
    Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  I really have to thank two of my daughter’s grade school teachers here, because they each let her have the actual grade her work deserved.  As I mentioned, my daughter is crazy-good at reading and spelling, but in 3rd grade, she got a 48% one quarter for spelling.  I was aghast, and asked the teacher what in the HECK had happened.  Teacher responded that since my daughter already knew all the words, she didn’t bother to do the “write the words 5x, and use each in a sentence” for many of the weeks.  I applauded the teacher’s strength in giving a real grade to the little girl who had won the Gold Medal in the All-School spelling bee for the last 3 quarters.  Next term (after actually doing the work), she was at 98%. The following year (4th grade), my girl got a C- in reading.  READING.  She was reading Nancy Drew and Harry Potter in kindergarten.  When I asked about the grade, I found that she hadn’t done a number of oral book reports because she thought they were pointless.  Again, I praised the teacher’s honesty, and suggested to my daughter to get her butt in gear.  The next term, she earned her A+.

My son, on the other hand, is a wiggle-butt, and has a tough time staying at his seat long enough to finish his work.  He got a mid-semester report stating that he had roughly 25 PAGES of unfinished classwork, and would be getting a failing grade unless it was dealt with.  We called him to task about that, and rescinded all TV and computer privileges until his work was completed, but told him that we would love him no matter how many years it took him to get through 3rd grade.  It took him just under ONE WEEK to finish ½ semester’s worth of work.  He got nearly 100% on all the assignments.  The key?  I had him stand up to do his work at the kitchen table.  Also, having no access to Lego StarWars is a pretty good motivator.

Sometimes (in my case), the giftedness/talent lies outside the realm of good grades.  I am a musician, and have been winning competitions and auditions since I began playing. I'm lucky because my parents knew how important my flute was to me and no matter how poorly I did in Trigonometry, I always still had my music.  Sadly, I've seen parents take very gifted musicians/artists/whatevers OUT of their lessons because of their failures in, say, math or reading.  This will result in a very unhappy, angry child with no outlet for his or her  prodigious gifts.

7:  G&T kids are dull and boring and square.
    They are snarky and funny and deliciously original.  Some recent incidents include making gingerbread cookies.  I had them decorate the cookies on their own, only to find that they had made them all into zombies.  My daughter wrote a mini-play which featured a Thanksgiving turkey trying to talk its way out of becoming dinner, and when it failed, its spirit haunted the cook, gobbling in the dark of night.  Then my son found a grasshopper under our Christmas tree and decided to teach it about space and the Milky Way by using the Christmas lights (blinking them on and off).  These kids are hilarious and curious.
Not our actual cookies.  We ate them too fast to get a photo.

8:  G&T kids will follow in their G&T Parents' footsteps.
     As a former G&T myself, I have to remember that my kids may not demonstrate the same talents or have the same passions as I do.  Just last year, I tried to encourage my daughter by giving her flute lessons.  I couldn't IMAGINE that she wouldn't be awesome.  But she isn't.  She's average.  And that should be enough, right?  But I never heard her practicing for fun. Suddenly I realized that I had not acknowledged one of her TRUE gifts:  cooking.  She hums to herself in the kitchen, she sings, she creates and experiments.  As soon as I had that "a-HA" moment, I provided her with her own equipment in the kitchen,and took her grocery shopping so she could spend time doing HER thing.  She is SO much happier now! She still plays the flute a little, but it's not what makes her heart sing and that's OK with me.

No matter how high the IQ, the GPA, or the reading level, they’re just kids.  They squabble, tell fart jokes, and chew with their mouths open.  And they have problems with enemies and friends, with handwriting, with teachers.  It’s easy to forget that they’re just grade-schoolers when they start to ponder the mysteries of the universe,  and sometimes I expect too much from them.  Then I go check on them after bedtime and watch them sleep, surrounded by Barbies, books, trains, and candy wrappers, and I get to focus on WHO they are, and not what they know or achieve.

--written with the input of the RFML SparkyNinjaPirateHookers


The Empress said...

Came by from Mommyland.

I am the mother of 3 G and T's, too.

Very nice to meet you.

Anonymous said...

Love my G&T kids ... one is amazing & intuitive, with a memory to die for the other is 5 with PDD NOS an off the chart IQ and can tell you exactly how a torsion catapult works ... Can't imagine life without their gifts & talents

Anonymous said...

A retired second grade teacher friend says our 2yo is well on her way to the G&T program. She's one of those high-energy types with *very* eclectic taste. We're in for a wild ride :)

P.S. LOVE the zombie gingerbread cookies!

More Than Fluffy Bunnies said...

You have done it, once again, wise Ninja. You're amazing, and so are your kids. I love you, baby!!!


David Knoerr said...

Your kids are so wonderful. Love you and them.

Anonymous said...

I am a mom of a G&T son. He's 40 and has a 5 year old who is G&T in art among other things. This post was right on target. It should be required reading for every teacher. My son was button-holed too often, I had to fight for him sometimes because of misconceptions. He turned into a well-rounded likable adult. I was asked often where his brilliant mind came from, I always gave the same answer, from love. Enjoy your G&T's, as you know they will turn into great adults.


Anonymous said...

Great post! Reassuring and informative. My two girls are whirlwinds, amazing to watch and interact with, not to mention hard to keep up with at the rates they develop. One additional thought to add: even though a GT kiddo may be able to do work many years ahead of his/her age group, they are still their own age and frequently act it (sometimes very intensely so). My 7 year old has had 7 year old experiences and is worried about many normal things (i.e. losing teeth) and sometimes has a hard time relating to the more mature material she finds in the literature she enjoys. My not quite two year old struggles with growing up (strictly correcting anyone who refers to her as a toddler - "I'm a baby!") regardless of her nearly 100% ability to verbally communicate her needs and appropriately interact with others usually in full sentences, not to mention other quickly developing math and reading skills. She is still a baby!