Living with intellectually gifted children and preteens can feel as if some alien creature is sucking the very life out of you! They need more, more, and MORE: discussions, challenges, limits, opportunities, and time. They are brain-draining black holes bursting with questions, bottomless pits needing input, input, INPUT. They are quirky, confusing, contradictory, exhausting, amazing, astounding, and brilliant creatures that God dropped into our families to bless us in unimaginable ways. Whew! And once we get past toddler-hood and the early primary years, people say, “Well, aren’t you glad they’re older now? They can practically teach themselves!” Ha!
Perhaps you have an 8-year-old who is doing college-level mathematics and reads with post-high school comprehension but who can barely hold a pencil and is clueless about history. Try planning her curriculum! Intellectual giftedness certainly comes with its own set of challenges. It is impossible to categorize gifted children into grades or compartments such as “junior high” or “high school,” but what do you do to prepare these youngsters for upper level work?
In trying to wrap my brain around writing this article, which is intended to help parents prepare their children academically, I had to drop the notion of categories and look at the bigger picture. Whether your child is mildly gifted or profoundly gifted or somewhere in between, you’ve faced the myriad of issues of “asynchronous” development.
“The child of eight years with a mentality of twelve or fourteen is faced with a situation almost inconceivably difficult. In order to adjust normally such a child has to have an exceptionally well-balanced personality and to be well nigh a social genius. The higher the IQ, the more acute the problem.”—Lewis M. Terman
According to Dr. Linda Kreger Silverman, “Asynchrony means being out-of-sync within oneself (uneven development), out-of-sync with age mates and, having heightened emotions and awareness, and being vulnerable, due to all of these developmental and psychological differences from the norm.”
Based on the inherent difficulties of your child’s mental abilities being potentially years ahead of his emotional and physical abilities, I have compiled categories and lists of building blocks to work on as your child progresses. Whether your child is 4 or 8 or 12, there are skills to be taught and modeled as appropriate. This is not a scope and sequence for gifted curricula but rather a collection of practical tips and advice for raising gifted children who not only cope—but also excel—in upper level studies.
Skills to Learn
• Note-taking; for example, Cornell note-taking method
• Communication—both oral and written
• Test taking
• Working effectively in groups
• Life skills such as cooking, handling money, etc.
• Goal setting
• Citing sources
Exposure to and Outlets for:
• Other gifted people
• Regular communication and active listening
• Character training—more important than academics!
• Grounding in the Bible
• Opportunities to serve others
• Opportunities for spiritual growth
• Opportunities for intellectual stimulation
• Down time for daydreaming
• Reasonable parameters for healthy eating, sleeping, fitness, and hygiene • Understanding and emotional support
• Problem solving
• Seeing connections across curricula
• Curriculum that “fits”
• Compacting or skipping course work, as appropriate
• Variety of resources
• Mentors/outside classes as appropriate
Tips for Dealing With the Out-of-Sync Child:
• Provide reasons behind the rules but do not enter into debates.
• Understand that an intellectually gifted 8-year-old is still only 8 emotionally.
• Give them emotional reassurance.
• Be realistic in expectations.
• Try to see the world through their eyes.
• Provide choices.
• Be respectful and expect respect.
It is exceedingly common for a gifted child to be a perfectionist. Sometimes he or she will not even try a new task for fear of failure. Other times perfectionists cannot seem to finish anything because it “isn’t good enough yet.” Allow them to make mistakes and suffer consequences in a safe environment. Here are a few thoughts on dealing with perfectionism:
• Do you praise their results or praise their attempts?
• Do you encourage them to try new activities?
• Do you provide positive feedback?
• Do you keep your sense of humor?
• Do you model appropriate behavior yourself?
Let’s consider now the child who is gifted but does not “show it.” I hear this lament often when speaking around the country on the topic of giftedness: “My son is reading light years ahead of his age and he can pull the right answers out of thin air but he won’t do anything. He is not motivated to work.” The first thing to realize is that “output” is not a measure of giftedness! Giftedness should not be linked to achievement. What are some possible reasons for a lack of output?
• Poor motor skills for handwriting
• Poor organizational skills
• Caught up in perfectionism
• Unreasonable expectations—either too low or too high
• Learning disabilities (either recognized or masked)
• Health/allergy issues
• Character issues such as laziness or defiance
• Too many choices—frozen with indecision
Potential Solutions to Improve Output:
• Tackle character issues with prayer and consistency.
• Work on topics of interest—student should have some choices of topics.
• Work on fine-motor skills using copywork or a good handwriting program. (Check out Handwriting Without Tears. This program was developed by an occupational therapist and can be used with older students who have poor fine-motor skills.)
• Teach keyboarding skills.
• Allow for dictation or keyboarding versus handwriting.
• Encourage creativity—there are many different ways to “show what you know” besides writing a report, including these:
–PowerPoint presentations (vital skill to learn)
–Setting information to music
–Making a movie
–Teaching others information that has been learned
–Lapbooks or scrapbooks
There is another definition of gifted that sometimes gets overlooked. A gift is “something good, often given undeservedly or unexpectedly.” Isn’t that the truth? And who gave you this “undeserved” gift? God is an amazing God—He blesses us in the most astonishing ways. He gave you the precious gift of parenthood. He knows whom you are dealing with and He loves your children far more than any parent can imagine, so take your concerns directly to the Lord! He will provide the wisdom necessary for raising and training them, if we only ask.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)
Copyright 2009, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.