If you are like many other Americans, you and your children are reading A Wrinkle In Time and have perhaps seen the movie, which was just released. Maybe someone in your family can relate to Meg, the gifted, heroine of this story or one of the other characters.
Meg isn’t just any girl. She’s the daughter of two brilliant scientists, and sister to one likable and gifted younger brother, Charles Wallace, and two average twin siblings, Denys and Sandy. Meg is considered unattractive, is bullied at school and struggles academically due to her disinterest in subjects like geography and English, which she is failing. She is emotionally sensitive, stubborn and not afraid to stand up to anyone who challenges her. Under all of this, she is highly gifted in mathematics and science which is overlooked at school because of her perceived shortcomings.
Like many gifted children, Meg feels different, and believes she is stupid because she doesn’t fit in socially or academically. Meg is also the victim of a family trauma, the disappearance of her father, which heightens her emotional vulnerability.
This is only the beginning of the story, however. With the support of Charles Wallace, her friend Calvin, and three magical beings, Meg learns her “faults are her gifts”. When she embraces her differences she becomes powerful and uses her gifts to help others. By the end of the story she has gained perspective, self love and respect.
If you are a gifted person, or the parent of a gifted child, you likely know this story all too well. So often, bright people struggle to fit in to the molds schools, communities and social groups have established for them. Many times I have worked with people who tell me their peers don’t understand them, school isn’t for them, and perhaps no place on earth is for them. They feel hopeless, and worthless. This doesn’t have to be the story, and in fact when they are able to embrace their strengths, like Meg, their stories change.
We all struggle with self esteem and to find our place in the world. This natural part of human development can be made more difficult when you are different and others don’t understand you, especially if you are getting the message everything about you is wrong. What if that message were to change? What if people were given the message they are accepted and are the contributors of something meaningful, instead?
A gifted person not getting their needs met, can take on many personas. They could be a shy person who withdraws from everyone and everything, a bored trouble maker, or someone who shows up and checks out, lacking all motivation. With the right support, however, each one of these people could become a leader, and the hero of his or her own story.
As parents, we can help our children by advocating for them at school, and helping them to get their emotional and social needs met. One way to help is is to recognize your children’s strengths, and to teach them their struggles and mistakes are opportunities to learn, rather than personal failures. Because gifted people learn more quickly and are often good at many things, they may have a low tolerance for mistakes, an avoidance of trying new things and will likely feel like failures if something is difficult. Gifted people are often perfectionists, with a harsh inner critic they are dealing with that may prevent them from going outside of their comfort zone, trying new things or interacting socially. These self-critical tendencies are reinforced by teachers, coaches and peers who misunderstand them, by labeling them as lazy, trouble makers, or weird.
Seek out activities that play to their strengths, and do new activities with them to give them the support needed to try something different. When trying something new, be casual and accepting of your loved one, whatever happens. If they are shy and struggle with social situations, encourage them to do the activity with someone they know, and help them to plan an exit strategy for parties, play dates and other social situations that are anxiety provoking.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help! After all, we are all in this together!