As the parent of a gifted child, I personally understand some of the pressures parents face to help their child meet their full potential. Part of this quest is ensuring your child’s academic needs are met, making sure they are challenged and that they are connecting with peers with whom they can relate. Often our kids are so bright, we might even forget they are children at all.
Here’s a great example. To the best of our abilities, my husband and I provide every opportunity we can to our son, answer every question, seek out mentors, and provide ways to feed his brain and challenge his intellect all of the time. Still I worry. Is it enough? Just this evening I was watching a game show, called “Genius Junior”, where one of my son’s friends was competing. My son had the opportunity to try out for the show and declined. We declined as well, deciding it wasn’t right for him, especially because he didn’t want to do it. Yet, watching the show, for a split second I questioned our judgment and worried that we are not doing enough as I heard the bios of the children. I began to feel stressed out. I realize this is self-manufactured pressure, but it’s there, even if it’s sometimes ridiculous. My husband’s response to my craziness was, “He’s a happy person. That is important. Let it go.”
Can you relate? If we feel the pressure, I can only imagine what it’s like for our kids. Gifted kids I have worked with often feel depressed and anxious because they feel inadequate, and are caving under the pressure of “living up to their potential”. Sometimes they are exhausted from the mountains of homework they are expected to do, the many activities that take over their free time, and are disconnected from peers because they either cannot related to people their own age or are too introverted to try.
Unfortunately, people don’t “grow out of” these feelings. Depressed, anxious, detached, and even driven young people can turn into adults who are workaholics struggling to find happiness, healthy relationships and meaning in life.
So, if we take a step back for just a moment, and remember part of helping our children to “reach their potential” is to help them to find balance, maintain some childish wonder, and to connect with joy. These are important life skills they can take with them into adulthood.
Remember, no matter how brilliant your child is (or isn’t), they are still a child. Children of all ages go through the same developmental changes, learn from and rejoice in play, deserve the opportunity to connect with others, and the ability to become independent.
Nurturing our kids’ emotional well being is just as important as meeting their academic and creative aptitudes.
Here are some ideas for helping your child and yourself reduce some of the pressures that come with being gifted.
Help your child connect with what delights them. Encourage them to be in the moment of the experience and allow them to talk about it afterward. Permit yourself to get lost in the fun as well. It will be good for both of you. This one act, repeated on a regular basis can offset a considerable amount of stress at any age.
Avoid scheduling every moment of your child’s day and allow for down time. Rest, relaxation and play are vital for healthy development, and good mental health.
Gently encourage your child to try new things, make mistakes and even fail. This is extremely important, and can be a great challenge for bright people. You can make it easier for them by doing the new activity with them, doing it as play, and avoiding all judgments you might be tempted to make. Remind them, mistakes give us the opportunity to learn and grow and help them to talk about how they are learning and growing from new experiences.
Don’t get caught up in competing with other parents. If you are in a community of other parents with gifted children it can be easy to feel the pressure of competition. Remember, this is not about your children, it is about you. If you are feeling inadequate as a parent, check in with yourself to make sure you aren’t passing your anxiety on to your kids. On this note, be confident in your efforts. If you are doing your research, supporting your kids and otherwise doing your very best, it will pay off. The other parents aren’t raising your kid, you are!
Be reasonable with your expectations of your child and yourself. When you see all that your child is capable of, it can be easy to loose sight of their age, and what is developmentally appropriate. Just because they can do it, doesn’t mean they should.
Show and teach empathy. Giving your child emotional validation and words for their feelings is an important part of helping them to feel emotionally balanced and be able to have healthy relationships with other people. Also teach them what to do with those feelings once they have been named. For example, if your child is dealing with frustration, acknowledge the frustration, and suggest they take a break to take a few deep breaths before returning to the difficult task.
Teach them their gifts are not the only important attributes of who they are. In our home we recognize the strengths of others and ourselves regardless of a person’s perceived intelligence, and accept we all have shortcomings. It is important to stress the significance of kindness, responsibility, hard work, empathy and enjoyment.
As a last word, finding happiness, managing stress and connecting with other people is part of reaching one’s full potential. Achieving academic, monetary and professional success are not the only bench markers for living a full, and meaningful life. If you or your child is struggling in these areas, support from a professional therapist who understands the needs of gifted people, could make a huge difference.