Sunday, June 22, 2014

How a Gifted Childhood Prepared Me for Gifted Parenting

I'm a fan of Building Wing Span and in January she posted a blog post entitled "Being Gifted in no way prepares you for Parenting Gifted kids." I was quite surprised by this because I had found the exact opposite to be true for me. Now, re-reading the post it seems that the author was maybe having a bad day. Plus, she has more kids than I do, and her kids have extra gifted attributes that mine do not have. This post is not intended to be a slam on the author. Merely, that post inspired this post.

I admit: I was a weird kid. Even if I hadn't dealt with issues that young kids shouldn't have to, I still would have been a weird kid. I also wanted to be a mother for as long as I can remember. One of the things I would do as a child would watch my grandmother or other parents I came across in life. I would see things that they did that I or other kids responded to well, and filed those away. I would also look at things that did not work (using fractions to extend the time a kid has when you're counting to a number to get them to do something? Please; no kid respects that.) and decided that I would never do those things. (Tempered, of course, by later teen and adult reading about childhood development.)

I also have quite a lot of memories from my childhood and teenager-hood that I have analyzed. Those years still feel very recent, and those memories are still fresh. Looking back, I have been able to learn a lot from them for what I want for my own children. Especially as I see so much of myself in them at times. 

Being a weird child, I never fit in well with my same age peers. My best friend for the first part of my childhood was almost two years older than me (thank you, Kim, for accepting me even though I was younger!) I found myself drawn to adults for conversation and and social interaction. Sadly, most adults I encountered were not interested in being engaged by a child. Those rare adults that I encountered that did, I treasured. The lady who listened to my interest in becoming a horticulturist and developing a green rose (in elementary school) that showed me a collage level biology text and introduced me to the fun things I later found out were called "Punnett Squares." I remember you, Ma'am. The great uncle who let me enthusiastically show him my small coin collection, and then sent me some "Japanese Invasion Money" and told me the stories of his travels. Those encounters were treasures in my childhood. And because of that, now that I am an adult I strive to be that for every child I encounter who seems like they need that. Not every child does. But there are some who need to be listened to and treated seriously by an adult. I encourage everyone who reads this that when they find those children, those young people, to give them your full attention and some of your time. Because it is a gift to them that they will treasure all of their life.

I lived most of my life with my grandparents. My father's parents for ages 5-12 and then 14-18, and my mother's parents from 12-14. They did their best, and I am grateful for what they did. But they were not prepared to deal with gifted intensities and overexcitabilities. And questions. I don't know if I really asked that many questions, but boy did I get the impression from my grandmother that my burning questions were a complete nuisance and bother to her. Granted, this was in the days before Google. And I suppose it might have been embarrassing for her not to know the answers. But the attitude I perceived in her eventually made me shut down and stop asking. I didn't stop wanting to know. But neither was I taught how to find the answers to my questions. It was an extremely frustrating time for me. Coupled with going through puberty and some other factors and it was also one of my darkest times. Having my own children now, I am delighted when they come up with a question I don't know the answer to. We search and find out together. We follow rabbit trails, watch other suggested YouTube videos, we explore, and we learn. And even if the question is asked at an inconvenient time or has to be put off for a while, I try to never make them feel like they were wrong to ask. That their question is unwanted. If Early Bird wants me to "ask Google Translate" what the Spanish word for "room" is, then we do it. If Builder Boy wants to talk about and figure out how to make domino contraptions by watching videos, we do it. It may not always be the most interesting thing in the world to me, but it is for them; and I hope I never make them feel like such a bother for asking that they stop asking me.

In 4th grade at my elementary school, students were allowed to join band. The great thing about it was they took beginners who had never played before and taught them. Looking back, I'm really unclear how that was feasible. I just know that's how it worked. I wanted to play flute. I REALLY wanted to play flute. I told my grandmother I wanted to play flute. I got a clarinet. Because "everyone else" plays flutes and I should do something different. And my great aunt was able to hand me down a clarinet. So I played the clarinet. And I would look at the flutists longingly, but never said another word about it. Until I moved in the middle of 6th grade to live with my mother's parents. At that school, band did not start until 6th grade, but everyone was required to play. So I was stuck in a classroom filled with beginners who didn't even want to be there. A room full of clarinets and only one flute player. I was able to rent a flute from the school district and taught myself to play and caught up with the class in time to play in the end of year concert. I loved it and as long as I was playing flute, I didn't touch the clarinet. But the school year ended, the flute went away. I moved on to a private school, now out of practice with my clarinet, and haven't played either instrument since. My clarinet was given away to another cousin by my great aunt who was annoyed that I was no longer using it. I shared that to say: please respect your child's passion choices. Don't substitute. This was not the only time a passion I had was taken away and was given something else and expected to just accept that. I'm not trying to say you should give your child everything they want. Most people can't afford that, and if you're open about that it would help a lot. But don't give them something else and expect them to be excited about it. Like ending figure skating lessons and expecting a bicycle to be an adequate replacement. (Okay, clearly I'm still a bit bitter about that one. The reason I was given was that they didn't like taking the time to take me to my once a week lesson.)

I think one of the most frustrating things for me growing up was that the strong emotions and frustrations I dealt with felt dismissed and ignored by my grandparents. Which just made me even more frustrated. I had an incident recently with Early Bird when I was impatient and frustrated myself and demanded a quick, yes or no answer. He didn't say anything so I made a decision. He was very upset because he was still thinking about it and hadn't gotten to reply yet (even though he eventually decided to go with the option I had chosen.) I'll never forget the picture of him, tears streaming down his face, saying "you didn't understand me!" Man that hit home. I scooped him up in my arms and I told him that I was very sorry for not understanding. I did explain that I could not read his mind and see that he had been thinking, and that him asking for a minute to think next time would be helpful. But I completely did understand that frustration and I validated it. Even though my children's emotions are sometimes fleeting, or illogical, or situationally inappropriate, those feelings are very much real and important to them at the time they are feeling them. And while those emotions might fade, they are going to remember how I treated those feelings, and how my treatment of them made them feel. A few months ago I read an article (wish I could find it again!) written to therapists/counselors on how to work with gifted patients and their overexcitabilities. One of their pieces of advice was to validate their patient's feelings; even/especially the emotional overexcitability ones. I didn't get that for myself; I am trying most definitely to do that for my children.

I consider the feelings and thoughts I had as a child to be valid and something I can learn from. I consider my children's feelings and thoughts to be valid. That viewpoint and those memories have helped me empathize with my children and, I think, have diffused some situations faster than they might have had I not empathized.

I love hearing about other people's childhood experiences and thinking about how I can learn from them. (I was a weird child; I guess I never grew out of being weird.) If you would like to share what you've learned from your own childhood, I would love to hear it! Please feel free to comment.

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This is my contribution for the Parenting the Gifted Blog Tour 2014. I had a wonderful time reading the contributions last year and the year before, and I'm looking forward to this year's.






3 comments:

  1. I enjoyed reading this. I was not gifted as a child, but I was certainly weird and different. Curiosity always bubbled up and me and I often felt dismissed by adults, etc. I admit to often forgetting that and being forced to remind myself of those feelings when my children seem to be full of questions themselves. Thanks for the reminder. :)

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    1. You don't have to be gifted to learn from your childhood. :) And what I learned applies to non-gifted children as well. I think maybe where being gifted came in most for me was paying more attention to what was going on and planning on how to learn from it then, and remembering it now, which has helped so much.

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