Friday, June 14, 2013

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

All parents at some time, at least once, have quietly compared their child to another. Whether it's a baby "milestone" chart or another kid in the park or our best friend's child who's the same age as ours, it happens. In some cases it can even be a good thing. Milestone charts can give us a good idea of what we should be working on with our kids. Kids at the park can give us an idea of if our child is learning the proper societal norms and behaviors. Our best friend's kid can sometimes give us a clue if something is "wrong" with ours. But comparisons can also lead to a lot of problems for parents. And I think it's even worse for parents of gifted children.

I'm not talking about other people comparing their children to recognized gifted kids. I think we all are aware of the disaster that is. I'm talking about how impossible it is for parents of gifted children to compare them to anyone else. After all, depending on your definition of gifted, that's really only 5% of the population-or less. Given the wide differences in abilities between Gifted, Highly Gifted, Phenomenally Gifted, etc. You'd have to reduce it down even further. And what about the Twice Exceptional kids or the ones with a learning disability or those on the Autism or Asperger's spectrum? What about the kids who are gifted in one subject more than another? Or interested in something completely unthought of? What age are you going to compare your gifted kid to? Gifted kids his own age, average kids of an older age? When it comes to atypical, un-average kids, there really isn't anyone enough like your child to compare to. Which can be scary because that means there's no scale or measure to determine if you're doing a good enough job parenting (and especially homeschooling) your child. We have to figure that out all on our own, and individually for each child if you have more than one gifted child.

When you look at the it that way, it may seem obvious. But if you're the parent of a young, early learner, it's not so obvious at first. And I'm speaking from personal experience. I admit, I did a lot of comparing my oldest with other kids. Especially my best friend's daughter, who was four months older than my son. Baby milestones, when did they first crawl, walk, talk, talk clearly; I was completely guilty of it. And it didn't help that I was comparing a baby boy to a baby girl, even knowing that baby boys and girls develop much differently. But I was an insecure parent (aren't we all a little bit at one time or another?) and I didn't have any other experience to base whether or not I was doing a good enough job parenting my child. The fact that my little boy was not nearly as verbal as her little girl did not help.

When Early Bird came around I was then comparing his milestones to his brother's, adjusted for gestational age for the first two years since he was born premature. But when he started reading six weeks before he turned 3, I gave up on comparing him to what his older brother's records were. When two months later he was reading at the same level as his 5 year old brother, I started trying to compare Early Bird with where his brother was then. That didn't work out so well either. Because there is a lot more to development than reading, and treating a 3 year old like a 5 year old, even if he is advanced in several areas, is not the best move. I ended up frustrated at times because I was forgetting that 3 year olds act like 3 year olds sometimes; and sometimes like 2 year olds. Eventually I gave up/broke the habit of trying to figure out where this child "should be" developmentally and just tried to meet him where he was. I'm not sure how well I've done with that because he's 4 years old now and I'm still struggling to figure out where he "should be." Am I missing gaps in his education? Am I babying him too much emotionally? Am I challenging him enough? I have no idea, no standard, no guide. He's happy; I know that much at least.

This lesson took more time for my husband to learn though. Even with Early Bird doing things way before other kids his age, he still wanted to make sure we weren't forgetting anything. And he was looking for a guide for that, something to measure Early Bird's progress against. My "ah ha!" moment came when I told my husband "there isn't anyone to compare him to!"

Since our discovery last year that Early Bird is an early learner, I've had the opportunity (thanks to the Accelerated Learner Board at Well Trained Mind) to come across other parents who are making the same discoveries about their children that I was. When they ask what my #1 piece of advice is, (after Calm Down and Breathe) it is that comparisons are useless and will make your life miserable.

I am currently pregnant with my third child. I'm going to have a chance to really put what I've said into practice. There will be temptations; I'll have two other babyhoods to compare hers to, and my sister just had a baby girl a month ago, so we'll have two baby girls just 3 months apart. Whether she turns out to be gifted, average, or challenged, I hope I have learned well enough what Early Bird has taught me: to just enjoy my child for who they are, to work with them at their speed, and to not worry about what everyone else's kids are doing.

This is my contribution for the Parenting the Gifted Blog Tour 2013. I'll post links to the next blog posts on the tour on their days, or you can click here for the original announcement and links to the participating blogs. I had a wonderful time reading the contributions last year, and I'm looking forward to this year's.

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