High Achieving Schmigh Achieving

Brace yourself, parents. I’m about to let you in on one of the things I repeatedly say to the kids and youth you trust me to guide through their social, emotional, and mental health needs.  Ready?  Here goes:

I don’t care about grades.

Typically followed by:

I think grades are stupid.

“But, Heather!” some of you might be thinking, “how will we know how much our kids have learned if we don’t give them grades?!”

To which I say – grades don’t give us any indication regarding a student’s degree of learning.  I should know.  I graduated with straight A’s from High School, summa cum laude from undergrad, and with just under a 3.9-something or other from grad school.  Helping my 3rd grader with homework and teaching my 7th grader about history, physics, chemistry, and more, I can honestly tell you that I learned very little in all those subjects in school.  I tested well.  I knew how to remember information just long enough to spew it back on a piece of paper filled with beautifully number 2 pencil colored bubbles.  I got the A’s.  And then I forgot the knowledge.  I didn’t really learn anything.  And I’m not the only one with this skill.

“But, Heather!” some of you might be thinking, “how will they ever get into a good college and then get a good career if they don’t care about their grades?” 

To which I say – hiring personnel and college recruiters understand the limitations of grades.  Grades are an indication of how well a person knows how to jump through hoops and give other people what they want.  Solid, passion-filled careers, generally spark from more innovation than that.  They spark from thinking outside of the box and knowing how to create your own hoops to give people what they didn’t even know they wanted but now can’t live without.  Recruiters want problem-solvers, they want creative minds, they want innovators.  Grades do not assess these things.

“But, Heather!” some of you might be thinking, “they’re kids!  Their job is to do well in school and get good grades.”

To which I say – last time I looked, a kid’s job is to learn the skills needed to be functioning, contented adults.  Do grades really factor in?  Can’t think of a time when my grades mattered one iota in my family, friendships, or vocation.  Nobody has walked into my office and asked me my gpa from graduate school, let alone high school or 3rd grade.

“But, Heather!” some of you might be thinking, “you specialize in working with gifted families!  What do you mean you don’t care about grades?!  That’s part of being gifted!”

To which I shout – AHHHHHHHH!!!!  NO!!  High achievement can be a part of gifted, but it is not automatically a part of being gifted.  To be honest, following the expectations and striving for those sought after golden A’s actually stifled my giftedness.  I became more concerned about achieving some standard determined by others that I lost (or never learned) my own voice, my own passions, my own giftings and talents.  Grades enhanced my perfectionism.  Working for the A made me not trust my own writing style or best practices for my own learning.

I cannot count the number of gifted kids I’ve worked with who simply give up on school.  They see no point, and I don’t blame them.  They ask me what the point of homework is, and parents say, “to get a good grade,” or “because that’s what’s expected of you and sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.”  But, homework for the sake of homework is a waste of time, and many bright kids get that.  They don’t want to complete a worksheet about addition when they’ve been doing multiplication for the past 3 years.  They don’t want to read for 20 minutes every night because they read for 200 minutes over the weekend, when they actually have time to dive into the book.  They don’t want to make a diorama because there’s no real world value to it.  And these gifted kids get this early.  I admire them for bucking the system, and I wish I hadn’t waited until my 30s to do the same.

I feel sad for them, too.  They often have their gt classes stripped or threatened to be taken away because they aren’t performing and therefore must not be gifted.  Or they have teachers and parents focus so much on what they aren’t doing, neglecting to build on their strengths and give them the things that they can succeed at and will want to do. 

Giftedness is about seeing and experiencing the world differently than the norm.  It’s about intense emotions, intense thoughts, creative constructs, innovation, making connections, diving deep.  It isn’t synonymous with high academic achievement.  We need to be expanding our definition of success, especially for our brightest minds.  We need to embrace that giftedness is being differently wired, not higher achieving.  We need to question who actually gets to determine what high achievement looks like, anyway.

And so, I’ll stand firm . . . grades are stupid.


Find out other ways the thinkers of today are reinforcing that giftedness and achievement are two separate things by reading all the great posts in this month's GHF Blog Hop!

How Having a Differently-Wired Kid is Like Being in the Military

How Having a Differently-Wired Kid is Like Being in the Military

What got me thinking about this is that oft quoted stat that moms of autistic children have the same levels of stress as combat soldiers.  Our brains have been wired to be on high alert and to be living in a constant state of reactive fight or flight to the same degree as our service men and women.  And from what I’ve seen and experienced, our similarities don’t stop there.

I Refuse to Let My Child Get Bored

I know.  It’s all over the place.  Our kids are too entertained.  We need to let them get bored.  Boredom isn’t bad.  Boredom is the breeding ground for creativity.  Don’t be a helicopter parent.  Remember your childhood of the 70’s or 80’s.  You’re their parent, not their playmate.

Even with all that, I still refuse to let my child get bored.

When my child gets bored, she melts down.  She finds nothing productive to do with her downtime.  Sure, she gets creative, but only to think up innovative ways to torture her brothers or trigger massive family chaos and conflict.  She cannot tolerate boredom.  Welcome to the world of twice exceptionality.

In some ways, her brain works very fast and is very creative and needs a lot of stimulation to be satisfied.  In other words, she bores easily.  In other ways, she doesn’t yet have the executive functioning skills to be planful or focused or regulate emotions well or problem solve effectively when she’s just a tiny bit dysregulated.  So, she bores easily and can’t find ways to resolve it.  Hello meltdown.

Boredom is an emotion like any other emotion.  And, like any other emotion, it isn’t all good or all bad.  It can be unpleasant, but it also can be the trigger to amazing new creations.  The tricky part comes when we have children who cannot yet tolerate unpleasant emotions.  It’s hard to get to the helpful parts of an emotion if we can’t first tolerate it.

Yes, I think, in general, our kids need more boredom in their lives.  My sons get kicked outside with “nothing to do” amid grumbles and groans regularly.  They manage to find something and end up more engaged and with more regulated bodies and souls than before they were bored.  But, they have the skills to tolerate and regulate their unpleasant emotions.

Our kids need more boredom in their lives, as they are ready.  We need to teach the emotion regulation skills that help them be prepared for boredom.  Our kids need distress tolerance skills built up, and we probably need to coach most of our 2e and gifted kids on what those distress tolerance skills look like.  They might need visual prompts or lists of boredom busters or baskets of stress tools that help them regulate when they are feeling icky.  We need to tiptoe into the boredom to give them small exposure to it so they can build up their tolerance.

Managing boredom is a learned skill, and sometimes we forget that our primary job is to be teaching our children how to function in this complex world.  They are not born with the skill to manage boredom.  Think about a bored infant.  What do they do?  They scream until somebody comes and entertains them.  Our asyncronistic, development atypical kids might still be screaming until somebody comes and teaches them how to entertain themselves.  I lucked out.  My sons were both able to teach themselves how to be self-entertained at an early age.  Cub could flip through books, crawl around, and play hide and seek with himself for hours when he was 6 months old.  But, it is unfair to expect that every child will be able to do the same.  It is unfair to became angry with my daughter when she cannot do the same things.

It is also unfair to set her up to fail by subjecting her to something before she has the requisite skills.  And so, unless I’m intentionally helping her tiptoe into it to develop her new skills, I will continue to refuse to let my daughter get bored.