I don’t know your child. I don’t know your family. I have no idea what the right educational option is for you. But, I do know that there are options. There are always options. And I do know that the option which fits one child is not necessarily going to fit a second child, even if they share genetic material.
In this culture of child-centricity, it becomes easy to get lost. It becomes easy for homeschooling (or parenting in general) to become overwhelming or flat or uninspiring. It becomes easy to keep moving through the motions without any passion. Here’s one theory as to why: it’s hard to feel or inspire passion when you personally feel uninspired and neglectfully passion-less.
I found myself in a quandary. Wanting to promote interest-led, free-form, relaxed learning, while simultaneously wanting to assist my son to regulate the stress he feels when formal learning is expected and wanting to prepare my son for possible entry into an education system that isn’t so interest-led or free-form.
Witness an actual conversation that occurred between the 11 year old and myself:
Picture me, excited because I think I’ve found a co-op class that my drama-loving, ever-talking, debate-engaging, pre-teen son will enjoy.
Me: Cub, there’s a homeschool speech and leadership class offered through the library. What do ya think?!
Cub: Oh, yeah. (with all the liveliness of a block of wood)
Me: (amping up the enthusiasm in the hopes it would be contagious) Yeah! I thought you’d really enjoy it . . . you’ll learn ways to project your voice and use body language and get to tell stories . . .
Cub: (eye roll) Mom . . . I already know how to do all that. I’m an actor. I’ve been in plays. I don’t need to learn more.
And Cub exits stage left. Which was probably a good thing, because that kind of mindset makes me want to strangle him just a little bit.
He’s always been a precocious little kid. And while the official definition of precocious has something to do with developing abilities at an earlier age than usual, I’m using it as a synonym for smart aleck, wiseguy, smarty pants, know-it-all, etc. Sometimes this attitude of his can be an asset, like when he’s in a group of kids and steadfastly sticks to his convictions. But, when I’m trying to teach him something, either in his academics or just passing on mom-wisdom, it is incredibly infuriating and gets in the way of actual learning.
He’ll staunchly talk over my explanations on how to do a math problem, because he knows what he’s doing even though he’s doing it completely wrong. He’ll refuse classes, or grudgingly participate, because he doesn’t think he has anything more to learn on the topic. He’ll spout off about a topic that he actually knows little about, but maintain that he saw it somewhere on youtube, so he knows more about it than anyone else. This unabashed certitude is a hallmark of giftedness and of being a pre-teen, and when those have combined over the past couple of years . . . well . . . there really are no words. I mean, seriously. Holy hell.
And for me, personally, narcissism is one of my biggest pet peeves. And when I see my lovely little boy overflowing with it, part of me becomes very adolescent and I want to show him just how wrong he is. I want to tie him down, duct-tape his mouth and “make” him listen to me. I want to make him eat his all-knowing words. And while I’ve never actually duct-taped his mouth shut, I have uncontrollably jumped into a power struggle with the boy and tried to lecture him into wisdom. Which, you know, worked really well.
To complicate things, Cub is also one of the most emotionally intense and empathetically sensitive souls I’ve ever met. Oh, and lets not forget the perfectionism that many gifted children are simply born with. To provide correction and guidance to this child requires a very fine balancing act. He already beats himself up enough if he thinks he’s made a mistake, his mom certainly doesn’t need to add fuel to his fire. He picks up on tone and feels other people’s emotions, so even the hint of frustration or disappointment can have him feeling bad for hours or days.
As a parent and teacher, this balancing act can be so difficult to walk. Our children require correction. Developing a growth mindset and the humility to know that there’s always more to be learned is essential for success. But, our children also need us to be their soft place to land. They need us to be their champions and cheerleaders.
Here are a few things I’ve learned about how to navigate this contradictory place of sensitive narcissism.
First and foremost, I need to prioritize my own emotional regulation. When he refuses to listen to my teaching, I need to take a few breathes and not take it personally. I need to quiet my own know-it-all tendency that wants to prove just how right I am and remember that the irritating wise-ass sitting in front of me is actually just my little cub who’s trying to find his way. I need to stay calm.
I need to provide space and time. Not all lessons can be learned in one sitting. We’re in it for the long haul and when I can keep my eyes on the long-term prize, I can see this one moment as simply a building block.
I need to allow my own discomfort and watch him struggle and fail. If he thinks he knows how to do the math problem and won’t listen to instruction, let him do it his way and see where he gets. Let him find his own errors. Let him come to me and ask for help when he does finally see for himself that he doesn’t understand. That’s far more effective than when I’ve tried to make him see that he needs help.
I need to model my own growth mindset. Fully acknowledge when I don’t know something. Ask for help. Show my kids that I’m continually learning. Be willing to show humility when I’ve thought I’ve known something to be true and learned that I was mistaken.
And I need to provide all correction nestled gently between words of love and full-on acceptance. Even when his eyes are rolling and his words are sarcastic, he continues to be a gentle soul who simply needs, like all of us, to know that he’s loved and worthwhile simply for being who he is.
After some time and space away from each other, I was able to calmly explain why I thought the speech and leadership class would be helpful and he was able to listen to my words. And victory for mom! He’s signed up for the class. Though now that I’m thinking about it, maybe giving him more tools to eloquently argue with me was not my wisest move.
I remember the moment distinctly. We were sitting at the cub scouts end of the year picnic, watching Cub and the other 6 year old boys playing t-ball. I watched as Cub tried really hard to behave like the other 6 year old boys and he just didn’t know how to do it. It was pretty painfully cringy to watch. He just simply didn’t know how to “act his age.” Typically he was pretty serious, engaged in thoughtful conversations, and enjoyed magically creative dramatic play. In his attempts to fit in with the other boys, he became that overly silly, in-your-face kind of boy. And, with his psychomotor intensity, he was physically buzzing around everyone and talking non-stop. But, psychomotor intensity doesn’t necessarily equate to advanced psychomotor ability. So, not only was he buzzing around, but he was doing so clumsily and simply seemed as though he didn’t know how to move his body. My husband and I looked at each other and said, “Oh my gosh. Our kid’s the annoying kid.” My mind could flash forward a few years and the picture it painted of Cub’s social life wasn’t pretty.
Later in the week, I finally acquiesced to my husband’s fairly regular requests to enroll Cub in a martial art. It was one of the best activity choices we’ve ever made. And, in reflection, here’s why.
The physical discipline he has learned has helped him to grow more grounded in his movements. He understands how to move his body with intention, which helps him modulate his psychomotor intensity. The form of martial art, Aikido, is a defensive discipline, so it has also curbed his previous tendency to get into people’s faces, knowing he doesn’t need to go on the attack, but can quietly wait. He has had the opportunity to learn from other people, older and younger, and to develop his own leadership skills. In addition to the physical skills, there is an intellectual element of Aikido as he learns strategy, Japanese culture and language, and an understanding of the philosophy of Aikido.
His successes with Aikido have taught me a few things with regard to choosing the appropriate extracurricular activities for our gifted kids.
First, I now try to very intentionally choose activities that allow an outlet for their various intensities (overexcitabilities). The more we feed the intensities, the less dysfunctional they become. Aikido for psychomotor intensity. Drama or Destination Imagination for imaginational intensity. Art classes or philanthropic service projects to feed the sensual or emotional intensity. Strategic gaming clubs for opportunities for intellectual intensity.
Second, I try to not only choose activities that feed the intensities, but also that help my kids learn how to modulate them. There are a lot of downsides to intensities and us gifted people need to know how to regulate those downsides. But, there are a lot of upsides, as well, and we need to teach our kids how to build the strengths and regulate the weaknesses of their particular intensities. Aikido has been fabulous for this as Cub’s learned how to be generally more grounded in his body.
Third, we seek out multi-age activities. Our kids develop asynchronistically, which means they rarely fit in with chronological peers. They tend to do better with older or younger kids. And, when multi-age groups for particular activities don’t exist, sometimes we create our own. I managed a Destination Imagination team geared to homeschoolers so we could have a range of kids’ ages on the team. Worked far better than sticking Cub in the public school’s team with all the same grade kids.
Fourth, we are very intentional about talking together to determine what and how many activities to participate in. Gifted kids tend to be more introverted, so the fast-paced, be busy 24 hours a day, sign up for lots of activities world that we live in is often even more detrimental to these kiddos. Sometimes we choose activities that are one-on-one, or solitary, or just at home. And Cub generally has an understanding of what his limits are.
There are so many fantastic opportunities for our kids these days. It becomes difficult to say no or to find the right match. But, I’ve found that when I can be intentional in the ways I’ve described, my kids can flourish. They learn how to build upon the strengths and modulate the weaknesses of their intense personalities. And, thankfully, with Aikido’s help, Cub is no longer the annoying kid.
For More tips, tricks, and stories about the intersection of extracurricular activities and intensities, check out the Blog Hop at Gifted Homeschooler's Forum!