Monday, March 24, 2014

Focus on the Good Stuff

By Stephanie Newitt

This year I went to the Parent Day of the Arizona Association of Gifted & Talented’s (AAGT) educator conference, held in Phoenix.  The concluding keynote speaker was Dr. Dan Peters.  Dr. Peters is a licensed psychologist , co-founder and Executive Director of the Summit Center in Walnut Creek, California.  His topic:  Parenting Your Gifted Child for a Successful Life:  Focus on the Good Stuff.

Dr. Peters first asked us to define our goal as parents.  What is important?  Good grades?  Advanced performance?  The courage to take risks?  Perseverance?  Independence?  The ability to cope with adversity?  Our goal, as parents, will determine how we interact with our children, moment by moment in each day.  What if our parenting goal was that our children would become independent and successful in life?  Would we focus on outcomes or effort?

Dr. Peters suggests that a good parenting goal would be to grow healthy kids who are motivated and engaged in learning and life.  Paths to success will take a different shape for each individual.  How often is this path a straight line from beginning to end?  How often is the path to success full of curves, turns and even “U” turns?  It would behoove us as parents to keep our focus on the forest, not the trees. 

This requires a nurturing parent approach.  Dr. Peters suggests to parents that this includes:
·         Trusting their child’s judgment, based on the child’s developmental age and maturity
·         Respecting their child’s thoughts and feelings
·         Supporting their child’s interests and goals
·         Keeping their children safe and providing boundaries
·         Modeling self-control, sensitivity and values that parents believe to be important
·         Modeling and teaching self-regulation
(More information is in Dr. Peters’ book Raising Creative Kids)

An example of this is to discuss the pros and cons and how each situation would play out.  I thought of a time when I had the opportunity to discuss the pros and cons with my youngest child.  I wish I had done more of this with his older siblings, but I am glad I am not too old to learn.  Our youngest is ten years old.  He qualified for the 2013-2014 GPS gifted self-contained class and we attended the spring open house last May.  However, he was not among the first group pulled from the lottery.  I asked him if a spot opened up before school started, would he want to go.  He told me, “Yes, if it’s before the first day of school.  If it is after the first day of school, no.”  The first day of school came and went without a phone call.  We were disappointed, but not heart-broken nor bitter, as we know that it is our own attitude that helps us make the most of any given situation. 

The third week of school we received the phone call.  A space had opened up in the gifted self-contained class.  Would we be interested?  We were invited to take the time we needed to make this decision.

I sat down with my son and told him the news.  He felt a big weight on his shoulders and felt almost frozen and debilitated.  When I told him we would make the decision together, the posture in his shoulders literally changed and he stood a little straighter.  I arranged for us to visit the self-contained class at the end of the school day so that he could see the class and also where he would line up for the bus and meet the children on his bus route.  Back at home after the tour, I took out a piece of paper and together we brain-stormed the pros and cons of each school setting.   For the self-contained class, we used information from our visit to the classroom and what we had learned at the spring open house.  He asked his older siblings for advice on how they made decisions and how they transitioned to new schools.  We added his siblings’ comments to our lists on the grid.

Once the grid of pros and cons was complete, we transferred everything about the new school and gifted self-contained class to a bubble map.  We had addressed the logical side of things, and now I wanted to address the emotional side of the decision.  I told my son that we can live a balanced life when we make decisions equally with both our heads and our hearts.  On each bubble of the bubble map, I asked my son to attach the emotion that he felt when he read the statement in the bubble.  When he was done, I took a hi-lighter and, as I read the emotional label he had given, I asked him if it was positive, negative or neutral.   Though he ended with 16 positives, four negatives and one neutral, I could tell that my son felt the weight of the four sad emotions very heavily.  He told me he didn’t want to talk about it anymore.  He was emotionally tired. 

I waited a few hours and then encouraged him to come back to the kitchen table.  He was now ready to continue our discussion.  I asked him if the four statements that he had labeled “sad” or “very sad” were permanent situations.  He said three of them weren’t and I asked him why not, how could they change over time?  He shared with me how he thought those situations – and feelings – could be changed as he got to know his new school and new classmates.  We were smiling through this discussion and we re-labeled these three with the pink hi-lighter. 

The fourth and last “very sad” reason was that he would miss his old friends.   It was a very tender moment for both of us as we honestly talked about the sadness felt of leaving his old friends.   I shared with him a story of how I have been able to keep in touch with friends during some of my moves.  From my story, he gleaned an idea.  On his own, he decided that he would write a letter on the computer to each of his friends, telling why he would miss them and expressing the hope that they could still get together.  He would include our home phone number and address and my email address so the friends could contact us.  He felt these letters would help him stay connected.  Once he had this feeling of hope he had a smile on his face and quickly went to the computer to compose his letters.  He printed them and put them in envelopes, ready for the next day of school.

My son wanted to go to his old school one last time so he could give his friends their letters.  He asked his friends not to open the letters until they got home.  This allowed them to have normal play at lunch time.  I had told my son that I would pull him out of school early and we would go out to ice cream.  I wanted him to have something positive to look forward to at the end of his school day.  We went out to ice cream and laughed and talked.  It was a good way to have closure to the decision making process.

The next day I took him to the regional bus stop, a neighborhood park, and he was excited to play with his new friends of the gifted self-contained class.  He has adjusted well to his new class, and three months into his new experience I asked him if he regretted his choice and wanted to move back to his old school.  With a smile on his face he responded with a firm and resolute, “No!”

Since his transfer to his new school, he has been able to see occasionally friends from his old school.  He knows he is still connected, that they are only a phone call away.

We are a prayerful family and during this whole process I invited my son to pray about his decision and I did also.  We sought for feelings of peace.  Together we felt peaceful that transferring to the gifted self-contained class would better meet his needs and, through our discussions and idea sharing, we learned to navigate this journey.  We acknowledged both our head and our heart, and treated our thoughts and feelings honestly.  We strove for balance and peace.

Whatever journey you and your child have ahead of you, this choice, of focusing on the forest, the big picture, helped guide us on our journey.  I want my son to feel engaged in learning and in life, and to learn to be self-motivated, to work hard and be resilient.  Having these open and honest conversations, giving him a safe place to express both his fears and hopes, will set the pattern helping him to know  how to have a life of balance and peace.

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