Monday, October 6, 2014

Seeing the Forest for the Trees - By Stephanie Newitt

Dr. Amy Serin of the Serin Center was the keynote speaker at the September, AAGT Parent Institute.  She had these thoughts to share regarding parenting gifted kids to help us as parents see the forest for the trees.

Dr. Serin began with some biology and a look at brain cortical thickness.  This is the area of the brain that among a variety of cognitive abilities plays a key role in attention and perceptual awareness.   She shared with us a study that was conducted comparing the cortical thickness of children with typical intelligence to that of children with IQs in the 120s-130s.  The study found that in the group of gifted children, the cortex thickened at about age 11 years, but that the cortex thickened years earlier for children of typical intelligence.  

What does this mean to parents of gifted children?  This means, that biologically speaking, gifted children will struggle with their ability to self-regulate until about the age of 11 years old.  Combine this with their heightened curiosity and there is no wonder that young gifted children get distracted on their way to complete simple tasks such as feeding the dog or turning in homework. 

What can we as parents do to help our children who are still developing self-regulating abilities?
·         We can look at them and their development through the lens of giftedness. 

·         Don’t “should” your gifted child.  We tend to do this because we want THEM to make our lives easier.  Don’t look at typical kids to be the standard of a gifted child’s development.
·         Modulate expectations based on your gifted child’s needs.  Which executive functioning (self-regulating) trait does your gifted child have difficulty with?  Shifting activities?  Regulating their intense emotions?  Their overexcitibility
·         Motivate your gifted child, not with logic, but with rewards that will activate the dopamine levels in the brain.  Be aware of your gifted child’s developmental stages and identify their asynchronies.
·         As parents, we may need to BE the frontal lobe – giving direction and structure – while the brain of our gifted child is developing.  An example of this is that it is time for your gifted child to clean up her room.  You can break it down for them and give the direction to gather dirty clothes first, then help them with a short list of items they will gather together and put away (dolls, cars, etc.) 

·         Don’t parent based on parental entitlement.  Parent based on your child’s genuine needs.
·         Model self-soothing behavior and discuss with your gifted child why you chose this behavior and how it helped you.  Train your child to use appropriate self-soothing behavior also.  This can be as simple as when a project is frustrating, you get up and take a short walk in the fresh air.
·         When parenting your gifted child, empathize, discuss (but don’t focus on logic), distract, and put the situation into perspective.  Use humor. 

To illustrate this point, I remember when my 11 year old son was very frustrated that I had asked him to pick up the fallen citrus in the backyard.  “But I just did it last week!  I shouldn’t have to do it again!” he balked.  I let him know I understood, and that I was just thinking about him.  Since his older brother was about to mow the lawn, I thought he would prefer to pick up whole citrus as opposed to cut up pieces of fruit.  He repeated his mantra of frustration.  I then looked at him, and in a voice of empathetic frustration, said, “Well, then, you should take it up with the trees and tell them they have no business dropping fruit when you just picked up their mess last week!”  My son smiled, rolled his eyes, shook his head … and got his garbage bags and gloves.  
·         Dr. Serin continued … Regarding bullying.  Are you as a parent succumbing to victim mentality?  Be sure to not project a victim mentality on to your child.
·         Regarding self-regulating / executive functioning skills, Dr. Serin recommended the book -   Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary "Executive Skills" Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare.

I highly recommend the annual AAGT Parent Institute to any parent of a gifted child.  Each time I go I’m reminded I’m not alone in this journey of parenting gifted children and I also bring home little nuggets of knowledge and skill that elevate my perspective.  I arrive home with greater peace – I remember that I love the panoramic view of the forest.

If you weren’t able to attend the AAGT Parent Institute this year, then please be sure to come to the Gilbert Supporters of the Gifted quarterly guest lectures.  Come to the GSG guest lectures and you will feel like you are not alone in this journey,  you will take home your own nugget of knowledge to raise your parenting perspective, and you just might find your own peaceful view of the forest.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR!  The next GSG Guest Lecture is Thursday, November 13th. 

If you liked this article, then you will really enjoy our November topic:  Ideas to help Gifted Children with Executive Functioning Skills.


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