Parents, teachers, friends and mentors… let’s talk.
We have a generation of brilliant, gifted, amazing kids who are having (and are going to have) significant crises over the next days, weeks, and months. These kids, the ones we’ve nurtured and shuttled from enrichment activity to enrichment activity, are struggling.
Not academically. Not really.
And they don’t know how to deal with it.
These are the kids with the big emotions, the big ideas, the 8-year-olds who are going to change the world, the 10-year-olds who have already gained a professional aptitude in a particular field, the 6-year-olds bubbling over with scientific theories and complicated math equations.
But just because they’re smart doesn’t mean they don’t need help, especially with the less academic pieces of the puzzle.
In fact, our smart kids may not know how to ask for help – a combination of always being able to figure it out on their own and being dismissed when they do come to someone with a problem.
Here’s what our kids hear from us when they’re little:
- You’re smart, you can figure it out.
- You’re smart, you should have known better.
At the same time, when they have big worries, we minimize them:
Don’t worry. ______ (insert big global crisis your five-year-old is worrying about) isn’t your problem.
My 8-year-old went in for a blood draw. The nurses thought he was scared of the needle, so they tried to tell him it wasn’t a big deal. He was actually worried, I found out later, about how long it would take his CBC to get back to normal, and that his body would function sub-optimally until it did. We didn’t validate concerns we didn’t realize he had.
Over and over, we tell kids how much potential they have, how great they are, how smart they are, how much they can do, but we (often) neglect the fact that these kids are often anxious perfectionists who have sub-par coping skills because they’ve either never needed them or have never been taught.
They don’t know that it gets better.
These kids are smart enough to recognize when they’re dismissed, minimized, not taken seriously. They don’t know that there are — and will be — places where they will be accepted, appreciated, validated, and encouraged. They don’t know that college, or grad school, or a club is right around the corner where they will find people who “get” them. Who think like they do. Who see the world similarly and think they’re amazing, not overreacting.
My friend came to the US from China, and her first interaction with US citizens was at MIT grad school. When I explained to her how concerned I was about my son, she told me he was totally normal — for MIT grad school.
So our kids have been told that their intellects matter but their emotions should be ignored, because they’re troublesome.
They’re told that they can do amazing things (but not given permission to fail or explore or take a break).
They’re told to “try to fit in” with their school-aged peers, regardless of interest or ability.
And we wonder why there’s a crisis among the gifted teen community.
What we should be doing:
- From the time our kids are little, we need to be validating their feelings. Listening to their concerns. Teaching them coping skills and techniques. Providing them with a safe place to come and let it all out, without fear of judgment or condemnation.
- Work hard to find others that connect with your kid. If the same-aged peer friendship thing isn’t working, expand the options. My 8-year-old connects really well with a couple of retired guys at our church who have a corny sense of humor and take the time to listen to him. These are meaningful relationships. Maybe there’s a mentor in a particular area of interest that would connect the dots. Our kids have spent their lives feeling like outsiders to the normal social constructs.
- Allow them to be asynchronous. Just because their brains are mature doesn’t mean that their emotions are in the same place. In fact, there’s often a delay with emotions because the brain is in hyperdrive.
- Read books together, especially ones with quirky, misunderstood characters. Let your kids know they’re not the first to feel the way they’re feeling.
- Connect with gifted learning communities like Colleen’s, where other families are having similar struggles.
- Listen to your kid. Take him seriously. Don’t assume she “knows better” when it comes to self-harm or other dangerous behaviors, and seek help – without shame.
You are your kid’s best advocate. Love them well, give them space to struggle, and find help when you need it.