It was during the eight weeks of the SENG Parent group that I began to reflect on my experiences as a gifted child. I realized that I had let my gifted identity go underground, as many gifted girls do. This really gave me the tools to help my daughters think and talk about their giftedness.
My New Year’s resolution is the same this year as it has been for much of my adult life—I resolve to do my best and carry on. Simple yet all-encompassing. I get to ask questions when I don’t know something, because that is how I do my best learning. I allow for lazy days, productive days, and everything in between. I know me—I am not going to get to the gym every morning, always keep my house spotless, or maintain a weed-free garden all summer long. I will, however, give myself permission to try, fail, and try again.
How did I get to this point? When did I decide to be nicer to myself? Believe me, it didn’t come naturally. As a sensitive, introverted, gifted child, I internalized the message that I should get the highest score on tests and be the first finished in math. This is who I was—the smart kid. Even within my amazing and brilliant family, I chose the identity of smart and studious. My older brother is 2e, but this was before twice-exceptionality was understood. My parents encouraged the gifts at home, but most of his school career was spent in remedial classes. My gifted older sister focused her considerable energies on social and leadership opportunities. I decided that I was the scholar and the book worm, and I embraced that identity wholeheartedly from an early age. Which is why I will never forget the year my illusions about being the smart kid were shattered irreparably. It was all the fault of my friend Amy and a set of identical twins.
It was third grade when Amy and I were in the same classroom for the first time. She was awesome. She had a great sense of humor and liked a lot of the same things I liked. We had played soccer together since first grade. She was better at soccer, but that was okay—being good at soccer was not a part of my gifted identity. I soon learned, however, that Amy was also better at math. Like really good. What a blow. That same year, a set of identical twins came to our school and joined our third-grade class. They were both also really good at math. Well. Math lost a lot of its appeal that year.
Though I could not have explained it at the time, I was worried about how the competition in math affected my identity as a gifted student. My internal messaging system was a tangle of self-recriminations and existential doubt. I didn’t know how to embrace the intellectual stimulation of learning with like-minded peers. Each time I was not the top student in math class, I took a blow to my increasingly fragile self-esteem. Even as I acclimated to the new reality of not being the best in math, my foundations were shaken again when I came in second in the spelling bee in fifth grade. Second! To a previously unknown, dark horse of a spelling whiz kid. Yes, these were dark years for this gifted girl.
The word gifted comes with a lot of high expectations, doesn’t it? Such enormous capability implies an obligation to perform at a high level all the time, right? What a daunting thought! It caught up to me for the first time in third grade, and I coped with my newfound imposter syndrome in various ways: trying harder, not trying at all, and, in some cases, total avoidance. The ability to see so clearly what an ideal outcome looks like is fraught with dangers for the gifted mind—do I try my best and risk failure, or do I not try and ensure failure on my own terms? The constraints of simply being human are often seen as personal failures. When you are so good at so many things, it’s easy to beat yourself up for not being the best at those things.
It was some years ago, when I saw the same internalized pressure happening with my young daughters, that I realized I needed to find a new way to model my own self-talk. I saw all the ways I diminished myself for being the perfectly imperfect being I am reflected in my children. I followed my mom’s good example and took classes, attended lectures, and searched out a parenting community I could relate to. This led me to the Minnesota Council for the Gifted and Talented (MCGT), a statewide nonprofit dedicated to providing community and resources for families raising gifted children. What a life changer! I finally had parenting peers I could talk to without fear of the dreaded eye-roll. In addition to a community of like-minded peers, MCGT also provides wonderful educational events, many that are led by parents further along in their parenting journey. I also found SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) and attended a SENG Model Parent Group. It was during the eight weeks of the SENG Parent group that I began to reflect on my experiences as a gifted child. I realized that I had let my gifted identity go underground, as many gifted girls do. This really gave me the tools to help my daughters think and talk about their giftedness. They were (and are!) such amazing humans! My husband and I have worked very hard to model positive self-talk and the beauty of being a brilliant yet fallible person. I like to tell them that I am not perfect as a parenting technique—think of what they would have to try to live up to if I was any more fabulous than I am?
How did I learn to reframe the negative? Books, especially A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, by James Webb et al., parent groups like MCGT, finding like-minded parenting peers, and attending the SENG Model Parent Group. It was through all of this networking and learning that I decided to go back to school and get my master’s degree in gifted, creative, and talented education through the University of St. Thomas. I now work in the field of gifted education and support and meet with gifted people from all over the world.
In spite of my hard work, being kind to myself is an ongoing process—I still indulge in negative self-talk before I remember to reframe. I give myself a break, though—my best may not be perfect, but I am only human, after all.
My top 5 reframes:
|My first reaction||My reframe|
|I’m an idiot!||I have something new to learn!|
|I’m a terrible parent!||If I was perfect, I’d be a terrible role model for my kids. I do my best, I apologize when I need to, and I love my kids unconditionally.|
|This day sucked!||I’m sorry it was a bad day. I did my best. Tomorrow is another day.|
|I really screwed up.||I’ll do my best to fix it. I’ll take the first step right now and make a plan for the rest.|
|I can’t!||I’ll try, fail, try again. I’m really proud of myself for not giving up on something I need or want to do.|
Daniels, Susan and Michael M. Piechowski. Living With Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and the Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults. Scottsdale: Great Potential Press, 2008.
Galbraith, Judy. The Gifted Kids Survival Guide. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing, 1983.
SENG. “Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted.” http://www.sengifted.org
Webb, James. T. Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope. Scottsdale: Great Potential Press, 2013.
Webb, James. T, Janet L. Gore, Edward R. Amend, and Arlene R. DeVries. A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children. Scottsdale: Great Potential Press, 2007.