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Gifted Children Challenging Authority - A Parent's Perspective!

By Michelle Stafford



My son and I had just finished up a particularly aggressive exercise in mathematics one homeschooling day some years ago and he was still hyped when I handed him his next assignment. Naively, I thought it would be a cake-walk for him...a basic language arts practice sheet of context clues. Boy was I WRONG!!

It wasn't the assignment that started the intellectual wrestling match - but the directions! "Mom, these directions don't make any sense!" was the first thing he bellowed. My response only triggered more rapid-fire questions from him. Instantly, three sentences of publisher instructions turned into a thirty-minute discourse delivered with bewilderment and a near threat of banishment of privileges for the rest of the day!

After I perceived that my son wasn't obnoxiously poking holes in the directions just for kicks - it hit me square between the eyes that this kid really was a "different kind of thinker". The first time I learned this was during our teaching moments when he creatively found ways to solve Algebra equations at age six! What I took for granted as mere basic directives meant something entirely different to him. It wasn't as if he was trying to be difficult and when the storm clouds cleared and I simmered down, I noticed that his questions were actually valid! Thank goodness the examples given with the assignment as well as those (and explanations) from other sources brought him round to the publisher's intentions.

Many of us with children of "gifted" ability will definitely find ourselves waging verbal battles with our children and it can be a disheartening experience. Try to realize that the children typically don't mean any harm at least not in every instance. It's just their nature to question anyone and everything in their quest to make sense of the world. In fact, the more you understand your gifted child, the more you'll gleam his/her INTENSE need to fully comprehend the ideas and suggestions of authority figures, especially if the logic is more subtle. As reported with many gifted children, failure to receive adequate responses to assist in their mentally processing what's required of them can lead to profound aggravation.

As expected, parents and teachers are on the front lines in managing these talented minds decked in super hero pajamas. The more educated we are about "why" they question everything, the better equipped we will be to handle their burning curiosity. In educational settings, children with gifted ability are often labeled as difficult, arrogant know-it-alls who ask too many questions and dominate conversations. Yet, when they are paired with educators certified in gifted education the outcome can be quite different. Certain behaviors are understood to be consistent with children with high ability yielding more rewarding experiences in the classroom.

Parents on the other hand, can readily make the connection between the mind of their gifted children and the need for them to understand their surroundings. It's the experiencing of challenges to parental authority with "adult level of reasoning and articulacy combined with tantrums and physical limitations all at the same time..." (Gifted Children - A Guide for Parents and Professionals) that causes utter grief. In turn it becomes problematic for parents to accept their highly intelligent children's intrinsic need to revert back to behavior more appropriate for their chronological age, ignoring the fact that they are still children after all.

This catch-22 is precisely why I, along with other parents and experts, advocate the need to give attention to nurturing the whole child. Meaning...be conscious of where your child is on each developmental scale. Intellectually, your child may indeed be able to carry on discussions with adults but he/she may also have the emotional or social make-up of his/her chronological age or younger! Many parents in our situation fall for the illusion of assigning adulthood to their children simply because mature philosophical conversations can be sustained with them. Frankly, it is also this line of reasoning and the ensuing behavior that has given birth to socially inept and emotionally crippled geniuses. The focus mustn't be placed only on the child's intellectual prowess.

  • Don't automatically assume that questions from your children are a deliberate intent to question your authority. View it as their intent to understand the logic behind what you are proposing and act accordingly.

  • When your children asks why is a bed-time required; why do they have to do homework even if it is stupid; or why can't they have a T.V. in their bedroom, use this time as an opportunity to teach them rationally.

  • Use your perception to gleam whether or not your children are questioning you just to "get what they want" or to genuinely understand "why".

  • There will be times too, when they will just have to accept that you are the adult - and though you respect them as the little people they are - you have the final say! Every little thing can't always be explained until they are old enough to understand. Let this occur less often than delivering explanations. These minds are constantly growing and experiencing cognitive leaps. Remember you also aiding their emotional and social development.

  • If your child's teacher, who may not understand gifted children, make remarks about behavior that are consistent with gifted ability, try to explain that though you will talk to your child about the matter, you will also like to present them with information about children with high ability. Even if your child isn't enrolled in the school's gifted program, if the teacher sees consistency with your child's behavior and those listed as being identified as a gifted trait, (include your evidence of the school work at home I'm always encouraging you to have) it may result in a recommendation for your child to be tested for participation in a gifted program.

Taking the time to explain things to kids only takes a few minutes but the affects are long-lasting. Before you know it, your children will develop the ability to discern what behaviors make sense to them and they will seek out guidance in instance where further clarification might be needed. Their social skills and emotional development will benefit tremendously as a result.



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Michelle Brown-Stafford, is an acceleration coach, entrepreneur and parent to both an 11 year-old child prodigy/college student and t'ween high school freshman. She has been practicing the methods of acceleration for more than a decade.



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