Gifted children are more intense, more sensitive, more focused – and so are their needs. Here’s how we work to balance needs and social skills in our gifted child.
For my daughter, artistic creation is the same as breathing. She can’t survive without it, nor would she want to.
G draws. On everything. At home, it’s notebooks, wooden pallets, paper, paper plates. At her classical co-op, it’s workbooks, handouts, index cards, binder covers.
The co-op habit started in first grade. It was a lesson on artists of the Spanish Renaissance. Her handout featured a portrait of “el Gecko” and a can of Goya black beans Then we moved to church history, world history, science, and art. Pope Leo, Galileo, Columbus, and more, all anthropomorphized into a veritable zoo.
G, are you even listening?
Of course, mom. It’s how I think.
I realize it’s how *you* think. But what do your mentors think?
Silence. Furrowed brows.
They think it’s distracting. And they want me to stop.
It’s distracting to me if I *don’t* draw while they’re talking. It helps me focus. I need something to do with my hands.
That much I get – I’m a chronic doodler. But where my flowers and hearts and three-dimensional boxes look like anemic ninth grade love notes, G’s doodles are more akin to Homerian epics on steroids.
Exhibit A: G’s fourth-grade workbook from week nine.
What’s a study of Charlemagne without a regal dragon, slaking his thirst at the pond? Or a definition of the feudal system without a mer-dragon in his lair?
Science? Fire! Art appreciation? Zzzzzzzzz. Grammar? An Asian lung!
Week 10? Volcanic majesty!
Her masterpieces have not gone unnoticed. Just last week, in fact, my darling daughter may or may not have had words with the history mentor over her insatiable need for illustration.
You might want to talk to the mentor. Maybe explain some of G’s quirks.
What is there to explain? Her intellect flies. History is a favorite subject. She devoured Susan Wise Bauer’s History of the World in August, the day it arrived in the mail. Her tendency to wile away a lecture in the creation of art isn’t so much a quirk as it is a necessity.
She either draws to process, synthesize, and focus, or she loses her mind.
A quirky conundrum
For G, illustration is a coping mechanism. Everyone has them, the little habits and behaviors we fall into out of self-preservation. They are generally innocuous, frequently private, and, for the most part, unnoticed by the general population.
Unless, of course, you are a gifted child.
Others have said it, and I’ll echo the refrain: gifted kids are MORE. More intense, more focused, more precocious, more sensitive. Their coping mechanisms (or quirks, as some would say), are similar:
More necessary for survival.
The world is a difficult place for gifted children. Acute sensitivities, overwhelming curiosity, and flat out boredom necessitate coping behaviors. Chewing, doodling, flapping, pacing: the more integral the quirk to a gifted child’s well being, the more likely it is she’ll be singled out from the group:
- As disrespectful: when you draw like that, all the other kids want to do it, too. Then everyone’s comparing artwork and no one wants to pay attention!
- As weird: why is she chewing on that necklace? That’s really gross!
- As unfair: how come he gets to chew gum? Walk around? Read over there by himself?
- As special treatment: because he’s special, that’s why. Now let’s get back to work.
I want my children to cherish every God-given characteristic they’ve got without fear of reprisal from those who do not understand. But I also concede they must live and function in community. They must know the impact of their behaviors on others, and they must be willing to adapt as the situation requires:
You can’t chew gum in a concert hall.
You can’t pace the aisles of a movie theater.
You can’t draw elaborate murals on library tables.
So what do we do? How do we help our children be true to themselves while being mindful of those around them?
Balancing needs with social skills in the gifted child
It isn’t easy to see beyond our own immediate desires. But we must do so out of kindness and concern for others, especially in social situations. With G, I’ve asked her to consider how her drawing habit might make her mentor feel. Once she was able to see the other side of it, G was more amenable to working with, not against, her mentor.
When children know their needs and are comfortable communicating them, they are empowered in their dealings with other people. Help your child identify any needs they may have, then role play to practice expressing those needs in an appropriate way. This sets a firm foundation for successful interaction within the greater community.
Once children can recognize and express their needs appropriately, they can begin to work toward compromise. When a mentor or peer expresses dismay with a particular habit, encourage your children to seek mutually agreeable terms. Perhaps artwork can focus on the topic at hand? Or classroom activities be modified for increased movement? The goal is to encourage a relationship of mutual respect in which both parties’ needs can be met.
Sometimes, self-advocacy and compromise aren’t enough. In this case, I encourage discretion: the art of continuing to use one’s coping mechanisms in the least obtrusive way possible. For G, this means keeping a small scrap of paper at hand for less elaborate illustrations. It’s not ideal, but it works in situations where there is no alternative.
G will always live and breathe art. It’s how she thinks, how she copes, and how she makes sense of the world around her. We’ve made progress with the empathy, the self-advocacy, and the compromise, but something tells me we need to work on the discretion: