Parenting During Turbulent Times

I started this blog in August of 2020, five months after the COVID-19 pandemic began. We were living through such extraordinary times that I wanted to document some of my thoughts on what navigating that was like, particularly as a parent.

Now it’s June of 2022, nearly two years later – and while much has changed on the COVID-19 landscape (all three of our kids have been back to in-person schooling all year, for instance), life hasn’t simply regressed to a prior mean of any kind.

Instead, as we all know, the pandemic oh-so-predictably made pre-existing social challenges even more acute – and what we are seeing these days is likely just the beginning of long-lasting ripple effects. Most of us thought we were simply toughing it out during the worst of times in 2020 and would eventually be given some kind of reprieve – but that process has been far from straightforward or inherently comforting.

As someone keenly aware of and interested in systems, patterns, and Ways of Being, I’m obviously watching world events with an ongoing level of heightened interest.  Like most Rainforest Minded people, I need to monitor my consumption of, and engagement with, current events so I can maintain an appropriate level of groundedness in daily life and not get too caught up in despair. I do obsessively watch PBS Newshour each evening, listen to NPR while driving, and read major newspaper headlines and some articles – but I also escape into enjoyable activities and try to stay focused on day to day parenting needs.

Just as I did during the height of the pandemic, I’m continuously reflecting on what each of our three 2E kids – I. (age 9), D. (age 12), and C. (age 13) – needs, and how my husband and I can ensure they keep growing and thriving. This year, that’s specifically involved dealing with bullies and anxiety; helping them find therapists; celebrating their executive functioning successes in school (YES!); and continuously accepting that academic achievement will rarely look “typical” for them but can still look pretty awesome.

All of this was challenging enough prior to the pandemic, when I was first desperately trying to figure out my kids’ diagnoses of twice-exceptionality and what that meant for them in terms of providing sufficient support. It’s even harder now – but I’ll add that at least over these past few years I’ve come to terms with the fact that parenting = continuous learning; it’s a journey, not a destination. Pacing for a marathon rather than a sprint continues to be the right metaphor.

Thanks to my ongoing deep dives into neurodiversity, giftedness, anxiety, and parenting more broadly, I’ve internalized that there is no such thing as a “simple answer” for any kid’s schooling and wellness needs – least of all for my own three 2E learners. Instead, I need to continue to pace myself, check in regularly with their teachers, and keep the bigger picture in mind.

These days, however, as astonishing as it is to accept, there are added challenges. While the pandemic is now in some ways much lower on the priority scale, political instability, gun violence, mental wellness,  global warfare, climate change, and other such “wicked problems” have continued to intensify – and, as a Gen X-er raised to look to the past to learn about all the hideous mistakes we’ve made so we can avoid making them again (duh!), it’s beyond disheartening to accept that we apparently haven’t evolved enough as humans to move forward in such a linear style of progress.

But aren’t things better now than they were in the past? If we look at historical data rather than current headlines, yes, of course. However, just as I struggle with taking a purely “rational” approach to philanthropy (like that put forth by effective altruists), I can’t accept that what’s happening right now can or should simply be placed into perspective as “better than it used to be”.

The facts on the surface are crystal clear*: authoritarian dictators continue to emerge and stay in power with astonishing levels of acceptance and support; climate change is having disastrous and likely irreversible impacts on our planet;  racist ideologies are proliferating rather than receding; drug abuse and suicide rates (especially among younger people) are higher than ever; too many American citizens think that arming teachers and “hardening” schools is a solution to mass shootings; etc.

Speaking of this last topic, my older two kids were involved in a “school safety” incident last week. On a Friday afternoon, we got a mass text message from their district saying that C. and D.’s middle school was “going into a Safe Inside [mode] due to a threat made against the school community.” We were further told: “Police are on their way to investigate. All students and staff are safe. We will provide more information as it becomes available.”

What did I do with this information?

At first, I experienced gut-wrenching panic, of course – and then, after carefully re-reading the message, I realized that there was no immediate danger because our kids were behind locked doors in their classrooms.

At this point, I proceeded to:

  • Internalize the fact that this kind of scenario was not such a surprise, really, after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas a few weeks ago. I mean, this is our new reality now, right?
  • Reflect on how many citizens in other countries don’t need to “internalize” this kind of messaging about the safety of their kids’ schools vis-à-vis gun violence.
  • Contemplate what this means for our nation more broadly, and how we seem to be permanently in love with the idea of survival as a series of Wild West battles Americans must simply be prepared for (and too bad if you’re not).
  • Feel alarm when my son jokingly says, “FBI – open up!” during a game that evening with his siblings, and I am compelled to interject with part of The School Safety Talk: “You know, if you were locked inside your classroom and heard someone saying that, you shouldn’t automatically believe them… They might not be telling the truth.”

This blog post has rambled. I intended to simply talk about parenting during ongoing turbulent times, and landed pretty quickly on a sense of despair about our nation.

Maybe that was inevitable. It’s impossible to know where things will head in the coming months or years, but my husband and I are talking seriously about our options (such as they are). We try to share bits and pieces with our kids, to the extent we think they can understand, but ultimately – as usual – there are no easy or perfect paths forward.

Just like during the height of the pandemic (which hasn’t ended, btw), I’m focused on keeping the following priorities in mind. I want to ensure my kids understand that:

  • our well-being as a family comes first and foremost;
  • we will protect them as much as humanly possible;
  • caring for one another remains paramount.

I’ll return in another post to share more about the personal (adult) ramifications world events are having on my life as a gifted grown-up; for now, I’m accepting that this is all simply part of the inherently messy journey of parenting.

‘Twas ever thus, one way or another.

* … at least to those not deluded by misinformation campaigns – most certainly a topic for yet another post.

Copyright © 2021 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution.  

“I Made a Deal With My Procrastination!”

https://www.flickr.com/photos/lynnfriedman/13944701232

My three kids — I. (8 years old), D. (11 years old), and C. (13 years old) — have been back at school in-person now (with masks) since September, and it’s been an interesting journey settling back into a semblance of pre-pandemic life.

A lot has changed since March of 2020, of course: I. is now in third grade rather than first; D. is in middle school, adjusting to having six teachers rather than one; and C. is a teenager starting high school (high school!) next year. I’m happy to report that, for the most part, they are doing well and staying reasonably on track. They all agree, without hesitation, that in-person schooling – as exhausting as it is – is infinitely better than what we lived through at home last year.

It’s been easier on me and my husband as well. While it’s taken a few months, I think we’re finally used to the lack of noise and hubbub around us as we proceed with our own work during the day. Since we’re both still primarily (or, in his case, entirely) working from home, The Parenting Juggle remains easier — though this is balanced out by how tired and weary everyone still is. By the end of the schoolday, my kids are done: they need whatever spare energy they can grab for ongoing recuperation.

I’ll focus the rest of this entry on how my oldest, C., is doing. (I’ll return in later posts to talk about D. and I.)

C. (knock-on-wood) seems to have come to an acceptance of her executive functioning challenges  – i.e., planning, staying organized, and procrastinating – and is working hard to find strategies to help herself stay successful. I named this post on her behalf because I was so tickled to hear her come and say to me a couple of months ago:

“Mom – I made a deal with my procrastination! I woke up earlier than usual this morning and thought to myself, ‘I have an extra half-an-hour of time that I don’t normally have. Why don’t I get my math homework done now so that it doesn’t interfere with my after-school relaxation time later?’ And, it worked! I got it done!”

C. was so pleased that this worked, and rightfully so. Helping my kids – and my husband – manage their executive functioning challenges has really highlighted for me how much behind-the-scenes work and negotiation goes on in terms of “getting things done.”  While many of us may not think much about it, we are all constantly making tiny choices about how we handle the details of our life: when we choose to do something (or not), and why; how much effort to put into something (and why); whether (and who) to ask for help; etc. It’s complex.

Last spring, I started taking C. to see an Executive Functioning (EF) Coach for an hour a week, in the hopes that this would help her build her own toolbox of strategies and meta-cognition around schoolwork. C. liked the coach, and things were going fine – but the coach seemed a little puzzled about how to best help her, since C. pretty quickly came to the following realizations about herself (I’m paraphrasing on her behalf):

  • “Sometimes I like the schoolwork I’m assigned, but mostly I don’t. Regardless, I have to get my schoolwork done or else I don’t get decent grades in school and I feel bad about myself, in addition to making my parents frustrated and sad, and having my personal electronics taken away until I catch up.”
  • “I really, really like the socialization aspect of schooling, and would rather put up with work assigned by teachers than homeschooling and doing my own projects (which would be way too lonely and unmotivating).”
  • “I prefer to get my work done during schooltime if at all possible, so that it’s out of the way by the time I get home – but if that can’t happen, I need to find ways to not procrastinate on finishing, which usually includes telling my parents.”

Based on these self-realizations, C.’s EF coach told me that she felt confident C. would be able to manage on her own (with our support) this year – but she told me I should feel free to reach out if any new challenges arose, since she’d developed rapport and a relationship with C. and could easily step in to help. Fair enough! I was happy to save the time and money on sessions, and willing to start fresh and see how C. did.

Sure enough, as I mentioned earlier, being back in person has made a world of difference for C. and her schooling motivation. Remote learning was, in her words, “not real school” – and while I would beg to differ, she’s entitled to her own feelings and opinions, and this remains her truth.

C. still struggles with anxiety (she had a panic attack at school a few weeks ago), but has learned over the years that the best thing to do is reach out for help – which she did that day, right away. She contacted the school counselor, who got her in touch with a school therapist specially hired for the year to support kids as they transition back after quarantine – and just knowing he’s there has helped C. to relax. Meanwhile, she asked me to please find her a new therapist of her own to talk so, and she’s now on the waitlist for two recommended people (it’s even more challenging than ever to find someone with space on their caseload these days).

As a young and gifted teenager, C. continues to care a lot about social justice issues, talking with passion about the need for inclusivity across multiple spheres. She’s interested in dying her hair, and we are looking into what this will cost and require to maintain. She wants a pair of chunky heel combat boots for Christmas, to start developing “her look”. Her favorite hobby is working on creative, unusual drawings she designs using an app called ibisPaint; she seems especially interested in crafting hybrid creatures that merge humans with mythical or real animals (the girl below is part wolf):

She is insistent that she doesn’t need to explain her aesthetic choices to anyone, and I fully agree.

C. joined Drama Club this year – behind the scenes only, since she’s still too anxious to be on stage, but loves helping out. We went to see a high school production of “Clue” last week and had a blast; I can totally see her being a “drama kid” and finding her peeps there.  We’ll see.

For now, I’m just grateful that C. has found methods for getting through school, for relaxing, for being creative, and for reaching out whenever she needs support – these are all major successes as far as I’m concerned.

Copyright © 2021 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution.  

School is (Almost) Here

“Did you know there are more decimal numbers between zero and one than there are positive whole numbers?”

Our 11-year-old son D. walked into our bedroom this morning sharing this very-interesting-fact – likely something he learned through a  YouTube video or a sub-Reddit. Since the pandemic began – when all our kids received their own personal laptop to be able to engage with remote schooling and survive many hours in isolation – he’s been exploring various nooks of what my geeky husband refers to as the “interwebs”.

Of course, there’s plenty Out There that we’re not happy about – at all. We quickly realized last year that we would have to pivot to teaching our kids media literacy skills sooner than we wanted to, to help them make sense of the onslaught of stimuli they would be exposed to on the internet. Like covid (sigh), none of that is going away anytime soon.

So, when D. came in wanting to share this interesting fact about numbers – just one among many he’s been contemplating – I felt a sense of gratitude and relief that he’s self-selecting complex learning in between playing plenty of Dragon Mania Legends, Minecraft, Dungeons and Dragons, and Adopt Me.

This happens to all be online, but when I pause to do “old school” activities with D. – like Marcy Cook Tile Math or word puzzles – he gets super caught up in those as well. (He is absolutely astonished how many words start with “con” – really and truly.)

Reading? Not so much. My husband has just now been realizing how D. “can’t sit still” and clearly struggles with settling down long enough to get deeply immersed in a book. We’re not sure what’s next on the ADHD-Inattentive front for him…

However, in my months (now years!) of exploring the world of giftedness, twice-exceptionality, and parenting 2e kids, I’ve learned that D.’s “profile” is oh-so-common – and, that’s helpful. I feel less alone, and grateful to know that thousands of other parents are also seeking (and crafting) solutions and guidance for how to help our quirky kids thrive in a school system not yet designed for them.

Speaking of school – it’s about to start, and options abound (well, sort of). But, as usual, none of them are perfect, and all of them involve compromises. The heady brew of a once-again-virulent pandemic (my two younger kids are still ineligible for a vaccination), social discord over best practices for surviving said-pandemic, and the fact that my neurodiverse son – about to start middle school – hasn’t engaged with in-person schooling for 17+ months mean I’m facing a set of challenges I can’t quite wrap my head around.

How do I strike the “right” balance of pushing my kid forward into slightly uncomfortable situations while scaffolding his very-real need for accommodations, both social and academic? Do we cough up money for an alternative (private) school – assuming one is available – that will better align with his learning style? Do we keep him home, studying remotely and at his own pace through our district’s “alternative learning experience”, at least until he’s vaccinated?  And if so, won’t that just make transitioning into “live” middle school even harder?

When will he have a chance to meet new kids and practice making some friends?

I sincerely don’t know.

Meanwhile, as I’ve reiterated many times on this blog, D. is just one of my three kids needing specialized support.  My older daughter, C., is about to turn 13 and will be continuing her weekly work with an executive functioning coach, which I hope (fingers crossed!!!) will make a significant difference for her sense of personal efficacy around schooling and “getting things done”. She’s most concerned right now with finding “her group”, transitioning back into some semblance of social normalcy as she navigates young teenagehood.

My younger daughter, I. (age 8),  will return to in-person schooling unvaccinated but masked; for her, this is a risk we need to take as we balance all considerations, most especially her critical need for live interaction with others. I. has resisted all attempts to practice her multiplication facts over the summer (strongly recommended by her 2nd grade teacher), and I take solace in the fact that my brilliant husband was the last in his class to memorize his, yet knows and understands far more about math then the majority of folks. I. is a cracker-jack trader on Adopt Me, and has shown us that when she’s passionate about something, she is truly all-in! It’s about finding and nurturing that passion.

I have many more topics to share and discuss on this blog, and am hoping to get back into a more regular routine once again after several months off.

In the meantime,  I’m sending plenty of positive vibes out to all of us parents as we navigate yet another new and interesting school year together.

Copyright © 2021 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution.  

Second Booster: SENG Spring Mini-Conference Take-Aways (Part 2)

A true benefit of pandemic times, for me, has been the ability to attend conferences I otherwise wouldn’t have the time or energy for, given how exhausting it is to travel. (Traveling is amazing and wondrous, but also exhausting; that’s most definitely a topic for another blog post.) 

Not only have pretty much all conferences and presentations been virtual this year, but the majority have been recorded and thus available for viewing at a later time. It couldn’t get more convenient than that for busy working parents.

With that said, I’m here to share my take-aways from the remaining SENG Spring Mini-Conference sessions I attended after-the-fact – i.e., by accessing the recordings. As I mentioned in my last post, SENG tends to pull together some truly amazing speakers, and is a non-profit well worth joining and supporting.

The sessions I’ll be reporting on here are:

  • Dr. Ross Greene on “Collaborative & Proactive Solutions: Moving From Power and Control to Collaboration and Problem-Solving”
  • Julie Skolnick on “Managing Social Emotional Engagement, Effective Communication and Emotion Regulation During the Pandemic”
  • Debbie Reber on “Fostering Self-Knowledge and Personal Strengths in Your 2e Child”
  • Dr. Richard Cash on “Getting Out of the Quagmire: A Roadmap for Redirecting Underachievers and Selective Producers”
  • Dr. Susan Baum on “Gifts Come in Different Packages: It’s All About Style”

Whew. This is a lot, and each topic deserves its own post, but for now I will simply share key ideas and take-aways.


Dr. Ross Greene has been writing about and presenting on so-called “explosive” kids for decades; his books are all well worth reading.

Dr. Greene urges parents, educators, and others working with high-intensity kids to be open to the following paradigm shift: kids “act out” when they lack the skills to engage in what’s being asked of them, either by adults or themselves. If you can identify both what kids are being asked to do (i.e., the unsolved problem), and the skills they are lacking in order to do this (i.e., the lagging skills), then you can prioritize and target skills instruction.

Dr. Greene posits that he has never, ever in his lengthy career met a kid who genuinely prefers to not do well; rather, they’re simply lacking the skills to do so.

Skill areas that kids tend to be lagging in include the following:

  • executive functioning skills
  • language/communication skills
  • emotion regulation skills
  • cognitive flexibility skills
  • social skills

Dr. Greene recommends that caretakers begin by completing an ALSUP questionnaire (Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems) for a child, then prioritize the child’s problems based on safety, frequency, and gravity. (We can’t work on everything at once.)

At this point, we must consider which of the following plans to use:

Plan A is to simply to solve a problem unilaterally – i.e., use your adult hand to force the issue. If a child is putting herself or others in immediate danger, this is the obvious “plan” to choose.

Plan C is based on the idea that sometimes we have to set certain problems aside and acknowledge they’re not a top priority right now, which might mean coming up with an interim plan for these problems (i.e., temporarily suspending certain expectations for the child).

Dr. Greene’s Plan B for solving high-priority problems collaboratively consists of the following steps:

  1. Empathy: Gather information from the child in terms of what’s hard for them about meeting expectations. We need to shift away from making assumptions, and instead talk with our kids to hear their perspectives.
  2. Define Adult Concerns: Adults must identify the concerning behaviors they’re seeing in kids. Since the problems children face tend to be predictable, once we look for the patterns, we can be proactive rather than reactive.
  3. Invitation: Collaborate on a solution that is realistic and mutually satisfactory. Both these two conditions are critical for long-term success, given that if the child doesn’t agree, then you are looking at temporary “compliance” at best.

This process is obviously much easier said than done – however, Dr. Greene’s work is invaluable in terms of offering a sequential approach to solving situations with kids who are unable to thrive in mainstream spaces without adult intervention and support. It was good to hear from him “live”.


Julie Skolnick runs the website withunderstandingcomescalm.com, where she offers guidance to 2E kids and adults.

In her presentation for SENG on coping strategies during the pandemic, she began by pointing out the “great irony” of the fact that 2E kids often have a deep desire to connect, but also present with intensities that can be “too much” for many, leading to internal messaging that somehow their authentic selves are wrong.

Common struggles for 2E kids (do these sound familiar?)  include the need to be right; being too goal oriented; challenges with executive functioning; (dis)trust; being easily distractible; and living with one or more of Dabrowski’s “over-excitabilities” (psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational, and emotional).

Julie presented the “Skolnick Formula for Emotional Disregulation”™, in which she posited that:

  1. the giftedness characteristics of intellectual interests, existential considerations, asynchronous development, perfectionism, and overexcitabilities tend to lead to
  2.  anxiety, stress, frustration, and misunderstanding,  which then lead to
  3.  emotional dysregulation (manifesting as challenging behaviors), which elicits
  4.  reactions and responses from those around them . . .

. . . which then fuels the child’s anxiety, stress, and frustration. It can be a vicious cycle. Just as in Dr. Greene’s approach described above, Julie argues that we should learn to anticipate trigger moments for our kids and intervene proactively rather than reactively.

Julie reminded us that environment for 2E kids is critical – and yet the “triple P” environment we’ve been living with throughout the last year – pandemic, politics, and protests – has brought a heightened sense of discord, dystopia, and dismay for many 2E kids. Communication with teachers remains critically important, yet has also been more challenging than ever given the inherent limitations of learning through screens, such as tech issues; teacher distractions; household distractions (for the student); and the inability for teachers to manage or defuse issues one-on-one.

Julie’s number one message for audience members was to remember the importance of connection. Strategies she listed for enhancing connection include: being honest; leading with empathy; giving kids the benefit of the doubt; giving up the need to be ‘right’; giving kids a ‘piece of the pie’; shifting priorities; taking care of yourself; doing something for someone else; keeping a ‘gratitude attitude’; and starting each day anew.

The most tangible take-away for me from Julie’s talk was the metaphor of “letting go of a rope”: she asked everyone in the audience to pretend that we were tugging on a rope – tugging, tugging, tugging, tugging – and then . . .  we were asked to simply let go of the rope.  This, she explained, can be a useful way to approach communication challenges with our kids. Every now and then, we should simply let it go. Breathe. Pause. Give it a moment. Let go of the rope. We can return to it later.


Debbie Reber is a beloved staple of my parenting repertoire. After attending a SENG parent support group a couple of years ago, I binge-listened to Debbie’s TILT Parenting podcast series, and it was a game-changer in terms of getting me quickly up to speed on major players and concepts in the 2E world. Debbie’s son Asher (now 16) fits a similar profile to my son D., so her personal reflections feel especially pertinent.

In this talk for SENG, Debbie focused on promoting self-knowledge and personal strengths in our 2E kids, with the ultimate goal of raising kids who are curious and open to feedback. She began by discussing ways to (and whether or not to) bring up a child’s diagnoses with them, reminding us that if/when we do so, we should: begin with strengths; be honest; consider this part of an ongoing conversation with our kids; and ask questions.

Other hints in her talk included:

  • We should be mindful about using language that supports rather than shames our kids, and that validates and empathizes with their challenges.
  • We need to give our kids space, and remember that it’s perfectly fine (and usually preferable!) to debrief a challenge after the storm has passed.
  • When reflecting back on particularly “low” moments, we should get curious, connect, repair, and then forge ahead.

Finally, Debbie emphasized the need for us to develop our kids’ sense of agency, control, motivation, and self-direction. She is a huge fan of William Stixrud and Ned Johnson’s book The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives (2018), which I will eventually be reporting on for this blog.

In closing, Debbie reminded us to make self-discovery a priority as parents, too. Here’s to that!


Dr. Rick Cash’s presentation was geared towards helping teachers differentiate their instruction and personalize their connections with students in order to address issues of underachievement.

He discussed the difference between non-producers (students who refuse to do any work, though they often perform well on summative assessments) and selective producers (students who engage in work they feel personally motivated by). He reminded us that affect, behavior, and cognition all play a part in students’ performance, and offered the following roadmap for teachers to follow (comparable to a Gradual Release of Responsibility pedagogical approach):

  1. modeling while students observe (“I do, you watch”)
  2. asking students to “copy and do” (“I do, you help”)
  3. engaging students in guided practice (“You do, I help”)
  4. promoting independence and application in students (“You do, I watch”)

He further discussed different “learner orientations”, distinguishing between students with:

  • a mastery approach (kids who work hard to achieve their personal best)
  • mastery avoidance (kids who are comfortable with being “good enough”)
  • a performance approach (kids who compete to be better than others)
  • performance avoidance (kids who avoid “performing” at all)

Finally, Dr. Cash presented what he refers to as the RIC essentials: Reliable Relationships, Individual Importance, and Community Connections.

These are solid guidelines to follow in all walks of life, and especially essential in school.


Dr. Susan Baum’s presentation was a lovely end to a jam-packed conference. Dr. Baum is the Director of The 2e Center for Research and Professional Development at Bridges Academy in Southern California, and she brings infectious enthusiasm to the work she does.

She shared about four different “personality profiles” she’s developed, which help us to better understand ourselves and our kids. The profiles are:

  • practical managers
  • learned experts
  • creative problem solvers
  • people persons

She pointed out that we all have components of each of these in ourselves – and, critically, we are able to call up elements of them when/as needed. For instance, even those of us who are decidedly not “people persons” at heart can learn tools to manage being in groups on occasion, especially when necessary (i.e., for work). Meanwhile, those who normally function as “creative problem solvers” or “learned experts” can tap into practical management skills every now and then (albeit sometimes with necessary coaching and support).

Dr. Baum raced breezily through her slideshow (there was so much to share!), describing common characteristics of each of these personality profiles, what a “good day” looks like for someone fitting that profile, common needs and issues that come up, and keys to negotiation (focusing specifically on school age kids). She ended each “type” with an example of a photo of a real-life famous adult and their actual desk or workspace. Here’s a brief overview of the four types:

  • Practical managers are time keepers and organizers who operate in a concrete sequential fashion. They like to check things off of lists, and prefer days when life is predictable and there’s an agenda available. They thrive on structure, but may struggle with lack of flexibility, pessimism, and perfectionism. The ideal activities for these kids include tasks with specific directions that allow them to “show what they know” through charts, graphs, and fact sheets. Bill Gates fits this profile, and apparently has an exceptionally neat, uncluttered desk.
  • Learned experts are thinkers and logicians who operate in an abstract sequential fashion. They love to strategize, debate, discuss, read, and solve puzzles, and prefer days when life is somewhat predictable but there is plenty of time for diving deep into a topic. They thrive on intellectual stimulation with smart people, but may struggle with arrogance, sarcasm, and/or an overly argumentative nature. The ideal activities for these kids include research projects and being able to present their ideas through reports, editorials, debates, or political cartoons. Al Gore fits this profile, and apparently has a sprawling, jam-packed workspace with numerous paper piles and devices all over the place.
  • Creative problem solvers are inventors, adventurers, and risk takers. They likes to do things their own way, and a good day consists of having fun and not being constrained. They thrive on competition, risk, challenge, and choice, but may struggle with lack of ability to follow directions, not paying sufficient attention to details, overly high energy, and/or too much focus on thrill seeking. The ideal activities for these kids involve designing and creating something to show their knowledge in an open-ended way, often through multi-media platforms. They can and do work anywhere (including on the floor), and need to be able to to shift positions, take breaks, and move around. Steve Jobs was an example of a creative problem solver combined with a learned expert.
  • People persons are sensitive, emotional, and creative ambassadors and artists whose best days involve being appreciated, loved, and feeling special. They may get lonely, overly sensitive, and dramatic, work too hard to fit in, and have a tendency to be scattered and lose things. However, they make awesome leaders given how much they care about, understand, and can connect with others. The ideal activities for these kids are creative and artistic, feel personally relevant, and allow for small group or partner work. Their ideal work space is unique to them, while allowing them to be in earshot of family members. Bill Clinton is an example of a people person.

Wow – these personality profiles are an incredibly useful way to think about the strengths and differences among us. I consider myself primarily a “learned expert” (this blog probably gives ample evidence of that!) but I’m also a “people person” given that I love teaching, coaching, and getting to know interesting new people. Thankfully, I can also easily slip into being a “practical manager” as needed, though I find it exceedingly annoying that I’m the only one in my household who seems to have facility with this, since it’s tiring to manage everything – especially when I’d rather be off learning something new or making connections with others.

My husband and 12-year-old daughter C. are primarily “creative problem solvers” who routinely get lost in fantasy and exploration and don’t care if they’re surrounded by clutter; both are also “people persons” who care a lot about making connections in between their creative problem solving. My 11-year-old son D. is primarily a “learned expert” who LOVES lists, facts, and predictability, but he has plenty of “creative problem solver” in him as well. My 8-year-old daughter I. is primarily a “people person” with a passion for art, big emotions, a strong desire to connect, and a preference for working with others whenever possible, but also exhibits plenty of “creative problem solver” in her need to have flexibility and express her unique flair.

So – we’re a mixed household with diverse needs and preferences.


This blog post is beyond long enough, so I’ll end it here. I’m grateful to have so much new and interesting information to chew on (the learned expert in me is in heaven) – and I hope you’ve gained some new areas for exploration, too.

Happy learning!

Copyright © 2021 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution.  

Executive Functioning Fatigue

Executive functioning refers to a “set of cognitive processes that are necessary for the cognitive control of behavior” – in other words, according to Executive Functioning Coach Seth Perler, “getting things done”.

I had vaguely heard about the importance of executive functioning as an elementary school teacher – but I got my degree in general education rather than special education or educational psychology, so it was never prominent, and I was never taught any strategies to help my students manage their own executive functioning skills.

Thankfully, I was formally reintroduced to the power and importance of executive functioning from my parenting hat, when I attended a SENG parent support group and started exploring twice-exceptionality. Executive functioning turns out to be a really, really big deal for most twice-exceptional kids – as in, crucial to their success, and nearly always a challenge.

Unfortunately, as “basic” as executive functioning is, it’s also incredibly complicated – much like reading. If reading “comes naturally” to you (like it did for me), then it doesn’t seem so hard – but if it doesn’t, and your kids or your students are struggling, then you suddenly realize how complex reading really is, and a whole world of research and intervention techniques await exploration.

Back to executive functioning, one of my favorite sayings is “things get done by doing them”: not by saying you’ll do them, not by hoping you’ll do them, and not by scheduling them to get done; only by actually doing them do they get done. I can’t count the number of times I’ve ended up saying this to various members of my household – myself included! – out of frustration, resignation, and/or compassion (hopefully plenty of the latter).

Indeed, everyone in my family struggles with executive functioning to one degree or another – including my husband. At 49 years old, he long ago learned to mask or overcome his deficits and proceed with the life he wanted (college, a solid career, marriage, kids) but his executive functioning challenges are still present, causing him – and me – occasional grief.

Meanwhile, none of my three twice-exceptional kids seem to have the straight-forward ability to simply “get their schoolwork done”. Because I was such a neurotic child myself – terrified of making mistakes and being less than “perfect” at school – it’s hard for me to relate to the type of giftedness my kids exhibit: plenty of complexity, intensity, and drive, but not necessarily directly related to their assigned work. I’m glad they don’t struggle with obsessive fears around not turning things in or getting perfect scores, but I also want them to develop a healthy sense of responsibility and agency.

How do I create the right balance, especially when each one of my kids is so different?

Well, first I need to ensure that their ability to “get things done” isn’t inhibited by the vast array of potential (often hidden) logistical challenges that might be getting in the way, including those related to:

  • planning
  • time management
  • organization
  • prioritizing
  • decision making
  • details
  • transitions
  • self-starting
  • follow-through

Whoa. This is a lot.

When you stop to think about it, it’s actually amazing that any of us gets anything done. How exactly do we learn to plan ahead, manage our time, organize our thoughts (and our things), prioritize tasks, make decisions (every second! every minute! every hour! every day!), pay attention to (the right) details, transition successfully from one task to another, and get started on something while following through on it to (sufficient) completion?

It turns out that I have my own set of internal rules and guidelines I seem to follow for “getting things done” – not always “perfectly” (there’s no such thing), and not without grief and distress, but well enough that I fool the world into thinking I have things pretty together.

I titled this post “Executive Functioning Fatigue” because, frankly, I’m fatigued by the number of executive functioning challenges that seem to get in the way of my kids’ schooling success each day. Interestingly (but not surprisingly), when I did an internet search for “twice exceptional” and “fatigue”, what came up was how tiring it is for kids to deal with their executive functioning challenges – but it’s tiring on parents, too, whether we’re helping our kids manage from home, and/or trying to navigate relationships with teachers and assignments from afar. I struggle with multiple choices every day in terms of how much and in what ways to help each of my kids (or not)which in itself is known to be fatiguing.

Here are just some of the challenges I’ve faced in recent weeks and months, with just one of my kids (my oldest, C., in middle school):

  • Do I insist on C. sitting next to me (or in view of me) while she’s engaging in her online learning, to ensure she’s “on task”? Or do I allow her to continue sitting comfortably in her bed (which she prefers)? (I have three kids to supervise, and my own work to get done, in addition to pretty significant challenges of my own with focusing while others are around me – so, this is far from a simple decision to make.)  
  • Do I follow up with C. each day about her assignments in each of her six classes? Each week? Do I trust her to know what’s due? (This has very often led us down a path of false assurance, but/and it’s exhausting each and every time I dive in to help her check. I inevitably end up dipping into my own energy bank, which leaves me depleted for other tasks.) 
  • Do I disengage and simply allow C. do the amount of work she “wants” to do, knowing that ultimately she’ll be fine in life no matter what, as long as we love and support her? (No; I can’t quite do this. We’re not unschooling. That requires a whole other game plan.)  
  • How often and in what way do I communicate with C.’s teachers? Do I subtly (or not so subtly) remind them about her 504 plan, and the explicit support she needs to be successful in school? (The quick answer is, yes. I force myself to get over my reluctance and start these conversations, and I do mention her 504 while also providing plenty of authentic thanks to her teachers for the hard work they do each day.)  

Meanwhile, I have plans in motion for C. to work with an executive functioning coach in the summer, once a spot opens up for her with a local clinic and she has the time to commit to this – and I’m grateful that executive functioning coaches are apparently more and more common at all levels of schooling these days (even college).

On my own end, I’m trying to acknowledge and empathize with my “executive functioning fatigue” – while ensuring I’m not just giving up or in denial. Specifically, I’m reaching out to parent-friends who can sympathize with that I’m going through; poking my head back into Seth Perler’s website; and getting ready to commit some more time to digesting and manifesting one executive functioning strategy at a time as a parent-coach, for each of my kids.

In other words, I’m focusing on getting things done – with plenty of humility for how hard this work really is, for all of us.

Copyright © 2021 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution.  

Book Reflections #6: Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students

“When you struggle, when you feel like you have failed… remember, there is no way you can fail… if you are continuously trying to help your child move in the direction of mastery and acceptance of [their] emotional intensity” (p. 197). 

In her book Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students: Helping Kids Cope With Explosive Feelings (2016), Christine Fonseca offers a powerful resource to parents and teachers seeking guidance on how to support gifted children through their emotional intensities.

In Part One (What is Really Means to Be Gifted), Fonseca defines emotional intensity as “strong and intense emotional reactions to various situations”, often characterized by “frequent wavering between happiness and anxiety” (p. 28). While emotional intensity can manifest as “explosive outbursts, crying jags, paralyzing anxiety, or fear”, it also shows up as “giddiness, highly frenetic energy, laughter, and general happiness.”

Fonseca points out that “another aspect of emotional intensity lies in a strong affective memory” – “not just the events of a situation, but the feelings associated with the event as well.” Indeed, “some of the negative aspects of emotional intensity . . . include excessive fear in seemingly normal situations, highly critical self-talk, extreme guilt and shame related to perceived imperfections, and the feeling of being out of control” (p. 29). These can have serious ramifications on a person’s life, and are a powerful reminder of why it’s so important to help kids learn to manage their strong emotions effectively. (I sure wish I’d had more of this support earlier on in my life . . . )

Fonseca also discusses temperament (introversion and extroversion), gender, and twice-exceptionality as variables that can impact how we manifest and deal with emotional intensity.

(What’s missing from this section is an emphasis on how cultural diversity and race can impact the ways in which gifted kids’ emotional intensity is expressed and perceived by others. Emotionally ‘explosive’ behavior by kids from communities of color, for instance, can place them especially at risk in school. I’ll be addressing other resources available on this topic in future posts.) 

In Part Two (Great Information, But Now What?) Fonseca turns to specific strategies for supporting emotionally intense kids, starting with Building a Solid Foundation (Ch. 6). This involves “creating a space that allows the child to develop the positive aspects of giftedness while also mediating the negative aspects” (p. 59). Steps include: 1) providing clear expectations and consequences for behavior, 2) setting appropriate boundaries, and 3) offering authentic opportunities for involvement in the household (or classroom). Fonseca recommends holding family (or classroom) meetings, doing regular household/classroom “inventories”, and maintaining continuous communication between school and home.

In Chapter 7, Fonseca directly addresses “Working With the Explosion”, noting that “explosions are not always aggressive outbursts of behavior” but instead can sometimes be “more passive, subtle expressions of protest” such as “anxious and sad behavior” (p. 79). (This is a really important and powerful distinction; it makes me wonder whether “explosive” is the most appropriate term to use, given that “implosive” seems equally relevant.) What these reactions have in common, however, is children expressing their (natural) desire for “power and control, or autonomy, in their lives”.

Fonseca points out that the best strategy for managing explosive outbursts is to prevent or defuse them by recognizing warning signs of escalation – including “an agitated tone of voice, a change in body language, or tears welling in the eyes” (p. 81) – and helping kids to recognize these in themselves. She suggests “developing an emotional language” to use with your child (working collaboratively to identify key phrases and words), and providing kids with a variety of techniques to calm their emotions.

During the crisis, Fonseca recommends disengaging “from the emotional aspect of the crisis”, ensuring “everyone is safe”, providing a “cooling off” period, and remembering that “some things are best ignored” (p. 96). After the crisis (during what Fonseca refers to as the “cleaning up” stage), it’s important to remember that “all explosions are teachable moments”, that we can “debrief and strategize” with our kids, and that consequences (either natural or contrived) should occur.

In Part Three (Being Your Child’s Coach: Specific Strategies), Fonseca walks us through various “explosive” scenarios with kids and helps us think about reframing our language. She discusses what it means to be a coach for our kids (including effective communication, effective facilitation, and being a source of inspiration), and then addresses a variety of different challenges related to Relationships, Performance, and Behavior.  Fonseca is compassionate and generous in naming the various ways we may be tempted to handle a situation with our child, while also providing and explaining reasonable alternatives to try next time. What her reframes all have in common is aiming towards the goal of helping “your child learn to master his own emotions” (p. 197).

Fonseca closes her book by reminding us:

“Raising gifted children is a difficult job. More often than not, we feel overwhelmed – both because of the intensity we are confronted with every day and our own guilt when we are unsuccessful in our dealings with our children” (p. 197).

This most definitely rings true. Each time I support one of my kids through an emotionally intense situation, I end up feeling completely drained myself, like I need the rest of the day to recover. With that said, this is obviously some of the most important work we can do with and for our kids – and knowing that our actions and words can help set them up for future success and autonomy makes the commitment more than worthwhile.

I’ll be returning to concepts from Fonseca’s book in future blog posts, relating them back to specific (challenging) moments from my own childhood as well as current parenting (and partnering!) scenarios. Stay tuned!

References:

Fonseca, C. (2016). Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students: Helping Kids Cope With Explosive Feelings (2nd Edition). Prufrock Press Inc.

Copyright © 2021 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution.  

Ups and Downs and In-Betweens

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve taken a bit of a break from blogging here, simply given too much going on in the world – including our country’s ongoing (but waning, hopefully!) presidential election drama, rising COVID-19 case rates across the nation, and shorter days making it easy to feel like the earth is literally getting darker.

However, there is still so much to be mindful about and grateful for. In our family we are all healthy. We get to stay and work inside our home the majority of the time. We have jobs, shelter, food, and each other. We are privileged.

Which doesn’t mean that quarantine-life – going on 9 months now – isn’t continuing to cause disruptions and challenges for all of us. Like countless other individuals and families across the globe, we are to varying degrees fatigued, burnt out, and numb. Our “new normal” is still anything but “normal”.

My 12-year-old C., for instance, seems to have forgotten about the notion of showering or brushing her hair. We’re lucky if this happens once a week, with prompting.

My 10-year-old son D. still won’t turn on his video camera during Zoom classes, no matter how much his teachers (or I) beg and plead for him to turn the camera on quickly – even just a few seconds – so they can at least see what he looks like.

Meanwhile, my 7 year old “I” – turning 8 in two days – seems to be demonstrating just as many challenges with attention, organization, and overall executive functioning skills as her older siblings.

“I” is easily distractible. She’s not keeping track of the handful of materials she’s asked to have on hand for her daily work. Papers remain strewn across her bedroom floor (and under her bed) unless or until I ask her to please place them in their “home” (i.e., a folder or designated spot) – and she rarely remembers school appointments and class sessions without explicit and timely alarms and reminders, either from me or her personal electronic device.

Yesterday morning was a  potent example of how much scaffolding “I” still really needs to be successful.

Her teacher, Ms. L., had scheduled a “lunch bunch” online time for “I” to celebrate her birthday with a couple of classmates. However, since “I” hadn’t told me about this special opportunity – and neither had Ms. L. – I didn’t know it was happening.

I didn’t find out until I checked my text messages and saw a note from Ms. L., written 26 minutes earlier, informing me that “I” hadn’t logged on yet to her lunch bunch.

I immediately called out to “I”‘s bedroom to tell her about this, and she said, “Oh, it’s okay… I have a full hour, and only half an hour has gone by.” However, when she opened her computer to log on, the meeting had been been ended: without the guest of honor present, her teacher and classmates had made the obvious and rational choice to bail early.

“I” started sobbing uncontrollably, to the point where I needed to impose on Ms. L. by giving her a quick call to let her talk with “I” one-on-one. Ms. L. kept insisting it was “no problem” and that “I” would get a redo in January. Eventually “I” calmed down enough to send Ms. L. a message reminding her who she wanted to invite to her rescheduled lunch bunch in January.

What this all brought up for me, however, was resignation and sadness that even something as exciting as a special birthday lunch time had slipped through the cracks of “I”‘s consciousness and mental schedule.

It was also a little startling that she hadn’t been able to anticipate how not showing up right away (or even within the first 20 minutes!) of her specially planned meeting would have such unpleasant ramifications.

Thankfully, the rest of “I”‘s school day yesterday turned around and was positive. Ms. L. has a calming and restorative presence, and “I” was able to let go of her disappointment and frustration at herself.

While I was busy decompressing from the emotional impact of this experience (“My kid missed her birthday lunch bunch during quarantine!”), I was reminded about a session I watched by Sarah Ward during SENG’s Fall Mini-Conference, on executive functioning challenges,  in which Ward noted that “kids with ADHD tend to experience asynchrony of about 3-3.5 years in their developmental timeline with regard to how far into the future they can anticipate and plan for.”

This is exactly “I”‘s challenge. “I” is a twice-exceptional child with a formal diagnosis of giftedness and anxiety, but/and I’m fairly certain she would also qualify for a diagnosis of ADHD-inattentive at this point, just like her older siblings. All evidence is pointing in that direction, now that she’s older and expected to “do school” in a more formal fashion.

So, with this newly in mind, I decided to very consciously build a successfully scaffolded event for “I” into the next few hours of the afternoon, both to counteract the morning’s disappointment and to feel a renewed sense of personal agency as a parent.

After school, “I” was scheduled to participate in a remote Brownies (Girl Scouts) badge meeting in which she and the other girls in her troop were going to make pinch pots out of clay.  Rather than simply sending her to her meeting at 4:00, I talked with “I” in advance about what the session would involve, and showed her what was inside the bag of supplies that had been dropped off at our house by the parent volunteer running the session. We talked about what other supplies she might also need on hand (i.e., a flat board to work on), and made sure she had that near by.

Five minutes before the session was set to begin, I gave “I” a heads up to be ready to log onto her Zoom account, and then I went in and sat next to her while giving her the meeting number and password, staying right there until she was connected. I remained by her side until she was seen by the parent volunteer, and told her specifically, “I’ll be right in the room next door – will you be sure to come ask for help if you need it?” “I” agreed to this, and I left her happily at work, poking my head in her door briefly just a couple of times to check in.

When the meeting was over, “I” was so excited to show me her sparkly silver-and-white pinch pot – and later that evening, she proudly offered to teach both me and her brother how to make one, which we did.

I believe the pot-making event was a successful experience for “I” because her executive functioning needs had been anticipated and addressed. Simply telling “I” that she had a Brownie meeting at 4:00 and asking her to look into the bag of supplies she’d been given may have been sufficient for many kids her age – but not for “I”. She needed a little bit more preparation, prompting, boosting, and confirmation before launching on her own with her group.

Those of us parenting kids with executive functioning challenges know that they can most definitely be successful – but scaffolding is so critical in order to manage that slippery slope between accomplishment and frustrated tears.

While I can’t (and shouldn’t) be there all the time by my 2E kids, hovering or monitoring constantly, I can (and should, it seems) try to be available on the sidelines, as much as possible. Balancing this time-sucking reality with my own very-real need for plenty of personal time and space has been one of the biggest challenges of life during pandemic parenting.

Meanwhile, as usual, we’re just taking things one day at a time – and, as some friends wrote on their Pandemic Christmas card, “It’s fine. We’re fine. Everything is fine.”

It is.

Copyright © 2020 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution. 

The “Whack-A-Mole” of Parenting Three 2E Kids

https://live.staticflickr.com/3289/2651852001_36b5df8a0d_b.jpg (Creative Commons License)

Parenting three 2E kids – especially during a pandemic – is flat-out exhausting, given that they never (okay, rarely) “just do their work”.

The most visceral analogy that comes to mind is playing whack-a-mole:  as soon as I start feeling good about the progress I’ve made with helping one of my three kiddos get more confident and independent with their schooling (“Yes! They’re doing it on their own, without prompting!”), a new or lingering challenge will inevitably pop up with another.

(I don’t mean to refer to my kids’ struggles as pest-like critters needing to be pummeled into submission; this is just how it sometimes feels for me energy-wise, as their mom.)

This past week, for instance, I’ve toggled between the following concerns:

  • Realizing that my 12-year-old daughter C. will receive failing grades in several of her classes next week unless or until I: 1) go through each of her class assignment sites with her, one by one, to see what’s missing; 2) reach out to her teachers for support and understanding (please, be understanding!) that C. wants to do well but is stymied by the challenges of navigating online learning while dealing with pandemic-related anxiety and overwhelm; 3) help C. determine a plan of action for either doing (or re-doing) each missing assignment, and then ensuring that the oh-so-important “Submit” button is actually pressed and her teacher is notified by email of the late submission;
  • Seeing my 10-year-old son D. refuse to turn his video on during orchestra class this morning, then logging out early before coming to inform me he left because: 1) he had his (virtual) hand up for the entire session and his teacher didn’t see or acknowledge him; 2) when he tried speaking out loud, no one listened to him; 3) he already knows how to hold his violin bow; and 4) he wanted to eat his breakfast;
  • Knowing that nothing whatsoever in my 7-year-old daughter I.’s Seesaw Assignments folder will get done until I go in to look through it all with her, one at a time; that each assignment – especially anything involving writing – will involve a negotiation of some kind and a request to do it later; and that there will inevitably be insistent questioning about when she’ll have “done enough Seesaw assignments” that she can get back to her Minecraft world creation.

Okay, so that’s the current slate of rotating challenges with each of my kids. But, here are a few positives – there are always positives! – to balance things out:

  • Seeing the glow of pride on C.’s face when she sees a one-word comment from her art teacher that the “Shadings” assignment she submitted is “beautiful”; hearing the gratitude, relief, and excitement in C.’s voice when I read her an email from a teacher who’s written back to say they’re happy to meet with her one-on-one; sitting down with C. as she slowly works her way through overdue assignments and we watch a fascinating CNN 10 news clip together about underwater habitats with wi-fi;
  • Meeting last week with D.’s awesome team of educators to outline an IEP plan to support him with his socio-emotional learning and communication goals at school; hearing D. logging on without prompting to all his (non-orchestra) Zoom meetings throughout the day; seeing D. sitting up in bed during class time rather than lying wrapped up in a blanket;
  • Hearing I. having fun connecting and laughing with her new classmates during live Zoom sessions; listening to I. practicing her division facts confidently with a classmate; hearing I. proclaim proudly to her teacher how much she LOVES reading.

Although I’m perennially exhausted, I’m also grateful that the Whack-a-Mole of parenting during a pandemic at least allows for breaks. I’ll tackle the next critter as soon as it emerges – but for now, since I’ve gotten my own critical work-work done, I’m going to lie down and listen to a book-on-tape while playing Candy Crush. Self-care is the top order of the day.

Copyright © 2020 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution. 

 

 

Book Reflections #2: “If This is a Gift, Can I Send it Back?” by Jen Merrill

As my second Book Reflection blog post, I thought I would comment on If This is a Gift, Can I Send it Back? Surviving in the Land of the Gifted and Twice Exceptional (2012) – a delightfully humorous and insightful book by Jen Merrill, author of the Laughing at Chaos blog and interviewee about parenting self-care on the Mind Matters Podcast.

On the back of her book, Merrill asks us:

When is life like a prize fight, a garden, and a quiz show, all hurtling down the road on an office chair, wrapped in song?

Her response:

When you’re living in the land of the gifted and twice exceptional.

The enduring theme throughout Merrill’s book is brutal honesty about how hard parenting a 2E kid (each one “more unique than snowflakes”) can be. Yes, of course it’s also rewarding, invigorating, and often fun – but more than anything, Merrill argues, you’ll need to roll with the challenges each day, allow yourself a glass of wine before conking at night, and accept that parenting doesn’t look anything like what you planned it to be.

Actually, prior to becoming a parent, I don’t recall holding many preconceptions – but I CERTAINLY didn’t anticipate how bone-crushingly exhausting it would be. There’s simply no way to know the truth of Parental Exhaustion until you enter into those shoes for yourself. And with 2E kids, Even More So.

With that as my brief introduction, here are my take-aways from Merrill’s book:

Chapter 1: Connecting the Dots 

Citing a commencement speech by Steve Jobs, Merrill notes that sometimes you can’t make sense of your child’s journey until you’re looking backwards and “connecting the dots” (p. 2). I love this framing of life as the narrative we create for and about ourselves: it empowers us to search for key points that may have seemed like insurmountable challenges, but turn into critical milestones in retrospect.

I also appreciate Merrill’s coining of “adult-onset, child-induced ADHD” – such a perfect description of what happens to even the brightest (perhaps especially the brightest?) of new parents. After admitting that she’s “been entirely unable to concentrate on one thing for longer than a few minutes” since her oldest (2E) son was born, she adds:

It’s just, well, I miss my brain. We used to go for long walks through thoughts together. Double-dated with new ideas. We used to dive into activities and barely take time to come up for air. Now my brain is crashed out on the mental couch, drooling a little, while I perch anxiously, waiting to spring into action, my Mom Radar spinning wildly 24/7 (p. 7).

This was exactly how I felt when my kids were younger, and I was desperately reaching out for daily support and assistance in as many ways as possible. Now that my kids are older, I’ve learned to tame my brain enough not to be on super high alert, given that quiet no longer means something challenging or dangerous is about to happen – it simply (ha!) means parental guilt that I’m leaving them to their own devices (literally).

Finally, Merrill offers a list of things she wishes “the world knew about parenting 2e kids”, including:

We are not making up this stuff (p. 8).

(This reminds me of how gifted kids can sometimes be “gaslit” into disbelieving their own uniquely intense reality, as described by Linda Silverman. Apparently the same is true for parents of 2E kids.)

Sometimes we appear over-protective, while sometimes we seem neglectful (p. 9).

(Every day, in every way, I need to continue to practice the art of – as my husband would put it – “not giving a f***” what other people think about my parenting decisions. As a former people-pleaser-extraordinaire, this has been a monumental challenge – one I’m still working on.)

Not every 2e kid has the same issues. Every single one of these kids presents differently, and they are not in parenting magazines or books, mainstream blogs, or general societal acceptance (p. 10).

(This is a sobering reminder of how isolating it can be to look at “mainstream” parenting sources and not see our own experiences and realities reflected – hence, the need for support groups, blogs, podcasts, and books specifically for parents of 2E kids.)

Chapter 2: One Heck of a Ride 

In her second chapter, Merrill responds with brutal honesty to the quip “Must be nice to have a gifted child” with her own “must be nice” rejoinders:

Must be nice to have a child whose racing brain doesn’t keep her awake into the wee hours (p. 13).

(My 12-year-old C has “insomnia issues”, just like me. In addition to endlessly racing minds, we each have our own laundry list of hacks and supports needed to help us fall and stay asleep. I’ll write more about insomnia in another post.)

Must be nice to not have to worry about your child making and keeping friends (p. 13).

(My number one wish for my 10-year-old neurodiverse son D. is that he’ll finally make a new and trusted friend this year – not exactly easy during a pandemic.)

Must be nice to take your kid somewhere new and not worry about having to leave early because of over-stimulation (p. 14).

(Heck, I’ve always just assumed we won’t stay long! We aim for an hour, and anything beyond that is bonus.)

Also included in this chapter is a hypothetical letter written by Merrill to her child’s teacher (“You have too many students, not enough time, and there’s just no money to do anything different… Trust that I wouldn’t tell you how he learns unless I thought it would help you help him.”), and Merrill imagining what her own Gifted and Talented Conference opening speech might sound like (“Parents, you need to remember to take care of you.”)

Chapter 3: Taking the Leap 

Here, Merrill talks about “taking the leap” to homeschooling her 2E son. In a hilarious passage, she compares a series of statements said by a teacher to “what’s actually meant” and “what is heard” by the parent on the receiving end:

What is said: Your child refuses to participate in any class activities and will not put down a single word, even when given the words to write.

What is meant: Your kid is the most passive-aggressive ODD child I’ve ever known and I haven’t the slightest clue how to motivate him…

What is heard: Your parenting skills are just below those of a psychotic hamster. (p. 31)

I resonate with Merrill’s insecurities. Like her, I was formerly a classroom teacher, and well remember what it was like to feel frustrated and exhausted by “out of the box” kids who, quite simply, made my job a lot harder. Now, as a parent, I’m constantly walking a fine line of wanting to empathize with teachers while also advocating for what my kids need – and hoping I come across as just-the-right-mixture of humble-but-proactive-and-informed parent.  It’s tricky.

Chapter 4: Our Grand Homeschooling Adventure 

When discussing her experiences with homeschooling (only chosen as an option when her designated gifted kid was denied services at his new local school due to his twice-exceptionality), Merrill shares:

I am not a patient woman. I know this about myself and barely accept it. I walk fast, I talk fast, and I want to scream when my computer isn’t as caffeinated as I am (p. 36).

Hear, hear. My nickname as a kid was Speedy (no joke), and it remains insanely challenging to slow down enough to roll with the ride of parenting and accept imperfection on a daily basis. I may know (hypothetically) all the things I “could” be doing with my kids to optimize their learning experiences, but constantly have to settle for the reality of how much I actually get done – because ultimately, self-care trumps even the illusion of “parenting perfection”; nothing is more important.

Chapter 5: Living My Walter Mitty Fantasy 

In her final chapter – after singing the praises of Pixar’s The Incredibles (2004) as the ultimate cinematic representation of a gifted family (love that movie!) – Merrill notes that back in her pre-kid days, as a professional flutist, she was actually living her “Walter Mitty fantasy” – that is, her daydream of a perfect alternative life. Now, as a parent of a 2E kid, she vacillates between loving and hating the work she has cut out for herself:

I love homeschooling my son… I don’t miss the fights over homework, the breathtaking anxiety about his psyche, or the conferences with teachers about everything he was doing wrong and nothing about what he was doing right.

I hate homeschooling my son. It’s all on me. (pp. 55-56)

Yes, exactly. I’m thrilled that during this learning-at-home pandemic time, it’s actually not “all on me”: I get to do a mix of both, with my kids’ teachers determining their curriculum (for better and for worse – but mostly for better), and it “simply” being up to me to supervise them and make sure it all gets done.

Back when I first attended a SENG parent support group, our facilitator reminded us repeatedly that there’s never a perfect solution to our kids’ schooling needs – there’s only compromise and striving for the “best possible”.

That’s certainly been my own experience, with plenty of highs and lows over the years. So much depends on the grace, understanding, and flexibility of our kids’ teachers – and, like Merrill, I “stand with teachers” (p. 38) while also standing with students and parents.

I appreciate Merrill’s closing reminder in her book:

“If you decide to confide in others, you’ll discover you’re not alone” (p. 58).

Speaking of that, last night I participated in a webinar and support group for parents of gifted kids (hosted by the Institute for Educational Advancement), and got multiple dopamine hits from having my experiences and challenges validated again and again – ping, ping, ping.

I was reminded that the more we come together and share honestly – as Merrill does in this book – the happier (and less alone) we’ll be.

References

  • Merrill, J. (2012). If this is a gift, can I send it back? Surviving in the land of the gifted and twice exceptional. Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Press.

Copyright © 2020 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution.  

Book Reflections #1: “Giftedness 101” by Linda Kreger Silverman

This is the first entry in what I hope will be an ongoing series of reflections on books related to giftedness and 2E learning.

After listening to a Mind Matters podcast interview with Linda Kreger Silverman – Episode 20, entitled “IQ Isn’t Everything: Reevaluating Evaluation” – I ordered and read Silverman’s Giftedness 101 (2013) by Springer Publishing.

This book is part of a series of “Psych 101” books, described on the back cover as “short, reader-friendly introductions to cutting-edge topics in psychology… for all students of psychology and anyone interested in the field”.

The chapter titles alone were enough to pull me in:

  1. Invisible Gifts
  2. What is Giftedness
  3. The Crusade to Vanquish Prejudice Against the Gifted
  4. Life at the Extremes
  5. The Psychology of Giftedness
  6. Comprehensive Assessment of Giftedness
  7. Optimal Development of the Gifted
  8. Where Do We Go From Here?

While I couldn’t help turning immediately to chapter 3 (what a tantalizing title!), I quickly realized I should start at the beginning and work my way through – which I did, in concentrated chunks over the last few days. I marked up pages like mad with my pencil, and will share a few of my thoughts – accompanied by quotes – from each chapter.

Chapter 1: Invisible Gifts

“Undetected ability is an immense loss to society; the pain borne by the individual is beyond measure” (p. 2).

Silverman’s poetic first chapter makes a case for the fact that giftedness is often hiding under the surface of the small percentage of individuals who stand out through their “eminence” – indeed, one of the most commonly used strategies to cope with giftedness is “invisibility”.

“Without being given the opportunity to soar, [gifted kids] disappear into daydreams. Thousands of extremely gifted children become so disillusioned that they drop out of school and insist on being homeschooled” (p. 6).

As the quotes selected above indicate, the consequences of not acknowledging and supporting gifted kids can be dire – both societally and individually.  Although my own giftedness was recognized at a fairly early age (through elementary school testing) – and I was placed in a weekly pull-out program – I didn’t receive counseling or other emotional support. I ended up developing a life-threatening eating disorder at the age of 12, and dropping out of school in the first semester of 7th grade. I only made it through morning classes in 9th and 10th grade before formally dropping out of K-12 schooling for good.

I insisted on being homeschooled – actually, on being an autodidact – and became obsessed with forming my own curricular path based on my unique passions and interests. This included several part-time jobs out in the “real world”, where I deeply appreciated the chance to interact with adults rather than teenagers. (My best friend was 20 years older than me.) I made it through my teenage years, just barely – but I sure wish I’d had more support earlier on.

Chapter 2: What is Giftedness? 

“Giftedness is a political football” (p. 20)

In this chapter, Silverman discusses the fascinating history of how we’ve chosen to define giftedness over the decades – and the ramifications this has had on both identification and services. While she notes that emphasis was previously placed on “eminence” (that is, gifted kids who “achieve their potential” in society), she points out how problematic this is on so many fronts.

Silverman prefers viewing giftedness as “asynchronous development”, with a focus on training “therapists and counselors who understand [gifted kids’] inner worlds and the role that giftedness plays in their identity development” (p. 49). She points out that while giftedness studies originated in psychology, they’ve drifted away towards the education realm (i.e., talent development) – and she posits that psychologists have a moral imperative to step back into the fray.

The quote I selected from this chapter stood out to me given my own professional journey in education, and how I’ve been forced to “take sides” one way or another given the political tides at play. I’m hopeful that once Marc Smolowitz’s documentary “The G Word” can finally be released, it will provoke a much-needed and overdue societal discussion about how to best meet diverse gifted kids’ needs.

Chapter 3: The Crusade to Vanquish Prejudice Against the Giftedness 

“Stereotyping the gifted is commonly accepted and, in the past, has mushroomed into scapegoating… and persecution” (p. 67).

In Chapter 3, Silverman provides additional historical context for giftedness – including wading into the decidedly unpleasant waters of Sir Francis Galton’s founding of eugenics (boooooooo!) while also covering the trajectory of work by Alfred Binet, Lewis Terman, and Leta Hollingworth (who coined the challenge of “the woman problem” in giftedness – i.e., being responsibility for child-bearing and caring while also nurturing one’s own gifts).

Silverman debunks numerous myths and stereotypes about gifted individuals – both old and new. Older myths include “Early ripe, early rot” and “giftedness is akin to madness”. Newer myths – still ever-present – include “all children are gifted”, “giftedness is just a manifestation of helicopter parenting”, “acceleration is socially harmful”, “gifted programs are elitist”, and “gifted kids can make it on their own”. A recent interview with my own parents reveals that they hold several of these beliefs, and that I would not have received any special services for my giftedness unless my school had provided them.

Chapter 4: Life at the Extremes

“The higher the individual’s IQ, the more intense the struggle for identity, meaning, and connection” (p. 87).

In this chapter, Silverman compares and contrasts the atypical developmental needs of kids at both ends of the intellectual spectrum. She argues that just like intellectual disability, giftedness should be seen as an “organizing principle” that would allow behaviors to be “perceived within the context of those with similar abilities, rather than viewing them as ‘aberrant’ in relation to those in the average range” (p. 93). She names such challenges of extreme giftedness as advanced vocabulary (which “hinders communication”), depression, loneliness, so-called “mania” (i.e., intense focus and enthusiasm), and “perfectionism” (actually a common character trait of giftedness, rather than a defect to be overcome).

Silverman discusses the various levels of giftedness, noting that “gifted educators have been so focused on the development of talented children (approximately 120 IQ and above) that they have not taken seriously the needs of children in the higher extremes of ability” (p. 101) – many of whom are “hidden” due to being homeschooled.

Finally, in this chapter Silverman discusses giftedness throughout the lifespan, beginning with the earliest potential indicators in infancy (including the high value of early identification – especially for kids who may not otherwise be given services to nurture their gifts), and giftedness in adults – which I’ve written about quite a bit already on this blog. (Naturally, much of this portion of the chapter is heavily underlined… )

Chapter 5: The Psychology of Giftedness

“It is time for a psychology of giftedness – time to recognize the developmental differences, personality traits, lifespan development, particular issues and struggles of the gifted, as well as the consequences of not being acceptable” (p. 121).

Silverman covers quite a few topics in chapter 5, including: feeling different (and what this means for “stages of friendship”); gifted kids’ quintessential adaptability (“Who would you like me to be today?”); the inner experience of being gifted; Dabrowski’s “theory of positive disintegration”; perfectionism (both healthy and unhealthy); and introversion.

So many ideas in this chapter resonated with me – perhaps most especially the idea that gifted kids “quickly learn what is expected of them and how to elicit the responses they desire from adults” (p. 129). This was enough the Story of My Childhood that I’ll devote a specific blog post to it later on, since it played a pivotal role in my eventual disintegration into an eating disorder and “failure to thrive”.  Briefly, I spent so many years being who others thought I was – or wanted me to be – or needed me to be – that I was unable to make it safely across the bridge of adolescence without crashing and burning numerous times.

In Silverman’s discussion about the “inner experience of giftedness”, countless ideas stood out; here are just a few, rat-a-tat:

“Excitement with new insights is dampened when there’s no one with whom to share them. Social exchange becomes a minefield when one is attuned to a symphony of nuance” (p. 131).

“It isn’t fun or funny to be laughed at for who you are. The dread of being ‘abnormal’ impels the gifted to lead a double life. They feign normalcy attempting to mask their vulnerability” (p. 132).

“Anti-intellectualism, under the guise of egalitarianism, is pervasive worldwide” (p. 132).

“The tall poppies syndrome is a social phenomenon of attacking those with exceptional ability” (p. 133).

“Benign neglect of the gifted is customary, with the rationale that they can take care of themselves and other students are in more need” (p. 133).

Yikes – and, yes!

Silverman undeniably has her pulse on the inner worlds of gifted kids – and how many challenges they face that most would consider insignificant. It’s tiring “feigning normalcy”, feeling unheard, trying not to “stand out”, and knowing that your needs are considered much less important than others’.

However, I really stood up and took notice during the next portion of this section, in which Silverman discusses various “personality characteristics” associated with gifted kids – and I saw my own challenging history in each one:

First:

“The gifted are gullible. Their first inclination is to be truthful, so they tend to believe nearly anything anyone tells them… Early humiliations leave deep scars…” (p. 134).

I was relentlessly bullied (by my so-called friends) in second grade, and will write about that in a separate post – but yes, the scars ran deep.

Second:

“When gifted individuals cannot find anyone who understands their reality, they begin to doubt their sanity” (p. 134).

Because others “do not observe, apprehend, feel, experience, or intuit in the same manner” as gifted kids, they may tend to feel “gaslit”.  So interesting. I hadn’t made that connection before, but it rings very true.

Third:

Gifted kids tend to have a “logical imperative”, leading to “imposter syndrome” because they:

“… compare their knowledge with all there is to be known about a subject” and “soon become aware that they’ve barely scratched the surface… The gifted often feel like they’ve just fooled everybody into thinking that they are smart, and at any moment they will be found out” (p. 135).

Ummm… Yes. Exactly. And, making things even worse:

“The gifted hate hypocrisy and they have uncanny perception, which often puts them at odds with bosses, co-workers, teachers, and parents who sport inauthentic facades” (p. 135).

I can’t stand in-authenticity!!!!  I’ve had to intellectualize and compartmentalize its social necessity in order to function. (FWIW, studying sociology and evolutionary psychology has been a godsend for this.)

Furthermore, Silverman notes:

“[Gifted kids] are paradoxical: self-assured and insecure, bold and timid, idealistic and practical, compassionate to others and unkind to themselves, mature and immature” (p. 135).

How is it that so many contradictions mutually co-exist? And yet, they do.

Moving on, Dabrowski’s work deserves its own blog post, especially given how much controversy there is in the “gifted world” around his concept of “overexcitabilities” or OEs. Perfectionism and introversion are also blog-worthy entries in their own right, so I’ll also pause on those for now.

Chapter 6: Comprehensive Assessment of Giftedness 

“IQ scores are never an end in themselves; they are simply tools to be used wisely in the hands of professionals who understand giftedness” (p. 190).

As someone completely unversed in psychometrics, I learned the most from – and feel most humbled by – this chapter. There is a LOT that goes into accurately assessing giftedness, and I finished this chapter with more questions than answers. This is clearly a growth area for me; in the meantime; I’m grateful for all the individuals who dedicate their lives to doing this important work, and doing it well.

Chapter 7: Optimal Development of the Gifted 

Silverman begins her penultimate chapter by emphasizing the need to stop “bashing” parents of gifted kids, instead focusing on the critical role they play in their children’s development – and pointing out that they need support (yes!).

She discusses how to foster an optimal home environment (primarily by being responsive to kids’ needs and interests) and the fact that giftedness tends to “run in families”. (Unfortunately, she seems to take genetic relatedness among all members for granted, which is far from always the case; or, if I’m misreading her, the importance of environmental influences rather than or in addition to heritability should be called out more explicitly.)

She also briefly covers elements of an “optimal school environment”, which among other things boils down to listening to what kids want and need – and then listening some more.

Chapter 8: Where Do We Go From Here? 

Silverman’s short closing chapter is a “call to work” for fledgling psychology students to join the fray of the giftedness sphere – which she acknowledges has “no truce in sight”. She reminds the reader:

“If the gifted and twice exceptional should become your passion… you will be paid in appreciation. Your work will be a wellspring of creativity. You’ll be outside the box anyway, eyed suspiciously by the system, so you might as well enjoy the freedom to access your creativity” (p. 232).

I appreciate that Silverman doesn’t sugarcoat the realistic challenges of working with and for gifted individuals. I’m writing this blog anonymously (for now) for a reason. I need more time to make peace with my passion for giftedness – which has always been there, but wasn’t allowed to blossom until I finally had kids of my own and needed to find ways to help them.

In closing, I recommend Giftedness 101 for anybody just stepping into this world, who wants a concise yet compassionate overview of where we’ve been, where we’re at, and where we should head.

As Silverman notes, there’s plenty of work left to do.

References:

  • Silverman, L. (2013). Giftedness 101. Springer Publishing.

Copyright © 2020 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution.