"I truly believe that every child deserves this level of respect and sensitivity. Yes, the brighter the child, the more sensitive he or she usually is...but ALL children need this...don't you think?"
What an excellent point to raise. And of course the answer is a wholehearted 'yes'. All children deserve respect. All children deserve an authentic response. The advice I gave that mother could be applied to any child, really- respect and authenticity would work to improve the behaviour of just about any child.
|My gifted boy at 4, captivating the crowd|
with his rendition of '5 Cheeky Monkeys'.
Butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. But he
WOULD NOT go to bed.
I'd like to welcome you now into my Year 10 music theory classroom. It's my first year teaching at this extremely selective private school, and my third year in the classroom. Before me is a class of 14- to 15-year-old girls, all competent musicians, and I'm confidently showing them how to add four-part vocal harmony to a melody I've written on the board.
The average IQ in this room, I would guess, is around the 130 mark. (It's a VERY selective school.)
I've completed the exercise when a smirking blonde up the back raises her hand. (If I had to guess, based on what I know now, I'd say that her IQ is around the 180 mark; she will be dux of the school one day.)
"There are consecutive fifths in the third bar," she says.
Now, for the non-musicians out there, 'consecutive fifths' in 4-part harmony constitutes a pretty basic error. It's Harmony 101, actually. Yes, the teacher has made a mistake, and our keen observer- let's call her Harriet- has picked it in one glance. (She's probably been hanging on my every word all the way to bar 8, to see if the blooper in bar 3 was a trap I'd set on purpose.)
This is a crucial moment, where I have to make a vital choice. What I choose to do with Harriet's comment will determine more than the outcome of this lesson- the level of respect and authenticity I show in my answer will determine whether I have Harriet's respect, not just for the rest of the lesson but for the rest of the year.
And that is the difference.
Let's have a close look at what just happened, and the significance of each aspect of it.
The first thing to note here is that the intellectually gifted child has challenged me on what I think of as my own safe territory. Naturally, I will have an emotional reaction to that! I might become angry that a student has dared to challenge me. I might feel upset with myself, or guilty that I haven't prepared well enough. Whatever emotion surfaces at this point, I won't be ready for it. I am at a disadvantage. I will be so busy dealing with my own feelings that Harriet's humanity may not even get a look in.
The second thing to note is that Harriet has an intellect commensurate with or superior to my own, and the emotional maturity of a 14-year-old girl. Harriet is smart enough to pick up a mistake which I missed, but she's not mature enough to realise that the kindest course of action would be to call me over and whisper in my ear- instead she's exposed me to possible ridicule by the whole group, because that's what teenage girls tend to do with new teachers.
The third thing to note is that my reaction will be assessed both intellectually and emotionally by this gifted child. If I respond irrationally or try to bluff, Harriet will pick it at once with her razor-sharp intellect, then respond with 14-year-old, hormonally-fuelled intensity.
|Yep, that's me, and I'm|
so obviously thinking
'I'm not happy'!
So parenting a gifted child, especially if you've not experienced giftedness before and are relying on a standard manual of child-rearing techniques (aka 'this is the way I was brought up' and 'my friends say I should do this' and 'this worked with my other children'), can be rather unnerving (to say the least). It's a job that can be very, very unforgiving. Dropping one's guard and cutting corners when interacting with a gifted child can have pretty devastating results for the parent. 'Because I said so' just isn't an option.
This is why so many parents (and teachers!) of gifted children get into trouble; they follow old patterns which have worked okay for children whose intellectual and chronological ages are in sync. And when they put one foot wrong, the child strikes back with a radioactive cloud of logic, and resentment, and even disdain.
|Cooperating at parties was NOT|
my strong point. Working out
which button to press in order
to be taken home.
My success as a teacher of the gifted hinged on many, many delicate moments every day, such as the one I've described with Harriet. For the parents of a gifted child, life is one long string of tests. Gifted children do not accept the status quo. They challenge us, and wait for our response, and bring down their verdict. The sentence, when we get things wrong, will likely be based on some hideous cocktail of their emotional and intellectual ages.
So I guess you're still wondering what I said to Harriet. This is pretty much how the conversation went from there.
Harriet: There are consecutive fifths in the third bar.
Me: (looks at board) (stunned silence while I feel like a complete fool and look for the error)
Harriet: (in the tone of voice one might use to an idiot child) Between the D and E in the alto and the G and A in the bass.
Me: So there are. Well picked. Did anyone else see them? (rest of class shake heads)
Me: See, even teachers make mistakes. That ought to make you feel better. (laughter from class) Can everyone see the problem now? (nods) Okay, so how are we going to fix them now Harriet's found them? Harriet, how about you come up and show us how to get around it, because I bet you've worked it out already.
(Harriet comes forward grinning, and immediately changes some notes to eliminate the 5ths)
Problem solved, and I'm not talking about the vocal harmony. Harriet and I maintained a mutually respectful relationship until she left school (and yes, she did learn some tact!).
I did have an advantage here, remember- despite my youth and lack of experience, I had been a gifted child myself. I just did what I would have liked a teacher to do, if I was Harriet:
Admit the mistake.
Show respect for the child's advanced intellectual accomplishment, but be the adult with regard to the emotional blooper; don't get into a battle, ignore the undesirable, model good behaviour.
Involve the child in the solution; give a challenge commensurate with the child's intellectual age.
Of course it's not that easy if you're in the thick of things as a parent, and if you're just learning about giftedness. You may well have to deal with the strong feeling that a mere child shouldn't be challenging you. It seems to go against the natural order of things.
But this is the natural order with a gifted child- you will have to explain, constantly. You will have to be truthful, constantly. You will have to show respect, constantly.
And then you will have to remember that this child is 3, or 10, or 14, and try to remember that emotionally you are still the leader. You still need to show this child where the boundaries are. You still need to do this with quiet confidence. And you can not show quiet confidence if you have let that child upset you with their intellectual button-pressing.
So the answer to my question? Intellectually, yes, gifted children are that different. They may put you way off balance with their precocious talk, and logic, and argumentativeness, and correction of your mistakes. They may punish you more savagely for forgetting to use respect and authenticity.
But the bottom line is, Janet's right- just like other kids, they need you to be the grown-up. You might not be smarter than them, but you are still their rock. You are still their guide. You are still their best emotional resource and their role model.
Don't let yourself be distracted by the brains.