Thursday, April 26, 2012

Do As I Do Not Just As I Say

     Children learn by observing those adults in their lives who are important to them.  A baby watches its mother’s face intently for cues.  A toddler will reprimand a little friend with, “No.  No.  Don’t do that,” something the toddler hears often as he or she explores the world.  
     Back in 1954, Dorothy Law Nolte was onto something when she wrote the classic poem, “Children Learn What They Live.”  A book by the same name later appeared (1998) with the subtitle: “Parenting to Inspire Values”).
     Research tells us how important modeling is to children, yet many parents think that they can tell their children to do one thing while they, themselves, do the opposite.  Even the best parents have inadvertently said or done something that models negative behavior.  After all, parents are only human.  
     The difference between a positive and a negative role model, however, is using adult negative behavior as a positive reinforcer for your child.  It is okay to say to your child, “Mommy just lost her temper and said a bad word.  That was wrong.  Sometimes Mommies do wrong things.  But I know it was wrong and I am sorry.  I will try not to do that again.  I tell you what: if you hear Mommy say that word again, it is okay for you to give me a time out, okay?”  By so doing, what could have been negative modeling becomes an opportunity for positive modeling.
     You’re probably saying, “Oh, sure.  Every time I slip up and say something I shouldn’t I’m supposed to turn around and apologize to my child?  Are you crazy?”  No, I’m not.  You would be surprised how easy it is to do.  As someone cuts you off in traffic and you get angry and curse at the driver with little Tommy in the backseat, it’s pretty easy a few minutes later when you calm down to look in your rearview mirror and simply say, “Oops.  Mommy should have had more patience with that driver, huh?”  By so doing, you are not sending mixed messages.  You’re not telling Tommy to have patience with his little sister, while you don’t have to have patience with another driver.
     As Kirstie Spiers Neumeister said in Perfectionism in Gifted Children, “Children need to observe their parents and teachers taking on challenges, making mistakes, and experiencing failures once in awhile. This is how they will learn to appreciate mistakes and failures in a constructive fashion, rather than feeling crippled by anxiety and self-blame.”
     So the next time you mess up in front of your child, try acknowledging it.  You might be surprised by your child’s reaction.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Stop To See The Rainbows

A colleague today referred to a quote by Mohandas Gandhi: “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”   This quote made me think of all of the gifted children (and adults) I know who are proud of the speed with which they can do everything from reciting the alphabet to finishing a crossword puzzle.  Children are bombarded by speed tests in school, applauded for finishing their homework quickly, and praised for reading a book in record time.  But what are we doing to children by instilling this sense that speed is good?

One result of our “need for speed” is that children are not given time to truly think about what they are doing, to learn from it, to expand on an idea, to question its validity, to relate it to something else.  When we focus on how quickly we can accomplish a task, the task becomes meaningless.   The joy of the journey is removed, replaced with a need to reach the destination.

When my children were small, they jokingly referred to my attempts to help them to see the value in the journey as “stopping to see the rainbows” rather than “taking time to smell the roses” because whenever I would spot a rainbow, I would stop everything so that we could marvel at its beauty.  If I was driving, I would pull the car over to the side of the road.  If we were outside playing, I would stop the game while we gazed, contemplated, and discussed the rainbow.  These rainbows were symbolic for me.  They were an opportunity to impress upon my children how important it is to stop sometimes and really notice your surroundings, to see the beauty in the world, to slow down.  A short time ago, my sister and I drove from Portland, Maine to Boston, Massachusetts to attend a flower show.  The drive only takes 2 hours; however, our return trip took us more than six hours.  The destination was not our joy.  It was the journey.  We rambled around Boston, visited Cambridge, saw a sign for a restaurant that evoked memories of childhood and veered off the road to eat there.  We chatted about a store we had read about somewhere in southern Maine and simply left the highway to find it, stopping to ask people along the way for directions.  When I told my sons about this adventure, they laughed and one of them said, “So you stopped to see the rainbows, huh?”

The next time your child reads a book quickly and you are very proud of that fact, take a few minutes to ask about the story.  Discuss the characters, the plot, the ramifications of the protagonist’s actions, how the story would have been different if a single event had changed.  You can do this with any child at any age and any type of book.  I remember having long discussions one day with my young child about the “Little Engine That Could.”  

It is important for children to learn their Arithmetic facts, and if they enjoy reciting them quickly, let them do it.  But when they are finished, make sure that they understand what they just did.  What are numbers?  What is multiplication?  What is addition?  When did they start?  Why are they important?  Does everyone use the same system?  Why?  Why not?  If we impress upon children at a young age that speed is not the goal, but true understanding is the goal, perhaps education will be more meaningful.

In this fast-paced world, where speed seems to permeate everything we do, try to slow down sometimes, if not for yourself then for the message it sends to your child.  There truly is more to life than increasing its speed.  Make sure you stop to see the rainbows.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Strategies for Helping Your 2E Child to Focus
When working with twice exceptional (2e) children, teachers and parents discover many ways in which to adapt activities or instructions so that the children can be set up to succeed.  A few of the ways that I have observed over the past few years are:

  • Placing colored cloth “shades” over fluorescent lighting.  This softens the lighting and soothes many children.
  • Playing music in the classroom or during study time at home.  Sometimes what adults might consider a distraction actually helps these children to concentrate.
  • Providing movement breaks is beneficial to concentration.  Letting children get up and move around periodically helps them to focus.
  • Offering positive affective messages during lessons or study time provides encouragement that the child is trying.  These messages should be very specific, not “You’re doing a great job” but “I really like the way you are forming your letters.”
  • Allowing the use of “fidgets” helps many children to pay attention.  By physically manipulating something (squishy ball, koosh ball, small toy, small stuffed creature, etc.), the child’s mind can concentrate on a task more easily.
  • Allowing some children to type papers or to dictate them rather than hand write can produce astounding results.  Sometimes a child is considered to be a non-writer or a parent may have great difficulty getting a child to begin writing a paper.  Allowing the child to type it or dictate it may solve this problem.
  • Alternating instruction from quiet desk work to physical activity to small group work to whole class instruction, with very little whole class instruction, can really benefit some 2e children.  Similarly, at home, alternating the types of tasks you ask your child to do can really create a more cooperative child: sit still and read for 20 minutes then take out the trash then help to cook dinner then sit still at the table may make each of those tasks more palatable for the 2e child.
  • Creating “games” for lessons can help many 2e children.  Observing a class that was having difficulty writing with details, a teacher asked the class to stop writing and to draw simple monsters.  They giggled and laughed and drew their monsters.  She then asked them to write instructions for someone else to draw them.  They learned that details are important. In another class, students were learning about circles. They were loud and not paying attention to the lesson.  Rather than get frustrated, the teacher said that they were going to drop the lesson for the day.  Instead, they were going to make stained glass windows to hang up in the classroom window.  She had them draw large circles and then plot points, label, and color with markers.  They ended up with stained glass windows and had a lot of fun learning about radius, diameter, and chords. 
  • Providing countdowns to transitions is key to cooperation with 2e kids: “5 minutes,” “3 minutes,” “1 minute,” ringing of bells to transition to the next activity all help the child to make those transitions.  One parent tells her children that when they need to leave a playground or beach or pool or someplace else where they are having a lot of fun and do not want to leave that they do need to leave but she will make time for “favorite thing time” at which point they are allowed to do their favorite thing one more time before leaving.  They know that after “favorite thing time” it is time to leave.
  • Asking children to gauge their understanding by showing thumbs up, thumbs middle, or thumbs down sometimes helps children to express their level of approval in a non-verbal way.  One family uses this technique with meals, television choices, movie previews, and other family decisions.
  • Allowing children to listen to audio books as they follow along with the reading sometimes helps 2e children to focus on the story and improves their reading proficiency.
  • Introducing some 2e children to yoga can help them to release extra energy and to focus.
  • Proving aerobic balls for 2e children to sit on while reading, writing, eating, watching television, or doing just about any activity can provide stimulation and movement which frees them to concentrate better.
  • Allowing children to chew gum in class at school and while doing homework can help them to focus.
  • Accepting work in written or verbal form can be helpful to 2e children.  This assumes that a parent or teacher is okay with the fact that knowledge is key, not format.
  • Announcing dance breaks periodically can relieve stress and wake up the mind and body.  One teacher frequently senses the need for movement and will call out “dance break,” put on music, and allow the class to dance for 3 minutes.  She dances along and everyone laughs and has a good time.  When dance time is over, everyone gets back to work.
  • Giving instructions both verbally and in writing can help some 2e children.  Children pay attention in different ways and if you find yourself saying, “I asked you five times to do that” perhaps you would have better luck writing down your requests either on a white board, a chalk board, note pads, or some other means available to you.  One parent writes on sticky notes which she attaches to doors, mirrors, toilet seats, backpacks, etc.  The child sees the notes and is reminded of what it is that he is supposed to do without her repeating herself.

All of these ways (and more) are examples of things you can do to help your child to be more focused. Please share your own ideas for helping your child to focus on the task at hand.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


As a parent of a gifted child, you already know that your child is hyper-sensitive in some way.  Put a shirt with a tag on the child and listen to wails of “It doesn’t feel good.”  Go shoe shopping and plan to spend hours finding the pair that feels right, looks right, or sounds right.  Cook a meal and listen to comments about the texture, color, or taste of food.  Whatever the area, parents do need to be aware of their children’s heightened sensitivities.  Dabrowski spoke of these sensitivities as “overexcitabilities” in gifted children.  These take on many forms that you probably have noticed. Gifted children tend to have more than one of these intensities, although one is usually dominant.  Be prepared to accept and foster their uniqueness.
o Often misdiagnosed as ADHD since characteristics are similar
o Rapid speech
o Impulsive
o Talks a lot
o Has nervous habits
o Very competitive – even when it doesn’t matter
o Has difficulty sleeping
o Needs to multitask
o Complains about seams in socks
o Complains about tags in shirts
o Doesn’t like the feel of wool or some other fabric
o Doesn’t like loud noises
o Gets sick from a certain smell
o Hates to walk barefoot or loves to walk barefoot
o Enjoys textures of certain foods and detests other textures
o Has a love of beauty – sunsets, flowers, music, writing, art
Emotional (Take everything personally, get hurt feelings easily)
o Extremes of emotion 
o Anxiety
o Feelings of guilt and sense of responsibility
o Feelings of inadequacy and inferiority
o Timidity and shyness
o Loneliness
o Concern for others
o Heightened sense right and wrong, of injustice and hypocrisy
o Strong memory for feelings
o Problems adjusting to change
o Depression
o Need for security
o Physical response to emotions (stomach aches caused by anxiety, for example)
Intellectual (easiest to recognize as giftedness)
o Deep curiosity
o Love of knowledge and learning
o Love of problem solving
o Avid reading
o Asking of probing questions
o Theoretical thinking
o Analytical thinking
o Independent thinking
o Concentration, ability to maintain intellectual effort
Imaginational (able to imagine situations in both positive and negative lights)
o Vivid dreams
o Fear of the unknown
o Good sense of humor
o Magical thinking
o Love of poetry, music and drama
o Love of fantasy
o Daydreaming
o Imaginary friends
o Detailed visualization