Intense kids … Intense adults

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I touched on some of these intense individuals in a post last year Life at the Edge . I said back then,

“We can’t demand a gifted person change their ‘being’ to fit into our ideas of adequate provision for them.”

(Thanks Lisa for the thumbs up on that line!!!)

Living with “intensity” is not something you necessarily grow out of, or can change (no matter how much we try to demand it from others). It is part of who you are and when the only person you can generally change is “yourself”, we need to look at how we can co-exist with intense people that we might find incredibly challenging at times.

Living with intense kids certainly brings this home quick smart – but chances are, you or your husband may be quite intense yourself, as it can be in your DNA. Have you managed to live with each other? How did you do that? Or didn’t you do that too well?

I want to look at this from the perspective of a step-mother (me) coming into a ‘gifted man’s life’ at 43,  who had single-parented his own two kids since they were preschoolers. Now teenagers, they were pretty set in the ways Dad had brought them up. They also carried some of those intense genes in their DNA too.

Step-parenting is difficult at any time, but when you are suddenly thrown in at the deep end with intense, bright kids, you can really struggle. I did – for the first five or so years! It was in this time that I would constantly say to myself – they are only doing it the way they know – the way dad has brought them up. You see, “Dad” didn’t know his own idiosyncrasies either. He had never understood why so many people misunderstood him, or why he was not like the others. Bullied consistently through his younger years at school this gifted man had certainly developed ways to fit in. His mother has since said to me that she didn’t know what to do about the bullying, so regretfully, she just left it for him to contend with on his own.

So, we have the scene set – creative-gifted adult and children (and from what I can see, two creative gifted grand-parents in the first place) meeting ‘step-mother’ ( who just happened to be a teacher passionately interested in giftedness and learning difficulties in an effort to understand her own two children).

Disaster – WWIII – Armageddon – you name it, and it was like that in our household as we all tried to learn about each other. I lost my son (albeit temporarily, to live with his own father) early on in the marriage – but in retrospect, it was time for him to get better acquainted with his own father, rather than try to cope with this ‘man from another planet’ I had re-married!! (My kids, too, had been brought up by their mother – me – almost single-handedly for fourteen years, so we also had our own ways of doing things).

Well, as you know, when conflict happens, you can either confront it, go along with it, or pretend it never happened. Being overly sensitive, going with the flow was not the first choice for any of us. You will see it in the classroom – these little people often have great difficulty adjusting to doing things a different way to what they have already done before, know, and understand. It takes them time to adjust to change, and sometimes, they can’t accept the need for change at all!

Conflict resolution skills should be an important aspect of any classroom programme, but especially so for intense gifted students, who unfortunately can often get upset over things the average student hasn’t even noticed. But, just as we don’t want to expect them to change, we must teach gifted students how to compromise with others, or resolve issues, in cases where we can’t always have it our own way. In my situation, it didn’t help that ‘Dad’ would tell his kids to not worry if something bothered me, because I was on my own planet. He didn’t realise that his  own planet was also out of the solar system many of us know!

This exemplifies the second point of comparison – how many times have you said as a parent of your gifted child, “Don’t worry about what the teacher says, he/she just doesn’t understand you the way I do”? This is not going to give the child good negotiation skills, or teach them respect for teachers in general. Far better would be to teach them ways of explaining themselves to the teacher in a non-confrontational way why something is of such importance to you that you need too disagree, or change what is being said or done.

Time can be a healer, as the two parties start to understand one is not out to criticise the other, but as I said, we took about seven years to start to rally together as a family, and that was after some of the older teens moved away from home. We only give these intense gifted students just over ten months with a teacher and a group of students to get to know each other, then we split them up and send them off with another group the next year. Often, a child with a challenging personality is shifted around to give the other students a break from them, and it is rare for a teacher to have them for more than one or two years. This just means building relationships has to start all over again each year, and this is a daunting task that can simply make school too much of a challenge for them to bother with. Many well-meaning teachers say they don’t want anecdotal records from the previous child’s teacher, as they want to start them with an unbiased, clean slate. But for some students, what knowledge has been gained by a previous year’s teacher can just be wasted, or the wheel re-invented, which effectively reduces the useful length of the schooling year by a couple of months each year as they progress.

There is as much a need to educate intense children about their differences and how they will affect other people, as there is for teachers to be educated about what life is like for intense individuals.  I remember reading a Pearl Buck (1892 – 1973) quote in my gifted studies, and I think it is so appropriate for intense people,

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanely sensitive. To them… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death.
Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, their very breath is cut off…
They must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency they are not really alive unless they are create.

Pearl Buck

Parenting intense gifted children is hard work, but then it can be so rewarding, too. If this post has given you any ideas about how-to or how-not-to, then it has been worth it for me. Any questions you have will be answered, subject to the internet in Samoa, which is where I now reside (in paradise, my husband says!!!) We have managed to hang in there through the tough times, thanks to our gracious Father, and the bedlam from the past is becoming a distant memory.

Manuia le aso (Have a good day!)