To understand the context for my post, you may wish to read the article I’m voicing a reply to:
I disagree, and I’m about to rant long windedly to explain exactly why that is. Enjoy 🙂
My first question:
Why are the two mutually exclusive?
In the article the writer says that she will not call her daughter gifted, because she wants her to learn to successfully fail. How on earth did these two things end up apart as the only option? They are not polar opposites, they do not sit on parallel lines, forever unable to come together. Why can’t you do both?
This is my experience, and opinion. As both a gifted adult, and the parent of gifted children aged 15, 13 and 3. My eldest attends an academically selective public school that he chose to try out for and that he adores. My 13 year old daughter is at a mainstream public school, participating in G&T programs. (Please note, author; these programs run in public schools too, most of them in fact, and not just multi-income-absorbing, far out of my price-range but attended by me as a child, private schools). And by gifted, as is usually the case, we’re referring to academically gifted, high IQ score measures. As an added bonus I’ll throw in that my eldest and I have both been diagnosed and are being treated for Inattentive type ADHD. Which means we fail a lot, especially in the days prior to last April, when neither of us had been diagnosed.
As a parent and drawing on the experience of having been that child, I’m perfectly happy to refer to my children as gifted. They are! I want them to know that I notice! BUT I also want them to know that they can – and will – fail. That, unlike what your article is suggesting, the two are NOT mutually exclusive, at all. I see it as my job not to deny their talents, but instead to teach them how to handle that failure – teach them how to cope with the ‘dark side’ to that talent, the often aligned negative aspect to high IQ.
My eldest especially has a severe perfectionist streak, and that can be a lot of pressure to live with before a single word from another person enters the picture – I know because he got it from me and my upbringing was different. Perfectionism in spite of my intellectual understanding of the concepts, is still a major factor in my daily life, and one of the primary contributors to my stress levels! He’ll have that whether he knows he’s smart or not – in fact, the earliest example of my eldest child being a perfectionist was when he toilet/potty trained. He didn’t know the word gifted then, he was 3. What he did know was that he was NOT using that toilet in our presence (or awareness) until he could do it himself. PERFECTLY. And as a result, age around 3.5 one day he refused nappies, and began to use the toilet. No ‘training’ on our behalf, really, no accidents, nothing. Just, done. Perfectly.
I decided that rather than deny his natural penchant to be a cool brainiac (the term brainiac is in part how we speak to each other, to informalise, accept and normalise intelligence within our family – and to defuse any negative connotations of the word when used to tease my children at school – they can own it when called a brainiac and say yes, and? It’s got no pain attached, it’s like the marksman is firing blanks), I want him to learn is that being gifted does NOT equal perfect results, and to detach the two from each other. Some of the smartest people in the world are also some of its biggest failures. There is NO positive correlation between giftedness and perfection. None. They are as connected as the red of a tomato is to the yellow of a banana, that is to say not at all. There is even less causation. Being gifted does not cause perfect results any more than its being a fruit causes a tomato to taste like banana. It’s nonsense. But knowing that you’re gifted allows you to learn
Not only do I want the link abolished in his mind, but I can’t control the whole world. There are people other than the parents out there, and they ARE DEFINITELY going to tell the child one day that they stand out for some reason. Give the child the tools to adequately manage that information instead of hiding it from them. Otherwise you’re handing your parenting power to whichever random person in their life happens to say it out loud first 🙂 It will happen – it isn’t an ‘if’. My eldest was being told from before kindergarten (reception, SA’ers, lol) to his face that he was super smart. He was dux of his primary school, and he expected as much (perfectionism). And as my toilet training story shows you, he pressured himself toward perfection long before he knew the word ‘gifted’, or had any measured testing to show as much – in fact he had no ‘proof’ until an IQ test he sat aged . He could tell just by interacting with others that he was smarter than the average bear. By not calling a child ‘gifted’ you’re not giving her self-doubt the confidence to believe she IS that smart, it’s not just her. You’re not saying ‘you’re something different to the norm and here’s how to live with that’. You’re feeding her self-doubt instead. That seems to be the opposite of what the person writing this article is aiming for.
This is like the (good) advice I learnt the hard way; don’t tell kids who are perfectionistic to ‘do your best’. Because the best of a perfectionist is perfect and anything less is failure. Ask all the people who have had to deal with me falling apart at not reaching ‘perfect’ how that works out when they grow up… It’s not pretty (and really rather snotty and disgusting lol).
Kids have to learn to do the best they can: at the time with what they have.
If I look at my ‘failure to be perfect’ moments, I have to work out if, given ALL the context, I could have done better. Sometimes I could have and once I realise it, I can correct it or at least own whatever I let myself down on (without giving up and staying in a total fail state of mind). Sometimes, there really was nothing more that I should have expected from myself than whatever I managed to do. And I need to learn how to accept that sometimes less than perfect is STILL an achievement, with context applied.
So tell your kids if they are gifted. Celebrate who they are, what they can do! Kids MUST MUST MUST know when their parents are proud and excited by/of/for them, because it’s really hard not knowing that. But give them the tools to be whoever it is they are. If that means they are gifted, celebrate that. But just as importantly, make it your responsibility as a parnt to show them how to handle the days where they may not seem so clever.