Meeting the Special Needs of Your Gifted Child
You did such a great job (with the help of the wonderful moms who commented) of answering my last question about my 9 year old son with ADHD who had trouble sleeping. I have another question and was hoping I could tap into your wisdom once again.
This question is regarding my 7 year old daughter. I have four kids. The 9 year old has ADHD, inattentive type. He’s followed by our quiet, sensitive, artistic 7 year old daughter. She is followed by a loud, bossy, fiery 4 year boy and a loud, busy 20-month-old girl. Basically this 7 year old has always been the quiet, “good,” “easy” child. Until now, that is.
It was about a year ago that the 9 year old was diagnosed with ADHD and started on a combination of counseling and medication, and things are going fairly well. The year before diagnosis was basically hell for the family. I was also pregnant at the time. We used to say that this 9 year old took up 90% of our parenting energy. Now, it’s down to about 40%; much improved, but still disproportionate.
That brings me back to our 7 year old. During the year prior to diagnosis, she remained the “good, sweet, easy” child. We desperately needed her to be “easy” but I’m sure we neglected her during this time. Since the 9 year old’s diagnosis (and the medications, extra doctor visits, etc) , his behavior has improved while hers has deteriorated. She used to be kind, loving, physically affectionate, and sweet to everyone in the family. She was the peacemaker and everyone adored her. Now, she acts out (yelling, tantrums, angry outbursts), is defiant, and frankly kind of mean to both her brothers. I am certain that her behavior is a reaction to all the time and attention that we had to give to her older brother. She sees him getting “special” treatment like doctor visits and medications. We probably sometimes allow him to get away with certain behaviors that she isn’t allowed to do (such as angry outbursts during the late afternoon when his medication is wearing off…very typical for him so we just ride it out). In addition, the 4 year old has been going through some typical 3-and-4-year-old tantrums and the youngest obviously demands attention because she’s a busy toddler.
I know she feels unheard and unloved. I’m just not sure what to do about it! Over the past few months I have made a conscious effort to be more mindful of her feelings, ask her about her thoughts, and listen more carefully to her. She is naturally quiet, introspective, and creative and can often get ignored. Her dad and I each spend several minutes of quiet time in her room nearly every night, talking and reading. I make an effort to be affectionate with her but she often pushes me away. I write her little “love notes” and have done some special outings with her. But there hasn’t been any change in her behavior yet which makes me think we’re still not meeting her needs, somehow. I miss my dear, sweet, huggable, lovable girl and I want her back. Any advice on how to do that?
My daughter tested for our district’s gifted magnet class. She’s been telling me all year that she is so bored (she’s in first grade) even though her teacher assured me she’s in the highest level groups for math, reading etc. Well, the results came in and she scored above the cut-off for acceptance to the self-contained magnet class, within the range of being considered gifted. So I’m now wondering if this boredom at school has also contributed to her deteriorating behavior at home this year. Apparently she is “just wonderful” at school and her teacher has no concerns about her. In fact I don’t think her teacher really knew how bright she is, because she is quiet and cooperative at school. Unfortunately there’s no space in the magnet class and she’s on the waiting list. So now I suppose my question becomes a bit more complex…how do I support this girl, in light of an older brother with some “invisible” special needs, who also has some needs of her own that aren’t being met at school.
So OP’s questions came in the form of two emails, with email number two pretty much solving the mystery of email number one. But it still doesn’t necessarily constitute an answer to the main question: What should OP do about it?
Your daughter now has her own special needs, and you’re now armed with a “diagnosis” of sorts to learn about and advocate for. Just like you did and are doing for your oldest son. We too often equate “special needs” with just the negatives: the disabilities and delays. But being gifted is ALSO a special need, i.e. your daughter has needs related to her ability to learn and thrive at school that will not be met in a general classroom without accommodations.
I would personally start out by hitting the library or bookstore and pick up some books on gifted children (commenters? any suggestions?). There’s a lot more to it than simply thinking “yay my kid is smart and will automatically do well in school and life.” Quite the opposite of that, if their needs are not met, or expectations are set too high or too low.
Then I would get on your school district’s website and research EVERYTHING they have to offer children like your daughter beyond the magnet class. If they cannot accommodate her with an open spot in that class, what accommodations can they offer her in her current classroom? What’s their back-up plan for kids identified after that fills up? While I’m sure it varies wildly by school district, a quick perusal of the Gifted & Talented Programs of the last two districts we’ve lived in reveals a pretty comprehensive list of elementary level services, from in-school enrichment and pull-out services, curriculum extension units, accelerated math programs, special research projects, etc. What does your district offer, other than a waiting list? Be bold, be aggressive, be willing to get creative with your daughter’s teacher and school administration. Her teacher has “no concerns.” That’s great. BUT SORRY, YOU DO. LET’S SCHEDULE A MEETING OR FIVE.
(Again, any and all commenters with any specific experience and insight on how best to advocate for a G&T child, please chime in!)
That said, I doubt that the school boredom is 110% responsible for allll the behavior issues you’re seeing at home. The history laid out in email number one can’t be completely wiped away: You expected/needed your daughter to be the “easy” one while her siblings received most of your mental and physical attention, and now she has officially Had Enough Of That. Usually these negative attention-seeking behaviors are best fought with positive attention and reinforcement, which it sounds like you’re definitely trying to do. Keep at it, even when it’s discouraging.
I’m wondering if she’s involved in any extracurricular activities? Something that could be “just hers” that she gets driven to and fussed over? And might offer the benefit of meeting her intellectual and creative talents beyond what school provides?
Check out the school’s afterschool activities and clubs, go to your area’s Parks & Recreation website, or pick up one of those parenting magazines that all the kid classes and camps advertise in. (I always find them in the waiting rooms of my oldest son’s therapists, haha.) Let her decide — maybe she could find a small art class, a chess club, Lego robotics/science offerings, learn to play an instrument, whatever. Heck, maybe martial arts would be fun and let her put her outbursts/aggression to better use (and teach her self-discipline and how to best assert herself). How awesome would it be for her to be able to perform in a recital, a tournament, a belt exam, an art show or talent competition…and look out see her entire family there, cheering for HER, JUST HER?
One last thing, which is hopefully just me being Alarmist-y On The Internet: It might not hurt to have her meet with your oldest son’s therapist or shrink, just to make sure that her anger issues and acting out aren’t related to something else. Like depression or anxiety. Or that there wasn’t a specific trauma or incident that sparked her anger/resistance to affection that she’s not talking to you about. Again, I think there are plenty of other “reasons” for her behavior that you’re already covered, but if her personality change was really super sudden, there COULD be something else going on her that professional might need to suss out. Either way, letting her vent to a child therapist might help her work out her feelings of jealousy and anger in general, and let her come to understand how loved and valued she is by having those feeling listened to and validated.