Gifted-Ed Guru

How to cultivate and teach talented kids.

Parents of the Gifted...You Need to Slow Down!

Life is more than a series of back-to-back appointments.

This summer, a previous high school student of mine from my old AP English class, was helping me get some work done in my yard. At $10/hour, he considered it a great way to earn last minute money for his upcoming freshman year in college and, frankly, I considered him worth the cost as well. After all, it was he who was willing to dive into the thick, thorny hedges to remove dead branches, rake the reeking muck out of our fish pond, and haul bag after bag and heavy box after heavy box of Goodwill offerings up from our basement and down from our attic. We worked together on this occasion for nearly half of a Friday, talking as we pruned, scrubbed, sorted, and packed. Finally, at lunch time, he told me his drop dead time.

“Mr. Taibbi, I’ve got to leave at two o’clock today, if that works for you.” I assured him that it was and asked him what he had on tap for the rest of the evening. I imagined a movie and dinner with the girlfriend or, perhaps, some sort of intense video gaming session with his guy friends that would in all likelihood last until the wee hours of the morning (hours that I’m sure I haven’t personally seen on the face of clock since my mid-thirties). I was surprised at his answer.

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“Well, I gotta get home and shower first. Then I have to drive back over to Vinton and pick my sister up from her dance class by four. After that, I told one of my customers I would meet him at his office to run anti-virus checks and load some new programs onto his work computers. Then I am going back home to Skype with my roommate about what we are going to need to get our dorm room squared away—“

“Wait, you’ve arranged a Skype conversation with your future roommate a Friday night?” I interrupted, dubious. “That couldn’t wait?”

“Well, yeah, I can’t really do it any other time because then, tomorrow, I leave at 6 o’clock in the morning to go to North Carolina for a lacrosse tournament, and we don’t get back from that until late and then I am meeting Jenn to go the movies. On Sunday I am back in Vinton by 9am and then—“

He continued in like manner until I was forced to realize that, truly, this was one very, very busy person. I threw my hands up, offering a friendly “enough already!” sign of capitulation.

“Ben, I’m sure your parents are glad you can drive yourself everywhere nowadays instead of having to schlep you all over creation.” I smiled and he assured me that they were. In fact, he admitted, they were the ones who, from age fifteen, had been prompting him to start studying for his driving test so he could be ready to go the minute he was eligible.

Gifted students, particularly those that are globally gifted, have many different talents and skills that parents, naturally, want to nurture. Ben is not only a talented academic student, for example; he is also an accomplished athlete, actor, and entrepreneur. He filled both his school year and summer days with club meetings, sports practices, play rehearsals, paid work, competitions—and still found time to hang out with friends for a social life. In addition to all of this, now that he drives, he plays the role of taxi driver for his younger brother and sister. So I can only imagine how grateful his parents might have been when he did get that license.

And yet, honestly, a part of me worries about him and his parents still.

For many parents of gifted children (as I can attest Ben most assuredly is) the dilemma they face is so common as to be stereotypical: how to support your child in all his/her endeavors while also seeking a balance in life. It is so easy as a parent, particularly a parent of a young gifted child, to get swept away in the role of supporter: hours of after school practices, games, competitions; attending PTA meetings; volunteering for the various events sponsored by the myriad organizations that your child enjoys; driving to and fro every single day of the week.

All of this, week after week, year after year can lead to burn-out. Need proof? Consider how drained (or alternately how relieved) you feel on a Sunday night as you sit down with a glass of wine and consider that another week has come to a close. That we, as parents, can get over-stimulated by life’s demands is surely not a surprising statement. But what I may offer for your consideration next, perhaps, is.

Parents, you need to slow down!—if not for your own mental health, then for that of your child’s as well.

Consider your schedule carefully and then honestly answer this question: what exactly—by virtue of all that you and your gifted child are juggling in your busy lives—are you modeling or teaching your child?

Now consider this statement: Life is more than a series of appointments.

It does not need to feel always so rushed or hectic, so on-the-go. It is okay, wonderful even, to have (what we call in our own household) down time—those moments between obligations that allow you to decompress, exhale, and renew yourself for the next challenge. In fact, learning what to do during (and with) those hours are just as educational as the next dance lesson, Boy Scout meeting, or baseball game you are going to attend. It’s those undefined, unstructured hours that, oddly enough, help to build a child’s understanding of self-discipline; where he learns how to mediate the conflict between fulfilling his own personal desires and that of meeting others’ obligations. Where, after all, is that chance going to exist if his dance card is always so full? Filling a child’s schedule to the hilt is what many parents perceive as an act of love and unconditional support of his/her talents. But while the intention is pure, the results and the effects of that can be exhausting and possibly even counter-productive.

Ben, my former student, seems well-adjusted enough, even if he is, like most teens, chronically sleep-deprived. But who’s to say what is too much (or too little) for your own child and your family?

Look to your child for the cues. Is she, like you, chronically tired? Is she, like you again perhaps, losing interest in the very activities that used to energize and excite her? Do the two of you now, oddly enough, dread the approaching weekends because there is so much to do?

A conversation with your child can go a long way in determining what real balance should look and feel like, but so can too can a hard and honest look at your own expectations.

Don’t be afraid to slow down. After all, dear parent, you are many times, quite literally, the driving force in your child’s life.

Your Turn: Do you find yourself overscheduled or having a hard time finding that balance? Tell us about it in the comments! What stategies do you use to slow down?

Christopher Taibbi specializes in gifted education. He has coauthored several books on teaching.

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