I'm a Kid, Mom, Not a Robot: What High-Ability Children Want Their Parents to Know about Them

Article excerpt

What does your high-ability child want you to know about who he or she really is? How sure are you?

Books about bright children frequendy include lists of characteristics to describe these youngsters' intellectual, social, emotional, and academic behaviors, among others. Often missing from these lists, however, is this key disclaimer: "SOME bright children demonstrate SOME, but not all, of these characteristics."

Lists of characteristic behaviors should be used as a guide but never as a prescription for raising a high-ability child. Why? Terms used are relative, not absolute. "Highly creative," "rapid learner," or "long attention span," for example, mean one thing to Parent A, but Parent B may interpret them quite differendy. Each parent bases his or her understanding of these terms on experience. Additionally, some characteristics may not apply to your bright youngster at all.

To understand such terms a parent needs the appropriate context. What do I mean? An illustration may be helpful. One child may display the "highly creative" characteristic through his ability to solve problems. By making new connections, such as using ordinary household items in innovative ways, a child is demonstrating creative thinking. Let's say the pull-tab on the zipper around the rear window of the family convertible is broken, so the window cannot be opened. Replacing the broken part with a small wooden toggle from an old chain saw is an example of the "highly creative" characteristic.

A second child's "highly creative" ability plays out another way. A first grader, she may be a strikingly proficient sketch artist. Birds in flight, facial profiles, pastoral scenes-she sketches them all, demonstrating artistic skill well beyond her years.

What might we learn about our children that they would actually like us to know? Many bright children and youth won't tell us direcdy; they don't want to hurt us. If we could only hear them talking with their friends ....

Imagine for a moment that we've brought together a group of eight high-ability youngsters-ages six to 17-to discuss what they want their parents to know about them: who they really are. Although these young people of different ages and experiences weren't actually all in the same room together at the same time- allow me a little "artistic license"- they are all real youngsters with whom I've discussed this topic personally over the years, individually and in small groups.

Let's listen in from an imaginary observation booth. Through its one-way window we can see all eight young people. They appear to be discussing several characteristics they know well from their own experiences. Their statements are frank and straightforward and, in every instance, convey the attitudes of most, if not all, of the group. Listen carefully. What we learn may truly surprise us!

Kids First

"We're kids!" states nine-year-old Connor emphatically. "We're kids first, last, and always. And because we're kids, we like kid things. I want my parents to know that I really like to act goofy sometimes. Kids do that, and parents need to be OK with it when we do." Connor adds, "We act smart when we need to, but being smart doesn't mean you're not a kid first."

Lakeesha, age 16, explains, "We don't like stupid stuff-like being treated like a little kid. I'm a normal teenager who likes my iPOD, teen magazines, music that's probably too loud, and talking on the phone with my friends. Oh, and I just love instant messaging!"

As the comments of these two bright, capable, and highly advanced students imply, there is a fine line parents must tread between accepting their children's admittedly silly behavior upon occasion and realizing diey're growing up with others their age who may embrace or, just as easily, revile age mates with abilities obviously different from theirs.

Wired Differently

Often included in a list of characteristics of high-ability children is "concerned with fairness and justice" or "cares deeply about others' welfare. …