If our children could simply get over whatever it is they are currently trying to hurdle, our job as parents and educators of gifted children would certainly be much simpler and I gather it would be quite a bit calmer. The tenacity our kids attach to everything they do and everything they are longing for is an endearing trait which makes us smile, Facebook™ little quips, and enjoy every moment just a little more; and yet, it is this very stick-to-itiveness which drives us crazy and keeps us from being on time for anything. From favorite pieces of clothing which you have to wash with the child wearing them to a special stuffed animal, from a new game or sport to not wanting to go to school, the intensity with which our children can focus on a chosen item or behavior seems to create a fight or flight response inside of them and as a parent we have a choice to fight back or run with it.
When to run along:
The positives which come along with a strong connection to things and a tenacious spirit which never takes no as an answer fuel the most adventurous and original conceptions and creations of our time. At the moment it might look a lot like a child who wants to wear the same shirt over and over, but tomorrow it will most likely take the form of something different. In my experience, it’s the form it takes next which may cause the child a great deal of angst or an equal measure of happiness. How do parents and educators determine which way the pendulum is swinging so that we can ensure a positive outcome?
It is my experience that the pendulum, by definition, will eventually swing back to the other extreme so it may be best to follow the line to the fixed point from which it hangs to determine the most appropriate action. For scenario one, you follow it up to the top and find it is affixed to a good place so it’s best to let it swing and complete its course. An example of a good connection can be found within the shirt example above. I have shirts which fit just right and make me feel wonderful, and if I were six years old perhaps I’d want to feel that way every single day (and I’d probably want to sleep in it, too!) Maybe something wonderful happened in that shirt and your child made his first friend or answers came easy that day; whatever it is, remember that it’s just a shirt to you, but to the child, it’s a platform, a motivator, a battle won, and a comfort. Fighting with your child about something which makes them feel wonderful sends an unintentional message of apathy and aggravation towards his deepest desires.
Is it frustrating at 6:30 a.m. when you need to get to work? Yes. Is it necessary to fight? No. This is a good time to run alongside your child. Let her dance amongst the flowers in the same sun dress she’s worn in every photo since summer vacation began and remember: her passion and happiness for life stems from that same dress-love and will ultimately fall on something else with the same resolve.
When to fight:
For scenario two, you follow the pendulum cord up to the top in the same way as before but you find it is attached to a negative place. Your child expresses feelings of being fat, lonely, ugly, or alone. Letting your child continue to wear that shirt sends a message that you agree with that sentiment or that there is no way to resolve his feelings. The shirt represents the bad as much as it represented the good. Now the shirt he won’t change may represent his feeling of not belonging, it might help him feel less conspicuous, and might very well stem from a clinical depression. It’s time to fight.
Fighting with your child or your teen does not mean literally forcing him to change his shirt, which will never happen without too much negative impact and shaming. What it means is that it may be time to find where the pendulum is connected and seek support, resources, and counselling. There is never harm in seeking professional advice which will certainly empower your child to face and solve the real problem and it will show you are there to support, not stand in the way, when he’s faced with another hurdle.
Is it frustrating at 6:30 a.m. when you are trying to get ready for work? Yes. Is it necessary to fight? Yes. This is a good time to fight alongside your child. Find the professional help your child needs to address the real issue so that he or she may apply this amazing resolve and tenacity to something positive once again.
Both of the scenarios above have played out at my house and I’m pretty sure I responded poorly to both at one time or another, but I remind myself that good connection is good no matter what extreme it currently appears to take and a bad connection is bad and the extremes can be harmful if parents are not ready to cut the pendulum’s cord before it swings back.
There are times parents need to make those tough choices and fight the good fight but it’s not as easy as dead squirrels. When a very dead baby squirrel was found in our backyard and was carried to the kitchen door to show me, I knew it was time to fight. The ensuing scrubbing, burning of clothes, calls to the county to make sure there were no diseases, and the sorrowful tears because my daughter, who was 2.5 at the time, wanted to keep it forever and ever and ever and name it Squirrely, was a necessary and obvious fight. Ok, got it… dead squirrel = fight!
Of course, in the real world, the need to fight or the time to run alongside is much less obvious than dead squirrels. While I’ve made it sound black and white with the shirt examples, the truth is that the difficult parenting decisions happen in The Grey. The Grey is where you reside when you have a split second to make a decision and you don’t have enough information or confidence or guts to quickly choose to fight or run along. Grey is the color of the many advocacy meetings (which usually end with me crying) I’ve had in the past twelve years. Gifted and twice-exceptional kids live in this grey; and as hard as it is every time you need to make a decision, I imagine it’s twice as hard for them.
As parents, the best gift we can give our children is to swing in the grey alongside them, not to constantly run, not to constantly fight, and certainly not to constantly question and fear our decisions will be right or wrong. We need to be watchful for times when that glorious tenacity attaches to perfectionism, anger, depression, and self-loathing, but we also need to dance alongside them in the Grey as a way of appreciating and enjoying their ability to stand behind their convictions and decisions with a ferocity which will someday change the world.
It took many years for me to say this with confidence, but I think finding the balance is less important than swinging with a smile!