Tuesday, November 14, 2006

On Being "Well-Adjusted"

Please keep posting on the parenting books thread -- I really appreciate it! One of the comments, though, had me thinking about the concept of gifted kids being "well-adjusted," so I thought I'd do a separate post on the topic. All parents want this for their children -- for them to have a happy social life, be resilient, etc. Unfortunately, I think this is more possible for gifted children once they grow up than it is for them when they are children. That's because adults can set up their lives in ways that make them happy, fulfilled, etc. Children don't have this option -- mostly because that's part of being a kid.

For instance, I'm pretty happy with my life right now. What a reason to be grateful, right? I work from home, so my desk is as messy and disorganized as I wish. It's got bits and pieces of different projects scattered everywhere. No one let me get away with that in school! I work on projects when I want to work on them. And I choose my own projects. So naturally I gravitate towards ones I find fascinating. I always had a bit of trouble sitting still; fortunately, by running my own small business, I rarely get stuck in meetings that don't directly pertain to me. I have friends of all different ages, and I rarely spend too much time with people who aren't smart or inquisitive. Because the bulk of my social interactions are with such people, I can handle other interactions with a lot more patience than I had in 8th grade when the only conversation going on at the lunch table was about the mall. Nothing about my life looks much like the average kid's class in school, where you interact only with people your age, and only do assignments someone else tells you to do. So no wonder I'm much more relaxed and well-adjusted than I was as a kid!

I've been thinking about how some of these adult choices could have been put in place when I was a kid -- or if that's even possible. Some parts are. For starters, it's more possible for gifted kids to be well-adjusted in self-contained gifted classes than in mixed-ability classes. In mixed-ability classes, you are simply the "smart one," while in gifted classes, other sides of your personality can come out. Voila! You are magically more well-rounded and well-adjusted, just by changing classes. Gifted kids also magically become more well-adjusted when they're allowed to pursue their favorite topics in depth, and when they're challenged. Suddenly, your brain is more engaged. Smart people like it when their brains are engaged. Life is more fun!

But I do understand that it would be pretty hard to run a school where you come and go as you please, do all fascinating work and only interact with people you like. Maybe there are benefits that come with adulthood. I guess this is something to tell a gifted kid who's getting frustrated with school and the rules of being a kid. For all we romanticize childhood in our culture, if you've got an adult brain in a kid's body, it's often better to actually be an adult. So hang on... it'll get better as you get older.


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your summary of "what do gifted kids want," You hit all the major points, except one. It's hard for me to put into words - I'd call it "recognised contribution." What keeps me going as an Adult, and what I craved, and see my son crave, is the glow one gets of being a valued part of the team, and of making a contribution. Particularly when you know in your soul, that maybe only you could have made that particular contribution. Religiously inclined people have the advantage of simply saying that they get satisfaction being a vessel for good.

I'm sure you got a lot of that from "Genuius Denied." You certianly changed my life!

Anonymous said...

When I think of "Well-rounded" I think that's a code for "Good Social Skill." I've started to find it quite funny that Gifted kids are so often noted to have "poor social skills" and encouraged to make great efforts to "learn to get along" with "normal" children. I've never seen a curriula for "normal" kids to learn to get along with gifted and highly gifted kids. Although just mentioning is sends my mind reeling off into low budget graphic and Paulette Panda visiting Jimmy Giraffe and how she will find ways to play that are fun for both of them. Of course the point is that we don't expect normal children to be able to do this. I bet we are wrong, actually, to some degree.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of a friend (now ~32, then 3) who was playing a boardgame with another 3 year old. My friend was a fluent reader, and his (normal) 3 year old friend violated the rules of the game, and my friend thrust the rules in front of him and rudely commented, "Can't you read?" (The normal friend, of course, could not.)

tfw said...

I may have it wrong, but my concept of being "well adjusted" is an ability to adjust to the environment, including people in our lives, and situations that we find ourselves in. It is more than being able to do what we enjoy and mix with people who think like we do. It is also about being able to get along with people who don't, and to make the best out of a bad situation and move on.

Like it or not, most people, gifted or not, have to learn/work/live with other people, gifted or not. I'd like to see my gifted son, who is especially sensitive to criticisms, use some of his brain power to acquire the skills and preparedness to get along with different people with respect and tolerance, and to turn adverse situations around or at least quickly bounce back afterwards and move on.

If anyone knows of a website or a book with practical skills on this, please recommend, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi TFW -
I'd reccomend the books and DVD's from hand in hand parenting

I believe that it is stress that keeps children touchy and stuck, and that by relieving the stress, it does free the child to use their minds more creativly. This is true for all children, but some gifted children have more than their share of stress, due to many things: poor school fit, not being what people expect, and seeing the big picture well before their emotional control has caught up with their intellect.

It's worked well for me, best wishes.

Anonymous said...

We have found that homeschooling is the ideal setting for our gifted kids. While there are some rules, there is much flexibility to accomodate each of the children's individual styles. The kids can come and go as they please, spend their time focusing on what interests them, and be engaged with other inquisitive people of varying ages. Different learning styles can be accomodated, the kids can wear their houseslippers or dress-up clothes and they can sit on the floor or at the computer--there are countless ways to make learning individualized.

Evan Adams said...

When I was a kid and particularly a teenager, everyone told me that adulthood would not be as shiny-awesome as I expected, and that it would come with all kinds of terrible new responsibilities that I couldn't even comprehend, and that a few age-related rights weren't worth all the extra pressure. Now I'm 24, and being an adult is exactly as awesome as I thought it would be. I can set my own schedule, eat ice cream whenever I want, make my own medical decisions, go literally wherever I want as long as I can get there, have sex without any secrecy or other nonsense, direct my own education, and if my boyfriend's parents try to have him disappeared, not only could I do something about it, but they couldn't do it in the first place because he's an adult too. Being an adult is just the best thing.