If there is just one thing I wish every person who does not understand giftedness, and yes, I did say every, could realize is that giftedness often comes packaged with intense emotional overexcitablities that could mimic, at any given moment, a unintentional nuclear explosion. This is an inborn behavior trait, not spoiled, arrogant or disrespectful behavior.
One of my gifted sons was, and probably still is, a perfectionist. When he was in Kindergarten, his entire focus was to be perfect at everything. On that fateful day, when he returned home from school after having his first popsicle stick pulled for talking when he shouldn’t have been, he, in deathly seriousness, proclaimed that his “life was over.” He was completely despondent and immediately crawled under his bunk bed for a self-imposed time-out. His self-punishment lasted for a few days after school—under his bed and face to the wall. At the time, I toggled between worry, confusion and amusement over his behavior, but mostly worry.
When consulting with other seasoned moms about my son’s self-punishment, I was provided with the advice, “oh, he is just pulling the wool over your eyes!” These seasoned moms were sure that my son’s self-punishment was all an act to gain sympathy from me and hopefully ward off any serious punishment my son feared I may dole out.
I knew in my heart that they were wrong because I knew well the behaviors which stemmed from my son’s perfectionism, and I didn’t believe in negative reinforcement and punishment, so he had no need to fear any negative consequences from me. Nope, his self-imposed time-outs were his way of dealing with his regret and sorrow for his now imperfect behavior record at school. And he truly felt his life was over.
I’ve heard the “he’s just pulling the wool over your eyes” advice several more times regarding my gifted sons’ behavior. In sixth grade, one gifted son was terribly over-anxious, suffering from headaches and stomachaches and crying often all because he knew his teacher did not like him, and it seemed she made no bones about it either. Everyday after school, we would struggle through a stream of tears, screaming, anger and despondency. This would all start up again in the morning from the moment his toes emerged from under the covers of his bed until his foot hit the pavement of the school’s driveway.
We requested a conference with his teacher hoping to help her see what was really going on with our son, and to find some solutions. Our first conference with his teacher consisted of just her litany of wrongs our son committed in school. My husband and I tried to explain the emotional state our son was experiencing in response to issues at school in the hopes that his teacher would realize that maybe there was more to this situation than what she had surmised. With us sitting in the old, middle school desks and this teacher sitting in her chair facing us from in front of the class, she cocked back a bit with her arms folded across her chest and smugly announced with a truckload of retaliatory confidence and self-righteous pride, “oh, he is just pulling the wool over your eyes!” She further explained that he was just fine at school and was probably faking all the drama to get our sympathy. No, we knew the tears, anxiety and emotional pain were real. We also realized that we could never convince this teacher that she was wrong because she was just too sure she was right.
When I heard this sentiment a third time from one of my sons’ school principals, again in response to emotionally painful issues at school, I came to understand three very important truths: 1. that way too many adults believe children are manipulative and up to no good by default; 2. that way too many people, especially educators, don’t understand that gifted children have real emotional intensities and overexcitabilities that they can struggle with, unlike typical children; and 3. that for parents of gifted children, it is a difficult, uphill battle to convince the non-believers of the sincere and intense emotions and sensitivities gifted children have.
Recently, I was chatting with two other women, one of whom also has a gifted child. When this mom relayed a story about her child having a meltdown because he was distraught at the thought that his mother might believe he was misbehaving, the other woman in a sincere effort to support this mom, softly said, “he was just pulling the wool over your eyes”. Being the moms of gifted children, this mom and I, without missing a beat, both quickly turned to the third woman to explain how children like ours can be sincerely emotionally distraught and that there was no wool being pulled. She understood completely.
I wish others could be so willing to understand the nature and the very existence of overexcitabilities in gifted children, especially educators.
If you are the parent of a gifted child whose overexcitabilities are problematic in school, don’t hesitate to advocate for your child’s needs at his school. Go prepared with information on the overexcitabilities of gifted children, and print off the information to leave with your child’s teacher. One thing I have learned from experience is that, despite being educational professionals, most teachers do not know enough about gifted children and their little-understood traits such as overexcitabilities and intensities. The majority of the gifted children teachers have experience with are not gifted at all, they are the smart, high-achieving students allowed into gifted programs, but a good teacher would be happy to be able to learn more about gifted children.
Your gifted child needs you to be his champion and to find ways to lessen his anxiety and help others to understand his meltdowns. He needs love, understanding and support. We all need to speak out about the emotional needs of all gifted children so that others can come to understand this real need our gifted children have.
And for goodness sakes, let’s not fall for that over-used excuse for your child’s emotional behavior because they are not pulling the wool over your eyes.
“Overexcitability and the Gifted” by Sharon Lind
“Dabrowski’s Theory and Existential Depression in Gifted Children and Adults” by James T. Webb, Ph.D.
“Emotional intensity in gifted children” by Lesley Sword
This post is part of Gifted Homeschoolers Forum December Blog Hop: Parenting OE’s, 2E’s and Everything in Between. There are many more great articles and posts in this blog hop, so go check them out!
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