Tag Archives: resilience

Thick or Thin? Preparing To Hear From Your Schools

By Bonnie Raskin

Bonnie is the Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship Program Coordinator at IEA and has extensive experience working with gifted middle school students to find the high school that best fits their individual intellectual and personal needs.

MailboxI have the pleasure and privilege to work with some of the smartest, most creative young people in the United States. While my comments are primarily geared towards high school, much of what follows is applicable to any phase of the application process that many of you will deal with in the course of your academic lives.

Applications to most of the so-called selective independent high schools throughout the country have increased 10% over previous years, resulting for many of these schools in their lowest admit rate as well. It’s therefore probable that not all of the students who might want to attend a certain school, regardless of their outstanding qualifications and eligibility requirements, may receive that coveted letter or e-mail of admission.

Read more of Bonnie’s advice here!

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Getting Your Parental Report Card

By Lisa Hartwig

Lisa is the mother of 3 gifted children and lives outside of San Francisco.

I just received my first grade as a parent. I got an “A.” How do I know I got an “A”? U.S. News & World Report said so.

My oldest son earned me this grade by getting into the University of Chicago. I know that sounds awful. But the message I received from other parents over the last 18 years suggests that I am responsible for my children’s achievements. The ultimate achievement in our community is enrollment in an elite university.

No one told me directly that I was being graded, but I saw how my neighbors reacted when we made educational choices for our children that were different from theirs. They took it very personally. They behaved as though my husband and I were implying that what was good enough for their child was not good enough for ours. I remember one difficult dinner when our guests insisted that our move to a local independent school was not only unnecessary, it was opportunistic. Private schools were only good for helping students develop business contacts for the future. If a child had the strength of character and family support, he could achieve success in a public school setting. His proof? He went to a public school and ended up teaching at Stanford and working at a large biotechnology company.

We all went our separate ways, with no common rubric to judge our progress—until now. It’ time for our children to go to college.

It seems wrong to take credit for my son’s accomplishments, and I’m not even sure U.S. News & World Report can measure them. So I asked my husband what role he thinks we play in our children’s accomplishments. He said that he would not give himself credit for our children’s success but would take credit for not messing them up. I thought we deserved a little more credit than that. I decided to evaluate my parenting skills by my ability to help them find the sun.

My children are sunflowers. If I let them act instinctively, they will turn towards the sun by finding the people and places that feed their love of learning. If something gets in the way of the sun, they wilt. I know this is a silly metaphor, but it helps me visualize my role in their lives. My job is to clear away any obstructions so that they can find the sun. They faced a lot of obstructions over the years. Sometimes, it’s been me.

It’s hard to see yourself as an obstruction. But I learned, with my husband’s assistance, that my “help” was not always helpful. So, I returned my red pen to my son when my college essay edits robbed him of his voice. I remained silent when my son eschewed the Calculus AP exam in favor of “Circus” class. I bit my tongue when he told me that he wasn’t going to apply to a particular Ivy League school because the admissions officer stressed the accomplishments of the student body and he didn’t want to achieve anything in college; he just wanted to learn. I believed that my son has good instincts. I was determined to let him find the college that best suited him, and that meant I couldn’t get in the way.

I think parents of gifted children have a particularly hard time establishing the right grading policy for themselves. Most of us begin by assessing our ability to find and deliver the appropriate curriculum and social and emotional support for our child. Our efforts are often handicapped by teachers who think our children don’t need accommodations and parents who see our requests as elitist. Even with our best efforts, our children may still disengage in the classroom and underachieve at school. Given their abilities, we are tempted to see anything short of extraordinary achievement as our failure (and theirs). Our final grade, by my neighbors’ standards, may not reflect our efforts. We may not even agree on what constitutes an “A.”

My son decided to go to the University of Chicago because it had interdisciplinary classes like “Mind” and “Power Identity and Resistance.” The school has a Circus Club and the world’s largest scavenger hunt. He liked the admissions essays and heard that the kids watch Dr. Who. Its motto is “Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched.”

I dropped my son off last week. As we walked through the leaf strewn quad, he said, “I don’t think I will ever do anything in my life that takes advantage of everything this place has to offer.” My son turned toward the sun, which turned out to be in Chicago. Maybe if I stay close to him (but out of his way), I will feel some of its warmth, too.

What role do you feel you play in your child’s accomplishments? Please share in the comment section below.

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Fostering Resilience in Gifted Children

By Lisa Hartwig

Lisa is the mother of 3 gifted children and lives outside of San Francisco.

“Raising Successful Children”—who could resist that title? I immediately began to asses my parenting skills after I saw Madeline Levine’s opinion piece in the Sunday New York Times. According to Dr. Levine, parents spend too much time focusing on academic success and not enough time fostering “authentic success.” Authentic success comes when parents hang back and allow their children to make mistakes so that they can develop the resilience they need to handle the difficulties of life.

As I considered Dr. Levine’s advice, I was struck by two thoughts. First, what do you do if your child is the one who is overly focused on academic success? And second, when is it okay to interfere in your child’s academic experience? My husband and I faced both of these questions last year. In answering these questions, we came to a powerful conclusion: helping your gifted child develop resilience is a nasty business.

Last September, our 13-year-old son left his 17-year-old brother, 10-year-old sister, and both parents to attend an elite boarding school on the east coast. The school had classes and resources that were unavailable locally. As a boarding student, he could devote all of his free time to his studies and extracurricular activities without worrying about family commitments. He even received a scholarship to pay for the tuition. He saw an educational nirvana. We saw the end of our parental influence.

So, Madeline Levine, is this where we are supposed to hang back? We did. We let him decide. He didn’t hesitate. We were devastated.

The following months were the most difficult of our lives. Our entire family mourned his absence, but that wasn’t what caused us the greatest pain. What kept us up at night was the emotional toll that my son’s decision took on him. He was extremely unhappy. He begged to come home. After every telephone conversation with my son, alarm bells went off in my head. Something was terribly wrong in New Hampshire.

By the time our son returned for the holidays, it was clear to us that we needed to bring him home, which we did. The emotional toll it took on him, however, was not yet done. Although he was happy to be home, he was disappointed with himself for not being able to make the boarding school experience work. He worried that his return home would affect his admission to college. He hated being the new kid again at school. His return home marked a new emotional low.

Were we wrong to let him make the initial decision to go? Should we have let him fully experience the consequences of his decision to leave home and left him in New Hampshire? Were we wrong to bring him home? According to Madeline Levine, our job “…is to know [our] child well enough to make a good call about whether he can manage a particular situation.” Our son was not able to manage the situation. We decided to say “enough” instead of making him stick with a decision that wasn’t working out as expected. While we wanted to teach him tenacity, we also felt that if we want him to take risks, we also need to help him admit when a choice was making him unhappy.

I imagine other parents of gifted children may have the same two questions for Dr. Levine. When we hang back and let our children make mistakes that result from their devotion to academic excellence, the price they pay is the anxiety that comes from failing to live up to their own impossible expectations. The intensities that characterize gifted children only increase the cost of these mistakes. Is this the price of resiliency for gifted children? When do we say “no” to our child’s quest for academic challenge?

Strange as it might sound, my husband and I don’t believe we made a mistake by letting our son go away to school. We certainly would have faced other problems if we had denied him such a wonderful opportunity. On the other hand, we don’t yet understand the full psychological costs of his decision to go. The only thing I know for sure is that I want to strangle anyone who uses the word “resiliency” casually. I have spent the last year struggling with this difficult concept. Madeline Levine says my struggles are worth it. I sure hope she is right.

Have you struggled with when to say “no” to your child’s quest for academic challenge? Please share your experience with us in the comment section below.

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