My identical twin daughters, now nearly 9 years old, have both been identified as being profoundly gifted. This is an extraordinary, well, gift. School comes easily to them and they both love to learn. They’re voracious readers, and they retain everything. They’re more than happy to accompany me to public astronomy lectures, and “let’s research that” is a phrase that’s said at least once a day in our home.
When it comes to discipline, I can reason with M and J. At 8 years old, they are intellectually capable of understanding it when I explain the psychological underpinnings of my approach to setting boundaries and expectations for them.
“You have to be strict with us,” my daughter J once told me, “so that we’ll be able to make good decisions when we’re grownups. I know you have rules because you love us.”
Despite their intellectual abilities, they are still little girls. They have to be nagged to floss and brush their teeth every night. They get their feelings hurt on the playground and can spend hours playing pretend. They believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. They needed me to inform them that Star Wars was, in fact, not a historical account.
The vast majority of people they come across are incredibly supportive. While often initially taken aback by the insights in my daughters’ observations, most friends and strangers alike will adjust their conversational expectations and meet J and M where they are. Their best friend A almost always introduces them as “my friends who are super smart, but they’re really fun too!”
Unfortunately, some people are intimidated by my daughters’ giftedness. Even more unfortunately, some of these people are adults whom M and J love and want to trust. They don’t always handle their resentment well.
J’s recent Pi Day project led her to find out how to calculate the volume of a sphere. While asking Google for the formula may seem rather mundane to those of us with high school geometry under our belts, 8-year-old J was beside herself with excitement. She told everyone she was close to about her plan, and nearly everyone caught her enthusiasm.
One person, though, wounded her deeply. This adult, on hearing her plan to calculate the volume of the sun, repeatedly told her that this exercise would be beyond her abilities. J attempted to demonstrate that she was prepared, explaining what π was, describing what a volume is, talking about her love of exponents. Her conversational partner was having none of it. Finally, the person found something J didn’t know to put the final nail in the conversational coffin: order of operations. J was devastated.
I explained to J that the concept of order of operations was something that she knew inherently, just not by that name. Some people, including the adult who’d so hurt her, needed to be taught the steps in which to perform stacked mathematical operations. To her, it was as obvious as the existence of negative numbers. I told J that I was confident in her ability to take on her project.
She and I elected to talk through her sadness with her friend A’s mom, who may be one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever met. J poured out her heart. In short, she felt that the adult in question hadn’t listened to her. Even as she explained what she already knew, the adult had told her that she couldn’t possibly know enough, trying to teach J things she had already demonstrated understanding.
A’s mom recommended that J tell the person who had hurt her how she felt, but that it was okay to protect her heart.
A’s mom pointed out that the adult might have been intimidated by J’s knowledge. This person may have been rusty on their geometry and been unwilling to confess their own ignorance. Our dear friend told J that she didn’t understand all of the mathematical details that J had spelled out when explaining her project, but that she was excited that J was excited and was proud that J was so comfortable with math. A’s mom knows her own strengths, and isn’t particularly concerned that math isn’t one of them.
Coming to an Understanding
While talking to me and A’s mom about the incident made J’s immediate pain manageable, it continued to haunt her for over a week. She was visibly sad. While it was pretty clear to me that the person who had hurt her had done so out of personal insecurity, J felt that she had done something wrong.
I decided it was time to turn this into an academic exercise. While M played on my iPad, J and I sat down together at the computer. We wrote down what J was feeling:
This adult doesn’t want to listen to what I have to say. They don’t think I’m smart enough to understand π.
Next, I encouraged her to come up with some alternate explanations.
This adult can’t hear very well.
This adult was having a bad day.
This adult doesn’t understand what I say. They don’t understand π.
Next, J wrote in her observations from the conversation. The only explanations that they all fit was the last one: The adult didn’t understand the math and was embarrassed to admit it.
Over the last days of Spring Break, J perked up. I asked her how she was feeling about the whole situation.
“I learned a new expression,” she told me. ‘Misery loves company.’ It means that grumpy people want everyone around them to be grumpy too. I won’t keep grumpiness company.”
I’m sure this is only one of many incidents in which my children’s giftedness will brings challenges their way, in addition to making many things come easier to them than it does to many of their peers. I wish I could protect my girls from hurtful situations like these, but part of me is glad that they’re dealing with them now, while I can still guide them towards a place of peace. As J said at the top of this post, she and her sister will need to make good decisions when they’re grownups.
What do you do when you feel that your children have been wronged?