Dimensions of Intelligence

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My children are smarter than me.

Allow me to define “smart” for my purposes. I am certainly more knowledgeable and experienced than my 9-year-olds. I am better read than they are and more able to find practical solutions to problems, whether academic or everyday. I am far better at explaining complex concepts to people than Misses Giggles and Distractable. My ability to critically examine an argument is currently, at age 36, quite a bit better than J and M’s at age 9.

M and J, however, have always been better at absorbing new concepts than I was at the same age. Their minds work faster and burrow deeper. They see connections and parallels that would have never occurred to me. I have no reason to believe that this general trend won’t continue. As far as I can predict, when they are 36 years old, their brains will process ideas more effectively and deeply than mine does today.

The only milestone I beat them to was reading. According to my mother, I read at age 2. J and M were 3 before they were reading independently.

The fact that my daughters are smarter than me makes me proud. Perhaps if I had fewer academic successes under my belt, I would feel diminished by being outshone by my children. Perhaps if I were less egotistical, I wouldn’t be confident that I am just as smart as I need to be. I’m not in competition with my children. My task is give them the tools, skills, and support to be the best M and the best J they can be. I certainly aim to be the best Sadia I can be.

I am not a trained teacher, but I’m a proud nerd and I love getting others excited about knowledge. When my daughters learn a new concept at school, I often expand on it with them at home. It was while doing this that I confessed to them, for the first time, that they’re both smarter than me.

The children were studying 3D shapes in their regular 3rd grade math class. They told me all they knew about rectangular prisms, pyramids and cylinders. I asked if they knew why they were called 3D shapes.

They didn’t.

A mom explains the third and fourth dimensions to her kids, and is at peace knowing that they learn more easily than she did at their age.

The “D”, I told them, stood for “dimensional”. They could think of a dimension as a direction that exists in a shape.

  • A dot has no dimensions because you can’t move around inside it.
  • A line has one dimension because there’s no room to turn around.
  • A plane, I told them using a piece of paper to illustrate, has two dimensions. You can go back and forward or side to side. By combining those two motions, you can get anywhere on the sheet of paper.
  • If you jump off the sheet of paper, you’re in three dimensions. That’s the world we inhabit. Back and forward. Side to side. Up and down. Ocean creatures experience the three dimensions more fully than we do, being able to move vertically with ease.
  • The fourth dimension, I told my girls, was time. That took a little more convincing.

I still had the 2D piece of paper in hand, so I rolled it up to illustrate.

Sadia uses a rolled up sheet of paper to explain to her daughters why time is the fourth dimension.

Imagine, I told them, that there was an ant walking around on my sheet of paper. His world is two-dimensional. He’s not aware of what’s off the paper. Whether the sheet is flat or curved until opposite edges touch, he’s moving around in two dimensions. Even if I wave the paper through the air, the ant probably doesn’t know that it’s being moved. His entire universe is that 2D sheet of paper.

We are similarly unaware of moving through time. Right now, we’re in the dining room, playing with paper. Count to three, and we’re in the same place in the three dimensions we can navigate, but in a new second in the fourth dimension of time.

How to visualize time as the fourth dimension.

J and M said that made sense. “I’m in a new time now!” exclaimed M. “And now… and now. And I hardly wiggled!”

J took the next logical step. “Is there a fifth dimension, mommy?”

“Yes,” I told her. “I’ve read about theories of physics that argue that there must be a fifth dimension.”

“Show me, mommy!” J demanded. “Explain me the fifth dimension.”

“Little J, I recognize the concept, but I can’t see it in my mind. Without a picture, I have to use words. My best explanation is to say it’s the next logical step in the ant analogy.”

“So the fifth dimension is of the parallel universes, mom!” J realized. “Why didn’t you just say that?”

“I didn’t say it because I didn’t understand it. I can’t see it clearly the way you can right now. I’ll do my best to create a metaphor and picture in my mind, but it’s going to take me some time.”

“Mom! It’s obvious,” J told me, more than slightly irritated.

“Sweetheart, you’re going to run into a lot of people who have a harder time understanding ideas than you. Please be patient.”

“But mom,” J pointed out, “you’re mom.”

“I know sweet girl, but as you get older, you’re going to know and understand more and more things that you’ll have to explain to me instead of the other way around. There’s a lot I don’t know, and a lot it’ll take hard work for me to understand. Some of those things will come really easily to you, and that makes me happy.”

I hope that this confession, made with confidence and without apology, showed J and M that it’s okay to be smart without being smartEST. That was a lesson that I struggled with. It was quite the blow to my ego to realize that I wasn’t the top undergrad at my college. I was “only” in the top 10% based on the very narrow measure of GPA. I’ve since learned that being seen as the smartest person in the room is no measure of success.

Doing my best — that’s how I now measure success, even if that fifth dimension escapes me. And for the moment, I’m doing my best to raise two little girls who are officially smarter than me.

The Dad Network
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The Importance of Messing Up: Grit

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My little girls messed up big time this week. I happen to think that this was a good thing. It gave both of them a chance to come up with their own solutions to the problem, a skill far more valuable in life than doing things right the first time. Oh, how the Type A in me has been tamed by motherhood!

As I understand it, the psychological term for the characteristic I value is grit. I want my children to have tenacity in the face of adversity. I want them to be able to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and try a different way. I do wish there was a way for them to develop that without ever getting hurt, but I know that life doesn’t work that way.

Our kids need to be allowed to make mistakes. It's the only way they'll learn how to deal with them.

School Teaches More Than Academics

I don’t worry too much about whether my daughters, now in 3rd grade, are learning what they should, academically speaking, at school. I know that they are.

M, J and I have a wonderful ongoing dialogue about what they learn. We find ways to explore concepts that they’ve found particularly interesting or that need a bit more oomph to be an intellectual challenge. Both girls love to talk about math and what they’ve been reading. Social studies is deeply interesting to J, although M needs a little more encouragement to discuss what she’s learned. Science takes more effort, mostly because they’re learning it in Spanish and don’t always have the English vocabulary to discuss the details.

What we spend most of our time discussing about school, though, has little to do with my daughters’ classes and assignments. Instead, far more of our effort goes into dealing with the social, problem-solving, and administrative aspects of school.

We talk a lot about relationships. We’ve discussed how to balance friendships. We’ve defined where the boundaries are when it comes to being the peacemaker between classmates who aren’t getting along. We often talk about when to try to work out conflicts without adult intervention and when to seek help. Recently. J observed that the boys and girls in her class sit at opposite ends of the lunch table and she has taken on a mission to reintegrate the genders.

Both M and J are phenomenal problem solvers. M is a strong manager of relationships and J is extraordinary. They’re both absolutely terrible at staying organized.

These kids would forget to take their heads to school if they weren’t attached. I’m pretty certain that there’s a daily stream of fallen paper marking the way from their classroom to our front door. Permission slips, homework, pencils, party invitations. You name it, J and M are experts at losing it.

Can you guess how many jackets my twins lost between them the winter before last? Seven. How do you lose that many jackets when there’s a Lost and Found that we check weekly?! How did I ever allow myself to buy them that many jackets?

Organization is what we work on at home. Organization is what they work on in class. Their second grade homeroom teacher once described my girls as typical absent-minded professors. She nailed it. Thank goodness the teachers at their school put the effort into helping M and J, instead of letting them slide because of their academic talents.

What Happened This Week: Problem 1

One of the programs that my daughters’ school offers to challenge and engage high performers is the Independent Study Project. They do 2-3 of these each year. All of the students in the Talented and Gifted program participate, but so do other standouts who might not qualify for TAG but still need an extra something. Some projects need to relate to a theme, but at least one is a Passion Project on a topic of the child’s choosing.

The Independent Study project was due today. The third graders have had intermediate deadlines, needing to turn in, in order:

  1. A brainstormed list of possible topics.
  2. A selected topic.
  3. A mind-map of ideas and research findings.
  4. An outline for the paper.
  5. A five-paragraph essay.

The teacher emailed all these deadlines to the parents and has made sure that the students are aware of them. I made sure that my daughters knew that they, and they alone, were responsible for meeting the deadlines. I would help if help were requested, but managing the project was up to each of them.

At 8:12 last night, after a good hour of conversation and reading to each other, J’s face fell.

J: My ISP is due tomorrow.
Sadia: Oh? Didn’t I ask you if you had finished your homework as soon as you got home?
J: I forgotted.
M: I forgot too. Oh no! I’m going to get an F. I’m going to get an F!
Sadia: Can you finish getting ready for bed and finish your project in 18 minutes.
J: No! I can’t do it!
M: I’m going to fail!
Sadia: Here’s the deal. Bedtime is 8:30. Period. You can tell Mrs. O that you forgot. Alternately, you can find a creative solution. Staying up late is out of the question.

Much to my surprise, M, usually the higher strung of my daughters, took a deep breath.

M: I’m going to set an alarm for 4:00 am.
J: Wake me too.

I let M set an alarm on my iPad and put it under her pillow.

What Happened This Week: Problem 2

We went to bed on schedule, but J woke me around 1:00 am. She was wide awake and thinking about her project, so I gave her permission to work on it, with the understanding that she would go back to sleep when she was done. I gave her my iPad to use to log into her school-provided Google Drive account to retrieve her outline.

At 6:00 am, I woke to my backup alarm ringing on my phone. I woke M, who began to get ready for her day, berating herself for having slept through the 4:00 am alarm.

While M was brushing her teeth, I heard an alarm go off on my iPad in the living room. J had forgotten to return it to M’s pillow, thus preventing her sister from waking early to finish her assignment. As soon as I pointed out what happened, J felt awful. She knew that she both owed her sister an enormous apology and needed to explain what had happened to their teacher.

Once again, M surprised me. She had no anger at all, instead comforting her sister. She got ready for school in record time and by 6:10 was at her desk, writing. By 6:45, she had finished her essay and handed it to me to review. I found a missing period, and that was that.

My 8-year-old had faced the consequences of her own forgetfulness and her sister’s, forgiven, problem-solved and met her goal. I would have preferred better scheduling in the first place to avoid all the high stress and procrastination, but I was pretty proud of my gritty girls nonetheless.

How do you encourage grit in your children?

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Resenting Gifted Children

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Profoundly Gifted

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.”

Kids

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.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. The opening crawl to Star Wars.

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!”

Resentment Demonstrated

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?

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Party Trick: Mental Multiplication

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“What did you learn today?” I asked M, my nearly-8-year-old, as part of our bedtime snuggle-and-connect.
“What did I learn today? Did I learn anything today?” M mused. “Oh! Riley asked me what is 169 times 28. It’s 4,732!”
“How did you figure that out?”
“Well, I know that anything times 10 just puts a 0 at the end. So 169 x 10 = 1,690. And that two times is 3,380. Plus another 1,690 is 5,070. Then I did 169 x 2, which is, um…”
“You kind of did it already with 1,690.”
“Right! 338! And 5070 – 338 is 4,732. Obviously.”
“Obviously.”
“Riley didn’t even know the answer! But I do know it now.”

And this is what bedtime looks like around here.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, but now also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Twice Exceptional Children

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When you hear the term “special needs,” what do you think of? A child in a wheelchair, perhaps, or one fed through a feeding tube. Perhaps you think about someone who contends with dyslexia or autism.

Now think of the term “gifted.” Whom do you envision? The star math pupil or the young inventor, most likely. The prodigal musician or child poet. Perhaps the star athlete falls in this category.

The twice exceptional child is both gifted and has special needs. He or she is far beyond her years in one area while needing extra help in another. The twice exceptional child most likely to fall through the cracks is one whose giftedness may disguise their special needs or one whose special needs may mask their giftedness. It’s easy to categorize a child with an enormous vocabulary and incisive mind as lazy when they never complete their schoolwork, but what if, instead, they’re dealing with an attention deficit that has gone undiagnosed? The average child in a class may in fact be brilliant at math, but held back by dyslexia.

I had the privilege of attending a talk by Dr. Beverly Trail, author of Twice-Exceptional Gifted Children: Understanding, Teaching, and Counseling Gifted Students. She was hosted by the our school district’s gifted and talented program, and I learned a lot from her talk.

Twice-Exceptional Gifted Children by Beverly Trail

My daughters were identified early as being gifted. Some might argue that my daughter M also has special needs. In addition to her facial cleft and all the social fallout from looking different, M’s anxiety can sometimes be paralyzing.

Let this be a reminder not to pigeonhole the people you come across in one box or another. People are complex. A teacher friend of mine, Gloria, once told me that her approach to gifted children is to consider theirs to be just another type of special need. The gifted child needs personalized attention and education just like any other special needs child. I could have just kissed her for saying that, but I just hugged her instead.

Do you know what my exceptional, possibly twice exceptional, 7-year-old did at the talk on twice exceptional children, which she attended with me? She went up to Dr. Trail after her talk and asked her why, given that her points were relevant to all students and teachers, only those affiliated with the district’s gifted program were invited. Dr. Trail told her that she’d been specifically invited to speak to this audience, but that she agreed that her content wasn’t just for us. She also told M that her question was a very good one.

Because my child, like yours, is exceptional.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Spiral Learning: Permutations for Elementary Students

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Permutations for Elementary Students

When I was browsing the lovely photos on MathiasQuads.org yesterday for this morning’s post, my daughter M took great care to read the names in each photo caption. She wanted to be sure to match each face to the right name. As an identical multiple herself, she understood how important it was to see Mary Claire, Anna, Grace and Emily as individuals.

M, aged 7, observed that they were rarely in the same order between photos.

M: There’s 16 ways for them to be lined up.
Me: How did you figure that out?
M: Because there’s 4 sisters and 4 spots and 4 times 4 is 16.
Me: That’s a very good deduction, my mathematician girl, but it’s actually 24. Can I show you how?

Is 7 a little young for combinatorics? Sure, but M showed an interest in it, so I dug back into my 8th grade math memories. I drew her a picture to show her how to think of permutations. She picked the colours for each sister.

Explaining permutations for elementary students. Showing them the first quarter of the pattern allows them to derive the pattern themselves. From hdydi.com

Me: There are 4 sisters who can go in the first spot. I’m just going to draw one of them. Once she’s in her place, there are only 3 sisters left to go second.
M: Then 2, then 1!
Me: Exactly. So there are 6 orders available for each sister who goes in the first spot.
M: And 6 times 4 is 12 and 12 is 24.
Me: Which is also 4 times 3 times 2 times 1.
M: Well, that was easy.

We’ll probably chat about combinations tonight during bath time.

Spiral Learning

I’ve always taken this approach to educating my daughters. If one or both of them is interested in something that illustrates a larger pattern or important skill, I explain it to them at a level that is pertinent, interesting, and within their abilities. Later on, when they’re more intellectually mature, I’ll come back to it. In a couple of years, I’ll show M how to use factorial notation.

My teacher friend Kaylan tells me that the eduspeak term for this is “spiral learning.”

Spiral learning is the practice of returning to a topic over time to build an increasingly sophisticated understanding

What sparks your child’s interest? What’s your approach to teaching?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children – A Book Review

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Book review from a mother of identical twins, both identified as gifted

By the time my children were born, I felt fully capable of raising two little girls, whatever their personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. When they proved to be rather bright, I relished the gift of being the one to guide and nurture their curiosity and insights. My daughters’ daycare teachers were wonderful, encouraging them to explore, providing them just the right level of challenge, and introducing academic learning in a way that made it fun.

It wasn’t until kindergarten that it occurred to me that J and M’s intellectual gifts might present a challenge when it came to fitting into mainstream education. Thanks to their school in El Paso, I learned that their giftedness challenged the status quo. I was going to have to learn to be not just the mother of M and J, who happen to be smart, but to be a Mother of Gifted Children.

I confess that I fought the labels. Why couldn’t my kids just be kids? I could challenge them intellectually at home if the school couldn’t.

I finally gave in and bought A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children. It sat on my bookshelf for a while. When I finally cracked the spine, I wished I’d done so earlier.

My daughters, I learned early in the book, could be described as being at the lower end of the “profoundly gifted” category. As I read through dire warnings of teachers who don’t know what to make of gifted children, I was ever more appreciative of their teachers this year. While my girls have little to say about the research projects they’re working on with their Gifted and Talented teacher, they’re constantly bubbling with news of the extra lessons both their “regular” teachers teach them throughout the day, whether they’re done early with an assignment or seeking more excitement on a test than the basic instructions offer. Both teachers actually spend time with my daughters after school, while I’m still at work, giving them enrichment exercises, feeding their curiosity, and encouraging them to pursue their intellectual interests. I know, we are blessed beyond anything I could ever repay.

I was embarrassed to see myself described in early chapters of A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, the mother who underplays her child’s gifts, claiming that a child is merely a good test taker and not “special” in any other way. I find myself fighting for equity between my daughters by explaining away the small ways in which M is stronger in math and J in critical analysis. When my daughters’ teacher presented their test scores to me, I tried to explain away M’s slightly higher scores. I, proponent of treating all people as individuals, was trying to force my two children into a single mold.

In the early chapters of the book, it served more as a self-help book for me than a guide to dealing with my kids’ above average intelligence. I appreciated the very first words of the introduction: “The Importance of Parents.” I’ve never been one to believe that it is the school’s job to raise my children. Given my kids’ smarts, sending them to school is primarily to help them develop their social skills. I had high hopes for the school I chose for them, but I really lucked out in having several teachers in the dual language program who are committed to nurturing each child in the class as an individual. I’m glad that the girls’ teachers push them, but if they didn’t, filling in that space would be my responsibility, not the school’s.

Unlike some of the other book reviews I’ve written this week, I don’t feel like I can summarize the key points of the book in a way that’s helpful. The thing about giftedness is that it is unique every time. Realizations I had about J didn’t, for the most part, apply to M, or vice versa. I knew I was going to have to advocate for my girls’ academic opportunities and appreciate the guidance the book provides on those issues.

If you have, or suspect you have, a gifted child, I’d recommend reading through this book to find gems that help you be the best parent you can be to the little miracle in your care.

A mother of gifted identical twins reviews this book.

To give you a feel for what’s in the book, here are some chapter subheadings that stood out me:

  • What Exactly is Giftedness?
  • Is My Child Gifted or Just Smart?
  • Punishing the Child for Being Gifted
  • Why Wouldn’t a Gifted Child Be Motivated?
  • Avoid Power Struggles
  • Develop Rules as a Family
  • Types of Perfectionism
  • Depression and Suicide in Gifted Children
  • Peer Comparisons and the Gifted Label
  • Unequal Abilities among Siblings’
  • Does Common Wisdom Apply to Exceptional Children
  • When Parenting Styles Differ
  • When Scores Do Not Match Characteristics
  • Trust Your Own Observations
  • Can’t I Simply Trust the Schools?
  • Financial Support for Gifted Education

Any of these headings jump out at you? If they do, consider checking this book out of you local library.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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NurtureShock – A Book Review

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A review of the child development book NurtureShockNurtureShock: New Thinking About Children is the book that has most influenced my approach to parenting. Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman pored through child development, psychology and eduation literature and highlighted some major ways in which our generation, in trying to do right by our kids, may actually be doing them a disservice.

This isn’t light reading. There’s a lot of information packed in there. The authors report on a lot of practical, relevant research and some philosophically fascinating research. With that second category of information, it’s up to us to figure out practical applications in parenting. Each chapter of the book could easily be its own book. There’s little coherence between the chapters, but that’s okay. It’s not like I had the time to read it in one sitting!

A mother of twins reviews the book NurtureShock

Chapter 1: The Inverse Power of Praise

Sure, he’s special. But new research suggests if you tell him that, you’ll ruin him. It’s a neurobiological fact.

If you’re going to read one chapter of this book, it needs to be this one. I really think this applies to all children. In short, generalized praise that tells your child that her inherent superiority is the source of her success doesn’t build her self-esteem in a way that is lasting or constructive. Instead, make praise specific. Acknowledge effort over talent. Instead of, “You’re so smart,” tell your child, “You worked so hard!”

In one study the authors cite, Dr Carol Dweck’s team gave a group of children a pretty easy test to complete. Half the kids were praised for their smarts, and the other for their effort. They were then offered a choice of two puzzles. The harder one would teach them a lot. Ninety percent of the kids who’d be praised for working hard chose the harder puzzle, while most of the other group elected the easier one.

Kids who know that they’re smart are more likely to give up when they need to put forth effort. Guilty. I was that kid. I’d always been a good student and studied hard, but freshman chemistry in college was the first class in which I was frequently stumped. It took an enormous effort of will for me to stick with it, and the shock of not being the best student in the class hit my sense of worth hard. I’d always been the smart kid; needing to study stole from me the core of my sense of self. It was quite the fall.

Kids who feel valued for being hard workers are likely to stick things out and take greater pride in their accomplishments. My children have been consistently labeled as gifted. I am so glad that I read this book before they started elementary school. Instead of praising my girls for being at the head of their class, I talk to them about doing their best. I’m not disappointed if they come in last if they try their hardest. Doing a lazy job and getting the highest grade in the class? That isn’t an accomplishment.

Not buying it yet? Check out this passage from the chapter.

By the age of twelve, children believe that earning praise from a teacher is not a sign that you did well–it’s actually a sign you lack ability and the teacher thinks you need extra encouragement.

Chapter 2: The Lost Hour

Around the world, children get an hour less sleep than they did thirty years ago. The cost: IQ points, emotional well-being, ADHD, and obesity.

This is a hard one for me. It’s so hard to make enough time for sleep, getting home as late as we do, as much as the kids drag their feet getting ready for bed, as late as their bedtime conversations last. I struggle to value sleep; it just feels like this thing that takes away from the time I could spend living life and getting things done.

Interestingly, even allowing kids to switch their sleep patterns on weekends is detrimental. Dr. Avi Sadeh showed that every hour of sleep shift (going to bed later and waking later) resulted in a 7-point drop on an IQ test. As the authors put it, “The more you learned during the day, the more you need to sleep that night.” (p. 34)

Even more alarming is the fact that after pre-school, children are getting an entire hour less sleep every single night than we did as children. In fact, the authors suggest that the teenage moodiness may be mostly the result of chronic sleep deprivation.

Chapter 3: Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race

Does teaching children about race and skin colour make them better off or worse?

This chapter was really uncomfortable to read. My ex-husband and I must be America’s whitest brown people. His father is of Mexican descent, and his mother is Caucasian. My parents are both Bengali, South Asian – Indian, if you must, although we’re actually from Bangladesh. Neither of us has ever encountered real racism; both military and university environments are meritocracies and we both grew up in open-minded, accepting school systems with open-minded, accepting peers.

Reading this book prompted me to discuss race with my girls, something I’d never done before. We had assumed that the fact that they’re triracial and have friends across the spectrum would be enough to keep them from being prejudiced. Bronson and Merryman call this the “Diverse Environment Theory.”

NurtureShock‘s authors convincingly argue that we’re wrong to refuse to talk about race. They argue that humans look for patterns. Kids don’t assume that groups are random. They look for commonalities and draw conclusions, and it us up to us as parents to encourage them to evaluate their assumptions.

If we don’t talk about the generalizations they’re making, they stick. Bronson and Merryman argue that school desegregation doesn’t bring an end to racism unless race is actually discussed. An example they gave was of an elementary classroom spontaneously discussing Santa’s race after being read a book in which Santa was depicted with black skin.

We all want out children to be unintimidated by differences and have the social skills to integrate in a diverse world. The question is, do we make it worse, or do we make it better, by calling attention to race? (p. 51)

Bronson and Merryman state, “All minority parents at some point tell their children that discrimination is out there, but they shouldn’t let it stop them.” (p. 63) This doesn’t jive with my minority family experience. It was only after reading this chapter that I began to dive into the history of discrimination. They’ve since studied the Civil Rights movement at school.

A few weeks ago, my 7-year-old daughters and I had an interesting conversation about affirmative action and whether it still has a place in our society. That would have never come up had I not read this chapter.

Wow. This review is getting really long. I’d better speed it up. It’s just such a thought-provoking book

Chapter 4: Why Kids Lie

We may treasure honesty, but the research is clear. Most classic strategies to promote truthfulness just encourage kids to be better liars.

When I read this chapter, I was kind of disappointed. I was looking for research-based suggestions on how to teach our children about the value of truth, while also helping them gauge what truths should be spoken where. Parents who have faith in their children’s inherent honesty will certainly be shocked by how much good kids lie. They don’t want to disappoint us and they don’t want to get in trouble. So they lie.

Chapter 5: The Search for Intelligent Life in Kindergarten

Millions of kids are competing for seats in gifted programs and private schools. Admissions officers say it’s an art: science says they’re wrong, 73% of the time.

This chapter was hugely influential for me. My kids are among those who were identified early as gifted. Had I not read this chapter, I would have probably sat happy on those laurels. What I learned, though, was commonsensical enough. Kids bloom at different times. A child who is super-precocious as a 5-year-old may be an average student by middle school. The kid who doesn’t stand out in 1st or 2nd grade may burst into brilliance as a 5th grader. However, our school systems only looked for giftedness once, early in elementary school. We end up with kids in gifted programs who would do better in regular classrooms and miss out on nurturing other children’s genius.

Even worse, the measures of giftedness are limited and miss out on things like emotional intelligence. When I was researching schools for my daughters, I ended up choosing the school district that would allow children into their Gifted and Talented program even if their gifts manifested in only one academic area. While I knew my daughters would qualify in all areas, I wanted them in a program that valued uniqueness and understood that children are individuals.

In December, I read A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, which I’ll review tomorrow. When I was telling my daughter M about it, she observed that her teacher was likely good at teaching gifted children because her own daughter was so smart. Her teacher’s daughter is one of the most emotionally intelligent and insightful children I have ever encountered, but she doesn’t test particularly well. She’s struggled with math and reading. I knew that M’s ability to see her friend’s gifts, despite their not being the ones that most schools acknowledge, was a sign that we were doing something right.

Chapter 6: The Sibling Effect

Freud was wrong. Shakespeare was right. Why siblings really fight.

This is the chapter for MoMs. One observation is that sibling relationships stay qualitatively similar over time, at least as long as they’re living together. Those of us with kids who adore each other now can be pretty confident that their connection with stand the test of time. The bad news is for those whose kids mostly ignore each other. Interestingly, fighting a lot isn’t necessarily bad, if it’s balanced out by fun, fun, fun times.

Conflict prevention is the key, not conflict resolution. Kids as young as four can be taught the skills needed to get along with their siblings. Siblings who can work things out without needing parental intervention are in good shape. The sibling relationship is its own thing, not some reflection of each child’s relationship with their parents or sharing parental attention.

Here’s a showstopper: “One of the best predictors of how well two siblings get along is determine before the birth of the younger child… [The] predictive factor is the quality of the older child’s relationship with his best friend.” Those of us who have multiples first seem to have a major advantage here.

Chapter 7: The Science of Teen Rebellion

Why, for adolescents, arguing with adults is a sign of respect, not disrespect – and arguing is constructive to the relationship, not destructive.

If your teen argues with you, it’s because she still cares about your opinion. The kids who agrees with you all the time is just ignoring you as soon as you’re out of sight. Mind. Blown.

As you’ve probably heard elsewhere, teenagers’ brains just don’t work like adult brains. There’s no point expecting them to. We don’t expect that of our two-year-olds, right?

Chapter 8: Can Self Control Be Taught?

Developers of a new kind of preschool keep losing their grant money – the students are so successful they’re no longer ‘at-risk enough’ to warrant further study. What’s their secret?

I found this chapter less coherent that the others. Teens make bad decisions. A bunch of teens together make such insanely bad decisions, it’s crazy. Young children can be taught self-control by being empowered to set their own boundaries and practicing holding themselves to those boundaries. Tools of the Mind sounds like an amazing educational approach, but good luck finding a school that uses it.

Chapter 9: Plays Well With Others

Why modern involved parenting has failed to produce a generation of angels.

There’s a fascinating insight in this chapter about kids’ TV. Modern children’s educational TV programs, despite attempting to teach positive behaviour, does the opposite. So much time is spent building up a conflict and so relatively little time spent resolving it, the kids absorb the conflict and not the resolution. One way to address it? Let your kids see you fight so that they can see you resolve conflict. If you agree with your spouse not to fight in front of the kids, they still pick up on the tension, but never get to learn from you how to make up. Let your kids know that conflict is a normal part of human life… as is resolving it.

Chapter 10: Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn’t

Despite scientists’ admonitions, parents still spend billions every year on gimmicks and videos, hoping to jump-start infants’ language skills. What’s the right way to accomplish this goal?

Perhaps it’s because my academic background is in linguistics, but this chapter didn’t do anything for me. Social interaction is critical to language development. Responding to your child, even before the child can produce meaningful speech, helps him learn to speak. Reponses can be verbal, tactile, eye contact. All of it matters.

Conclusion:  The Myth of the Supertrait

This book has no that-explains-everything insight. Raising kids is a complex exercise. There’s no one aspect of childhood that fixes everything if you tweak it just right. Well-rounded parenting helps kids.

Pretty straightforward, that, but there were a lot of good details along the way.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Parenting a Prodigy

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Earlier this month, I heard the NPR story “Don’t Call This 12-Year-Old Concert Pianist A Prodigy” on my drive to work. The subject of the story, the pianist Emily Bear, meets every definition I’ve heard of a child prodigy. This 12-year-old’s musical gifts, which were obvious at a year old, are undeniable and inexplicable.

Parenting a Prodigy from hdydi.com
Photo Credit: Nick-K (Nikos Koutoulas)

What struck me the most in the story wasn’t Emily’s genius. It was her mother’s love and pragmatism. “I have a husband,” she said, “and a marriage and three children, not one. And just keeping the balance of all this… Keeping it healthy and happy… The 60 year plan.”

Emily’s mom is a parent after my heart. She sees her whole child, not just the genius. She sees her whole family, not just the brightest star.

My 7-year-old daughters are smart, crazy smart, but they’re no genuises. M sees mathematics in the world around her and thinks that calculating the Fibonacci sequence to 4 digits is fun, but she’s not doing calculus. J’s literary analysis is very advanced, but she’s analyzing Laura Ingalls Wilder, not Nietzsche.

Even though my daughters are merely very intelligent, I feel like I understand in some small measure Emily Bear’s mother’s predicament. I have been entrusted with the care of two exceptional minds. I do what I can to encourage them and give them opportunities to explore and test their limits. At the same time, it is incredibly important that I nurture all the aspects of their personalities, not just their intellectual gifts. I want them be successful not only in school, but in life.

It’s not enough to be smart. My girls also need to be kind, patient, disciplined and generous. I am very fortunate that their current teacher adopts a role encouraging responsible behaviour, and cares about more than just classroom and test performance. J and M have had a tendency to coast on their smarts, but Mrs. H doesn’t allow it.

On Monday, I sent a text message to the girls’ teacher. “Be it known,” said my text, “that I’m not a deadbeat mom. I didn’t exactly fail to check the girls’ Friday journals. I reminded them each once and they never presented them for review.”

J told me later than Mrs. H had told her that she understood her forgetfulness, but that she was disappointed. Then she sheepishly presented me with her journal for review.

My favourite parenting book of all time is Nurtureshock. The first chapter of the book is titled “The Inverse Power of Praise.” The authors argue, based on solid research, that children who are constantly praised for their performance don’t learn the value of effort or how to recover from mistakes. I’m so proud of my daughters that it’s hard to keep myself from praising them, but I do my best to praise their effort. “You got 100%,” I’ll tell M, “but did you do your very best?” The other side is, “I know you didn’t make any goals this season in soccer, but did you do your very best? I don’t care about the goal count. I care about how hard you worked.”

Whether Emily Bear’s mother has read the book, I don’t know, but I have a feeling that she’s well on the way to raising a confident well-rounded young lady who just happens to also be a genius.

Are you tempted to emphasize your children’s gifts? How do you keep the whole child in mind in your parenting?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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"I Had No Idea She Had a Sister"

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Categories Activities, Celebrations, Classroom Placement, From the Mouths of Multiples, Mommy Issues, Other people, Relationships, School, School-AgeTags , , , , , , , , , , , 3 Comments

J is standing in front of wall of art, showing off her paint and collage chameleon.Our local performing arts center recently hosted an exhibition of elementary art from around the school district. One of my twin 6-year-old’s works was selected for display.

I confess that I’d completely forgotten about the open house. When I picked the girls up from after-school care Wednesday, I planned to take them shopping for shoes. They reminded me of our priorities, in a hurry. We made it to the exhibit by the skin of our teeth, a minute before the teachers began to dismantle the displays. While the artwork has been up for several weeks, the open house/teacher meet-and-greet was 2 hours only.

M had been the one to remind me of her sister’s exhibition. “We can’t go shoe shopping,” she told me, “because sisters are much more importanter than selves. We have to see J’s chameleon.”

J spotted her piece within seconds of our arrival. While we were oohing and aahing, her art teacher arrived. Once the handshakes and hugs were over with, the art teacher said to J, “I didn’t know you had a sister!”

“They’re actually in the same grade,” I told her. “Twins.” I immediately felt an urge to slap my forehead. Why did I need to volunteer that? What difference does it make? This was J’s moment to shine.

On cue, M’s art teacher arrived, saw M, hugged her and introduced herself to me. “I just love having M in my class,” she gushed. “She’s such a hard worker, and so articulate!”

J’s teacher looked M’s, and said, “Did you know she had a sister? I had no idea J had a sister!”

“No, I didn’t know. M’s a wonderful student!”

This moment was why I chose to have my girls in separate classrooms. They’re independent enough that I didn’t think it would hurt to be apart, and I wanted them to learn that they excel and are valuable as individuals as well being on display to the world as a pair.

M was a little perturbed on the drive home. “I don’t think I’m a very good artist,” she said. “I wasn’t picked.”

I quickly corrected her. “No, sweetie, that’s not it at all. I think the teachers had to limit themselves to one piece per grade, and yours just wasn’t the one your teacher picked for first grade. You’re an excellent artist.”

M perked right up. “J got picked. I just love her chameleon.”

J was miffed. “You’re just being jealous.”

I started to say, “No,” but M interrupted me. “I’m not jealous! I’m proud of my special Sissy.”

And I’m proud of my special girls.

Sadia’s 6-year-old daughters attend a dual language first grade program in a public school near Austin, TX. She feels very fortunate to be in a school district that can still afford to include music, art and physical education, as well as the Spanish and English immersion experiences. Sadia is a single mom and works in higher education information technology.

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