My daughter is gifted and sensitive. I don’t say this be be elitist, because frankly it’s usually far from a walk in the park. I think most of the world sees being gifted as doing well in school, learning quickly, and being easy to deal with. The dictionary defines “gifted” as “having exceptional talent or natural ability or capability.” It defines “sensitive” as “having or displaying a quick and delicate appreciation of others’ feelings.”
Although some of those things sometimes apply to a gifted child, the true meaning of gifted extends into places that most people wouldn’t consider. Gifted means too much information coming in, and the storing of more information at once, but also the forgetting of more information, without always the proper designation of store vs. forget on each piece of data. It means more pushing boundaries and using constant tests to determine how the world works. It means digging into topics of interest and needing more information and material to be satisfied. It means wanting everything to be easy or to be right all of the time, even when you can’t be. It’s picking up the twelve intermediate steps and skipping to the end, to the answer you already know. It’s trying to make those connections and pathways even if the connection doesn’t exist.
To a child, sensitive means perceiving the world in ways that other people’s brains learn to ignore. It means picking up on social cues beyond the level of understanding of the child, and trying them out, or spending time thinking about them in depth. It means that when you feel strong emotions, they can grow and develop beyond the level where most people can function, and often beyond the level that there is any hope of coming down from until something shocks you out of it. It means realizing that the child around the corner doesn’t want to play with you even though they’ve never said so, and feeling dejected for the rest of the day. Sensitive means sensory overload in crowded rooms or noisy places, leading to hyperactive behaviour or withdrawal. It means noticing all of the little things people tend to ignore and filing them away for use later.
For us, having a gifted and sensitive child can be a constant challenge. When my in-laws visited, all they could say was, “We don’t have any ideas. He was easy. She’s…not.” I home educate my daughter to keep her from getting bored in the public school system. We use advanced curriculum that focuses on depth of knowledge, and allow her freedom to read multiple times daily. When she starts to get frustrated by her work, we stop for a dance break or work on calming down. I am slowly teaching her that some learning is only done by trial and error, and some of the best advances come from mistakes. When she notices something beyond her maturity level, we discuss it honestly but make her aware that it is inappropriate to emulate or share right now, and only delve as far as is appropriate and will help her feel answered. When she works herself up, talking doesn’t help. Reason doesn’t help. Holding her doesn’t help. She just needs time on her own. We work on practicing calming techniques before she gets so emotional that she refuses to do them. We try to use appropriate language, but she doesn’t always follow our lead. When she yells, whines, or interrupts, we let her know that her behaviour is inappropriate and wait for more appropriate behaviour. When she jumps ahead to an incorrect answer, repeatedly, while I’m trying to help her learn the thought process to get the right answer, I remind her to back up, slow down, and follow along with me, addressing where her thought process needs to head in a different direction. We use logic and aren’t afraid to tell her “no” when she is demanding and persistent.
Before someone says, “Lots of kids are sensitive to milk. Try taking her off milk products for a while,” we have tried that. And yes, we got it all – I’m extremely lactose intolerant and can’t touch anything that might have touched milk, so I know everywhere it’s hiding. Nothing changed. It’s not a problem with her environment, it’s who she is and how her brain functions. I love my daughter dearly, and will always work to help her develop tools to better navigate the world, but man, she’s a challenge!
Do you have a gifted or sensitive child? What do you find helps in your situation? Comment below.