Sunday, August 21, 2016

Back to school tips for gifted teens, middle schoolers, and their parents

Got a gifted teen? Need some tips about helping them through middle school or high school? With school starting soon, I thought I would compile some of my posts about gifted adolescents. I hope they help!

Getting through school

Back to school blues: Why gifted teens dread returning to school
Some gifted teens look forward to starting back to school. But many do not. Many are filled with anxiety, foreboding and dread. At best, they may anticipate another year of boredom and disappointment. At worst, they are consumed with fears about academic performance or social isolation. Read more...

Public High School survival guide for gifted students
Most public schools scramble to meet the educational needs of gifted children. What also must be considered is the social milieu and if it will foster confident and well-adjusted students, or suppress and inhibit their drive to learn. Can a public high school offer the enrichment, variety of experiences, and enough like-minded peers to provide a safe haven for gifted adolescents? Read more...

Caught in the middle: How to help gifted children survive the middle school years
Just when life seemed manageable, middle school-aged children face confusion and uncertainty. Social demands, hormonal changes, and a burgeoning sense of independence challenge the self that once was. New worlds unfold, and the old rules from elementary school don't work any more. Neither child nor adult, they must discover who they are and how to define themselves. Read more...

Difficult passage: Gifted girls in middle school
Something happens between elementary and high school that dampens the spirit for far too many gifted girls. Middle school is difficult for most children, and certainly creates challenges for gifted students. But gifted girls face social, academic and developmental hurdles that can reduce their burning drive to smoldering ashes. Read more...

There is life after high school - even for gifted teens
The trajectory from an unremarkable early education to an enriching experience in college is common for many gifted individuals. Discouraged high school students need to remind themselves that opportunities await them after graduation. Read more...

Academic Struggles

What causes gifted underachievement?
Although some gifted children lose interest in academics early on, most underachieving gifted students don't start to disengage from learning until middle school and high school. At that point in their development, there is a perfect storm. Read more...

Ten reasons why your gifted child procrastinates
Before you nag your child one more time, rush out and buy yet another self-help book, or hit your head against the wall, you may first want to sort out the reasons for the procrastination. Usually there are one or more contributing factors, and if you sort these out, you may be better prepared to tackle the problem. Read more...

Strategic practice (it's not how much, but how)
Those who approached learning strategically with an emphasis on ensuring that they would not repeat their mistakes received consistently higher ratings. What seems clear is that how we practice is essential. Read more...

Social and emotional adjustment

Tips for taming test anxiety (because even gifted kids get anxious)
Many gifted children, adolescents and college students suffer from disabling test anxiety that affects performance, achievement and self-esteem. Test anxiety pops up at the most inopportune times, and can be completely unexpected, an occasional nuisance, or a chronic obstacle. Its origins may be simple or complex, and whether you are a sufferer or the parent of one, you can learn how to overcome this burden. Read more...

Different than the rest: Social challenges of gifted adolescents
While some gifted teens appear oblivious to social cues, seemingly immersed in intellectual or artistic pursuits, many more are acutely aware of social interactions. They stand back, observe, and develop elaborate theories about the cliques, peer exchanges and social drama unfolding before them. Those who are bystanders may hesitate before venturing into the fray, or remain tied to small groups of like-minded peers. Even seemingly disengaged gifted teens may be more aware of the social climate than their behavior suggests. Read more...

Is your gifted teen socially isolated?
Gifted teens, in particular, may struggle to fit in and find their niche; they may withdraw after years of feeling different from peers, unable to find friends who truly understand them. It can be heartbreaking to watch your child stay home night after night - even if you don't have to worry about parties and alcohol. Read more...

Tips for helping your socially isolated teen
While spending time alone may not necessarily signal a problem, such as when an introverted child is immersed in a creative project or when there are few like-minded peers available, sometimes withdrawal can be cause for concern. When time alone is excessive, reflects a sudden change in behavior, is a symptom of distress or an emotional/behavioral problem, involves an internet "addiction," or reflects a chronic pattern of social avoidance or interpersonal difficulties, parents may need to get involved. Read more...

Why do smart girls develop eating disorders?
 If there is a genetic/biochemical predisposition to develop an eating disorder, along with life event triggers, these "gifted" traits may get channeled into obsessive thoughts about food and a drive to achieve an unrealistic weight. Read more...

When does therapy benefit gifted adolescents?
Therapists can help teens manage the social and emotional "baggage" often associated with giftedness. Common characteristics such as introversion, oversensitivity, asynchronous development, and attunement to moral injustice can make adolescence even more trying. Other examples include social anxiety, perfectionism, harsh expectations of self and others, underachievement, family demands, sibling conflicts, unresolved distress related to bullying or peer rejection, shame associated with failed accomplishments, and ambivalence about career goals.

Planning for college

Ten essential tips to help your gifted teen plan for college
With all of the competition, uncertainty and financial risk involved, gifted children need as much advice and support as any other child. And sometimes the stakes are even higher, given the potential for merit scholarships, and the importance of finding a college community of like-minded peers. But without sound advice, many miss out on opportunities that could give them an advantage. Read more...

Five tips gifted students need to consider when choosing a college
Students and parents know from personal experience that the quality of education in elementary and high school varies. Teachers, peers, educational materials, and expectations can be vastly different from one class to another, and certainly from one school to another. Why would this differ for college? When gifted teens go to mainstream colleges, they may feel adrift, fail to find a niche of like-minded peers, and never receive the education they need. Read more...

Wishing everyone a productive, meaningful, fun, and stress-free school year!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Understanding the gifted from a unique perspective: An interview

With the release of "Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-being of Gifted Adults and Youth," author Paula Prober has agreed to an interview about her new book.

Available now on Amazon, this engaging read uses the metaphor of a rainforest mind to offer a unique perspective on giftedness. It also provides useful tips to help gifted individuals and families weather the emotional ups and downs associated with being gifted. Learn more about the book below:

Gail: What messages and understanding about Rainforest Minds (RFMs) do you most hope readers will take away from this book?

Paula: I hope that readers will gain a greater understanding of their rainforest minds, and find tools that they can use that will move them toward more self-acceptance, self-confidence and to a life of authenticity, meaning and purpose.

Gail: You have a very comprehensive history - as a teacher, a gifted education teacher and a psychotherapist. How does this combination of experiences inform your understanding of RFMs and gifted individuals?

Paula: My first experience with gifted children was in the schools when I was in my mid-twenties. Over those years, I worked with students in grades 1-8 and I got to see their academic frustrations and needs along with their social-emotional struggles. I saw how important  it was for them to interact with each other and to work at their own pace on projects that interested them. I loved the work because the kids were such sensitive, empathetic, and eager learners when the educational setting was flexible and intellectually stimulating.
Now, as a psychotherapist, I counsel gifted adults and consult with parents. My years with the kids has given me a foundation of understanding so that I can identify giftedness fairly readily, help clients sort through their gifted traits and understand how giftedness affected their experiences in childhood, both at home and at school. If they're dealing with anxiety or depression, for example, I'm able to help them determine the roots of the symptoms, as they learn how the rainforest-minded traits influenced their life. Then they can differentiate that from dysfunctional family issues or trauma. We stop pathologizing giftedness!

Gail: You write about various traits seen amont RFMs that tend to create impediments - oversensitivity, perfectionism, existential depression, loneliness, for example. Does any one particular trait stand out to you as the most difficult barrier these individuals face?

Paula: I don't think there's one that stands out because there are so many variables. That said, I do see loneliness as an issue quite often. The sensitivities, intensities, perfectionism, etc. can all be addressed within the person. But finding friends and partners requires circumstances and situations often beyond one's control. So perhaps, that's the most difficult barrier.

Gail: You convey a general impression that many gifted people and RFMs often have difficulty recognizing and understanding their giftedness. What do you recommend to help them appreciate more about who they are?

Paula: Gifted folks often know how much they don't know, link giftedness to high achievement and care deeply about justice and fairness. So they tend not to recognize and to minimize their abilities. They often don't realize that sensitivity, empathy, and perfectionism are indications of rainforest minds.
They may not know that acknowledging giftedness isn't about competition or proving their worth, but is a way to understand their struggles and then find their particular path(s) in life. I recommend books (Jacobsen's The Gifted Adult and my book), blogs (yours and mine!), and online groups (Gifted Homeschoolers Forum,, And many other resources depending on the individual.

Gail: At the end of each chapter in your book, you offer ideas and advice for embracing one's giftedness and finding solutions to improve a sense of well-being. How does someone know when they need to move beyond these suggestions and seek professional help?

Paula: Here are some signs one needs to seek professional help: frequent bouts of anxiety that feel out of control and frightening, repeated over-reactions to your child's emotional intensity or boundary testing, frequent periods of overwhelm with an inability to self-soothe, rage responses to minor events, serious depression, patterns of unhealthy and/or abusive relationships with friends and partners, frequent feelings of unworthiness or self-hatred, a history of serious childhood abuse or trauma.

Gail: Do you have any additional thoughts that you would like to share?

Here are some related links:
Description of my book:
Webinar on gifted adults:
What therapists need to know about rainforest-minded clients:
How to find a psychotherapist:
Website about social and emotional issues among the gifted:        

Monday, August 8, 2016

Tips for helping your socially isolated gifted teen

We know that social isolation can have a negative impact on teens, affecting their quality of life, and increasing the risk for depression and even suicide. We also know that gifted teens, in particular, may face isolation at times, as they wrestle with interpersonal challenges in a peer culture where they struggle to fit in.

How can you help your socially isolated teen?

In Part I of this series, "Is your gifted teen socially isolated?" some of the causes of social isolation were outlined. While spending time alone may not necessarily signal a problem, such as when an introverted child is immersed in a creative project or when there are few like-minded peers available, sometimes withdrawal can be cause for concern. When time alone is excessive, reflects a sudden change in behavior, is a symptom of distress or an emotional/behavioral problem, involves an internet "addiction," or reflects a chronic pattern of social avoidance or interpersonal difficulties, parents may need to get involved.

What should you do?

As a parent, you need to gather information and sort out whether time spent alone is harmless, a behavior that prevents your child from enjoying her teen years to their fullest, or is a symptom of something even more troubling. The first step involves speaking openly with your child, despite any resistance you might encounter. You know your child best, so identify the ideal time and place where she might be most receptive to communicating. An additional challenge can involve finding words that won't set your child into a tailspin of defensiveness. The following are some suggestions for expressing your concerns:

  • Initial questions (opening questions that are least likely to evoke defensiveness):
"I see you're not going over Jake's house any more, or going to any parties. Is that OK with you?"
"You've been sleeping a lot lately. Are you feeling OK, or is it just hard to get out of bed sometimes?"
"I know you were pretty upset last week when you were overlooked for that award. Lots of times, things like that linger and bother people for a while. I wonder if that might be bothering you - and if it is, maybe we could come up with ideas for not letting it be so bothersome any more." 

What if this doesn't work? 

If these basic openings don't get you very far, and your teen just shrugs or responds with monosyllables, you may need to press further. Of course, it is always ideal to use "I" statements, to try to keep your anxiety to yourself, and to withhold judgments about your teen or his friends' behaviors.

  • More specific questions (examples):
"I see that you have been spending a lot more time in your room than you used to, and I am just checking in to make sure you are OK and that there isn't something going on that is upsetting you. I know you might not want to talk about it, but as your parent, I love you and am always there to talk if you need to." 
"I couldn't help but overhear you crying in your room. It is almost impossible to ignore you when you are that upset, so I want to check in with you. Please let me know how I can help you sort out whatever is bothering you."
"I realize that going to big events like dances have been kind of hard for you. Feeling uncomfortable and anxious feels awful, I know... but missing out is no fun either. There are ways around this. Please let me help you figure out what might help make these events easier for you."

And if that still doesn't work... 

If you still get very little feedback, or if your child's behavior warrants more serious attention, you may need to assert yourself even more strongly.

  • The most assertive questions (examples):
"I know you don't like it when I ask about your social life, but I am concerned about how little time you're spending with friends. You used to like to see them, and now you never go out. It is very unlike you to stay home all the time and I can't help but think that something is going on or that something is bothering you. If there is something upsetting you, please let me know. I love you and am here to help you sort out whatever is going on"
"I am concerned that you aren't eating much lately and seem to be up half of the night. You have been looking unhappy, and I know you haven't wanted to talk about it, but I can't overlook the fact that something is wrong. We need to figure out what is bothering you and come up with ideas that might help." 
"When you say things like 'nothing matters much to me anymore' it really concerns me. I know you might roll your eyes, but as your parent, I just have to ask you: have you ever thought that you wanted to hurt yourself or didn't want to live? If that ever crossed your mind, you need to tell me. There are a lot of things that you can keep private, but keeping those kinds of thoughts to yourself is not an option."

If your teen still refuses to talk to you, it may be time to insist that she speak with another trusted adult, such as her pediatrician, spiritual leader, a trusted family friend, close relative, or even a coach or music teacher. Sometimes another adult may be able to get her talking and convince her to speak with you.

The next step

Gathering information from your child, even if it is accompanied by initial resistance or conflict, will give you an idea about the scope of the problem. As long as it does not reflect an emotional or behavioral problem (e.g., depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm) which requires professional help, you can start to guide your child toward finding a solution.

1. Exploring new ideas

Ask your teen to identify as many reasons as possible for the problem. Brainstorming is an important tool for recognizing a range of available possibilities and for curtailing any tendency to quickly form conclusions without evaluating all of the facts. For example, your child may assume that a friend is not speaking to him because he doesn't like him any more. You might ask your child to write a list of at least ten other reasons why his friend could be avoiding him. Even if most of the reasons seem far-fetched, it will help your child shake loose some of the rigid beliefs and preconceived notions that perpetuate his assumptions.

2. Identifying strategies

Once your teen has brainstormed a list of reasons for the problem, help her identify strategies for managing the situation. These can include changing the situation or removing the offending agent (e.g., switching out of a class that is causing distress), taking action (e.g., telling her friend what is upsetting her), or changing her attitude (e.g., recognizing how her insecurity or self-doubt contribute to negative expectations about herself). Encourage her to sort out the benefits and drawbacks of each strategy and to come up with a plan of action, along with a back-up plan.

3. Encouraging autonomy when possible

Offer to help - but encourage your child's autonomy. Invite him to make his own decisions every step of the way - even when this is hard for you. Ask if you can offer your opinions and ideas; however, if he comes up with a solution you think will be harmful, let him know your reservations - even if he doesn't want to hear it. Using "I" statements helps with any suggestions you might offer (e.g., "I have found that pushing myself to go to things I don't like helps me overcome my fear. What do you think about that strategy for you?"). Sharing your own experiences can be helpful at times (e.g., I was shy when I was your age, too), but long drawn-out stories might be met with eye-rolling. And be straightforward about any decisions that would directly affect him, such as speaking to his teacher. Otherwise, he might feel blindsided and start to lose trust.

 4. Working behind the scenes.

As much as encouraging autonomy is important, you are still the adult and have the insight and access to information your child lacks. It may be up to you to find additional resources for your child or initiate changes. If her school is an unrelenting problem, with few available options for academic enrichment or contact with like-minded peers, it may fall on you to search for another educational environment (assuming this is financially possible). If she cannot find a peer group at school, you may need to research extra-curricular activities that will spark her interest and passion. Summer camps, such as SIG and CTY provide a safe place for gifted children to convene, and specialty camps based on interests ranging from coding to music to robotics can be a much-needed refuge for these children. Financial aid and scholarships are sometimes available.

5. Finding support 

Sometimes brainstorming, changing the situation, and devising even the most creative plans aren't enough. Sometimes your gifted teen might need therapeutic support. While this is most apparent when there is an emotional or behavioral component to the isolation, it can also help your teen cope with the vicissitudes of gifted overexcitabilities and oversensitivities, all of which can complicate life for these amazing kids. Shyness, social anxiety, asynchronous development, an acute awareness of social injustice, feeling different from peers - all of these can take their toll. Gifted adolescents benefit from the support, guidance and input of licensed mental health professionals experienced with giftedness, who can help them embrace their strengths, accept who they are, and find solutions that will address their isolation.

What strategies have helped your child?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Is your gifted teen socially isolated?

Parents typically worry about their socially active teens - out with friends, going to parties, running off to do who knows what.

But what happens when your child seems socially isolated or withdrawn?

Gifted teens, in particular, may struggle to fit in and find their niche; they may withdraw after years of feeling different from peers, unable to find friends who truly understand them. It can be heartbreaking to watch your child stay home night after night - even if you don't have to worry about parties and alcohol.

We know that social isolation can have negative effects for teens. It can impact their quality of life, result in feelings of sadness, emptiness, and low self-esteem, and is associated with an increased risk for depression and even suicide.

What can you do?

The first step is determining whether your teen's time alone is cause for concern. Gifted adolescent behavior can be mislabeled or misdiagnosed, and your child's time alone may not necessarily reflect a problem. Several examples include the following:

  • Your teen might be an introvert who prefers time alone to recharge, immerse himself in creative ideas, or engage in solo activities. A high proportion of gifted people have been identified as introverts, so it is possible your child might be one. 

  • Your child is adapting to the reality that she has few friends who share her view of the world. She may feel different from her peers, and has accepted that until she graduates, she would rather entertain herself than conform to her peer group's expectations. Also, if asynchronous development is an aspect of her giftedness, her social skills and interests may not correspond with those of students her age.

  • Your teen could be engrossed in a sudden new interest that sparks his imagination and excitement. If he seems enthused, energized and can barely come up for air, it might be a temporary immersion in a new passion where he is in a state of creative "flow." As long as he still takes some time for friends and family, the intensity may fade and he should eventually find more balance in his activities.

Sometimes, though, spending time alone can signal a problem, especially if it is:

  • excessive (your child rarely spends time with family or any friends). Even introverts need to socialize. Refusing to socialize much at all or abstaining from almost every social event can be a sign that your child is feeling distressed, or at the very least, lonely and isolated.

  • a sudden change in behavior (a highly or even moderately social child suddenly withdraws). Any dramatic shift in behavior can signal emotional distress, an upsetting fall-out with friends, or feelings of guilt or shame related to some real or perceived misdeed.

  • accompanied by other signs of distress (depression, anxiety, panic attacks, an increase in angry outbursts, a change in sleeping or eating patterns, self-destructive behaviors, eating disorders or substance abuse). These symptoms need to be taken seriously and often require some supportive treatment.

  • a symptom of a long-standing, problematic pattern that causes your child to withdraw (such as excessive shyness, social anxiety, low self-esteem or poor body image, trauma resulting from previous incidents of bullying, or interpersonal difficulties due to feeling like an outlier from peers, asynchronous development, or even an autism spectrum disorder). Even if these behaviors are long-standing, they can contribute to further distress and isolation and often warrant some form of intervention or treatment.

  • a reflection of what might be considered an internet "addiction,"  (where your teen seems excessively preoccupied with screen time, prefers video/computer activities to time with friends, and/or forms online relationships through games that become his primary source of support). Most teens are attached to their phones, but when the above listed signs are present, it can signal a problem.

If your teen seems socially isolated, what is the next step?

It is critical to identify the severity of the problem and potential for long-term consequences. A temporary reaction to conflict with a close friend is quite different from clinical depression. First, see if you can help your child put the problems in perspective, brainstorm ideas that might remedy the situation (such as finding more options for meeting like-minded peers), or come up with a plan to remove the offending agent (such as dropping a class or reducing screen time). If a distressing situation seems like it may persist - anything from despair over classes that cannot meet her needs to mental health symptoms - action is needed. Speaking directly with school counselors or seeking therapeutic support with a licensed mental health professional can be essential. More specifics about how you can help your socially isolated teen will follow in Part II of this series.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education page blog hop on Social Issues. To see more blogs, click on the following link: