Finding Sanctuary in an Unsafe World

Welcome to the SENG Blog Tour, if that is what brought you here today!

National Parenting Gifted Children Week is hosted by SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted).

Download SENG’s free NPGC Week ebook, The Joy and the Challenge: Parenting Gifted Children, and get the low-down on the tour.

I hope you’ll explore the other bloggers and take some time to look through previous posts on this blog. I’d love to hear from you, so let me know what you think!

Today’s topic is sanctuary.

In Victor Hugo’s classic novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” Quasimodo carries his one true love into the cathedral of Notre Dame for protection under the law of sanctuary. His plan ultimately fails, but the idea of sanctuary, or a place of safety, endures. We all need and seek sanctuary – havens of security where we can be ourselves without fear. For gifted kids, that sanctuary can be hard to find. I’m not comparing gifted kids to Quasimodo – just their circumstances. Even among gifted peers, children may not find kids who share the same interests, and so their intelligence becomes the only common denominator between them.

How can we help high ability kids find sanctuary? Here are five ideas for helping a gifted child find a place of social safety in a world that is increasingly unsafe for them:

1) Home. We simply cannot overstate the impact of acceptance within the home of a gifted child’s unique ability and interests. This does not simply include the immediate family, but the extended family as well. Some grandparents may compare high ability grandchildren with those of more typical ability and create an unhealthy dynamic in which achievement is praised, but what is perceived as undesirable behavior in the form of questioning authority, etc., is not. How to help extended family understand the gifted child? The same way we did…connection, reading, discussion. We can pass on articles we find, we can subscribe them to Parenting for High Potential, or we can ask them to join us in a SENG Webinar. We can also examine ourselves closely to make sure we’re not excusing poor behavior that can be corrected simply because a child is gifted. Gifted and pleasant to be around are not mutually exclusive.

2) School. If there is a gifted parents group, join it. If not, start one – either for your campus or for the district. With the pervasiveness of social media, it is not expensive to connect with people. Set up a table at open house and be amazed. Find out what kids are participating in the activities associated with high ability – Destination Imagination, chess clubs, reading round-ups, Math Counts, etc. – and try to connect with their parents. Even if your child is not interested in that particular activity, you may find that they have other common interests. Invite kids over to actually do something, rather than just “play.” People connect when they are engaged together. Make no-bake cookies. Do a science experiment. Have a game night. Try different popcorn toppings. Make the environment conducive to connection by making it active.

3) Community. One hallmark of high ability kids is their refusal to recognize the division between old and young. They are more than willing to have authentic conversations with older people. Use this to your advantage. Find activities in the community, either through the library, parks department, or other civic organizations, that interest your child and don’t be put off by the fact that the other participants may be older. Much older. One friend of mine took her son who is obsessed with trains to a model train group where the average age of participants is about 70. He fit right in. If your son likes to knit, find knitting groups. If your daughter likes to practice her German, find a gruppe. You may need to attend with the child, but that’s okay – you’ll learn something, too.

4) Join. Join NAGC. Affiliate with SENG. Sign your kid up for Mensa. You may find others in your area who are also struggling with the same issues. In my role as Mensa’s Gifted Youth Specialist, I would say that the number one request I get from parents is information on how they can connect with others in their area. By attending events, connecting through social media, chatting by email, or talking on the phone, you can shorten distances between people, rendering geographic distance no hindrance to connection. Through services like Skype or epals, your child can make friends around the world. Do all of your friends live down the street? Of course not. In today’s world, we don’t necessarily even see our friends who live close by any more often than those who live far away. Strange, but true. The upside of this is that distance is no longer a barrier.

5) Forward think. It will get better. Help your child develop the social skills necessary to find and make friends, even if there are no soul mates in your area. Teach active listening, sharing, how not to dominate a conversation (uh, still working on this myself), and being willing to try new things. Share stories of people you met who became good friends as you got older. Take advantage of transition times (beginning of school years, beginning of summer, holidays, a move, etc.) to try to reach out to new people. See if you can help your child plan for the upcoming school year with not only academic, but also social planning. Where is he/she most likely to find friends? How can he/she hold off judgment on whether someone would be a good friend or not long enough to give the person a chance? Enlist the teacher to help. Explain that you are looking for friends for your child, and ask if he/she would keep an eye out. The teacher probably knows kids in other grades and classes and may be in a good position to notice similarities in interests or personality. If so, ask the teacher to share your contact information with the other parent.

Through reaching out and planning, our children can find sanctuary in our hectic world, even without the gargoyles of Notre Dame.

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