28 Acts of Kindness for the Gifted
By Joy Navan
Following the tragic shootings in Newtown, Ann Curry of NBC News began a “28 Acts of Kindness” movement that became a global initiative for individuals to honor all who died by performing acts of random kindness to others. This idea resonated with me as I pondered the theme for this month’s Director’s Corner article. Rather than offer my individual perspective alone, I asked my fellow SENG Directors for their ideas as well. What follows are our ideas of how to meet the social and emotional needs of our gifted children.
1. Love them for who they are. I remember the mother of a university freshman tell me several years ago that her daughter encountered difficulty with her academics for the first time when she entered college. This is the case with many gifted children. What struck me most was the daughter’s response when her mother began to question how this could happen, since she had always been a straight A student. The daughter exclaimed, “Mom, why can’t you just love me for who I am, not for what I can do!” Our children receive so much attention for their achievements and we, as their parents, educators and counselors, have to help them (and ourselves) keep perspective.
2. Honor their unique self. This is a lesson from my mentor, Annemarie Roeper, whose words reverberate in my mind anytime I begin an assessment or consultation. Her words, “The child is the only agenda,” remind us that each child has the right to be recognized, honored and respected for their own, unique personality.
3. Tell them about giftedness. One of the discoveries that most surprises me when working with gifted children and their parents is that most parents were never told what their own or their children’s giftedness meant in terms of how they process, feel, and respond differently. Many of the older children I work with still wonder what the label gifted means. Talk to gifted children about their abilities and their emotions. We do not necessarily need to use the “G” word, but it is important that children understand that they may process ideas and stimuli differently from others, and that there is nothing wrong with their feelings and reactions. Share with them the benefits of their gifts and the “scary” parts as well (e.g., of their intensities or their active imagination). Let them learn to embrace the things that make them special and encourage them to soar.
4. Teach them mindfulness, or other relaxation techniques. We recognize the intensities in gifted children, and we are often at a loss as to how to respond to them. Keep in mind that our children are in the same situation—feeling their intensities and not knowing how to channel them in constructive and creative ways. By our modeling and practicing mindfulness meditations and teaching them how to self-soothe and relax when they feel they will explode, we help them throughout their lives. These practices will most likely have positive health benefits. Thus, we can allow their creative intensities to shine, while at the same time giving them the tools to moderate overstimulation that may be a less- positive product of their heightened sensitivities.
5. Embrace their passions and celebrate the little things. I remember a young girl that I mentored who, at age 5, greeted me one day with creek water to examine under her microscope. As we worked with different slides, she quickly identified paramecium and remarked on other features. Not only did we celebrate her discovery, but I realized that she needed to be able to explore other microscopic life and processes. Since I did not have much more background in the area than high school biology, we quickly googled paramecium to learn about the cilia, micronucleus, and more. That seemingly minor experience and the learning that her parents and I were able to search out for her as a result of embracing her passion helped direct her to her current studies as an M.D. Ph.D. student in neuroscience.
6. Let them know that perfection is not necessary, but stick by them if they insist on it. This suggestion from one of our SENG Directors is a unique way of looking at the perfectionism that so many of our gifted kids experience. Perfectionism is not necessarily a bad thing since it motivates us to do our best, to go beyond, to be creative in the natural sense of the word by generating unique thoughts or products. Perfectionism can also be debilitating if it causes us to shut down as if we are saying, “If I cannot do it perfectly, I won’t even try.” By communicating to gifted children that they can endeavor to be the best at those pursuits that interest them the most, while also helping them to understand that they can also decide to be less than perfect in other activities, not only helps them cope with perfectionism tendencies but empowers them with choice, an important step toward self-regulation and other positive psychosocial qualities.
7. See their world from their perspective. One of the SENG Directors shared the following, powerful words of wisdom. “Remember, I am a child. I need to be outside, to be social and have friends, and I need help in mastering intensity—mine and yours, silliness and stupidity.”
Space is not available to expand on each of the many wonderful suggestions my fellow directors shared with me. Therefore, I must present the last of our 28 acts of kindness for the gifted in list form, knowing that they will resonate with our readers and prompt them to offer their own ideas of how to be kind to gifted individuals—children, adult, the aging. Please feel free to share them on our SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) Facebook page.
8. Keep your door (and heart) open and welcome, while at the same time respecting their right to private thoughts.
9. Arrange social and enrichment experiences with other gifted kids so that they can share things that excite them with others who will understand.
10. Teach them about other gifted people who have done amazing things so that they will feel heartened and learn from the lead of great role models.
11. Help them to explore the world, acknowledging that every culture is relevant and has the right to be preserved. This will encourage them to be more understanding and less judgmental.
12. If you know a parent of gifted children, offer some respite care. Plus, give them a spa basket (fluffy socks, chocolate, and a mindless or humorous book).
13. Give a gifted child unsolicited compliments on effort, not end product.
14. Offer to listen, as long as it takes.
15. Allow them the space to not have to be “on.”
16. Encourage self-care —physical, mental, spiritual.
17. Allow them a specified space to be messy.
18. Applaud their journeys of exploration.
19. Never compare. My mantra has always been the line from Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata, “for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”
20. Find them a mentor in their field of passion.
21. Play, cherish, and share the spontaneous moments.
22. Allow them to march to the beat of their own drum, no matter what the rhythm.
23. Love life and pass that love on to them.
24. Allow them to take risks while you are there to support them.
25. Teach them to listen to their own emotions. They are a great compass.
26. Advocate for gifted education opportunities where gifted kids have a place to fit in and blossom.
27. Educate yourself about the emotional side of giftedness by taking advantage of SENG’s opportunities (sengifted.org).
28. Hugs, hugs, hugs!
My sincere gratitude to the SENG Directors; without their great suggestions this would not have been written.