Will Life Always Be This Sad?

This is the first post in a series I’ll be doing on overexcitabilities (OEs) – the intensities that gifted kids often exhibit. There are 5 OEs: emotional, intellectual, psychomotor, sensual, and imaginational.

My 10 year old daughter and I love going to the theater, particularly musicals. We’ve seen several this last year, all with happy feel-good endings. Recently we got last minute tickets to see King Kong. The puppet was an amazing 2 story-tall gorilla, manned by 13 puppeteers, with an incredibly expressive face.

Before the show – and tears – started

The moment he appeared on the stage, my daughter started crying. She was scared for him when he was being attacked, she was upset when he was captured and wouldn’t eat, and finally she was devastated when he was killed and fell. She rationally knew that he was a puppet and not alive, but she still cried the whole way home. In a quiet moment later she asked, “Will life always be this sad?”.

A common characteristic of gifted kids is the intensity of their emotions, the depth of their feelings. The highs are high, and the lows are low. One minute they’re laughing and playing outside, the next they’re crying quietly about a worm on the sidewalk. They’re often described as ‘dramatic’ or ‘overly emotional’, told to toughen up or ‘get over it’ and are perceived as being immature. They also find beauty in simple objects or music, and are perceptive to how other’s are feeling. They empathize with a particularly expressive puppet. Kids in my class with high emotional overexcitability (OE) will be able to tell if I’m not feeling well even if I think I’m hiding it well. They are observant, sensitive, and deep feelers.

Of all the intensities, the emotional OE can be trickiest to handle. They relive upsetting events as if they were occurring all over again, have deep connections with people and objects, can have outbursts when they feel they are misunderstood or not being listened to. To them, what they are feeling is real and serious, even if it seems trivial to us.

As gifted kids become teenagers, the emotional OE can change from outward to inward. Depression and anxiety are unfortunately all too common in these kids. They have been told for years that their emotions are ‘wrong’, ‘babyish’, or ‘overly dramatic’. They learn to keep these feelings inside and attempt to manage them on their own. All teenagers experience strong emotions, but for gifted teens with an emotional OE, it can be an especially difficult time. Carve out time to spend one on one together to check in, watch their daily habits to make sure they aren’t withdrawing, and encourage get togethers with friends and like-minded peers. A therapist who understands giftedness is always a good option too!

For parents, it’s important for these kids to have a safe space to express their emotions and feel validated. It’s easy to be frustrated when your 5 year old refuses to throw away the rotting pumpkin because she loves it and it’s perfect (yes, this happened in our house every year for several years). Rather than saying “It’s just a pumpkin!”, have your child draw a picture of it, keep the stem in a special box, plant the seeds together in the yard. Most importantly, let them know that it’s ok to be sad that it’s rotting, and that their emotions are part of what makes them so special. Simply sitting with them and letting them know that you’re there for them can help pave the way to a healthy sense of self and expression.

My favorite piece of advice for parents with intense children is “Don’t try to navigate in the middle of a hurricane”. If your child is extremely upset about something you just have to ride it out; whatever advice you give will go to waste until they are calmer. It may take 5 minutes or 3 days, but once the initial storm has passed, work through the experience with them. Teach them constructive ways to verbalize their feelings or express themselves through journalling, art, movement. And again – validate their feelings! If they have the outlets and know they are safe and without judgement, they can thrive and grow with their emotional intensity rather than try to suppress it.

Overexcitabilities are part of being gifted, and just like being gifted, they don’t go away. And thank goodness! With awareness and understanding we can help to foster these intensities to encourage the empathy, creativity, and connections.

Just Say No….to soccer

Peewee soccer is a rite of passage for most kids. The little uniforms, running around in packs after the ball, orange slices afterward. But for gifted kids – as with most things – it’s more complicated than just playing a game.

Giftedness begins at birth: the intensity, emotion, sensitivities all start at the beginning. Some are described as colicky or just plain hard. Gifted boys in particular have boundless energy as soon as they start moving. So it makes sense that parents look for any outlet to spend that energy, and soccer is a popular choice (although not the only one – similar complications can arise from basically any team sport that involves a ball). The trouble often begins at the first ‘practice’. Let’s take a walk through what that might look like:

The kids and parents arrive at a presumably new location. Most kids are running around, playing with new friends. The issue: Gifted kids have difficulty with the unknown. A new location with new people will often cause anxiety and stress, even before the practice begins. They may begin to withdraw and be reluctant to join in when it’s time to start.

The kids begin to learn new skills like kicking the ball. The issue: Fine and gross motor skills are often delayed in gifted kids. Catching, throwing, kicking balls are all skills that come much later than their age peers. In addition, they exhibit perfectionism at a very early age and will be frustrated quickly when they realize that they can’t do it the way they’ve seen other kids, professionals on tv, etc. This can lead to a meltdown of tears, stating it’s impossible, giving up, and storming off.

Teams are chosen and a scrimmage begins. The issue: Gifted kids typically have a heightened sense of fairness. They are rule followers and are often more interested in reading/creating rules than actually playing any game. Because of this, as soon as the mass of children run after the ball, they will stop and shout at their teammates that they’re not doing it right, it’s not fair! Combined with the above mentioned lack of motor skills, the frustration and stress will be too much at this point, and they’ll simply sit down right where they are, or head off to find a parent on the sidelines.

Of course some kids excel at team sports and soccer in particular, it’s important to know your child’s strengths and weaknesses, even at the tender age of 2 or 3. Physical activity and learning new sports is an important part of childhood that should be fun, not stressful (for them and for you!). Listen to their interests and gauge some basic skills before signing up for the t-ball team or soccer lesson, and check out some individual sport options too, like swimming, track, rock climbing, martial arts, dance, and gymnastics!

Shameless picture of my daughter climbing! Ball sports are not her thing.

The Importance of Failure

No one likes to fail. Everywhere we look there are aphorisms that encourage us to keep trying! You’re not learning if you’re not failing! It’s not failure but a lesson! No matter how often our kids hear this message, it doesn’t make it any easier. For gifted kids, it is particularly difficult: things come easily to them, they’re perfectionists, they’re intense. They fail less and have less practice failing than other kids their age. Experiencing failure and persevering through it, however, is essential to helping gifted kids succeed in the long run.

I tell parents who are interested in signing up for the class that my goal is for their child to fail every day. Failure is a common struggle with gifted kids: things come easily to them for years and when they are finally challenged they have no idea how to tackle it. I’ve spoken with many gifted adults who say they didn’t have to study or even try until college, and then had no idea how to.

This week at FWD we took a look at the American codebreaking duo William and Elizebeth Friedman. We talked about their role in WWI and WWII, and specifically about Elizebeth’s system of decoding (if this interests you, check out the book The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone: https://www.amazon.com/Woman-Who-Smashed-Codes-Outwitted/dp/0062430483). The kids loved learning about the spies and intrigue, and were excited to start cracking some codes.

The first one – a basic transposition cipher – was easy enough. The second cipher caused a bit more angst – a Caesar Shift cipher – but wasn’t too hard. The last code was where the trouble began. We had learned about frequency analysis and the kids were to use this to figure out a cryptogram. Guess and check is an important part, and I had talked about how it would take Elizebeth weeks or months or solve some codes, and she failed many, many times throughout. Most of the kids were reluctant to guess which letter was which – they wanted to know if they were right or not (I’ll discuss perfectionism in another blog soon!).

A Croton class hard at work!

One boy stared at it for a few minutes, then declared that he was bored and didn’t want to do it anymore. Another boy was so frustrated and angry that he snapped a pencil in two and had to take a break to calm down. Two girls burst into tears and declared that it was IMPOSSIBLE. Another girl ripped her paper into pieces. Sound familiar? These are common reactions – especially in our class full of zebras. It’s hard to put kids in situations where you know they will be upset and frustrated, but they need the chance to learn what failure feels like and how to push through it.

In the end, most of the kids managed to solve the codes and were so excited to go home and see if their parents could do it too. They wanted to write their own codes and asked if we could learn more types of ciphers next week. They had failed, been uncomfortable, then persevered to achieve their goal. My co-teacher and I had spent most of the hour talking them down and helping them work through the emotional labor of failure, and in the end they learned that the reward of conquering the problem was greater than the discomfort of failure.

The sooner and more often gifted kids are exposed to failure, the sooner they will be more comfortable with it. They’ll never like it, never embrace it, but hopefully they’ll learn how to work through it.

Some tips for helping gifted kids with failure:

  • Be aware of the environment when encouraging failure. You don’t want them to be embarrassed or the only one who is struggling. A small group of peers or close family members is preferable.
  • If you think they may struggle with a project or activity, give them a head’s up. Tell them the activity is going to be a challenge and they may not get it right away, which is totally fine. Also give them an out: tell them they can take breaks or try it again later if they feel overwhelmed.
  • Model failure. If you are struggling with something – work, house project, new skill – talk to your child about it! Bring it up at the dinner table and describe how you felt, how you handled the situation, and the outcome. Put yourself out there!
  • Find a peer group. Most gifted kids spend their days with neurotypical kids. The school work is easy and they don’t have much in common as far as interests. Finding another zebra will let them challenge each other as well as seeing another kid who thinks like they do fail in similar ways.
  • Teach relaxation techniques. Help them recognize signs that they are getting frustrated and losing control, and to be advocates for themselves. Deep breaths, taking breaks, cold air or water, counting backwards – whatever works for them.

Have a gifted kid who struggles with failure? What techniques have work for him/her? Let me know!

To Test or Not To Test

I’m often asked about neuropsychological evaluation/testing: is it worth it, when is the best age, what to do with it, whom do I recommend. In the labyrinth of giftedness, a neuropsych test can provide a bit of a map.

What is a neuropsych test?

“A neuropsychological evaluation, also called neuropsychological testing, is an in-depth assessment of skills and abilities linked to brain function. The evaluation measures such areas as attention, problem solving, memory, language, I.Q., visual-spatial skills, academic skills, and social-emotional functioning.” https://childadolescentpsych.cumc.columbia.edu/articles/what-neuropsychological-evaluation

Basically, it’s a test that will tell you how your child best learns, strengths and weaknesses, an IQ score, and recommendations such as after school programs, therapies, in-class differentiation, IEPs, etc. A full workup can take 2 days or more of one-on-one evaluations, and can cost $5,000 or more. It is rarely covered by insurance, so the decision to spend the time and money can be difficult.

There are several options for tests other than a full neuropsych panel (which can include the WISC, Woodcock-Johnson, CogAT, Otis-Lennon, etc). Some evaluators will charge by the hour and can do just an IQ test, or you can opt for an achievement test vs an ability test (what they know vs IQ). These options are considerably cheaper but not as thorough.

When to test?

Start by asking yourself why you’re thinking about testing. Is there an issue that you’re trying to get to the bottom of? You already know you have a gifted kid on your hands and are trying to get into a special school or receive services? A neuropsych test can uncover things like ADD, dyslexia, OCD, depression, social-emotional functioning, processing speed, and of course IQ. Many gifted kids are 2E, meaning high IQ with a disability, and pediatricians and teachers can become focused only on the disability side and insist your child isn’t gifted. A neuropsych can provide proof that support is needed not just for the disability but also for the giftedness.

As far as age, the best time to test for giftedness is between 4-8. Testing too early can yield inaccurate results, and testing later can mean missed opportunities and interventions if needed. If you want to re-test, know that most evaluators will not conduct a new test until at least a year has passed from the previous one.

How do I choose an evaluator?

You’ll start by looking at psychologists and neuropsychologists who specialize in giftedness. This is important for a few reasons: the evaluator needs to be familiar with ceilings of common tests like the WISC and adaptable to the common struggles of gifted kids, such as struggling with transitions, perfectionism, delayed fine motor skills. You’ll then want to speak with them about their philosophies, fees, and time lines. Many of the well-regarded evaluators will have wait lists of months, and the report itself can take several weeks to prepare. Your child will also have to miss several days of school unless you schedule it during the summer. When it comes down to the final decision, rely on your gut. You know your child better than any one else. Trust yourself to choose an evaluator who will work well with you and your child.

Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page has a list of some testers who work with gifted kids. It’s not a complete list but a good place to start! http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/psychologists.htm

What do I do with the results?

What you do with the results is completely up to you. Most evaluators will include a section on recommendations for your child’s teachers and school – which may include IEP/504 information. They may also suggest therapy or tutoring as needed. However, you do not need to share the testing if you don’t want to.

Your child will obviously wonder what the results are. Some families choose to not share any of the results with their children, while others hand over the full report for them to read. Again, it’s completely up to you and your family. I have found that acknowledging a child’s giftedness and explaining it to them is very helpful; they already know they’re different and having a label and numbers to go with it can help them embrace those differences. This is especially true if the child is 2E and feels ‘dumb’. Showing them that they just struggle in a particular area or two but are capable of amazing things can be very motivating and encouraging! However, you know your child best and will do what works for your family.

The Project That Wasn’t

Recently one of my students asked if we could do a ‘bottle flip challenge’. Sure, I said. There’s all kinds of physics involved: inertia, angular momentum, mass, center of gravity. I got the bottles, made up some tally sheets and after explaining the science behind it I set them loose to experiment.

Not all projects are winners – sometimes the directions are just too complicated or it doesn’t work as well as when I did it at home. Occasionally, however, a project becomes something completely different. This was one of those projects. After a frustrating ten minutes or so, none of the kids had landed their bottles (I’ll be talking about fine motor skills – or lack thereof – soon!), even at the ‘right’ amount of mass. Amidst a minor meltdown, one girl added a bit of soap to her bottle, stating “Well, it can’t hurt!”. That led to other students adding soap, leftover tea, some sugar from packets they found in a cupboard. Soon, they were all creating ‘potions’, laughing and naming their new creations. The angst of the bottle flipping was fast forgotten and creativity was flowing.

I encourage these rigid kids to try to be more flexible; things don’t always work out as you expect them to and it’s okay to go with the flow. Amazing inventions have occurred when things didn’t go according to plan. But this is a difficult concept, for gifted kids and adults alike. As a teacher, I sometimes need to that reminder too.

Working with gifted kids, we (parents, teachers, other adults in their lives) feel a lot of pressure to challenge them, expose them to new ideas, and foster their interests. We come up with activities and imagine them studiously plugging away. As any parent or teacher knows, however, that’s rarely the result. How many times do we start with one activity and end with a completely different one? Do you go with the flow or keep encouraging the original project? If we slow down and take cues from them, we might be surprised at the things they are actually learning and experiencing.

While gifted kids aren’t usually known for their flexibility, if given the opportunity they can sometime surprise us with their creativity and ability to adapt – and hopefully we can learn to join them!

The Bright Child vs The Gifted Learner

Can you be smart but not gifted? Absolutely. Giftedness is much more than intelligence alone. Take a look at this comparison to see some key differences:

The bright child…
*Knows the answers
*Is interested
*Is attentive
*Has good ideas
*Works hard
*Answers the questions
*Top group
*Listens with interest
*Learns with ease
*6-8 repetitions for mastery
*Understands ideas
*Enjoys peers
*Grasps the meaning
*Completes assignments
*Is receptive
*Copies accurately
*Enjoys school
*Absorbs information
*Technician
*Good memorizer
*Prefers straightforward tasks
*Is alert
*Is pleased with own learning
The gifted learner…
*Asks the questions
*Is highly curious
*Is mentally and physically involved
*Has wild, silly ideas
*Plays around, yet tests well
*Discusses in detail; elaborates
*Beyond the group
*Shows strong feelings and opinions
*Already knows1-2 repetitions for mastery
*Constructs abstractions
*Prefers adults
*Draws inferences
*Initiates projects
*Is intense
*Creates new designs
*Enjoys learning
*Manipulates information
*Inventor
*Good guesser
*Thrives on complexity
*Is keenly observant
*Is highly self-critical


http://www.tag-tenn.org/comparison.html

Holiday Stress

The holidays are usually a stressful time for most people, gifted kids included.

Visiting family members, multiple breaks from school, gifts, large meals – all of these can cause stress and anxiety but combined can create a perfect storm. Let’s break this down:

  • Visiting Family Members: During the holidays it’s normal to have visitors in and out of the house, or perhaps you are the ones traveling to other’s houses. Either way, it can be exhausting for introverted gifted kids to find their normal spaces and routines interrupted. They might become destructive, rude or refuse to participate in activities. This response often gives them exactly what they need: a time out. Gifted kids (and adults!) often need time to ‘recharge’ their batteries by reading, drawing, being outside. Make sure that they know they are able to take breaks and if at someone else’s house show them a quiet area they can be alone in. Even if they’re excited to be surrounded by friends and family, it’s important that they know it’s ok to take breaks. Also set boundaries with visiting kids so you can avoid small hands smashing a newly constructed Lego city or ruin an on-going science experiment.
  • Breaks from school: Most gifted kids thrive on routine. As much as they cheer about a snow day or holiday, the reality of having no schedule quickly sets in. Gifted kids have a constant need to do but often struggle with the infinite possibilities of what to do. Before the break, have them make a list of things they’d like to learn about or do with all their free time. A stash of new books for down time and a few emergency lego kits/projects can be life savers too.  For easing transitions, write the schedule for the breaks as specifically as you can so they know what to expect. Try getting a large desk calendar so they can easily see upcoming events (including visitors!). It can take longer than you expect to recover from a long unstructured break, so be patient when getting back into the school routine in January.
  • Gifts: Everyone likes gifts, but the pressure of ‘performing’ can make the process less fun for the whole family. Gifted kids often have a heightened sense of empathy and can read expressions and body language at an early age. They can sense when they haven’t given the ‘right’ reaction to opening a gift and spend a lot of emotional energy on pleasing the givers. If possible, let them open presents when it’s just immediate family instead of a large audience, and reassure them that they don’t have to like every gift they’re given.
  • Large Meals: We all remember having to sit through large family meals with endless courses and the dreaded after-dinner coffee. For gifted kids, these meals are extra difficult. Picky eating is a common characteristic of giftedness, so chances are there are very few foods that they will want to eat. Parental pressure will mean heaping their plate full (and the foods will touch! gasp!) and grandparents who will be ‘disappointed’ if they don’t try their famous green bean casserole. Before a meal, discuss with your child what is expected of them. If you know they only eat brown things, encourage them to try one new thing from the table that isn’t brown. Even if they leave it on their plate, for some kids this is a huge accomplishment. If you know you’ll all be sitting around the table for long periods of time, let them know it’s ok to take breaks by asking to be excused for a few minutes. Also try to include them in conversation with topics that interest them!

With a little preparation and compromise hopefully the holiday season can be fun and relaxing. Be aware of their needs, be clear with your expectations, and choose your battles! 

Common Characteristics of Gifted Children (that are not commonly known)

When most people hear the word gifted they think smart, good at school, successful. Of course a main component of being gifted is intelligence, but that’s just one slice of the pie. Below is a list of common characteristics of giftedness that aren’t commonly known; no one has all of them (thankfully) but there are usually groupings of like-characteristics (such as advanced vocabulary with reading at an early age, along with heightened curiosity).

How many do you/your child have?

  • Walked OR talked at an early age
  • Has an advanced vocabulary
  • Read at an early age
  • Demonstrates a great appetite for books and reading
  • Entertains self for large blocks of time
  • Has good recall
  • Consistently organizes, sorts, classifies, and groups things, and names them
  • Heightened curiosity (asks “Why” often)
  • Fantasizes often
  • Shows sensitivity to other people’s feelings and empathy in response to their troubles
  • Demonstrates leadership abilities
  • Exhibits perfectionism
  • Resists change
  • Likes to discuss abstract concepts (such as love, justice, etc.)
  • Has a high energy, need less sleep than age-mates
  • Learns new material rapidly
  • Often prefers to work or play alone
  • Loves puzzles, mazes, building blocks, and toys that challenge
  • Has an advanced sense of humor
  • Prefers the company of older children or adults
  • Is highly creative, imaginative
  • Is a keen observer
  • Expresses unusual sensitivity to what they see, hear, touch, smell, or feel
  • Expresses concern for the world’s problems

 

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Sleep – What’s That?

 

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Sleep – or lack thereof – can be the first indicator that you have a gifted child on your hands. While your friends’ babies are sleeping through the night at 6 months and taking long naps several times a day, your baby is wide awake and ready to play. By a year they might be sleeping through the night, but are up at 5am to start the day. You read all the books, tried crying it out, co-sleeping, white noise, sleep sacks, aromatherapy. You put them to bed at 6pm because someone said they’re overtired and need to go to bed early. You keep them up later because someone said they’re not tired enough. And naps? You’ll spend an hour trying to get them to sleep only for them to wake up after 30 minutes.

My oldest daughter has been home for a solid week with mono. The only thing she’s supposed to be doing is resting and sleeping. Sounds easy enough right? She’s exhausted, bored, and her bed is a cozy oasis. Sleeping should be a no-brainer. But for her it isn’t.  

This week has me remembering her days as a non-sleeping baby and toddler (a time I had tried to forget). As a newborn she was awake every two hours like clockwork, and incredibly alert. She never wanted to be tucked into a wrap or carrier but was happy in the bouncy seat watching everything happen. I had the sense that she was worried she’d miss out on something if she closed her eyes. When she napped it was in 20 minute bites. As she got older she would wake early, nap for 45 minutes (if I was lucky), and stay up much later than the books said she should. By 18 months, she had given up the nap completely. I spent months trying to get her to sleep like my friend’s toddlers did: luxurious 2-3 hour naps, asleep by 7:30pm. Pediatricians told me I had to ‘make her nap’, other moms looked at me with a mixture of pity and concern. It took me a while to realize that she just didn’t need to sleep as much as her peers. I stopped fighting it and went with her schedule, resulting in less stress on everyone.

Kids Health (https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/naps.html) says that most 3-5 year olds should be sleeping 11-12 hours at night with a 2 hour nap during the day, but goes on to add a helpful list of signs that your child isn’t sleeping enough. We’re often made to feel like bad parents because our kids don’t sleep like other kids, but are they cranky, hard to wake up, inattentive, aggressive, unfocused? For the most part, nope. They’re alert and ready to go. The simple fact is that gifted kids need less sleep than their age mates. It took me a while to realize this and stop fighting the nap battle, and when I gave up we were all much happier and less stressed. She enjoyed sitting in her room with her books which was enough of a break for both of us.

As my daughter got older, there were many expectations we had to shift: she stopped napping at 18 months, was a ‘night owl’ who liked to stay up late but would also sleep in, she needed a fair amount of alone time to settle in to sleep. It also started getting harder to get her to sleep. She would want to have long, meaningful conversations about things like global warming, animal extinction, and homelessness. She would stay awake for hours saying she ‘couldn’t turn off her brain’.

This is a common complaint among gifted kids, and even gifted adults. Their brains are going all day and can be hard to turn off. Their anxieties and worries can creep in during this time, leading to a spiral of hard conversations and blurry eyes. 

Getting into a healthy sleep routine means different things for each child, especially for gifted children. It can be a frustrating and long process to figure out what works for your family, but eventually everyone sleeps through the night!

Here are some ideas for helping gifted kids fall asleep. Post in the comments if you have any ideas that have worked for your family!

For younger kids:

For older kids:

  • Listen to soothing music, an audiobook, or a podcast. For some kids this is too much stimulation, but it helps take their minds off of issues which are upsetting.
  • Keep a notebook by their bed to write in. Part of the stress and anxiety of big global issues for kids is that they feel powerless to do anything. Have them write down issues they’re worried about and some tangible items they can do to make a difference. Help them follow through with their ideas and record their successes!
  • Change the temperature. To reduce anxiety, apply ice packs to the wrists or back of neck at bedtime to calm the system, or drink ice cold water. On the other side, try a warm bath with calming scents to get ready to sleep.
  • Write some ‘dream starters’ on slips of paper and keep in a jar near their bed. They can choose a starter and close their eyes, playing the ‘movie’ of their paper in their minds while falling asleep.
  • A tent over their bed can block out the stimulation of their room and help them get to sleep sooner! https://www.privacypop.com/shop/tent/privacy-pop-bed-tent/
  • A soft light with aromatherapy can help them associate a smell with bedtime. https://www.muji.us/store/ultrasonic-aroma-diffuser.html
  • Weighted blankets can be very calming. (https://www.mosaicweightedblankets.com/benefits/)

 

 

Creative Writing Chaos

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Gifted kids have a tricky relationship with creative writing. They have big ideas and grand plans but have difficulty getting those ideas onto paper.

For some, the trouble begins as soon as they pick up the pencil. Fine motor skills are often delayed in gifted children, which means their handwriting skills are lacking. They hold the pencil awkwardly, push down too hard, don’t form letters correctly. For perfectionist kids, the writing doesn’t look the way they think it should and that’s enough to halt the creative process. In addition, some kids hate the way the pencil feels on the paper; I had one student who described the feeling as ‘a scratchiness that travels up my arm into my brain’. They have the ideas, but not the ability to physically write them down.

For most gifted kids, their ideas are so involved that they have difficulty translating them onto the page – their hands can’t keep up with their brains. A student recently described starting a story as ‘paddling up stream’. Beginning a story can seem impossible; if told to just ‘write about anything’ they have trouble picking one idea and sticking to it. “What if I pick the wrong idea? What if my idea is stupid?” Negative thoughts like these can paralyze them before they even start.

Recently at our program, we did ‘musical chairs creative writing’. The kids were all given the same story starter, then had two minutes to begin a story. When the music started they had to stop writing, stand up and walk around the circle until the music stopped. Then they’d pick up the story in front of them, read it, then continue writing it. The point of the project was to address the issues discussed previously. By providing the story starter, we took away the difficulty of picking an idea. By giving them only two minutes to write initially, they didn’t have enough time to worry about spelling and handwriting. If they didn’t like pencils, we had erasable pens to use instead.

As you can imagine, this project was met with mixed emotions. One child flat out refused to do it. Several were nervous about other people writing on their stories, and some were worried about not spelling things correctly. They were all mildly uncomfortable with the idea. However, we talked through it and got started with nearly all of the students (one still decided not to participate). After a few speed bumps and tears, the kids started getting into the spirit of it and laughing at the ridiculous stories that were being constructed. When we had finished, they were all eager to read what had happened in ‘their’ stories and share with the group. Several of them even chose to continue the activity after time was up by illustrating their stories or acting them out together.

They were uncomfortable with many aspects of this activity, but in the end they realized that writing can be silly, messy, collaborative, and fun.

Creative Writing Tips

For kids who have trouble forming letters:

  • To practice handwriting, have kids write letters with their fingers or chopsticks in sand or shaving cream.
  • Check out Dragon Software (https://www.nuance.com/dragon.html) – kids can tell their stories and the program writes it!
  • Teach them to type as soon as possible – it’s less frustrating and quicker for most kids once they get the hang of it.

For kids who sit in front a blank page for hours:

  • Have a bunch of ‘story starters’ on slips of paper and have the kids pull one out to get an idea going.
  • Set a timer and tell them to write for x number of minutes. For some kids, the pressure of the timer will help them get started.
  • Encourage collaborative writing. As a family each member can contribute a line or paragraph. For older kids, they can share a google doc with their friends and all write together.

For kids who get lost in the details:

  • Let them tell you their story orally and take notes for them. When they’re ready to write, they’ll have the framework all set.
  • Have them draw their story before writing it – sketch out the main scenes then fill in the details with words.
  • Think outside the box: creative writing can be more than just paragraphs of writing. Comic strips, advertisements, plays – these are all ways the kids can express themselves and practice writing.

For kids who are sensory averse:

  • Have erasable pens (https://www.amazon.com/Paper-Mate-3930158-EraserMate-Erasable/dp/B001E695C8) available instead of pencils. They’re smoother to write with and more fun!
  • Cursive is a great tool for gifted minds: it is faster and more fluid, similar to how their brains are working. The smooth style is sometimes more comfortable than the start-and-stop of printing. Unfortunately most schools don’t teach it anymore, but you can teach them at home!