By Vidisha Patel
She sat on the floor in her room struggling with the zipper of her jacket. The clock was
ticking and we were going to be late for school. Her brother was getting agitated
because he wanted to be at school early to meet up with some friends. “I can do it
Mumma. Just leave me ALONE!!!!”
My six-year-old daughter was determined to zip up her jacket all by herself even if it
took all day. Normally she is the one who is insistent on being on time. Today she was
focused entirely on the task of zipping up her jacket. Nothing else mattered: not her
brother’s desire to get to school, or my need to get to work. The more I tried to help her,
the more agitated she became and the tighter the zipper stuck. Finally, I walked away
and let her be. About ten minutes later, my six year old emerged with a smile on her
face and a zipped-up rain jacket, ready for school.
Parenting gifted children is a journey that requires patience, persistence, and a positive
attitude. When my kids were born over 16 years ago, I had no idea about the journey
that lay ahead of me.
Fast forward four years. It was New Year’s Eve, and she really wanted to help. I had my
head in a cupboard, trying to find enough plates for all of us to eat. She asked what she
could do to help, and, without thinking, I suggested taking the glasses out to the living
room. Immediately she stacked six glasses on a small plastic tray just as I emerged
from the cupboard. I tried to warn her that it was too many glasses and maybe it would
be better to take two trips. “I can handle it Mom! I know what I am doing.” CRASH!!!! All
the glasses slipped off the tray and landed in a heap of shards on the kitchen floor.
Then came the tears, the anger, and finally the “I can’t do anything right.” Quietly, I
cleaned up the shards and found some new glasses for everyone to use.
Somehow it was easier to be patient with a six year old who was struggling to help
herself get dressed. But a ten year old who thought she knew best about how to carry a
handful of glasses and didn’t understand the ramifications of glass fling everywhere just
didn’t warrant the same level of patience (or so I told myself).
Months earlier, I would have reacted with irritation and insisted on teaching a “lesson”
about being more careful. This time, I let it go. After about 20 minutes, my ten year old
was back with a smile on her face and an apology about breaking the glasses. I
explained to her that they were only glasses and it could have happened to anyone. I
suggested that perhaps next time she could take fewer glasses and more trips.
My insistence on helping her would have led to a battle, tantrums and the very outcome
that I was trying to avoid.
Many gifted kids enjoy their independence. Their souls are frequently older than their
physical years, and they feel capable of taking care of things themselves. Once fixated
on a task, gifted kids have a tough time letting go. Their focus on the task at hand limits
their ability to step back and assess the situation from a different perspective. And
instruction from an adult frequently brings out their stubbornness and determination to
fix the situation themselves. In some instances, this persistence can pay off, but in
others, it can cause frustration and lead to accidents.
Just as my little girl has learned to be patient with her need to do things her way, I, too,
have learned to give her some space and allow her to learn to do some things on her
own. Giving her the freedom to try out new things her way and make some mistakes
along the way has helped her grow in self-confidence. She is able to make independent
decisions and accept the consequences, both positive and not so positive. And learning
how to give her the space to grow has helped me become more patient, too!
Vidisha Patel, EdD, has a doctorate in counseling psychology and practices as a
therapist in Sarasota, Florida, where much of her work is with gifted children and their
families, with a focus on stress and anxiety. She is also the treasurer and a member of
SENG’s Board of Directors.