What Your Kids Want You To Know

By Jane Hesslein.

As a teacher of the gifted, I am involved daily in the relationships between students and parents, working to keep each “team” apprised of what the other is thinking. At the beginning of the year, I tell parents what I have learned from earlier classes about what it is like to be 10 and very bright. During the year, the students and I chat informally about many of their social and emotional issues.

A few years ago, during one such class conversation, we were discussing topics that might occupy a young teen’s mind: identity; status; boyfriends; girlfriends; connections outside the family; independence; etc. Then I told them how parents see each of those topics.

One student said, “Wait a minute. You talked to our parents about how we feel, and you’re talking to us about how they feel?”

“That’s right. I think it’s only fair.”

“You’re a double agent!” he concluded.

He’s right, actually. Though “double agent” makes it sound clandestine, I am working to help both teams understand each other better. I’ve come to think of it more as being an interpreter.

Last June, I asked my fifth graders to list five things they think are important for parents of highly able children to know. I told them I wanted to share their ideas with a group of parents, and I promised them anonymity. They were excited for the opportunity to be both opinionated and useful.

Their responses showed me that they are sensitive, open, articulate, and blunt. While they are eager to talk about themselves, they are still learning to take others’ feelings into account. They are also self-contradictory, which suggests that parents need to be flexible in finding solutions. A sense of humor helps enormously.

Several themes emerged in their writing. The following is a distillation of what your kids want you to know, in order of the frequency of their responses and corrected for grammar.

1. When I get home from school, I need a break from “school thinking” before I tackle whatever is next.

Whether they mention a need to “just sit,” “to unwind,” or “time to process,” 23 (out of 38 responses—22 girls and 16 boys– in a class of 45) mentioned this. And 15 of them mentioned it first on their lists. The transition from school is clearly important to them.

Maybe try not to bombard your kid with questions about school during the car ride home. They may be tired or need time to think about the school day before explaining it. Try asking questions later, at the dinner table, perhaps.

When I get home from school just let me relax because my brain has been working hard all day.

Everyone has busy after-school schedules. There should be some quiet transition time for those who need it.

2. I want to do my own work.

Fifteen students mentioned this, and they were specific about their needs. Some even had advice for parents.

Let me do my own projects and don’t impose your ideas forcefully.

…Things at school don’t always make sense at first, so don’t be worried if they don’t.

If I don’t want your help, it doesn’t mean I’m against you.