Parenting a Gifted Child When You Are Gifted, Too–The Good News And The Not-So-Good News

In my experience, gifted children often have one or both parents who are gifted. That is the good news. And the not-so-good news.

The good news:

(photo by H. Muleba, Unsplash)

You can relate to your child’s challenges because many of them are similar to yours. You, too, are highly sensitive and have plenty of empathy so your child will feel seen and deeply understood. It will make sense to you when your child takes deep dives into their interests and then moves on to the next passion and the next deep dive. Your creative thinking abilities will be useful during power struggles and difficult events with extended family. You will work extra hard to schedule play dates and organize extracurricular activities because you know how hard it is to find friends. You will tirelessly advocate for your child in the school system because you remember those painfully dull years in classrooms where you were bullied and bored. You feel a particularly compelling love for this little soul and an extraordinary sense of responsibility for their safety, well-being, and fulfillment.

The not-so-good news:

You can relate to your child’s challenges because they are similar to yours. If you have not addressed your own issues, you may notice said issues popping up at the most inconvenient times. Your frustrations and anger over your own losses and limits may mingle with those of your child to the point where it is hard to distinguish between them.

You, too, are highly sensitive and have plenty of empathy. Parenting is not easy for anyone. Being highly sensitive may mean it is harder for you to tolerate your child’s messiness, noisiness, smelliness, and meltdowns. Your empathy might make it harder for you to know how and when to set healthy boundaries.

Parenting is the only job you can not leave after 2-3 years or in those moments when it is rather repetitious (think Baby Shark and Frozen) and less than intellectually stimulating.

Your creative thinking abilities might be less useful when you are able to come up with multiple numbers of the potential catastrophes that are looming.

It was difficult to find friends when you were childfree. Now, well, who has the time? Even though you may have built-in relationships with parents of your child’s peers, you may long for someone who wants to discuss fractals and Toni Morrison rather than preparations for the next birthday party.

The school might be the last place you want to be tirelessly advocating. If your memories of school are less than stellar, having to meet with teachers and confront them about your child’s frustrations may create extra anxiety and a desire to break things.

You feel a particularly compelling love and an extraordinary sense of responsibility. This might be terrifying.

What can be done:

I bet you know what I am going to say. You must find support for yourself. Your child will benefit as you model self-compassion and you take breaks from parenting. I know there are particular circumstances where time for yourself will seem impossible. But you are creative. If you know this is essential for your child’s well-being, you will find a way. If you think you are supposed to be a perfect parent because you are so smart, think again. Build that village. If you experienced trauma as a child, find a therapist. Talk to someone who understands giftedness about your own early frustrations and loneliness. Keep a journal. Make art. Move your body. Find resources on boundary setting, sensitivity, and twice-exceptionality. Join or create a Facebook group. Dance it out.

I am not sure what to tell you about the terrifying part of parenting. This might be a time when denial and compartmentalization come in handy. Or religion. Or your witchy ancestors. Maybe it is helpful to know you are not alone in your fears. Or to read this soothing poem by Kahlil Gibran.

And finally, if you are the parent of a gifted child and you are also gifted, there is very good news and a little not-so-good news. But, hey, if all else fails, just let it go, let it go, be one with the wind and sky, let the storm rage on (um, for those of you who don’t know, that is from Frozen, I’m not really telling you to let it go!)… Doo doo doo doo doo doo. (um, for those of you who don’t recognize this, it’s from Baby Shark, click on the link)

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To my dearest bloggEEs: If you are a parent, how are you doing? What is your good news and not-so-good news? If you are a child of a parent, what would you tell parents that was helpful when you were younger? Sharing your experiences in the comments makes this blog so much richer. Thank you. And thanks to the reader who suggested this topic. Much love to you all.

(Note: For those of you who are eager to know about my next book, Saving Your Rainforest Mind: A Guided Journal for the Exceedingly Curious, Creative, Smart, & Sensitive, we are in the layout stage. I think we have a cover design! I will keep you posted.)

(Another note: For those of you waiting to hear more about my sound channeling, I’m giving that project a bit less of a priority, probably because it is way out of my comfort zone. But I will let you know when I have something to share.)


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Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

12 responses to “Parenting a Gifted Child When You Are Gifted, Too–The Good News And The Not-So-Good News”

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  1. Kimberly Wills Avatar
    Kimberly Wills

    My biggest challenge was dealing with my son’s teachers. From my own school experience and my traditional disciplinarian father, I had some anxiety around authority figures. I would shrink and become silent. When I was in my 20’s and was called in to talk to a teacher about my son’s behavior, I forgot about that little anxiety, but BOY did it come back in a “whooosh” the first time I sat face to face with a 1st grade teacher. I felt myself get hot, and I didn’t say what I wished I’d said. My son’s behavior wasn’t bad, it’s just that he learned so quickly that he got bored with all the repetition and busy-work, so he’d fidget, try to whisper to others, or sneak something else to do in his desk. So in this meeting where I found myself nervous for no reason, the teacher pulled something out of the drawer and handed it to me, saying, “this is what your son did during math today” with a stern, old codger look. “He made a pig”. It was a pink eraser with pushpins as feet and a snout, with pen marks for eyes, ears, and a smile. I thought it was cute, and was disappointed when she put out her hand to take it back. I thought I could keep it, lol. That meeting went horribly and I left feeling small, like I wasn’t even an adult. But I got better at it and ended up homeschooling him from 6th grade on. (he’s grown now)

    Anyway, my advice to those of you who didn’t interact well with teachers, the principal, or other authority figures, before you go into meetings with your child’s teachers, PRACTICE. Yes, it sounds silly. You can analyze yourself and get rid of the anxiety, but that might take a while, so for now, grab a friend who can act like a stern old codger who thinks you’re an inexperienced young clueless parent, and do some role playing. From this practice, write down some sentences you came up with. Practice them in the mirror, or in the car. Even if you use different words, it’s close enough. Practice sitting up straight and looking them in the eye and smiling while they say how much experience they have and how they know best. Practice reminding yourself that you are the expert on your child, and you are there to work as equals, as a team.
    Good luck with the school system! Stay strong! 🙂


    1. pprober Avatar
      pprober

      Thanks so much for describing your experience here, Kimberly. And for sharing your tips!


  2. Gabi Avatar
    Gabi

    RFM Parent of five here. Married to a gifted but logical minded person. Our kids are all gifted in their own way, I think. I have never had any of them tested other than the regular standardized thing, and they score way above average, we also homeschooled for a long time but they are all back in public school, by their own choice. Depending on what is going on we are dealing with sensitivities, neurodivergence, and etc of any one of them. It’s a lot. We take a lot of down time, try not to sign up for too many things, to give ourselves plenty of alone time when needed (lots of introverts). Balancing that with actually wanting to socialize sometimes and I have a lot of things I personally artistically and mentally to keep my soul fed. Hopefully I am modeling useful habits for my offspring. But they have also taught me a lot about what they need if I listen.


    1. pprober Avatar
      pprober

      Sounds like a full house, Gabi! Thanks for sharing.


  3.  Avatar
    Anonymous

    I would appreciate seeing a post on the topic of gifted parents raising non-gifted children. Thanks for considering.


    1. pprober Avatar
      pprober

      Oh, that is an interesting one. Not sure I have experience with that but I will think about it. Thanks.


  4. Clignett Avatar
    Clignett

    I am not a parent myself (not by choice btw), but I did have a parent who was an RFM, gifted and highly sensitive as I am. My father has passed away 8 years ago this year. He was the one person in the world who could soothe me when I was so sick that I was delirious and having terrible nightmares (which have stayed with me up till now). He was the one who could help me explain myself to Muggles, in a non-confronting and polite way. I’d memorize the words, and say them the next day to the person I needed to say it to. He was the one who could explain the world to me, as it was impossible for me as a child to believe and understand that such evil and cruelty existed. He was the one who would sit with me and philosophize (is that a word?? 😳) about a million things. All together and apart and from one topic to the next and back.. He was the one who could speak to me (and I to him) without words, just by looking at each other. He was my rock, my North Star, my compass. Needless to say that I miss him every day, never any less. Although he thought he wouldn’t be missed at all (I put him straight about that thought!!).

    Unfortunately, he was the only one in my family. With his brother, who passed away the same year, with whom I just started to have real contact with, 2 months prior to his death.
    So both brothers, both RFM’s with whom I could talk to and wonder and ponder are gone in one year.

    The point is that it’s always hard for me to read about parenting a gifted child (while being gifted or not as parent(s)), because it always reads to me like the mother is (should be?) the one the articles are written for. And that is maybe true for half the time in reality. My father was mostly at work, so my mother raised my sister and me most of the time. As we are expat kids, that makes it even harder. Abroad, different cultures, different languages, all different. And again, and again, and again..
    But my mother was not the person who could relate to me. She could not understand me, even resented me for being “too smart, too much, too sensitive, too **** anything”. (**** = fill in the blanks)

    When my father came home, I could relax. Be myself. Completely myself, not tiptoeing around anymore. It came to a point that I would hide in my room just to avoid any sort of conflict. Any interaction could lead to conflict. And that was too much for me, for my sensitive young, inexperienced soul.

    I’m not trying to be harsh or disrespectful to anyone who can relate to this blog and finds it really helpful, but for me it’s another one of “those stories” that take only one perspective. Maybe I’m reading it wrong, could be. Maybe my feelings are too sensitive on this subject, could very well be. But it would be good to read something that presents both sides of the parents parenting, while juggling work and everything else in life as well. And especially for the ones who had the fortune (or not) to be like me, expat children. Which comes with a whole different playbook of challenges besides parenting a gifted child.

    Anyway, thank you for bringing the poems from Khalil Gibran to my attention! They are wonderful! Just can’t stop reading “Defeat”..

    Thanks Paula, and I really hope I didn’t offend you or anyone by saying all this! If so, I apologize profusely because that is certainly nót my intention!!
    💞


    1. pprober Avatar
      pprober

      Oh, no problem, Clignett. Good to hear your opinion. I’ll reread it to see if it sounds like I’m talking about mothers. It was my intention to speak for both parents.


  5. Rachel Avatar
    Rachel

    It was my child’s frustrations with school that finally led me to you and your book, and it’s all pretty much as you say. My husband and I are both RFMs, and we’ve struggled our whole lives, which we finally understood had a lot to do with trauma and being gifted. So I take a LOT of time with myself as I heal that trauma and come to understand what it means for all three of us to be gifted and how to make that work.

    Learning Internal Family Systems (so thrilled you mentioned it in your book) for the trauma has had a wonderful side effect, which is a much greater ability to accept my son’s frustration and anxiety while also enabling me to take action in a calmer, clearer way. The way that IFS has this framework of our having different parts with different abilities and perspectives also helps me manage the complexity of myself and my family and learning how to access my own unconditional love and then share that with my husband and son has been life-changing.

    I know I sound like an advertisement for IFS, but it’s just been such an extraordinary help. I’m happy if people find other ways too — I just want us all to be who we truly are and flourish in this world.


    1. pprober Avatar
      pprober

      I appreciate your mentioning IFS, Rachel. It’s good for my readers to know about it. Have you seen his latest book, No Bad Parts? (Richard Schwartz) It makes the model accessible to anyone. Thank you.


      1. Rachel Avatar
        Rachel

        No Bad Parts was the first IFS book I read and I still like it the best because of Dick’s kindness and its spiritual approach. I came to IFS on the recommendation of so many who used it to heal chronic illness, and it’s certainly healing mine.


        1. pprober Avatar
          pprober

          Thank you, Rachel.

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