Reflections on Parenting Profoundly Gifted children: a (most) Surprising Territory
Orienteering is the skill and art of navigating to a series of points (oftentimes referred to as controls) depicted on a specialized topographical map.
It involves choosing routes – either on or off trail – to find the controls, and get to the finish line.
Let us assume, for a moment, that raising PG children is the territory – mostly uncharted – an immense territory that is undeniably spectacular; interspersed with infinite vistas, unforeseen precipices, and chance sink-holes.
For the parents navigating the territory, the journey is, at times, heady and hazardous and, at other times, so truly extraordinary that attempts to describe it seem like a hyperbolic narrative of what it is to be human, a narrative that many people will have limited capacity to understand nor, perhaps, even imagine:
The art… there’s an art to this? Anguish, plenty of that. Beauty. That’s my favorite part. The beauty is in watching them grow. The big things, like graduating from grad school, and the little things, like making friends by themselves for the first time. The tumultuous things, like trying to fit into a school program that wasn’t designed for them while they manipulate it to be what they need (often in spite of the teachers and rules !), a system that couldn’t even begin to imagine they exist. (Emphasis added)
(Mother of two PG girls, now adults).
We raise our very gifted children in a world mostly designed for less cognitively advanced, less intense and more easily fathomable youngsters.
What is it like to be the guardian, the guide and the interpreter of these very exceptional children? How do parents of the uncommonly gifted find their own way on this assuredly surprising parenting journey? What is nature of the skill set and the knowledge base, that will best inform them, providing hope and vision – essential scaffolding – for a surefire passageway for their PG children, as they emerge from childhood into an autonomous and fruitful adulthood?
In the words of a mother of two PG children, ages 8 and 11.
I think, humblingly, the work of raising my sons begins and ends with partnership and trust. And it founders on fear, habit, and resources.
Mother of a Profoundly Gifted boy, age 9
The Art of raising profoundly gifted kids truly comes from within; a reliance on thyself to navigate, adjust, and to trust. While there is no replication for these unique beings; the art unfolds as you live . . .
(Mother of two PG children, ages 10 and 12)
As we grow in knowledge and in experience raising our children there is a bond that forms. It is founded on trust, on deepest awareness – on a deep knowing-without-judgment and it is free from preconceived ideas (about ourselves, about parenting). It assiduously and stubbornly asserts itself.
Sufi Mystic Hakim Sanai (12th century) describes this as a “Loving Awareness”, and it is an essential habit of mind to form.
You teach me to see things differently,
Reaching down through the ocean’s foam
My fingers rest upon the pearl
At the bottom of the Sea.
Our children teach us to see things differently. They invite us into the depths.
Beauty (there is) plenty of that, too, though we tend to take it for granted, fail to appreciate it in the moment, always busy trying to “deal” with the problems (see “anguish” above), real or perceived . . . WHO they ARE. Who they seem to have been born being. What they are capable of wondering. What they are capable of feeling. What they open our eyes and hearts to every day. The love they radiate, the pure joy in life. The knowing beyond knowing. The imploding of your decades-long-constructed safe and sound belief system into the vast starry blackness of the beauty that just is. Oh, did I mention, yes, see “trust” above . . .
In 2015 survey conducted at the Daimon Institute for the Highly Gifted parents reported a deep and inextinguishable belief in their children; a fearlessness and inextinguishable joyfulness, that transcended the immediate demands, and oftentimes mucky business, of raising our brightest children. Each had found a profound sense of purpose in the face of diversity and unbridled complexity; but this defined purpose and surety had been earned.
The parents’ reflections on the experience of parenting of PG children was often described as a journey; one that is so surprising and unexpected as to cause, at times, almost total discombobulation.
It’s all been so unexpected.
(Mother of two PG children, now adults)
If we combine the body of academic knowledge that describes the nature and the needs of PG children with the shared knowledge and expertise of the parents themselves, we can imagine a specialized topographical map: a collective body of knowledge that serves as our guide on the expedition of raising a PG child. But this search for a collective intelligence has some difficulties. For one thing the body of academic knowledge on the PG, like any body of knowledge, is imperfect -it is certainly limited – and endemic with particular research challenges unique to this smaller sub-group of the larger gifted populace.
As outliers of outliers, PG persons comprise far less than 1% of the population. They are distinguished by their astonishing cognitive processing abilities, special talents, extraordinary sensitivity, and trademark intensities.
These traits combine in complex ways in each child to form a unique arrangement of uncommon perception, extraordinary, often unpredictable means (and levels) of comprehension, countless avenues of expression, a very particular inner experience and a sometimes inexplicable ways of knowing things.
I always felt like I was 10 steps behind him, in nearly every way. He devoured information, and questioned so many things that other kids just went along with.
(Mother of a PG young man 19)
The many parts of each PG child interact with each other in multiple ways creating a gestalt with such creative and emergent powers of mind as to seem implausible.
It’s like I have a rocketship, and I have to learn how to pilot it. What fuel works, and in what environments. But I’m not sure that my teachers even know that I have a rocket ship.
(PG child, age 8).
Each PG family has its own unique culture, a culture that will shape and influence the PG children growing up in it. It is, therefore, extremely difficult to generalize about PG children’s experiences and to predict their needs in any absolute sense. While they have many things in common – PG core traits (Jackson, 2014) – their unique experiences and the trajectory of their development differs greatly child to child.
Father of two PG children, “M” affirms this from a parent perspective:
No two 1-in-100,000 children are the same. They come with different strengths, different weaknesses, different issues. So we parents can compare notes, hear what worked or did not work for particular kids, and learn thereby at least to broaden our understanding of possibilities. At the end of the day, however, we are forced to rely only on our own capacity to see and understand our children for who they are – to take our cues not from books, experts, or fellow parents, but from how our children choose to manifest themselves.
Paying close attention to how each PG child unfolds and attempting to discern each child’s unique needs (in the various contexts in which they interact and live) was a common theme of all the parents of PG children in this sample:
Here’s where the art comes in: I have ignored the traditional ideas of success and focused on him, his feelings, and his distinct needs. The art requires us to know our individual children and know what’s right for them.
(Mother of a PG boy, age 18)
Learning how to successfully steer through the various social institutions that their children interface with, required a special kind of staying power, some great good luck and resourceful negotiation:
Access to the teachers was an art form: we earned our way in, as trusted thought partners, as people who would problem solve rather than bellow. I had to show that I wasn’t going to be unreasonable, nor dictatorial. That my son wasn’t unfamiliar, as one student in a small school packed with gifted, highly gifted and even profoundly gifted kids. That he’s the kind of kid that this school has already, and meeting his needs is within the scope of the school’s work. I looked for ways to build the relationship with the teachers, the administration by giving back, as a room parent, by being a good communicator, by celebrating what works. It got us in the door, and into a conversation.
(Mother of two PG children ages 8 and 10)
About the Author: P. Susan Jackson, Therapeutic Director of The Daimon Institute for the Highly Gifted in White Rock, British Columbia, Canada. This international institute offers service to highly and profoundly gifted children and adults, supporting the learning needs and overall development of this exceptional population.
Her clinical work spans 25 years, comprising over 40,000 hours of psychotherapy wholly with this exceptional population. She is the author of numerous articles and chapters in the gifted education literature. Her Integral Practice for the Gifted model™ addresses multiple aspects of human functioning – cognitive, emotional, spiritual, physical and talent based dimensions – and explains how advanced cognition influences all of these elements, the Self, and the expression of talent.
In 2010, she produced a short documentary entitled “Exceptionally Gifted Children”, which she received wide acclaim internationally. In 2013-2014, the Daimon Institute produced “Rise: The Extraordinary Story of the Exceptionally Gifted” – a 60 minute film on the lives of 12 exceptionally and profoundly gifted persons from all over the globe.
Sue served as the Chair of the Parents and Curriculum Networks Communications Committee and Counseling and Guidance Network (National Association to Support Gifted Children), and is a member of the advisory board for SENG. She is recognized as an international expert in the field of the Exceptionally and Profoundly Gifted and regularly presents with other leading experts at the international conferences. She is a (nascent) photographer, poet, and nature lover with a passionate interest in advanced development, optimal health and well-being for the Profoundly Gifted populace.