Friday, August 14, 2009

How to Teach Assertiveness: Overscheduling

Over and over, through the years of being and working with gifted students, there is one resounding concern. This is a reoccurring cry of loneliness. Gifted kids are intuitive enough to know that there is something different about them. They don't fit in quite right. They recognize that something about them makes it harder to relate to kids their own age, and it is more difficult to make friends. They know they want them; they are just not quite sure how to go about getting them!

As parents, you have probably begun to understand the lonely world of parenting a gifted child. . . It makes sense- only 3-5% of children are gifted, which is a huge minority. We need extra special help for this extra special population!

We have been looking at some strategies by which parents can help to teach their child to be more assertive. Today, we are going to look at how overscheduling can cause children to become passive or aggressive, and also keep them from making friends.

Gifted kids usually have a wide variety of interests. They become fascinated with and fixate on many diverse topics about which their beautiful brain wants to know all of the details. In addition, parents are often worried about missing opportunities, not exposing their child, or desiring to provide enrichment like all the experts advise.

This can lead to a child who has activities every night of the week, and multiple times on the weekends. We bump from activity to activity and spend our days (and often nights) in our cars. This leaves little time to connect as a family. It also leaves very little time for your child to play. They don't have time to play on their own independently and creatively, and they also don't have much time left for play dates with friends from school and their activities. Even if your child makes friends at all of these different activities- they will not have any time to play with them! In addition, the nature of structured activities is well-suited to the inquisitive gifted mind, but it is not very conducive to developing peer relationships, as children are usually moved from task to task with little downtime or discussion.

I offer an alternative that my own parents used; and my husband and I also plan to use. Pick one or two activities per child. You may decide that you will pick one activity, and your child will pick one. Oftentimes, gifted children shy away from activities they are not good at, so it may be in your child's best interest for you to pick an activity to challenge them. You can let your child decide the other activity. Your child may choose the same activity over and over, or may pick a variety of activities for short durations. Either way is fine- just make sure they stick with the activity until the end of the session (even if they are not good at it initially). This teaches other valuable life skills.

Choosing activities in this way will stretch your child. It will also free them up to spend time with their peers. You can plan play dates for them, or have them choose friends with whom they would like to play. One great technique I have seen in my class is to arrange classroom park days or group activities. This way, gifted children can play together while the parents talk. Friendships develop amongst like minded children which can be encouraged and grown with individual play dates after initial relationships have formed.

I cannot stress enough the benefit of free and unstructured play. Whether it is at a park, in your backyard or in your playroom- it is such an important socialization tool! Think about it- in a class or structured time, your child loses out on any independent decision making, problem solving, and individual interaction. The more time they have to practice these important skills, they better they will get at them.

I also recommend a "decompress" time after play dates. This is a time where you just talk to your child about the encounters. Discuss what went well, what didn't and why. Maybe you will need to role play certain exchanges so your child is equipped for the next time that a child speaks rudely, doesn't share, or leaves them out. Your "decompress" could be as simple as a conversation in the car on the way home, over the dinner table or before bed that night. Ask open-ended questions, listen and provide feedback where needed.

Let me know if you have any other suggestions or ideas that have worked for your family on avoiding overscheduling. Try it out- you won't be sorry!

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