Expect to Suck

Like other highly, exceptionally, and profoundly gifted students, many things come easily to my kids. Concepts that others their age may struggle with, are, to them, obvious. The basic topics covered repetitively in standard elementary school classrooms they learn on their own or on the first classroom iteration.

This effortless learning is wonderful, until they come across a subject or activity that actually requires them to put out some energy. When they stop cruising and hit a wall it can feel devastating. Many gifted kids, especially those on the upper end of the spectrum, have limited experience with real challenges. Their ability to rationalize that they just aren’t good at something is more advanced than their ability to work through initial failures and frustrations. If they aren’t instantly good at something, if they don’t intuitively know where the instructor is going, if they experience confusion, their instinct may be to just give up and quit.

My young son was recently frustrated with the prospect of writing 5 sentences (on a topic of his choice). He rationalized his lack of output with the explanation that he is, “only gifted in math.” He has been writing sentences and paragraphs for less than 6 months and he still hasn’t quite figured out how to get the rapidly moving thoughts in his head down in sentences. He is convinced that because writing is difficult for him now, he just has no gifted talent in that area and we should lower our expectations. He doesn’t believe that even highly talented writers have to put long hours and effort into their writing. We have seen our other kids avoid subjects that take work as well, either obviously with loud fits of frustration or with quiet avoidance.

As parents of significantly gifted kids, one of our primary parental responsibilities is to teach them the power of hard work and that many things that do not initially come easily are still worth doing. One of the first hurdles we are helping them get over is the perfectionist attitude that they should be good at something, even if they have never done it before. From tennis lessons to soccer, from writing to math, this summer’s message has been that if they have never done something before, they should expect to suck and that is okay to suck. People, even gifted people, invest thousands of hours of work and practice in the areas where they excel — ten thousand hours of work in the areas where they are elite. The reasoning that since something takes effort, they aren’t gifted in that area, when left unchallenged becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Even within areas where they are amazingly gifted, our kids need to learn how to put in sweat equity. If they coast along on their innate talents they will miss out on the magical combination of inborn talent plus hard work which creates true greatness.

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