Where the fire in my belly comes from

Great Potential Press founder and president Dr. James T. Webb speaks about his experiences as a gifted child and his desire to help parents.

This is definitely where the fire in my belly comes from. I want to help parents understand their gifted child, their intensity, sensitivity, their idealism. I want to facilitate them in their journey so they can make sense of it all and find ways to stay connected with their children. It’s so important for parents to be able to communicate with their children. And this is only possible when you understand where their intensity, sensitivity and idealism comes from and the impact that it has on their behavior and their lives.

Read Adrienne van den Bos’ complete Gifted People Interview with James Webb.

When Bright Kids Become Disillusioned

By: James T. Webb

Bright children are often intense, sensitive, idealistic, and concerned with fairness, and they are quick to see inconsistencies and absurdities in the classroom, in their families, and in the world. They are able to see issues on a universal scale, along with the complexities and implications of those issues. Children with high expectations and idealism are often disappointed, and disillusionment seems to occur mainly among the most idealistic children. They may become disillusioned only in some areas, or they may become completely disenchanted with life, which often leads to feelings of loneliness, unhappiness, anxiety, and even depression.

During childhood, the world seems simple, straightforward, and uncomplicated. The expectations and rules of daily life within the family are clear, and their awareness of the world is generally limited to their immediate family. Unless they live in a chaotic, confusing, abusive family, life for most young children is generally consistent, predictable, and emotionally comfortable. They trust that they are safe.

When children enter school, they are exposed to differing expectations and rules from their teachers, and as they see how other children, parents, and teachers behave, they begin to question their previously steadfast illusions. They discover that they are not the main focus, as they are at home; they are expected to fit in with other children and act like them. They learn, too, that other families live their lives according to different rules. Although, for instance, their parents insist that the children obey them unquestionably, other families may let their children talk back to adults and question and challenge them. Perhaps a child’s family is concerned with helping others, supporting charities, and preserving the environment, but other families focus on conspicuous consumption and attaining wealth, power, and prestige. A child in a family that is critical and judgmental of others’ shortcomings may discover that other families are more accepting. Children begin to realize that families and teachers vary in their views of the world and of how one should live one’s life. The simple innocence of childhood becomes perplexingly complex, and, in adolescence, even more so. These bright youngsters wonder which way is the “correct” way of living and often worry about what they will want to do with their lives. As they grow gradually into young adulthood, they question which values and behaviors they will live by as an adult. Will they follow a teacher’s guidelines, their family’s example, or will they cast off some of those behaviors and take up new ones?

Their brightness, sensitivity, and idealism make them likely to ask themselves difficult questions about the nature and purpose of their lives and the lives of others. Even very young gifted children may ask questions like “Why do people hate and kill others because they look or act different?” or “Why did my friend, who was a good person, die when he was only seven years old?” Teachers and parents find these questions to be challenging and uncomfortable.

These are not idle questions; these children focus on issues of fairness, wonder how they should live their lives, and want to know the rules of life and of the universe. “Who am I and where do I belong?” are questions they may ask themselves repeatedly because the answers devised in childhood and adolescence were inaccurate or incomplete. Quite early in life, bright children develop the capacity for metacognition-thinking about their thinking-often even before they develop the emotional and experiential tools to deal with it successfully.

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As bright children hear the evening news, they see that the idealistic world does not exist. Instead there are stories of intolerance, assault, robbery, and murder. It is not uncommon to hear reports of people hurting or taking advantage of others. People in positions of trust, such as politicians, clergy, scoutmasters, teachers, and even parents, engage in dishonesty, neglect, or abuse. We live in a world where many people do not take responsibilities seriously and where there seems to be little concern with quality. Poverty abounds, and the environment is ravaged daily. So few people seem to care. It is not the idealistic world we try to present to our children. And bright children often find that their age peers and even many adults do not share their concerns.

Teachers and parents may try to reassure these children by saying something like “You can make a difference in the world when you grow up.” But such statements are seldom comforting because these bright minds are keenly aware of so many issues and needs around them, and they feel helpless to fix the many troubling problems they see. As a result, they can become disillusioned and depressed even at a young age.

How frequent and how strong are these feelings? A teacher friend described what she observed in her second-grade gifted cluster classroom:

I had three students initiate conversations with me about wanting to die. Two of these conversations were ignited by a particular situation occurring in the child’s life connected with death and dying. The third seemed to be connected to ongoing issues in the child’s life concerning his self-image and place within the family. Some teachers may have been horrified by such disclosures, but I felt more empathy than horror.As a teacher I felt helpless as to how I could help these children cope with their feelings, since I felt the same way as they did. What is the essential piece of life (relationships, family structures, personality characteristics, future life situations) that can help them cope with these existential thoughts and steer them toward mental health as opposed to a life filled with depressive thoughts and possible suicide?There are little children sitting nicely in their desks and at the dinner table who are thinking of killing themselves. They may let these feelings show, or they may keep them hidden. They may tell someone, or they may not. These feelings can be devastating to a child so young, as she feels there is something wrong with her. She may feel as if her existence is more of a burden on her family than it is a pleasure to experience life.

Among bright and caring children, disillusionment is not rare, and it can lead to feelings of despair and aloneness. As these individuals examine themselves and their place in the world, they can see how things might be and should be. They start out believing that others share their idealistic concerns, but they end up feeling like Don Quixote, tilting at windmills. Sometimes they are fortunate enough to find a few other idealists, but all too often they feel alone in their struggles. Many find themselves accused of being too much of something-that is, their friends, families, and even teachers repeatedly say to them: “You are too serious,” “You think too much!” “You are too sensitive,” “…too idealistic,” “…too impatient with others,” “…expect too much of the world,” “…focus too much on what is wrong in life.” Disillusioned idealists battle with feelings of loneliness, sadness, emptiness, self-doubt, and often an intense search for meaning.

The Loneliness of Being Disillusioned and Different

A six-year-old who frets about war or helping the homeless or victims of natural disasters, or a 12-year-old concerned with her life purpose rather than with the latest fashion or rock star is likely to find herself being one of the “cafeteria fringe” who is unwelcome at any lunch table, or she may be bullied or teased and called “loser” on a daily basis because of her serious interests. In the classroom, the student with unusual ideas or demanding questions may well find himself sitting by the wall, outside of the teacher’s line of vision to reduce his participation in the class. I knew of a kindergarten teacher who invited a behavior modification team into the classroom to help with a boy who asked too many questions, and they were proud when he had learned to ask just one question every hour.

Any person who is in a minority group is particularly likely to feel outside of the mainstream and, as a result, is apt to struggle with issues of feeling different, left out, or ostracized-all of which can result in disillusionment. Any member of a minority, whether based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, looking different, or being idealistically concerned with life-purpose issues, is at risk for a minority experience. Being different can lead to feelings of disappointment and a lack of connectedness with others; in other words, being thoughtfully gifted can be a very lonely experience.

Many people, whether young or old, with such weighty personal concerns are hesitant to share them, fearing that others will see them as bad-mannered or that they will not be understood. And that may, in fact, be the case. Friends and family may try to reason them out of such thinking, making comments like “You have friends. You are doing well in school (or at work). You should just enjoy your life right now” or “Of course you are doing important things to help the world; you have a good job and a good family.” In my experience, most people are reluctant to talk with others about their existential concerns of disillusionment because they doubt that other people will care enough to listen and because of their own discomfort. They are not yet ready to experience the angst that can arise if they begin thinking carefully about their lives.

This article was originally published in a newsletter from The Knox School of Santa Barbara.

Learn How to Become a Gifted Education Teacher

According to the National Association of Gifted Children, approximately 3 million students are identified as gifted across the country, and more than 8,000 gifted education teachers work with them.

Working with K-12 students is already a challenging job. Working with gifted K-12 students adds another layer to the challenge.

All Education Schools.com shares tips about the ins-and-outs of teaching the gifted children who are so important to Great Potential Press.

Gifted learners have special skills, but many have special needs as well. In fact, the very things that allow these students to excel intellectually and creatively often cause them to struggle emotionally and socially.

A bright child… A gifted learner…
knows the answer     asks the questions
is interested     is highly curious
is attentive     is mentally and physically involved
has good ideas     has wild, silly ideas
works hard     plays around, yet tests well

 

Read more at “Learn How to Become a Gifted Education Teacher.”

Your Ideals, Your Hopes, Your Dreams

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Your Ideals, Your Hopes, Your Dreams

The 2016 U.S. election left many people feeling disillusioned, frightened, and depressed. At the recent National Association for Gifted Children convention, teachers and parents said that their gifted children were feeling fear and anxiety about the future. The adults, themselves, often had the same emotions, and worried that the future in our country and for our planet seems bleak.

Many of us are feeling helpless, hopeless, living in a bizarre world we are powerless to change, and where people often seem selfish, superficial, and dishonest. Too many lies have been told by those whom we hoped we could trust. Too few people, often even within our own families, truly want to listen and thoughtfully care for others. This is particularly painful and disillusioning for persons who are sensitive, intense, caring idealists.

How can we cope, and how can we help others? First, remember that you are not alone in your thoughts and feelings. Second, you are not powerless; you do have the ability to take actions. Feeling alone and helpless are the two most important issues to deal with.

In society, people have isolated themselves and honest emotional connection seems rarer than before. We go through the motions of genuine life, but so much of it seems superficial; we pretend and put up a veneer of realness when we are with others. It feels risky to let others know that we care as deeply as we do. No wonder we feel alone as we try to find meaning in all of what is happening. Despite our fears, we need to take the risk to reach out to others to share our hopes and even our sensitive feelings because that is how we can connect with them.

Most of all, hold on to your ideals, your hopes, and your dreams. You are not alone in them, and if we work together, we can influence the world so that it becomes kinder, more compassionate, safer, and lasting. However, remember and be inspired by the words of the poet, Langston Hughes, in his poem Dreams. I hope they help you as well.

Dreams

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

Dr. James T. Webb

Smart Start to 2016 and Beyond: Encouraging Productivity

By: Joanne Foster

 “It is best if the child has a supportive milieu—one that is safe, respectful of abilities, reinforcing, motivating—and that the goals or tasks the child is asked to complete are appropriate and doable.”

The New Year is a time of renewed vision, yet there is a temptation to procrastinate. Though choices and decisions must be made, even the most well-intentioned, resolute person often finds it difficult to get started, let alone finish. This is as true for kids as it is for adults.

Here are some tips to help make the new year happily productive. It involves looking at the child’s reason for procrastinating and helping the child find a new approach.

  1. Child’s possible point of view: “There’s a whole year ahead. That’s plenty of time to get organized, and then do what needs to be done, so there’s no need to rush. Right?“

“A broad period can be counterproductive because it allows time for distractions, excuses, and other jobs and occurrences to intercede.”

Tip for parents: Ask your child to think back on previous experiences and how long it took to finish similar tasks, and then to apply that knowledge when confronting a new one. It’s all about the pacing. In order to create a sensible timeline, consider factors like the degree of difficulty of the task, its intrigue and interest, and the estimated time necessary for its completion. Past experiences are guideposts for future accomplishments.

  1. Child’s possible point of view: “Ready. Set. Go!” It’s easier said than done.

“Sometimes kids wait for inspiration as an excuse (like adults often do!), but will get to things when they are ready. Readiness can be a big factor in getting things accomplished.”

Tip for parents: à Help your child recognize what makes him feel ready, enthusiastic, confident, and efficient—or conversely, what makes him feel bogged down or want to procrastinate. Talk about what’s involved in a task. What are the expectations? Are special materials needed? What skill sets are helpful? What kind of direction, assistance or reinforcement will ease the demands?

  1. Child’s possible point of view: “So much to do! Choices, decisions, steps…”

“Everyone has things they really enjoy doing and things they would much rather avoid.”

Tip for parents: Honor your child’s interests and preferences. Help your child learn to weigh alternatives. How much are they emphasizing what they want to do compared with what they have to do. Help your child appreciate the value of something that, at first glance, may not seem interesting or meaningful but that might gain relevance over time, and then chunk tasks into manageable segments to tackle one by one; to. Eliminate distractions.

  1. Child’s possible point of view: “I’m not sure how to start. AArrgghh!”

“If a goal or task seems daunting, it may be helpful for a child to watch how others go about attaining it. This can serve as a primer and as incentive.”

Strategies for parents: When a task seems too complicated—or boring—or endless… a child can buddy up with others to share the load. Help your child be specific about what she hopes to achieve, and how she intends to achieve it. It’s best to have a plan, an end-goal, and the support of others who have faith in her ability to succeed. When parents help children see obstacles and setbacks as learning opportunities, it conveys the message that effort and resilience matter.

Other productivity-inducing tips for parents:

  • Encourage playful exploration.
  • Offer genuine, timely, and constructive feedback.
  • Be flexible, patient, and calm.
  • Avoid power struggles. A child who shirks a task may have good reason.
  • Respect children’s capabilities, areas of weakness, interests, and temperaments.
  • Demonstrate a “can do” attitude and strong work ethic in your own daily life.
  • Say “please” and “thank you” when asking kids to do something.
  • Most importantly, resist taking over and doing it for her. It’s better if children learn early on that there are consequences for not doing what needs doing. Offer encouragement and, if need be, some guidance or help.
  • Finally, ensure that there is adequate down time, because too much work and not enough play is unhealthy.

All the above-noted strategies will help make the months ahead fruitful and pleasant so that children will feel a well-earned sense of accomplishment and help develop comfortable routines.

For more on this topic see Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination. Note – The quotes are excerpts from the book.

For information on nurturing children’s optimal development see Being Smart about Gifted Education.

For additional articles and resources visit http://www.beyondintelligence.net

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Off on the Right Foot: Tips to Tackle Back to School Changes

Tackling back to school changes

Helping children transition smoothly during hectic times

New teachers, new classmates, maybe even a new school.

That’s right. It’s back to school time and thus a time for change!

Great Potential Press author and education specialist Dr. Joanne Foster offers tips to help kids step into the classroom on the right foot. Parents who recognize and appreciate the complexities of change and take time to reflect upon the reasons and potential consequences set the tone for good development opportunities.

  • Knowledge is empowering. Take careful stock of the change and share the pertinent information. Or, teach children how to acquire their own knowledge about any potential risks or benefits.
  • Reflection is a constructive process. Think about the possible implications of the change, particularly with respect to your child’s comfort level. Take into account feelings and flexibility.
  • Support systems can lighten the load. Check out support services at school and within the community, including people involved in planning and implementing changes.
  • Complexities can be simplified. Can the situation be altered to be more accommodating of your child’s individual needs? Do you see any adjustment problems that can be offset?
  • The unexpected is inevitable. Unexpected factors and outside influences can affect a change process. Pay attention to these and encourage your child to do the same because deviations might offer new possibilities!
  • Professional help is available. Seek professional advice if your child needs increased support or coping strategies. If she can’t sleep, won’t eat, loses interest in friends, this may indicate a need for assistance.

Read Joanne Foster‘s full article on this topic on The Creativity Post.

Joanne Foster holds a Master’s degree in Special Education and Adaptive Instruction and a Doctoral degree in Human Development and Applied Psychology. Her work in gifted education focuses on ways to encourage and support high-ability learners. Dr. Foster is author of the Great Potential Press books Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination and co-author (with Dr. Dona Matthews) of Being Smart about Gifted Education.

Order Not Now Maybe Later NOW from Great Potential Press:

Price: $22.95

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Order Being Smart about Gifted Education NOW from Great Potential Press:

Price: $28.95

Being Smart about Gifted Education

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robin Williams: Finding a Better Solution

The conversation about giftedness, creativity, existential depression, mental illness, etc. began immediately when the August 11, 2014 news broke about the suicide of comedian and actor Robin Williams.

Great Potential Press and its founder Dr. James T. Webb have a calling to recognize, develop, and help the gifted children and adults who so often are told “you’ll be fine” because the assumption is that their gifts will provide a super-human resiliency that propels them from depression or any other disintegration.

RobinWilliams2011

Courtesy: Wikipedia

The brightest, most creative individuals often suffer from depression, as did Robin Williams who died of an apparent suicide.

His intensity, sensitivity, and search for life meaning, characteristic of so many gifted people, permeated his life. This was evident in his movies and other productions, like Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting, that portrayed the social and emotional needs and conflicts of gifted and talented people who struggle in a search for idealism and excellence in a world of mediocrity that so often seems uncaring and that fails to understand zany creativity that helps us laugh at tragedy.

In his idealism, he was disillusioned many times, and he wrote about it candidly, including how he tried to use alcohol to numb himself from his pain.

There are many other bright and creative minds like Robin Williams who are facing similar struggles.

Can we help them find a better solution?

Yes.

There is no reason any of us ever have to feel as if we are doing anything alone.

 

For more information, support, or books about the emotional and mental ups-and-downs of gifted children and adults:

Searching for Meaning by Dr. James T. Webb

Living with Intensity edited by Drs. Susan Daniels and Michael Piechowski

Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration by Dr. Sal Mendaglio

From Worrier to Warrior and Make Your Worrier a Warrior by Dr. Dan Peters

Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted is a non-profit whose programs and resources include a list of mental health providers with gifted specialties, webinars, and an annual conference.

Gifted Children and Adults: Finding a Community is a Goodreads group open to parents, educators, counseling professionals, and anyone who’s seeking information. Discuss and share books and resources about gifted and giftedness.

Gifted Kids Aren’t Going to “Be Fine” is an article written about the topic of not recognizing the special needs of the gifted.

Searching for Meaning is a Linkedin group designed to talk about existential issues and depression

 

Living With the Ups and Downs

In honor of National Parenting Gifted Children Week from July 20-26, 2014,  Dr. James T. Webb joins the dialogue about the challenges of parenting and the need to nurture, support, and guide gifted children and adults.

 

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“Parenting a gifted child is like living in a theme park full of thrill rides. Sometimes you smile. Sometimes you gasp. Sometimes you scream. Sometimes you laugh. Sometimes you gaze in wonder and astonishment. Sometimes you’re frozen in your seat. Sometimes you’re proud. And sometimes the ride is so nerve-racking you can’t do anything but cry.”

Carol Whitney and Gretchen Hirsch use these words so aptly during the opening of Helping Gifted Children Soar.

Parents have described to me over the years how puzzled, lonely, and exasperated they are with their child’s intensity, sensitivity, quirkiness, and asynchronous development. However when they share their experiences with other parents, or even relatives, the reaction so often is, “Well, I wish I had your problems! Your child has everything going for him, and you have it easy!”

dr-james-webb

Our society operates on the basis of several myths:

  • gifted children are just like other children, only just a bit brighter;
  • gifted children don’t have any special needs;
  • they will make it on their own;
  • gifted children are easy to parent because they learn so quickly.

Truth is, the very things that make gifted children what they are also produce the behaviors that make them so challenging. Parents and teachers often find themselves criticizing gifted children with statements like:

“For someone so smart, you have no common sense at all!”

“Do you have to be so sensitive and intense about everything?”

“Why do you always have to question everything? Can’t you just do things because I say so?”

“Why do I have to cut the tags out of all of your shirts?”

In Guiding the Gifted Child, we call these “Killer Statements” because they kill communication, chip away at a child’s sense of self, and convey to the child that they would be better liked if they were just like other children.

Statements such as these, not surprisingly, lead to family issues such as power struggles, sibling rivalry, underachievement, perfectionism, and even depression.

Gifted children, though a very diverse group, show commonalities:

(1) They see things differently.

(2) They do things differently.

(3) They act, think, and feel with intensity.

(4) Their judgment lags behind their intellect.

GiftedChildrensStrengthsGreatPotentialPress

These are some “Ups and Downs of Giftedness.”

For every characteristic that’s a strength for a gifted child, there’s a downside of potential problems associated with that strength.

The brighter the child, the more likely the child is to be asynchronous—not only in the lag of judgment behind intellect, but also that the span of abilities within the child is likely to be greater, so much so that it is not uncommon to find very bright children who also are learning disabled or twice-exceptional in some other way.

Parenting a gifted child is often is a very lonely experience. In fact, being a gifted adult is often a lonely experience. This is why finding others who can relate and empathize is so important.

Fortunately, there are many resources to find help, guidance, and support.

Try Books

A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children
A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Teens
Living with Intensity

Try SENG 

Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted is a non-profit whose programs and resources include the popular parent support groups and an annual conference.

Try NAGC

National Association for Gifted Children advocates on behalf of the gifted to ensure quality education and keeps on top of the most current research and needs.

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