By Dr Kate Bachtel
As many scholars suggest, empathy and high levels of sensitivity and awareness can be indicators of giftedness. Understanding another’s emotions and thought processes help us connect on a deep level. Yet, there are two sides to empathy superpowers. When an empath is coming from a place of well-being, this skill enables them to sit beside those who are suffering and support healing and positive transformation. Conversely, gifted individuals who have not learned strong self-care and grounding practices may report feelings of overwhelm. At times, the power of empathy can be also used to manipulate others. In the most tragic of circumstances, those who have been oppressed, neglected or abused can become wounded and entangled in a vicious cycle of relational aggression.
The Good News!
Empathy can be taught and measured. Below are 3 ways to cultivate empathy followed by 3 ways to ground oneself to use the 'E-power' for good. Combine these practices for support in engaging empathy for compassionate action.
Emotional intelligence has been decreasing steadily across countries, cultures and languages with marked drops in the skill of empathy. In practice, at SoulSpark Learning, we have yet to encounter someone with a perfect empathy score using the validated Six Seconds psychometric assessment tool. Here are a few playful ways to increase this critical EQ competency.
1. Emotion + Activity Game
This version of charades begins by creating two decks of cards out of paper notecards – on the first, list an emotion on each card (frustration, joy, peace, embarrassment, anger, etc.). The more nuanced the emotions, the better. On the second set of cards, list a variety of activities (planting a garden, painting, riding a bike, baking cookies, etc.). Take turns having participants select both an emotion and activity card and then silently act out the scene for the others to guess. How long does it take to guess both the activity and emotion?
In pairs, have one person move and the other pretend to be their mirror, precisely reflecting back the same movements. For an extra dose of joy, add music.
3. Role Play
Any type of role playing game grows empathy. Get creative; invent characters and scenes inclusive of diverse perspectives and situations that invoke a range of emotions. Role playing can be particularly helpful to prepare for challenging conversations or circumstances. Prevent Bullying has a range of role playing ideas to increase empathy and compassion.
From Empathy to Compassion
The difference between empathy and compassion is distance and action; compassion sits close and collaborates to create change.
Feel weighed down or immobilized by the pain of another? Some pretend they are in a bubble; others imagine themselves surrounded by roses or bathed in a light of their favorite color. Visualizing oneself in peaceful surroundings can help the empath stay put and support rather than flee.
2. Feel Your Soles
Some scholars and empaths proclaim walking barefoot on the earth for a few minutes each day supports the nervous system. When feelings of anxiety arise, focusing attention to the soles of one’s feet can prevent avoidance behaviors. Simultaneously repeating a mantra can help too, “I am grounded, I am courageous, I am calm.” The Daily Meditation has a number of mantras suitable for children.
3. Connect Heart, Body and Mind
A favorite mini-meditation is to imagine a star of golden light radiating out from one’s heart. Take a deep breath in and visualize the light moving from the heart up to the center of one’s mind. Then breathe out and move the light down to your gut or solar plexus, your body’s center. Continue breathing in and out moving the star up and down through your heart, mind and body until you feel clear, connected and centered.
Compassion is the gold standard, a measure of both individual and collective success.
About SoulSpark Learning
SoulSpark optimizes the development and well-being of youth and the educators who care for them. Read Kate's bio in our Friends of Gifted Alliance here.
Thank you Kate for sharing your expertise, experience, and championing gifted learners, their families, and educators!
The more an individual has experience in an area and throughout related domains, the more creative that person can be. Fortunately, this type of domain expertise can be cultivated through careful, regular, deep practice. Think “Growth Mindset” with a booster pack.
Daniel Coyle discusses in his books, The Talent Code and The Little Book of Talent, the everyday strategies one can use to build exacting experience.
Firstly, growing expertise requires “deep practice” in the “sweet spot.” This is the area where a person is skirting the boundaries of his/her ability within a field fo work. Thinkaboutthelasttimeyoustruggledwitha problem and ultimately came to a solution. This is the type of uncomfortable edge the brain needs to grow. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Practicing in the uncomfortable zone also builds up the transit system of your brain. The more you repeat a new skill in the learning zone, the more a substance called myelin wraps itself around the connection. The more myelin, the faster the connection, the more automatic the skill. A good example is a gymnast learning a handstand. He/she will repeat that skill to the point when the body locks itself into a perfect handstand consistenly. Automaticity then frees cognitive energy to for use in novel situations or when incorporating creativity .
Lastly, be relentless in fixing errors. For example, pretend you are working on exponent laws in mathematics. You confuse “product of a power “with “power of a power.” Fix the confusion and practice it to the point of automaticity before going on to “power of a product.” Every domain has a series of skills that need to be built. Practice them relentlessly and fix errors as they occur.
TEACHING RESILIENCY AT HOME – 6 STRATEGIES
Resiliency is the protective cling film that helps us withstand life’s challenges and tribulations. It’s our lifeboat when the ship is sinking, giving us that extra time while we repair what’s gone wrong. Resilience is formed through a combination of genetics, temperament, and environmental forces.
Dr Loretta Giorcelli recently shared the six domains of resilience at a talk in Hong Kong, which including the following:
Below we look at each of those domains within the context of gifted children.
The positive-oriented parent(s), extended family, caregivers, friends and physical surroundings all factor in to creating a secure environment. These individuals must be competent, present and available to the child in order to create that deep sense of emotional security. Limits and boundaries are also critical. However for those used to the intensity of Hong Kong, a healthy dose of independence is also needed, where the child feels that the caregiver is confident enough in the child to strike out on his/her own. Sheeber et al.(2007) noted, “The most widely reported finding with regard to family processes is that depression is inversely related to the level of support, attachment, and approval adolescents experience in the family environment.”
It is time to strengthen the bonds between parent(s)-student-school in order to create an environment where children can thrive. Gifted children often find school a place to endure rather than thrive, a place of boredom and a place where their thoughts, ideas and sense of place are actively squashed. This leads to depression, disillusionment and underachievement. Critical to a gifted child’s sense of success includes high self-esteem, a sense of optimism and ability to achieve self-mastery. Some studies have recognized that advanced problem solving ability and intellectual curiosity can also be a buffer of resilience in gifted individuals. Helping your child find that one teacher or coach that ‘mentors’ your child, even in a difficult school environment can give your child that extra dose of flexibility.
Studies show that when gifted children are put in a room, most often they will seek and find other gifted children as friends across multiple grade levels. A recent 2015 study debunked the myth that gifted children are socially less competent. The study indicates that gifted children were “highly popular with classmates” and actually “extended their own friendships throughout the intellectual range in their classroom.” The critical point for our gifted children is to help them facilitate finding at least one close friend. In Hong Kong, that also means helping our children build internal resiliency in case your family or that friend has to relocate.
TALENT AND INTERESTS
Consider professional athletes for a moment...immediately, one can deduce this is a segment of the population trained for resiliency. Studies indicate that professional athletes, and athletes at high levels in general are trained in a number of techniques such as "goal setting, imagery, relaxation, concentration, and self-talk". In the majority of cases, athletes and musicians also train in an area they like or love. They are the ones that take their interest and commit to it's development. No matter your child's pursuit, perhaps it is worth letting him/her explore these areas, even if they are unconventional. As another recent speaker mentioned, "Kids are now able to make careers out of things that never existed 20 years ago such as professional gaming, YouTube and more." If a child never has the opportunity to explore their talents and interests, they will never know how successful they could become.
Looking at the bright side of life not only can help you enjoy life more, but it also provides a buffer when the going gets tough. Parents that model progress in lieu of perfection, framing problems as opportunities for problem solving and teaching goal setting methods can help children learn to cope with everyday demands. Organizational skills can also help take the burden off of the multitude of stresses our children manage from elementary school to university. Using techniques such as bullet journaling and visual schedule organizers provide a backbone structure where mental energy can be devoted to other endeavours. In fact, the more we can help our children automate everyday processes, the more thinking power they can devote to learning. Whether your child’s temperament is glass half full or glass half empty, it’s critical as parents to listen and allow our children to express negative feelings and that seeking help is also a positive value.
Knowing where you are vulnerable in the six domains can help you assess those situations where resilience is lost. Elizabeth Meckstroth studied how gifted children adapt to the dominant social culture without losing their personal identity and values. She says in her paper, “Two of the more valued life goals of gifted children are self respect and happiness” (Parker & Colangelo, 1979). Although definitions of self respect and happiness vary with individuals, researchers, such as G. E. Vaillant, found that potentially highly successful people who were healthy experienced similar amounts and types of stresses but were able to develop strategies for coping with these challenges in their life” (Webb, Meckstroth & Tolan, 1982).
One of the biggest roadblocks to receiving services for children begins defining the word “gifted.” How a teacher, administrator, educational organization, institution, state/region, or country views the term can make or break a child’s opportunity to access accelerated learning, competitions, peers and social-emotional wellbeing. In some cases it can be a score such as in IQ tests or programmes like John’s Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (JHUCTY) or Davidson Academy. In either case, understanding how you and others around you define the complex web of definitions is critical in your journey as parent and advocate.
How does your child's school view gifted education? How does the program gatekeeper define gifted children? What is your personal definition? Are there laws that govern the term? What test should your child take? What about special populations within gifted such as twice-exceptional, profoundly gifted or a language learner?
Top Definitions of Gifted Across the World
“Gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as an exceptional ability to reason and learn) or competence (documented performance or achievement in top 10% or rarer) in one or more domains. Domains include any structured area of activity with its own symbol system (e.g., mathematics, music, language) and/or set of sensorimotor skills (e.g., painting, dance, sports).”
- National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC)
“Children and young people with one or more abilities developed to a level significantly ahead of their year group (or with the potential to develop those abilities).”
- Department for Children, Schools and Families UK
“Gifted children may show their extraordinary performance in different aspects, for example, in cognitive domains, leadership, arts and sports. Therefore, gifted children are best identified using multiple methods, such as behavioral checklists, teacher/parent/peer/self nomination, standardized tests and IQ tests.”
– Education Bureau of Hong Kong (EDB)
“Gifted behavior occurs when there is an interaction among three basic clusters of human traits: above-average general and/or specific abilities, high levels of task commitment (motivation), and high levels of creativity.”
– Joseph Renzulli (University of Connecticut)
Multiple Intelligence Theory suggests intelligence is based on eight different areas of human potential.
– Howard Gardner (Harvard)
“Gagné’s Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent (2008) provides research-based definitions of giftedness and talent that are directly and logically connected to teaching and learning. According to Gagné, gifted students are those whose potential is distinctly above average in one or more of the following domains of human ability.”
– Australian Curriculum
“ ‘Gifted child’ means a child who is of lawful school age, who due to superior intellect or advanced learning ability, or both, is not afforded an opportunity for otherwise attainable progress and development in regular classroom instruction and who needs special instruction or special ancillary services, or both, to achieve at levels commensurate with the child’s intellect and ability.”
IQ Tests: Generally a full-scale IQ (FSIQ) of 130 and above.
It’s clear just by looking at the information above, there are many ways to view intelligence. Some will be based on IQ scores whilst others will look at a variety of data points. The important take-away is to know how your child’s teacher, school, community and government view as to how they define gifted children.
ySTRESS REDUCTION AT HOME
Gifted children are intense inside and out. Their thoughts are intense, their interactions with friends and adults are intense, and their physical fitness needs can be intense. (See overexcitabilities for more information on intensity.)
So, what is the cause of our child’s stress and how as parents can we turn the dial down to help them relax at home?
RELAXATION AND STRESS RELIEF
Many ideas for children also work for adults. Spend some family time discussing ideas to try.
"According to researchers, of the eight essential elements a child receives from other children as (s)he grows up, seven can be found in friendship. These are affection, intimacy, a reliable alliance, instrumental aid, nurturance, companionship and an enhancement of self-worth." It's time to make playdates and relaxing social situations a part of our child's everyday life. Best Friends, Worst Enemies - Understanding the Social Lives of Children by Michael Thompson and Catherine O'Neill Grace is the most important book detailing friendships, relationships and the social-emotional development of children. Learn more about the intricate interplay of relationships during school, birthday parties, bullying, conflict and reconciliation over the 265 pages of research, real family stories and bonus information. Memorable tidbits throughout help parents "take the long view" and that "Real security is psychological and emotional. It means that every child feels safe and respected and able to focus on learning." That simple statement translates to every environment your child will touch. Particularly helpful is Chapter 12 - What Parents Can Do. Especially for our children and those that "help" them throughout the day (and generally prioritize social-emotional development), the book gives guidance on typical friendship development, conflicts and resolution, reasons to relax and help your child(ren) "cover the basics", how parents can manage and support friendships at all ages and create an environment at home to encourage solid, stable relationships.
Are you thinking about having your child complete an educational assessment? There are some important questions you need to ask yourself and the psychologist before your child takes the tests. As Psychology Today points out, "Early testing and identification can be a controversial subject, but many advocates of gifted children believe that they should be identified as soon as possible so that their unique needs and talents can be acknowledged and nurtured right from the start. Early identification is also important when a young child is showing behavioral or social differences - not fitting in, being highly focused on unusual interests, appearing more distractible or inattentive than others of the same age - and parents want to understand the cause." Ultimately, high-ability is a learning difference. An educational assessment is one tool that can be used to distinguish that difference and/or if your child has an unmet or undiscovered learning need. In addition, because testing is expensive, it is important to find the right person to conduct the testing and to consider how this test could change and influence your child's educational future.
4 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
12 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR PSYCHOLOGIST
View the entire article on Psychology Today here.
For an inventory of testing options see Hoagies Gifted Testing Inventory. In Hong Kong (and worldwide) the WISC-V, WPPSI-IV and the SB-5 are the most widely accepted tests.
It's difficult to know if you are doing the right thing as a parent regarding access to technology/devices. Over the last year, we have researched and collated some of the best tips and guidelines any family can print and use at home. The overarching goal: teaching children to use devices as a resource, a tool for learning a wide variety of subjects or honing specific skills, and occasionally as an opportunity to socialize. Start discussing early on how you use your devices, have open conversations and dialogue about how to do effective searches, and be honest in explaining what is off limits and why. It's important to be aware that when children start using the internet, it's likely they will be exposed to the dark side. Be prepared to have those conversations before allowing access. Gifted Alliance has created this family guide for you to copy/paste, discuss, adjust and use for your family.
FAMILY COMPUTER AGREEMENT
I NEED PERMISSION TO
To read more about internet safety, device usage recommendations and more, please see the following links:
Children and Screen Time - Recommendations by the NIH - Comprehensive recommendations including:
Current Screen Time Guidelines
Children under age 2 should have no screen time.
Limit screen time to 1 to 2 hours a day for children over age 2.
Despite what ads may say, videos that are aimed at very young children do not improve their development.
NSPCC Guide to Online Safety - Find out what children do online, risks and dangers and how to keep children safe.
Be sure to click on the link above to explore the Risks and dangers of being online
Inappropriate content including pornography
Ignoring age restrictions
Friending or communicating with strangers
Grooming and sexual abuse
Sharing personal information
Gambling and creating other debts
We all understand that motivation has a multitude of factors influencing the final inner drive to achieve. One of the biggest for high-ability children is educational-match. If the assumption Maria Montessori makes is correct, children are inherently motivated to learn and to master concepts given the right conditions, a bit of guidance and freedom. This idea is reflected in the natural metaphor of a seed being put in the ground to grow and prosper. The seed has inner motivation (direction), but needs a rich soil of nutrients to build a good root system, break through the ground and flourish. As parents we provide a layer of nutrient rich soil, but there are other layers that affect the child’s ability to prosper.
A child spends his/her best and most productive hours (especially in primary school) in an environment far away from immediate family. The child’s teacher, peer group, level of independence, learning ability, goals and many other factors influence the level of motivation a child has towards high achievement in any given subject or individual lesson. A single incident and/or consistent negative influence on any of these important elements can lead to a slow degradation of inner drive, performance, low feeling of satisfaction and self-worth.
Anxiety can also be a serious threat to motivation and success in school or when doing activities at home. Here are 20 Tips that you can use to help de-escalate an episode of anxiety to get back on track to learning and open the mind. Anxiety is known to close down the prefrontal cortex where decision-making and learning takes place. It adversely affects working memory leading to spotty learning and “holes” for otherwise very high ability children. Other obstacles such as learning disabilities, lack of communication skills, impulsivity, family life and more can further affect a child’s level of motivation and learning retention.
To combat some of the negative influences, Katrina Schwartz from MindShift writes, “Teaching kids about how their brains and memory work can also be a way to help them discover intrinsic motivation to complete tasks.” In the book Being Smart About Gifted Education, by Dr. Dona Matthews and Dr. Joanne Foster, there is an entire chapter dedicated to motivation and achievement offering educators and parents insight into keeping children inspired to learn. Tying the value of an activity to expectation of success, confidence, atmosphere, the adult’s enthusiasm for the concept/idea/subject, positive reinforcement, wonder, curiosity, climate, feedback and so many other aspects can all be grouped together to create the perfect conditions for enlightened learning.
Lately, more research and exploration is coming out on the importance of curiosity and play to enhance motivation and memory. This NPR article says that curiosity releases dopamine in our brains; the hormone that helps us feel good. Psychologist Charan Ranganath continues, "… dopamine also seems to play a role in enhancing the connections between cells that are involved in learning." In the Ted Radio Hour Show, Press Play, Stuart Brown continues to talk about how play is more than having a good time. Similarly, in his book, Play, Brown states, “The ability to play is critical not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person.” In Larry Kim’s article on Inc. titled, 10 Critical Skills for 2020, all 10 of skills require social awareness, creativity and innovation.
How does all of this information make a difference in your household? To get started think about these five questions for your child.
When those questions have been answered and exhausted, it’s time to encourage “assertiveness, independence, self-reliance and effort.” (APGTGC) How will you help the child get started? What ideas does the child have? What about other’s around him/her? Who can you get to collaborate? Then create the environment to promote access, learning and achievement; sprinkle in a bit of help where needed, establish some goals, and let the fun fly!
Are you excited about what you just read? Want to know more or want to add to our list of resources? Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will do the research and write it up, because if you are wondering, someone else is, too.
The Dangerous Book for Boys (book for children)
The Daring Book for Girls (book for children)
Ted Talk: Play is More than Just Fun (video)
Ted Talk: 5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do (video)
NYTimes Magazine: Taking Play Seriously (article)
APGTGC: A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children (resource)
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (article)
Curiosity and Powerful Learning - PDF by Wayne Craig (resource)
NPR Ted Radio Hour: Press Play (podcast)
Being Smart about Gifted Education (resource)
Play, Development, and Early Education (resource)
Fun Games for Car Rides (resource)
Make Believe Games Activities for Imaginative Play (resource)
Creativity Unhinged: 120 Games for Kids to Spark Creative Thinking and Let Imaginations Run Wild (resource)