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Exhausted by Gifted Daughter
Q: I just can't keep up with my daughter. She constantly wants to be playing something or doing something. Even when we're walking to the store, she wants to play a mind game. I don't mind talking or even playing when we go places, but I need a break sometimes! My mind is happy with five minutes of quiet, whereas my ten-year-old's mind is just craving for something to do.
She's a huge Harry Potter fan. She has now started creating stories where she is at Hogwarts. I wish I had her imagination, but I just can't keep up! I've read all the books -- she's read all four of them three times already on top of her other reading -- but I don't want to constantly make up scenarios. My daughter can be very exhausting, but I don't want to stunt her imagination or growth. Do you have any advice on what I can do so I don't have to mentally work so hard but can still keep her going?
A: Keeping up with a gifted child can be very exhausting, but there are several possibilities for relief! You have already identified one of them: knowing your own limits. Insisting that your daughter be creative on her own is as important to her creative development as participating with her. Creating for her own pleasure is a skill that will last her a lifetime, so in that respect, maintaining your distance is crucial for both of you!
With regard to specific management techniques, perhaps you could set a timer or stopwatch that would mark the beginning and end of your joint time for creative play. Then you could invite her to participate in a creative task with a time limit. For example, you could ask her to join you in thinking of new names for a Harry Potter character and see how many you can list in five minutes. Many children love the challenge of creating under timed conditions.
It is clear that your daughter enjoys processing her stories out loud so you might want to consider buying her a small tape recorder. That way she could have the pleasure of making up stories and hearing herself create, but she would not have to depend on you for stimulation. You can play the stories back at a time that is convenient for both of you.
Rather than making up scenarios for her, you could try to provide a framework for her to create scenarios on her own. For example, you could put the names of some Harry Potter characters in one jar, put some possible settings (e.g., the beach, the grocery store) in another jar, and then have her draw two characters and a setting from the jars to create a scenario. She can go to the jars any time she wants to be creative, rather than rely on you for ideas.
Also, you might explore educational software programs that are designed to encourage young writers to create stories and plays. This would also allow her the freedom to create on her own, while getting direction and feedback from the program.
Another technique that you might consider is using Post-its for her to record her many creative ideas. Ask her to put each of her ideas on a Post-it note, and at the end of the day, schedule a time to review her ideas and discuss one or two of them in depth. That way she'll feel like she's being heard and that her ideas are valued, but it will save you from having to respond to each idea as it occurs to her.
When you say that she's craving something to do, I wonder if she's bored with the books and toys she has at home and is in need of different types of materials. The website for the National Association for Gifted Children (www.nagc.org) has an excellent resource list of products that many parents have found useful. Good luck!
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Felice Kaufmann is an independent consultant in gifted child education. Kaufman has been a classroom teacher and counselor of gifted children, grades K-12, and a professor at Auburn University and the Universities of New Orleans and Kentucky, where she created teacher training programs in gifted child education. She has served on the Board of Directors of the National Association for Gifted Children and the Executive Board of the Association of the Gifted.