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Another parent-shaming meme is making its way through social media. This one seems to target parents, who are more concerned with their child’s “potential” than teaching soft skills that are essential for success in adulthood.
Sometimes posts like this specifically target the gifted community. I don’t think that’s the intent with this particular post; however, some kite kid parents feel attacked. After all, many have been accused of pushing their children too hard academically, even when that isn’t the case. Even when the child is simply following her internal drive and intellectual intensity.
In contrast, sometimes the skills mentioned in this meme can be unusually difficult for children with asynchronous development, overexcitabilities (a.k.a. intensities), high-functioning autism, depression or an anxiety disorder.
If you spend any time in an online group for parents whose kids have one or more of these neurological, psychological or behavioral differences, it quickly becomes obvious that they want to teach their children these skills. In fact, they solicit advice – but from others who understand the nuances at play.
Is it impossible to teach these types of soft skills? No, but with some children, it takes a lot longer and requires much more effort. In addition, it can appear to bystanders that the parent must not be doing a “good job” at it. If they only knew how much the parent is trying. And seeing no progress. And trying again. And again.
Ask my friend, who has a child with Asperger’s that taught herself how to read at age 3. (Her mom had no idea her daughter could read until she watched her do it one day.) Now, at age seven, this girl can tell you the capital of most any country on the globe. No one pushes her to excel academically; she just does it. On the flip side, her parents and teachers struggle – mightily at times – to help her control her emotions. Some irritants and triggers include: loud noises and insects, as well as almost any food you can think of (often due to texture issues).
Parents like this mom don’t need people spreading comments like the one above on Facebook. Neither do the parents of kids with clinical anxiety.
Or the parents of twice-exceptional (2e) or plain old “gifted” children. (I hate the G word, so I call them “kite kids” instead.) Kite kids all have at least some degree of uneven development and intensities. In fact, many experts say these traits can be easier to see in many of these children than their higher-than-normal intelligence, especially if they’re 2e kiddos.
Like so many judgments that people make, until you’ve walked in another mom’s shoes, you probably don’t have any idea what it’s really like – and, if you did, there’s a good chance you’d be eating your words.
Approach is important
Whether you have a neurodiverse kid or not, if you see a post like this on social media, please add some context to the conversation. Explain that the reason for a child’s behavior isn’t always as simple as it seems.
And you don’t have to be rude about it. In fact, you shouldn’t. That makes people defensive, and then you’ll be wasting your time. No one will actually “listen” because they’ll be more focused on their rebuttal.
A respectful way to engage (and educate)
So far, the only place I’ve seen the above meme is in a Facebook group for moms of G-word kids. However, many members of that group have seen it on their friends’ pages.
If I did see it outside of that group, I’d make this comment. (Feel free to copy and paste, if an opportunity presents itself.)
While there’s some truth in this message, it’s missing important context. It’s much easier to teach some kids these skills than others and sometimes, there are psychological, neurological and other clinical reasons for that. (Examples include: asynchronous development, overexcitabilities, high-functioning autism and clinical anxiety.) Dealing with these issues can be much harder than most people realize. It can appear to bystanders that the parent isn’t doing a “good job.” In reality, however, they are busting their rears to help their kids develop these, and other, important life skills.
Are there are parents who focus on the wrong thing? Absolutely, but that isn’t always as easy to determine as it may seem. Generalizations like this can make parents who do care (and are trying) feel even more alone and misunderstood by others in their community.
To be clear
Again, this isn’t to say it’s okay to give up just because it’s hard. Placing unbalanced emphasis on achievement can have all sorts of negative consequences. In fact, my article on The Problem with “Potential” talks about additional reasons we shouldn’t allow that to become the focus.
I hope you’ll read that story, too.
All the best,