Balancing expectations for academic excellence without causing emotional stress...

Margie - posted on 10/28/2010 ( 6 moms have responded )

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Hi, I have just joined this group and have an 11 year old (first year of middle school) girl. She tested into the gifted program in the first grade and has always been a highly socially functioning gifted child. So while we have always taken advantage of our states (Missouri's) extrcurricular and school based gifted functions I have not done a lot of research on the emotional aspects of the gifted. This year we have really been encouraging the grades that we know she can achieve and stressed how important maximizing that potential is for attaining her future goals (ie college of her choice and the means to attend those institutions). In parent teacher confernces the "delta" teacher showed us her stress level questionaire that showed she does have elevated stress levels. And asked us if she has ADHD. I feel aweful if i have stressed out my 11 year old, and of course she doesn't want to talk about it. How do you maintain that fine line of expecting the childs best without adding to their stress levels??? Thanks.

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Laura - posted on 10/29/2010

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That is an excellent question! First of all, as a point of clarification, does your daughter exhibit other signs of ADHD other than stress at school? Does she have a very short attention span? Does she behave in a hyper or fidgity way? If not, then I think the teacher was stretching her assessment! My daughter is in a gifted program at her middle school and gets stressed out by the higher expectations from her teachers but she is definitely not ADD/ADHD! Stress, to me, is a poor marker for making such a diagnosis/comment, especially considering the more challenging work load of G/T programs in school. Stress happens with challenged students!

That being said, the stress might not be with the classwork itself but rather from your expectations of high grades for the classwork. There is nothing wrong with having high expectations for your daughter's work! What I suggest is that the focus of those expectations (grades) might be off target. Having a child in the gifted program at our school, I know exactly where your coming from with the reasons for your expectations (I have them myself). What I and my husband have done is shifted our focus from grades and focused our expectations on what our daughter is actually LEARNING. Is she learning the material? Does she understand the material? Is she completing the work? She knows that by focusing her attention to these things, the good grades will follow. But above all, we stress the importance of always doing one's best and to not worry so much about the grade. Remember, too, that grades are only one tool in monitoring what kids actually learn in school.

Here's an example: Our daughter skipped most of 7th grade algebra and went straight to 8th grade honors algebra. This one class has caused her A LOT of stress. She became obsessed with her grade because she thought she was failing. My husband and I asked her what she was LEARNING. Our daughter responded that she didn't think she was learning much because some of the materials the class was going over she never had before! This gave us information that we could then use to help her--we got her a tutor (a cousin who is a HS algebra teacher!)to help her "learn" the missing material. She was then able to get caught up and has been able to raise her grade while reducing her stress levels! She has been having issues with "test anxiety" as a result, but her tutor/cousin gave her some advice for dealing with that and now her test and quizz scores are improving and that stress has been reduced. All this time her dad and I kept telling her it was more important to focus on what she was learning and doing her best to learn than the grade itself. She finally seemed to understand this concept when she announced one day that she would rather get a B in an advanced honors class then settle for an easy A in the "regular" class. She knows that she is learning more and achieving more by stretching herself in this class (and yes, stressing!) but that the outcome will make her a better student in the long run.

Finally, the best parenting tool you can use in this situation is communication with your daughter. Find or make some quiet time with her where you can ask her what she is learning in her classes. Ask what she thinks and feels about her classes. Ask her what you, as parents, can do to help her with her studies so that she learns the material. Make sure that she has some positive means to reduce her stress levels (our daughter goes to our local Boys & Girls Club to hang out) outside of school. And remember that by their very nature, G/T and Honors classes will be stressful, as much as school is for ANY student! Afterall, kids don't go to school to meditate but to learn and that process causes stress. Hope this helps and good luck to you!

Candy - posted on 01/06/2011

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Amy, I wish I could frame your last sentence and hang it on the wall of every parent in the world. EXACTLY. While you hold that attitude, your child will be okay.

Marie - posted on 10/29/2010

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40 years ago, I was that child! Mom was a teaching assistant, trying to upgrade from a 1 room schoolhouse teacher (after 6 kids) to get back into the classroom. My teacher had student-taught in my Mom's class the year before. After taking 1st in the science fair and spelling bee, they agreed that I needed 'enrichment'. I was given a high school science text and told to do a report on volcanoes. I read the book cover to cover in about a month, told Mom that I had turned it in, and told the teacher that I lost the book. I was in BIG trouble come P/T conferences!!!



Moral of the story: Sometimes what WE want to learn is more important to us than showing others that we know what THEY want us to learn. I pulled straight A in 8th grade, 12th grade and once in undergrad just to prove to them that I could do it. Otherwise, I continued to learn all that the teachers could teach, and more. I hated the 'braniac', 'spock', 'dictionary', 'encyclopedia' nicknames given to me in HS. Everybody already knew that I was smart, so why did I have to both prove it to my teachers and defend myself against it with my friends at the same time? THERE is the stress! Now, working in the field of education myself, I recognize that much of formalized testing measures how far (or close) one is to mediocre.



Don't feel awful about your/her goals. They won't always match. My brothers also have 'genius' level IQs. One is a research chemist with patents to his name while the other drives trucks, builds computers and speaks fluent Klingon! Her stress may be fear of failing your expectations, instead of setting and reaching her own goals. Relax and have fun with your child, she's growing up quickly!

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Amy - posted on 01/06/2011

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I've been asking myself this same question, though from a slightly different angle. My son has ADHD (More severe than "average") and needs pushing just to get some of the basics done. He's in ALP reading, but not math... mostly because he doesn't like studying or testing of his math facts... so I'm wondering if I shouldn't push him more because he CAN, and because his brain isn't functioning "normally" and because it's my job to challenge him. Though to Candy's point... perhaps the goal of ALP math is not the way to go... perhaps my goal should be altered to something more along the lines of "study math facts every day".

The line between challenging and pushing is so very thin! I know it's my duty to challenge, but I don't want to have unreasonable expectations. With regard to stress... I think there's a healthy level of stress, even in childhood, but a child should not be consumed by stress, either. School tests... could be valuable insight or could be bunk. I think you are probably the best judge of the value of the test.

Hang in there! As long as we are putting our children's needs before our ego, I think we're fine. :)

Candy - posted on 12/23/2010

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Wow, I find some of this very worrying. Pushing for excellence? Push for excellence from yourselves, ladies, and stop pushing your kids. You need to let them pace themselves; they are not an extension of YOU.

There is more to childhood than grades and scholarships. Real learning includes learning to fail; real learning includes learning to decide what work is important and what isn't, and what is such a waste of time that you could do better by going for a bike ride and getting the endorphins pumping.

It is very easy to overstimulate a gifted child. Remember your child IS only a child, with a child's emotions, despite the much more adult level of achievement. Stand back and let your children take a breath... this constant competition is poisonous. They WILL find their own level of success if you butt out a bit. If they have to crank up the stress to pass their tests, how long do you think they can maintain that? It's not going to stop when they get to college. Reality check, please, before there's a tragedy.

Margie - posted on 10/29/2010

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Thanks for the comments, i appreciate it. No ADHD i am sure, maybe borderline, because i have seen some of the kids in her class nothing severe at all, a little forgetful. Just wanted to talk about how to push for excellence now to the end of scholarships later, without causing too much stress. Thanks.

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