Abigail - posted on 05/29/2011 ( 1 mom has responded )
Dear community of Moms with highly gifted children,
I found this website when searching for information about other children who had skipped grades, wondering if they had social problems commonly, maybe resulting from it. I want to introduce myself and share my experiences and impressions if they are of value to anyone else here trying to make sense of this pickle.
I was the smartest kid in my class, hands down, in my early grade school years. I read well (thanks to my mom's work with me before I started school) and took to lessons like a fish to water. I loved school because it was easy for me. I longed to skip a grade because "smart" was my most proud quality, what I was praised most for, and I wanted to fulfill that part of my ego which wanted recognition. I also got bored in classes and felt annoying when I had to pretend to be ignorant to be "fair". I typically made friends with other girls who were good with schoolwork but were my emotional age. They were also often a bit socially awkward like myself.
I feel that being praised over and over for being good at schoolwork was misleading to me. I thought school would always be easy and I had the privilege of not needing to work at things like this.
I skipped a grade mid-year (4th to 5th) while in a small private school with small class sizes. So began my career-long struggle to understand how to act like the age group I was surrounded with (I have an April birthday, making me younger than most of my classmates to begin with, which also made me figure I was even more genius!)
Once skipped, I was frustrated by having to do work that I really didn't understand the fundamentals of, never studied and took the grades for what I could do while at school. I got my first B in 5th grade and was devastated. That easy cruise through school just wasn't working out.
In Middle school and High school I still tried to put my smarts forward and let them speak for me, enrolling in advanced classes and skipping any class I could. I was embarrassed to have difficulties in subjects. Sometimes I did very shoddy work, didn't understand what was expected of me or how to fulfill it, and was very embarrassed.
That compounded with not knowing where I fit in the social network made those years very uncomfortable for me. My teachers might have said I was bright but I rarely fit in or was liked. I didn't know how to relate to my peers very well because I was used to being singled out and figured it was my privilege to not have to develop those skills.
In college I didn't know what I wanted. I studied biology because I felt I was pretty good at it and thought it would be a good foundation for being a veterinarian or something "impressive". I was always seeking to impress somebody, because this is how I got ahead in my early years, just by being "fabulous, effortless" me. I changed majors several times but returned to sciences. College was fun and challenging because most of us differed by a few years or a home region. I took hard classes which forced me to study in the dorms. I found it grueling but satisfying in the end- but still too traumatic to make me want to do it again. This is how my more challenging classes ended up, with trauma when my expected easiness was affronted by work to be done. I was affronted that I couldn't get by with multiple choice questions, because these are what I'd excelled at all along!
I had a gifted upbringing. Mom taught me to read, mom and dad were both there and loved me. I got to be alone a lot, to read and play games, and I had a friend to play with on long days in childhood. I got to play outside with sticks and acorns and dirt and flowers, and I had a brother to play with in the mud or having adventures in the yard. I am thankful for all this.
But I think that the social-educational system is able to harm kids whose minds are grown well at an early age. I don't know what I would have been like without skipping, but I don't think always feeling the need to fit in with older and older groups would have been part of it. I was a very average child, I just finished my schoolwork easily and preferred to be left alone to draw and dream. For years I have been saying that I'm glad I skipped a grade, because it got me out of high school one year sooner. But I think it may have been different if I didn't have such a hard time functioning in High School.
I think what I would advise (from my humble opinion and sagely age of 25, mind you) is not to move your children ahead to try to satisfy your own need to have your children recognized. I don't think my own ma did this, I recall it being me who wanted it so badly, but I know it is important for parents to be proud of their kids, and education is such a driving force in rearing youngins.
I would let your kids know that they really are normal (I'm sure that there are gifted children are at EVERY school) and work on other parts of their development. I could have used more social graces, "character building", religious education, hands-on skills, et cetera. I did enjoy reading, and I now have a stocked bookshelf with childrens' books I wish I'd read long ago when I was younger. I hope they will come in handy.
I have now graduated with a Master degree, which was a grueling two years again, and hope to try to make up for skills I did without in this time of unexpected retirement (I'm unemployed!).
My life was not ruined, but something was certainly wrong. I am glad to see that this is a common difficulty with children who skip grades. I am glad to see that I am not alone!
A friend shared a book with me called "Adult Children of Alcoholics". While that was a small bit of my life growing up, I share a lot of the problems described in this book. My parents weren't neglectful, and I never had to "be the adult" as a kid because either parent had "checked out". It is my suspicion that I was allowed to refused the help I could have really used learning, say, time management, responsibility, or following a project through from beginning to end, because my parents and teachers thought I was something else. I think they thought they couldn't understand me because the grades said I was a genius, and I think they thought, "I don't know anything about being a genius". If I could advise parents and teachers in this situation, I'd ask them to remember that kids and kids and need to be treated as such, and need to be recognized on a wider variety of developmental factors than "smarts".
By the way, my brother (2 years older), who was one of the slowest in his class, and whose homework I sometimes could do better than him, who had "ADD" and who also couldn't fit in, is also college educated and has been gainfully employed for a long time. Please don't judge kids so much by what they do in school. One's educational experience is not just what goes on from 8-3, but who they are as a person and what they do daily. There is no glory in racking up accomplishments but being useless for them, and this was a miserable discovery for me.
I don't know what I missed out on, but for years I have felt like there were several somethings. Life goes on, I am fine. I just feel more and more that I would have been a more confident, successful person if I hadn't been skipped but had been educated in a fuller spectrum of ways.
I am hesitant to talk with my own mom about this because I'm afraid she either won't think much of it or will think too much of it. I don't want her having a guilt trip over it. But I think she'll understand. Thanks for reading, please leave comments.