I have a gifted child. Like, really gifted: His verbal IQ is 160. He spoke long before he could walk and could have a conversation right at a year. His love for learning, exploring and just taking it all in was a joy to watch as a parent.
My husband and I have never shared with him his IQ or really anything about his giftedness, other than that he was eligible for enrichment classes at school. This was a conscious choice because when he was young and precocious that was information he would have shared — and we didn’t want him to be that kid.
But he was that kid. He knew all of the answers, he excelled, and teachers loved him. The other kids did not. He turned a corner around 11. He no longer wanted to be the gifted kid; he wanted to disappear from that life, and so he slowly started his decline.
First, he started “forgetting” to do his homework. He blamed that on his ADHD, which we have also never used as a crutch. He would miss a point here and a point there for incomplete answers and being sloppy. He didn’t care. But those points were adding up.
I started to get messages from teachers saying things like, “He just doesn’t seem to care.” Or “I know he can do better. This is not the kid that we knew last year.”
We sat him down and he had every excuse he could come up with: The classes were too hard; his medication wasn’t working; the teachers were lying. None of it was his fault. Yet we knew the truth: he had just checked out.
His standardized test scores took a plunge. Sure, those scores don’t tell you everything, but when your child tests in the 98th percentile for years and is suddenly in the 80s, you notice and you worry. This was not a lack of ability; it was a lack of effort. And he flat out admitted it. He just filled in circles.
He started to fail math, which was always his strongest subject. Then I figured out that he was trying to get kicked out of his advanced algebra class. The teacher and I decided it was in his best interest to keep him in the challenging class. He wasn’t going to be moved back; he had to start to try.
My husband and I finally decided that it was time to talk to a professional. Our son has worked with a counselor for a while and I wanted to discuss things with him and get some insight. There was no breech of confidentiality, but he helped fill in the gaps. He explained that my son didn’t want to be different. My son wanted to be what he considered to be a “normal” kid. He viewed himself as abnormal because there were expectations for him that aren’t on other kids. My son had been expected to perform, whether it was reciting the alphabet at 14 months or rattling off facts at three, for years — and he simply didn’t want to anymore. He just wanted to play video games and make TikToks. He focused on that and let his academics plummet.
The counselor gave us simple tips. We had to go way back in our parenting ways and start praising the little victories. It was all about positive reinforcement without being patronizing; he would be able to see through that in a heartbeat.
It is a challenge every day. I would rather tell a 13-year-old to get it together and stop the BS than tell him, “Great job doing your homework…” which he should be doing anyway.
Things are getting better; his grades are decent, but not what they used to be. But he has started to try again. He is motivated to earn more time with his phone and to stay up later at night. It really is very simple stuff. But it works.
I am not giving up on him, nor am I letting him give up on himself. We have had to explain to him that while it doesn’t seem like a big deal now, at 13, what he does now sets a precedent for his ongoing academic success, and that can play a part in career success down the line. In a future job situation, an employer is going to have expectations that he will need to meet. You can’t just check out.
Having a gifted child can be a blessing and a curse. There are days that I wish that I had handled things differently when he was younger. I wonder if it is my fault. Did I push too hard? Does he resent me? I do know one thing: he is brilliant and he has so much to share with the world.
He doesn’t have to be different or better than anyone else, he just has to be himself and that self has a lot to offer. I hope that will recognize one day that being gifted is actually a gift — and that he will use it wisely.
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