Finding true friends for gifted kids can be a real challenge. Often times they may feel like they don't quite fit in which can leave a deep feeling of loneliness. They may wonder if there is something wrong with them or if they will ever find someone who truly gets them. What is a homeschool mom to do?
When I started homeschooling I took my daughter to quite a few park days to try to find community. We had come to this journey quite suddenly and unexpectedly and we were feeling pretty isolated. To be honest, it was awkward and uncomfortable. The other moms were generally warm and welcoming but somehow we just didn't quite fit. My daughter would spend the time with her headphones on and a sketchbook in hand and pretty much ignored the other kids attempt to engage her. I tried hard to make small talk something just wasn't quite right. It was so frustrating! Imagine being at a park day with tons of other families and feeling utterly different and alone.
About 5 years ago I decided to start my own group. It was pretty obvious that we were not going to find what we were looking for without creating it ourselves. So OC Gifted Group was born.
OC Gifted Group is a community for families who are homeschooling emotionally intense, creative, neurodiverse kids. I will never forget that day when we arrived at our first park day. My introverted daughter who had refused to interact at all those other groups park days.... happily walked off with a girl her age. This girl had a ukulele and had taught herself to play. Those two spent the entire afternoon together talking, laughing and sharing. It was beautiful and I could sense something wonderful was about to happen. When we got into the car my daughter told me she had made a new friend. Listening beneath her words and seeing the emotions flowing from them, I felt deeply what she really meant.
We all need to feel seen, heard and understood to thrive and gifted kids are no different.
These days our group has grown into a thriving community with over 100 members. Families come and go. Kids go back to school. People move. As is the transient nature of homeschooling. But something so wonderful has remained. Our group is a place where kids who have refused to go back to other park days- beg to return. It's a place where gifted and twice exceptional kids find true peers who finally get them. A place where they belong- often for the first time in their young lives. We have parents who drive an hour each week to be with us. It is that worth it they say.
Our group has weekly park days and field trips, we go hiking together and have bookclubs. We have parent workshops and moms night out. We go on trips and have campouts. Our kids take classes together and learn from one another. We have become a family. When conflicts arise we are not quick to judge- we have all been there once or twice. We support each other during the challenging times and cheer each other on for our successes and for that I am so grateful.
As a homeschool coach and gifted advocate, I am often referred parents who have just had their child identified as gifted. They may have known for years that their child was different but the understanding of giftedness with all that that entails is often completely new. Words such as asynchronous development, heightened emotional intensity, Debrowski's Overexcitabilities and more are often times all brand new and it is so overwhelming. Just spend some time googling those terms and you will see what I mean. Much of the time families are coming to me because they have decided to pull their child out of a traditional school setting that just isn't working - their child is bored, having behavioral problems, struggling from serious anxiety or experiencing social issues and it is clear that a change is needed and very soon.
I remember being in that space not so long ago. My oldest ( now almost 18) was in the middle of 7th grade at the time and she had already been through 3 schools in 3 years. From 1st Grade - 5th Grade she had been in our local public school where from the very beginning she struggled. She had a few close friends and was involved in the local Girlscout Troop but overall school was not a place of joy and happy learning . ( It is supposed to be you know)
She was so very bright but in school and at home , school became a huge burden. She would twirl in her chair, drop her pencil a thousand times, complain endlessly. Homework often took hours and would end with both of us in tears.
Our time together at home was anything but pleasant.
Her teacher back then would come to try any number of behavioral techniques designed to get her to "comply" and get her work done in a timely fashion. Timers would be set, smiley face/frowney face daily report cards sent home, rewards and consequences given. Nothing seemed to work. Parent teacher conferences led to a barrage of negative feedback and me being told that my daughter probably had ADD ( she does not) . Teachers would keep her in from recess and lunch to "punish" her for incomplete assignments, she failed the school's gate placement test because she thought it was boring and the teacher refused to have her retested because she said she was an expert in giftedness and my daughter was most certainly not gifted (she is)
Eventually she was bullied for 6 months without us knowing- all for being different. Some years were better than others as we tried our best to advocate for our child but despite our best efforts - slowly her self esteem started to whither away. I asked the principal what he would do if he was in my shoes and he told me to homeschool or send her to a school for the gifted.
I really did not want to homeschool. My company , Women4Success was thriving and our family was growing. I could not see how having my daughter home would be good for any of us given how unhappy she was. How little I knew back then how homeschooling would solve all of our problems and give us back the happy curious child we had once had. So... of course we decided to try the gifted school. It was so clear that the teachers loved what they did and it seemed my child would finally get the intellectual stimulation she so craved. But alas, it didn't quite work out that way. She loved the way they taught but the workload was ridiculous. Homework took 3 or more hours a night and she had no time for anything else including weekends. Sports and extracurricular classes had to go and there was little time for fun. Then the health problems started. Nausea and vomiting. Headaches. She was missing 2-3 days of school despite desperately wanting to go- the pressure proved to be just too much for her 11 year old self.
Eventually we moved her in 7th grade to a Catholic school with her best friend. At first she had a big smile on her face and seemed genuinely happy. Homework took so little time that we knew she wasn't being challenged but we didn't care. She played on the volleyball team and had a few nice friends. If we could only get her through to high school we thought all would be well.
Except that it wasn't. 2 weeks before Christmas - in the middle of 7th grade we got a phone call from the teacher that our bright and sensitive daughter was failing every class. All F's. Work that was clearly too easy for her. Her teacher said that when given time to do work in class, our child had nothing to show for it. She was emotionally volatile, angry, sad, depressed and just completely done. They wanted consequences , we wanted answers. Why wasn't our child thriving? What were we doing wrong? Why didn't anyone seem to know how to help?
We finally had her formally tested by a psychologist and received the information we had been waiting for to give us the courage to say enough. Enough to the fighting, enough to the stress, enough to the trying to make it work. In February of 7th grade we took the plunge and finally pulled her out to homeschool. That was the single best decision I have made as a mother. Ever.
You see my daughter is gifted. I won't shy away from the word because there just might be one parent out there who needs to hear it. I did not understand that gifted doesn't just mean you are smart or that you learn quickly. Yes it means all of those things but it means so much more. Being gifted may mean that you learn differently, often almost as if by osmosis. It may mean that you are emotionally sensitive, struggle with existential depression, or struggle to find intellectual peers. Being gifted may mean that you relate more to adults than kids your own age but at times you act years younger than you actually are. It can mean that you are a perfectionist and give up just so you do not have to fail. It may mean that you are made fun of for always correcting your teacher , even though often times you are right.
Being gifted doesn't look the same in any two people and as such it can be very difficult to identify. Gifted kids are not just the high achievers and are often times misdiagnosed. And there is the stigma of being gifted. People are just afraid to use the word for fear of offending someone but you know what, I believe we need to use it and this is why.
I will never forget the day that my oldest got the test results. She was standing in the entryway to our home and my parents were over. My mom asked her- how do you feel now that you know you are gifted. She said , " Now I know I am not stupid". All those years of negative feedback from teachers, of constantly having them tell her to stop daydreaming, of feeling like she did not fit in- had actually caused my exceptionally gifted child to think she was dumb. Heartbreak.
There is a comfort in knowing that you are gifted. Talk to your kids about it. Tell them how it means that they are not better but different. That it means they are wired differently. But mostly let them know that in being gifted - there is absolutely nothing wrong with them at all!
Please leave me a comment below or send a message if you would like to connect. The more we get this dialogue going, the more we can help all gifted kids thrive.