By Chandra Moseley, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Chandra Moseley is a working, single mom. A resident of a Colorado city, she makes sure to expose her daughter to small-town living through weekly trips to the Rocky Mountains.
(CNN) – My daughter, who is 5, was identified last year as “gifted.” Well, I honestly had never properly understood what being “gifted” meant. I naively thought, “Oh, my baby is so advanced, she is just so smart!”
For those of you who are truly unaware of what being gifted means, let me help you understand.
Gifted students are defined by the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) as those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude or competence in one or more domains.
The part of the definition that’s missing – and what I so desperately needed to understand – is the social and behavioral issues that may come with giftedness.
For one thing, my daughter, Nya, is a perfectionist. She gets frustrated even if she only slightly draws outside of the lines. She also gets unnerved by certain loud noises (buzzing or toilets flushing) and even the seams on her socks. I’ve had to turn her socks inside out because the seam on her toes irritated her so much. I thought she was just being fussy.
I became aware of Nya’s giftedness through Rev. Regina Groff, a family member’s minister, who noticed the way Nya was coloring when she was just 2. Rev. Groff has gifted children of her own and recognized Nya’s frustration each time she drew outside of the lines. That type of frustration and overexcelling is all part of the perfectionism characteristic of being gifted. Just that simple act of frustration revealed her giftedness at the right time that day.
There are other characteristics of giftedness that for many, including my daughter, are telltale signs – excessive energy, unending curiosity, emotionally advanced, early and superior language skills or a need for perfectionism. Gifted children might have supersensitivities, and that’s what was going on with the loud noises and her socks.
Rev. Groff suggested getting Nya tested and recommended an early childhood education public preschool that has a program for gifted children. Her children attended the same school, and she could not say enough good things about it. I was in the process of trying to find, as many parents do, the “perfect preschool.” Thank God, I listened to her advice and pursued that specific school. I am a firm believer in the notion that God sends people into our lives to guide us, inspire us, lead us and teach us. Rev. Groff guided me that day into the right place my daughter needed to be, and Nya continues to guide me into the right place I need to be.
Nya, which means fulfilled wish, has always been extraordinarily special to me. She was a gift from the day she was born, delivered to me by another vessel. Nya is adopted. I sometimes have to remind myself of that because she couldn’t possibly be any more like me. In what I thought could be only one miraculous event by her being born, she continues to produce miracles and forever enrich my life. She has not only taught me what unconditional love feels like – how to laugh until your belly aches, how to play like you are the silliest person in the room – but also how to be so aware that every challenging moment in your life exposes you, teaches you and prepares you for something to come.
I remember Nya’s first year of preschool. What could have been a 10 minute homework session (yes, homework in preschool) turned into an hour and a half of erasing and rewriting each word until in her mind it was perfect. Let me tell you, there were many pencils being thrown across the room (not by me), breakdowns, and crying (yes, some by me.)
What I didn’t understand at the time was her constant quest for perfection.
Her amazing teacher, Brenda Natt, explained to me that it is all part of being gifted and that was the very reason Natt cuts off all the erasers of her pencils in her classroom. She understands that her students struggle with that issue and what she wanted them to understand was that it was OK if something isn’t perfect sometimes.
The same teacher strongly advised me to enroll Nya in a gifted school to prevent her from getting lost in the loopholes of a typical school program – not only academically but also emotionally. She told me, “gifted kids are almost comparable to special needs children. While their IQs are high, they have behavioral aspects that need special attention and the right teachers with the right understanding to guide them.”
After four years of questions – How can Nya go from 1 to 10 over something so simple? How can she be so sweet, compassionate, mellow and then completely lose her cool over not remembering the right words to a verse of a song? Why is she such a hothead? – all of this was finally making sense. If I only knew then what I know now.
What I have learned is not to deter Nya from finishing a project or even a simple task when she’s in the middle of it. Gifted children are not all on the same page; they all have very different levels of needs, some more than others.
It has been fascinating and amusing to talk to other moms in her class and compare how they react to certain situations in the same way. I am constantly learning and trying to gain knowledge on how to help Nya be the person she is destined to be, while she has helped me be the person we needed me to be.
One of the most important things now truly embedded in my thought process is the notion that we just don’t know what a child may be struggling with or what a parent might be going through. Many of us have witnessed situations in stores or restaurants where a child is lashing out or just having a complete breakdown and we are so quick to assume or place judgment on that parent.
“They just don’t know how to discipline!” “That child is a complete brat!” or even “That kid is completely out of control and that parent has no idea what they are doing!”
What I have realized is that parents are all on the same team. I really wish we would start doing less criticizing of each other and do more listening, learning, encouraging and supporting. Like my example in the store, maybe next time we see a child in that circumstance, we can evaluate that situation and maybe show support by a kind smile, a glance of understanding, a sweet distraction or maybe, for some, a sincere prayer.
That’s what it’s all about, right? To learn from each other and grow with each other. To continue to become better for each other, our children and generations to come.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chandra Moseley.