Gifted Kids and the Rejection of External Motivation

Gifted kids are funny.

When they’re motivated, personally invested in something, the sky is no longer the limit. These kids take off.

They blow past our expectations and leave us in the dust, trying to figure out where they’ve gone.

When they’re not motivated, these kids are rocks. Boulders, actually. Immovable.

Early in my teaching career, I had a couple kids like this. (Possibly more that I didn’t recognize) The story would go something like this:

  • Student refuses to work, goofs off or distracts other students.
  • I call parent for a conference. Parent confides the child is gifted and bored.
  • I insist the work needs to be completed for the student to pass the class.
  • Parents and I set up accountability for student.
  • Student rejects attempts at help.
  • Student fails course.

Now, I’m not saying I’m a terrible teacher or that I failed to reach students. For the most part, we got along swimmingly. Every once in a while, though, a student came along who was so disenchanted by the educational system, so convinced that it was irrelevant, that he did everything possible to declare his independence.

By the time they got to me, at age 15, it was almost too late.

What can we do in the early years to help kids stay engaged and motivated so they don’t reject the system and end up failing out of school?


1. Give them meaningful work

There is nothing motivating about a worksheet that reiterates content that is below one’s ability level or interest. Sure, they may play along for a bit, but after a while, the shine wears off. The boredom sets in, and these kids want something that challenges them, excites them, makes them use their amazing creative brains and think outside the box instead of… filling in boxes with pre-prescribed words and ideas.

They thrive when they see their contributions as actually mattering, making a difference in the real world, doing research or service projects that actually matter, rather than simply memorizing what others have done.

2. Avoid overemphasis on external motivators

Gifted kids tend to see through behavioral charts, grading systems, contests, and other external motivators rather quickly. They tend to reject the otherwise potentially valuable skill if they see it tied to a meaningless carrot. Similarly, if they are feeling manipulated into behavior modification, they will often give up or act out.

3. Give them space to explore their own passions

If possible, put your kids in an environment where they can explore their own passions. Project-based learning and unschooling are the two methods that tend to best fit creative gifted kids because they’re allowed to practice their skills within the context of something they’re passionate about rather than following a prescribed one size fits all curriculum.

4. Spend time with others who are pursuing their passions

There’s something contagious about people who are following their dreams and passionate about their craft, even if it’s not particularly your cup of tea. Simply being around people who are excited learners and students of their crafts can be motivating, even if the focus is different.

Find environments where creatives hang out, and spend time there too, whether it’s a Maker Faire, a gaming convention, a university club, an online forum or a flea market. People who create are everywhere – making music, designing board games, collaborating on amazing projects — simply because they want to. Spending time with these people makes you want to create too, because that’s what we’re wired to do.


This post has been part of a Blog Hop by Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page.

Read more here:

3 Survival Tips when Parenting Gifted Preschoolers


The early years of parenting gifted kids can be tough. You’re probably sleep-deprived, frazzled, questioning your parenting skills, asynchrony is in full force, and all around you, people are telling you to “enjoy every moment” and to “let them be little”.

Meanwhile, you’re wondering what in the world you’re going to do with a 4 year old who reads a math dictionary for fun while his friends are playing pirates and house.

My oldest is now 7 and has come a long way in the last couple years in his ability to regulate and connect with others. It’s still not easy, but the worry and doubt of ages 3-5 have mellowed a bit, so I thought it might be helpful to share what helped and grounded us along the way.

1 – Find Your Tribe

We all need people who understand us, can tell us we’re not imagining things, people who can validate our feelings and experiences and provide support along the way. Reaching out to other local moms and connecting through various groups is helpful, as are online forums like Hoagies’ Gifted Discussion Group and the Raising Poppies private Facebook group.

2 – Give Yourself Grace

You’re parenting your child (children). Not someone else’s. And your unique circumstances are not theirs.

Do not let anyone guilt you into feeling less than adequate when your kid isn’t doing all the things. No, my kids don’t play 3 sports, 4 musical instruments, and participate in 5 different clubs while doing enrichment this and STEM that, and our house sure wouldn’t show up on any Pinterest boards, but that’s ok. Are your kids loved, fed, and encouraged in their unique interests? Good job, Mom!

Oh, and another thing: you will mess up. I will mess up. We will all mess up. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. But we do our best. As Anne with an E said, “Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it.”

3 – Remember Who You Are

You will parent best when you recognize who you are as a person and what your needs are. If you’re an introvert, build in alone time. If you struggle with cleaning or organization and it just takes too much effort, budget or trade for help. Find ways to still connect with other adults outside of parentdom who can remind you that you are more than a nose wiper and sandwich maker. If you need to be creative, don’t feel guilty for maintaining that outlet. Go places that make you feel alive and energized.


Pay attention to your partner’s and children’s needs and strengths as well. My amazing husband needs alone time and a place to retreat when things get too chaotic. My kids do great on cloudy days, but too much sun taxes their sensory overload, and we get meltdowns if we’re out too long.

Trust yourself as an expert on what works best for you and your family. Sure – it’s great to learn new ideas, get advice or try new things, but ultimately you have to be the judge about whether something is a good fit for your family or life stage. And if something isn’t a good fit, (like the ballet class I tried to put my daughters in last year), give yourself permission to stop, breathe, and try again later.

These amazing little people grow up, but when you’re in the trenches, it can be overwhelming.

We recently returned from a quick family getaway to Dutch Wonderland. Three years had passed since our last visit, and the difference was incredible. As we were happily walking back up the hill to our hotel, I thought back to the last visit, when I had been pushing a double stroller uphill and dealing with triple meltdowns because we had stayed past our kids’ limits, and sighed.


The early years are amazing but oh so hard. Give yourself grace, find and nurture your tribe, and remember who you are.

This post has been part of Hoagies’ Blog Hop on Things I Wish I Knew Back Then.

Click on over to read about others’ experiences and what they’ve learned along the way.

Like Father, Like Son – Giftedness across the Generations

This week, I’ve been watching the Bright & Quirky Online Summit, a video conference of all things 2e, anxiety, gifted, ADHD, etc. It’s been great – encouraging & enlightening.

One thing that struck me as a common theme in so many of these talks is how often parents started to understand their own giftedness, their own struggles with sensitivity or executive function, as they watched their children struggle and wanted to help them.

I was describing one of the talks to my husband, talking about the gifted characteristic of Rage to Master, and he got a smile on his face. I had been describing how gifted individuals have a strong need to complete a challenge, to fully understand a problem, to not give up until it had been conquered — and this fits my husband to a T. He had just been building a swing set for the kids, and my multiple reminders about not overdoing it, taking a break, etc, had not phased him. Once he started a new challenge, he wanted to see it through.

The funny thing is – for parents who grew up without a “gifted” label, this behavior is normal. It’s normal because it was their experience. It’s normal to be ultra-sensitive to sound or smells, normal to feel bored and disconnected in school, normal to be clumsy or sensory seeking, normal for academics to come easy but the social stuff to be hard. And that causes us to doubt our own kids, to minimize their struggles, because we were the same and made it through.

Yet, as we watch this next generation and learn from all the amazing research and experiences of others in similar situations, we can start to have empathy for ourselves too, to understand why things may have been so hard or awkward for us.

If this is you – seeing yourself in your kid’s struggles, I would encourage you to start reading. SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) is a great place to start, as are some of the bloggers in this group who write about gifted adult populations, and many of the presenters in the Bright & Quirky Summit.

Giftedness can sometimes come out of nowhere, but it is often hereditary, so as we learn with our children what makes them tick, we can also understand ourselves, spouses, siblings, and parents better too.

This post has been part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop for May, 2018. Click on over to read more about giftedness in adult populations!

Asynchrony Day 2 – it’s not your fault

Yesterday I started sharing a little bit of our story and how Asynchrony affects our family, especially my son.

He was reading – fluently – before he was potty trained. And we didn’t teach him to read. Sure, we read a lot together, and he watched shows like Super Why and Word World occasionally, but we didn’t ever sit down and do sight words or phonics lessons. He just picked it up.

It’s not hot-housing.

Asynchrony has very little to do with how a parent parents and very much to do with how a kid is wired.

We have 3 kids. I didn’t treat the other two any differently or deprive them of any opportunities, but they are 4 and still months away from any kind of formal reading exercise. That’s ok. They’re doing great.

When J was 3, he was interested in reading, numbers, astronomy, and sticker books. He would sit for hours doing these things, not because I forced him but because that was what he was drawn to, where his interests lay.

It’s perfectly logical, then, that the parts of his brain that got the most exercise grew the fastest. Now, I wasn’t a terrible mom. We had play dates, gymnastics, swimming lessons, church nursery, library programs, and even a creative arts preschool because I wanted him to have lots of opportunities to move, create, and interact with other kids and adults, and he participated, sometimes more happily than others, but it wasn’t his passion.

He grew most in the areas he loved and cared deeply about. Not because I or anyone else pushed him.

J is now 7, and Asynchrony is still our constant companion, but it now takes different forms. It means he’s more comfortable with adults than peers (more about that later this week), and that we often struggle to find reading material that is both challenging and appropriate for his emotional development. I have even asked the library for “boring” books — the opposite of those high interest/low reading level books that most others are looking for.


A couple weeks ago, our kids created a “town” with masking tape roads, locations on index cards, etc. It started as a co-op activity and then continued at home.


My asynchronous kid added


Hennig Brand (who discovered the element phosphorous) to the street plan.

No one put him up to it, asked him to include famous historical figures, or anything of the sort. It’s how he “ticks”, not any kind of external expectation.

Asynchrony is a description, not a diagnosis. It describes these kids with intense internal drives to understand more, do more, know more, and how they interact with the world around them.

This is Day 2 of 5 Days of Asynchrony, part of a blog hopscotch put together by the inspiring people at iHomeschool Network.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting about some of my favorite bloggers and writers who have helped me wrap my mind around asynchrony and given me ideas to help our family.

Thursday I’ll be posting about what works for us, as well as for other families with asynchronous members.

Lessons in Adulting

The other day, I was cooking dinner, opened a ziplock bag, and left it on my electric cooktop for a moment.

A corner was touching a hot burner and melted. After I scraped it up and cleaned the area, I called my 7yo into the room. I wanted him to see my mistake – that I made one, how I handled it, that it was ok.

Have you ever taken a step back and thought about your kid’s perception of you? Of what your life is like? Of the things that are important to you?

Chances are, your children have little clue about your motivations, frustrations, and thought processes when it comes to decision making and problem solving. That either goes on in your head or behind closed doors.

It’s easy to model concrete skills: how to peel a carrot, how to wash a window, how to sort the laundry. These activities break down into simple, observable steps that can be easily verbalized.

This year, I’ve realized that I need to be much more intentional in modeling those oh-so-important skills that are less concrete.

You see, my kids think I have it pretty together. I don’t typically complain in front of them about doing chores I don’t like. They see me primarily doing things I’m already pretty good at, and they hear the final decisions rather than the crazy back & forth that led up to it.

With that in mind, I have embarked on 3 Lessons in Adulting this year (and lots of sidebars as well):

Lesson # 1: We all have tasks we don’t enjoy

There are some chores I don’t mind, like putting away the dishes or running the vacuum, but I hate dusting. Part of it may have to do with my dust allergy, but these insidious little particles that get everywhere drive me nuts.

Yes, I’m teaching my kids to clean with good attitudes, but I also need to acknowledge to them that there are things I don’t enjoy either, and then model that I deal with it and do it anyways.

Lesson #2: Mistakes are normal

I don’t want my kids to be afraid of making mistakes. In fact, I want them to learn that mistakes are normal, expected, and part of the growing process.

I want them to know that I make mistakes and to model healthy ways to deal with that, whether that is cleaning up a spill or re-doing a project that got messed up.

We frequently talk about the time Mama knocked the bottom shelf out of the refrigerator, breaking a bunch of glass bottles and spilling various dressings and sauces all over the kitchen floor – not because it’s a fun conversation, but because they need to know that they’re not alone in making mistakes, that we all make them, and that it’s okay.

I also want to teach the principle of using those mistakes for something better. Barney Saltzberg has an amazing book, Beautiful OOPS (not an affiliate link), that celebrates what can be done with the pieces of a mistake.

The same principle can be found in that beautiful Japanese art of Kintsugi, which takes broken pieces, mends them with gold, and makes something beautiful out of brokenness.



Lesson #3: Failure is expected

I remember going skiing in high school. When I came home, I bragged to my dad that I never fell. He looked at me and said, “then you didn’t improve”. I didn’t push myself. I played it safe.

How can we help our kids learn that failure is normal and ok? That everyone who learns to ride a bike will fall at some point. That not every cooking project will work out.

We can’t be afraid of failure. We have to try new things, go outside our comfort zones, and learn new skills. We need to model this for our kids and create a culture in our homes that accepts these bumps along the way.

We need to teach our kids that to be human is to make mistakes, to accept each other for our flaws and variety of strengths, and that there is no shame in failure. Instead, it’s just preparing us for the next thing.

I read an amazing book a couple weeks ago. It’s called The Boy Who Played with Fusion (not an affiliate link). The premise of the book is that this family has 2 gifted boys, one of whom is experimenting with nuclear reactions, and how they as a family navigate this road. There are mistakes, setbacks, and disappointments, but they as a family figure out how to support each other and weather these challenges. It’s inspirational. And it’s possible.

This post is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop for April 2018.

Click on the image below to read more!


Infant Sleep – the experts never met your baby

Some kids are good sleepers. Some are not.

Some enter the world, happy, calm, and flexible. Some do not.

And then there’s a whole lot of in-between.

The world of parenting books makes it look like it’s all up to the parent to help a child sleep, develop a schedule, and then the rest is happily ever after.

Baby, Boy, Child, Cute, Expression, Face

They’re lying.

Truth be told, the majority of babies who are given even moderate support (healthy habits) from their caregivers develop pretty good sleep rhythms, and then there are the outliers. The colicky babies. The reflux queens. The never sleepers. The endless nursers. The must-be-held-ers.

They’re hard.

When J, my first, was born 7 years ago, I wasn’t worried about sleep. I knew it would be hard initially, but I was a pro – had 2 decades of babysitting under my belt where I had gotten the most stubborn little ones to bed, often to their parents’ astonishment. I was good.

Until I wasn’t. J would not settle. He wouldn’t sleep. My dad, who prided himself on getting any baby to sleep, could not get him to settle. The *1* time that a nursery worker got him to sleep when he was 1.5, I actually kissed her. My husband and I spent hours bouncing, wearing, rocking… whatever we could think of. He could not settle. We co-slept. We tried gentle methods. In later desperation we tried cry it out. Nothing worked.

I was a mess.

At around 10 months, we thought maybe there were some tummy issues involved, so I went on an elimination diet. We ended up removing corn, nuts, eggs, poultry, and soy from both of our diets. He calmed down significantly, and things started to improve.

We also started being more disciplined in bedtimes, routines, etc. Up until this point, his sleep had been so erratic that I never even considered trying a schedule. We used Sandra Boynton’s Going to Bed Book to normalize our routine, and we started introducing some soothers.  He had previously rejected all lovies or stuffies, but he did eventually accept Sammy the Seahorse, which was great because it glowed, played calming music, and was portable for travel.

He finally slept through the night at 18 months, and now is a great sleeper.

When his sisters came along, we were a bit smarter. We modified diets at the first sign of distress, and we used the Fisher Price Rock N’ Play sleepers, which were amazing for those early months. I cannot recommend them highly enough. My girls didn’t sleep consistently through the night until they were 2, but they are thumb suckers, so they at least were able to self-soothe to some degree.

Now, they’re 7, 4, and 4, and we’ve come a long way from those sleepless nights pacing up & down the hallway.

When I see a mom struggling with getting her kids to sleep, these things go through my head:

1 – you’re in for it! But in a good way! – these are the kids overflowing with creative energy, whose minds never shut off – the ones who will change the world!

2 – give yourself grace, sister! This is possibly the most intense season of your life. You don’t have to be perfect. It’s ok to say no, to let things slide, to prioritize rest over productivity, and even to give yourself a day off.

3 – don’t think this is forever. I remember reading an article that said poor sleepers at 1 are poor sleepers for life. It freaked me out. You know what? My kids are all, aside from the occasional nightmare, great sleepers, but it’s not because I had them on a schedule at 6 weeks. It came together for them later, between 18-24 months. Some other kids continue to have trouble sleeping, but worrying about that now will not make things any better.

A few years ago, when I was running myself ragged trying to do all the things and to be this always-available mother for my children, I read a variation on this question:

Who would you choose to care for your child: (a) a well-nourished, well-rested caregiver, or (b) an overstretched, harried caregiver who never eats a full meal or gets a good night’s rest because she’s always putting others first and never gets a break?

Clearly, we would all choose option a.

So take a deep breath. Call in the reinforcements if you need to, make sure you’re not wearing yourself thinner than you absolutely have to, and go sneak some dark chocolate. It’s health food.

This post is part of Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hops. Click here to read about others’ experiences with sleep and gifted individuals. 🙂



No, we can’t have a beach day. And that’s ok.

We spent 2 wonderful hours at the beach this morning. 

It was beautiful. The kids did really well. And after two hours? It was enough. Time to pack up our stuff and hightail it outta there.

Over the years, living with multiple children with over-active sensory responses and heightened anxieties, I’ve developed a sense myself – the “it’s time to get out of here” sense. That tensing up, the glazed over eyes, the hyper-reactive responses to stimuli… they tell me it’s time to be done.

With 3 kids 6 & under, it takes time to go anywhere. Today at the beach we had a pop-up tent (necessary for sun breaks), and 3 bags – snacks, tools (shovels & pails), and towels/dry clothes. We needed 5 minutes to pack up, 5 minutes to get to the car, and another 5 to get settled in the car, sand removed, buckled and ready to go. That’s 15 minutes, which in the eyes of a 3yo at the end of her rope can be an eternity.

Respect your child’s limits. Sometimes, yes, they need to be encouraged to persist and see something through, but other times, and your mom sense probably knows, it may be time to call it a day, even when you’re the first to leave.