He is different!

Curtis

“I think the sky is the most highest place,

Which I want to see;

Clouds, birds, aeroplanes so free.

But what if the sky falls?

It may crash to the lands,

Plains, hills, deserts and sands.

Whether it is a disaster or

Something grand?

I don’t know.”

These are part lines of a poem written by one of my clients. The person in question is just 10 years old. The poem is quite profound and poignant at the same time. Why would a boy young as this write about the sky falling, I wonder. Because, it is. For him.

He was brought because he was troublesome in class, quiet at times and very brash otherwise. No one could gauge what he was thinking. Called ‘expressionless’ by some who did not take the trouble to find out why it was so. Shunned by classmates, because he was not boisterous enough. Causing worry to parents because he was not fitting in well. Irritating to teachers because he would switch off in the middle of a class and start staring out the window. Basically a loner. Who stutters and fidgets. But his eyes give him away. They are deep and and look back nonfearingly at me. Why me? Is there something wrong with me, they ask. And the sad answer is no. But there seems to be everything wrong with us!

In these days of intense academic competition, never mind the age of the child, kids who don’t fit into our norm or schedule of ‘study well, play just enough and then pander to your creativity’ are often the butt of our ire.  Although all of us want children who excel in everything (almost), when we do have a child who is creative, gifted and hence different, we do not have a clue of how to handle him/her. We often label them or segregate them into feeling ashamed of their ‘differentness’ (if I can call it that!)

Browsing through a bookstore, I was drawn to a book which was titled ‘Raising your spirited child” written by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. The word spirited was  unique and hence led me into reading it. The book aptly describes children who are different by our standards and intense in their reactions as spirited rather than bad, stubborn and exasperating. It also describes different but simple psychological methods as to how to defuse a potential disaster situation when these kids are around. Just the change in label put on the behavior has caused a difference in the way I think of my difficult but creative young clients.

What started as a an interest read, slowly started helping me in parenting my kids better. Whenever children throw tantrums, we immediately become defensive. We feel that our authority is questioned and that the child is oppositionally defiant. But we fail to remember that the child also has a strong mind of its own whose dictates the child tends to obey. And gifted children have a way of thinking which is dependent on their creative urges rather than regular drudgery.

Now,when parents  complain that their child does not listen to them or creates a ruckus when asked to follow and obey, I try and put myself in the child’s shoes. Why? Why would a child want to be bad? Is there some thing troubling him or her? Or is the child upset and unable to express it in a way that we understand? Is there something that the child is hiding? Is the child scared and depressed?(Oh yes, children who are depressed can also throw temper tantrums)Or is the child giving in to his creative urges, hence upset when disturbed?

The way we think usually reflects in the way we behave and hence, surprisingly, this little shift gives massive results. I tried it on my daughter, who may or may not be gifted, but is surely stubborn. Whenever she decides on a particular dress for the day, it is difficult to budge her decision. If I try to, almost always one of us ends up pulling out our hair in exasperation! I tried thinking why she was predisposed to certain kinds of clothes. The color, the texture or public opinion? So the next time we had a disagreement, I decided I would not scream. I pulled her close, hugged her through her tears and told her that it was ok to fight, and loose and then again cheer up. I told her the pros and cons of why we had chosen to make her wear that dress (it was winter, so she is not allowed sleeveless) and asked her if we could give it a try my way tomorrow. Strangely, it worked. It took me half an hour to get through this song and dance, but it was totally worth it. She was happy, I was calmer and felt more in control, though she won. We compromised and she wore a sweater. But next day, there was no ruckus. She wore what was agreed upon and that was it! After this experiment, I started reasoning out with many of my young clients and wonder of wonders, even the most youngest could sort of understand!

We need to understand that one third of our personalities are made up of temaperamental traits which are inborn. We can mold them, but they tend to stubbornly pop up in between. Eg. Distractibility (called hyperactivity by us), persistence(called stubbornness), adaptabilty (called impertinence), sensitivity(dubbed cry babies) etc… As always there are two sides to the same coin. If we understand the child’s temperament and think accordingly, we bring out the positive side of each temperament.. like quick(rather than hyper), diligent(rather than stubborn), very outgoing and social (rather than does not know how to keep his mouth shut) and can understand feelings and empathizes well (rather than cry baby). These lead to better understanding and less pigeonholing! And finally letting them be. If we(parents, teachers and therapists) lend them a helping hand and allow them their quirks, rather than force them to conform, children generally become open to compromise.

Children tend to put up their best front forward if they know that quiet look of appreciation and acceptance in the parents or teachers. A pat of the head, a smile of pride and a hug usually do the trick. Bad behavior also, if understood and accepted with the same level of patience disappears easily. After all, we as kids were also not perfect!

Finally,gifted kids don’t have it easy. They think higher than their peers, appear and may be behave differently and hence are treated differently. If we use and understand their spirit and creativity better, we may have geniuses who can freely express their talent rather than feel so stifled in their school and home environment that they end up in front of a psychiatrist!.

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One thought on “He is different!

  1. Uday Vendan January 18, 2015 / 8:03 pm

    Dear Dr.,

    That is truly one incredibly awesome poem from a ten-year-old. Your wonderful post reflects a lot of my convictions. Even though labelling helps in formulating interventions, pathologizing a behaviour or a person is not such a healthy idea as I have understood from your thoughts. I had a clinical psychologist friend (yes, he doesn’t represent the whole lot of fellow psychologists!) whom I used to meet on a regular basis, if not daily. Like most of the humans in interactions with others, many times I was buoyant when I was with him and was sometimes moody. He told me one day (then a few times later), “Uday, you are a biploar!”. No doubt he knew me closely, but he did not run any diagnostic test on me ( I personally feel, no matter how experienced one is,it is not advisable to be lax on procedures), yet he proclaimed so confidently I was a biploar. May be it’s true. But he stopped at that and he didn’t offer to help me nor hinted a way out. I feel, as fellow humans, our job is to show the way forward if we can, not just indulge in labelling a behaviour. Psychiatrists and counsellors would do well to make a note of your observations. Your article can have a positive impact on our perceptions about gifted children. Thank you very much, Dr.

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