Family Habits and the Gifted Child

Family Habits — Training by Unintention

Let's look quickly at three kinds of training commonly seen in a family. One kind, like, “Always look both ways before crossing the street,” is a great lesson for life-long safety. A second kind, like, “Don't speak unless spoken to,” can be an effective way to train a child to be an adult who can't engage with the world. The third and by far the most prevalent kind of training is good old primate see, primate do, with rarely any use of language to explain or clarify what's going on at home.

Parenting and Unintended Consequences

For perfectly understandable reasons, most parenting objectives are about the “here and now”. These range from running a smooth household to teaching children not to be disruptive in public. These objectives will be operationalized in children at some level in a way that will affect their adult behaviors. The most critical ones to watch out for, from a long-term, strategic viewpoint, are those family habits and rules that limit the freedom a person feels when it comes to relating to people. If you can't engage people peer-to-peer as an adult it becomes very hard to succeed as an adult.

Parenting Children as Adults in Training

Your family's habits today are the basis of your children's interactional skills as adults. That's simply what happens, and in most families these developmental trajectories are launched with very little thought for that child's future adult life. It takes a lot of time and commitment to break out of the family path of least resistance and provide enough home-based challenge to get a child comfortable with an increasingly adult persona. Let's take a practical example of one way to practice adult interaction skills.

A Practical Example: A common issue in families with a gifted child is conflicts with the local school system. The nature of these conflicts doesn't matter for this example. The first adult interaction should be between the parent and the child to determine together what's needed, and how to approach the school system to get the solution. The second adult interaction, led by the child, should be the conversation with the school system representative to lay out the issue, lay out the way the school system is a barrier, lay out a suggested solution, and dialog with the representative to build a mutually acceptable approach. In this interaction, the parent functions only as the referee. Let the child learn how to negotiate.

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Be the Boss by 12 is a series of ebooks designed to help any gifted and talented child grow into a successful adult. The gifted child can add the skills of leadership to other gifts and talents. Such kids can build social habits that make school a richer experience. In their futures, the powers of leadership enable the gifted child to engage future decision-makers on a peer-to-peer footing to negotiate great career paths and compensation.

Family Habits and the Gifted Child

Erik Lenderman: Hi folks. This is Erik Lenderman, back again with Dr. Tom Meylan, former NASA scientist and Ph.D. in astrophysics, today talking about his new book, Be the Boss by 12, Volume Zero, Parents' Prep, for parents learning how to raise their gifted and talented child. Today we're talking about Chapter Three, “Family Habits.” So, Tom, can you tell us, what about family habits do parents need to know when they're preparing to raise a gifted and talented child?

Thomas Meylan Ph.D.: Absolutely. There's a number of things about habits and instincts, and all of these things are intended to provide a quick, zero-thinking response to life as it happens, right? So, we all have instincts. If we trip we try to catch ourselves. If we hear thunder we jump out of our skins. So, all of these things are the instinctive pieces.

Now, the fascinating thing about the human race is that there's this whole, big set of unprogrammed behaviors. So, there's a whole bunch of things that haven't been pre-tuned, like for most of the other animals. And that's ended up being the source of human adaptivity. Because, a family of Eskimos, when they have children, have to adapt to an icy environment. A tribe in the Amazon jungle has a totally different set of conditions, and so those children need to learn a totally different set of habits.

And that's what the family does. The family puts the local “instincts”, so to speak, into their family rituals, their family habits, and their family culture. And the kid's just born and grows up, and just watches these habits, and, well, this is just the way the universe works. And they're really, really deeply ingrained.

Now, the funniest thing in my personal experience about this was when I left home to go to college. A bunch of us kids are just tossed together. This was pretty homogenous, little private school. Everything was English. Everything was from the Great Lakes region, and we all thought we were just cut from the same cloth. Well, you start going to dinner with some of these kids, and their table manners are totally different than yours. They look like uncultured savages the way they eat.

Now, they're just using forks and knives like everybody else, except it was just enough different from the way your family did things that you thought, “Man, what kind of people are these?” So, these family culture habits are really deep, and evaluation judgments just spring out of the mind when you encounter differences.

So, when we start looking at family habits, basically, when it comes to the gifted and talented kid, they might “buck” the system. Because they're looking at the world differently, and they wonder why, as a family, we do this crazy thing. And if they also start exploring their gift, like in my case I was a science geek, right? It could be a music geek; it could be a sculptor geek; it could be any of a number of things, but they're going to need some lattitude to form habits that map to their gift or talent.

So, if the family's not ready to make these shifts in these specific cases, there's going to be a lot of frictions that really don't need to be. The kid's not trying to be in your face about something he thinks is stupid. They're exploring their gift in their context that they understand the world, and the family habits are kind of just a barrier. Can you break those barriers down, or adjust them appropriately? So, this is the family habits issue when it comes to gifted and talented kids.

Erik Lenderman: That's great, that's great, and I appreciate what you said there about how when you went to college and suddenly discovered there was this diversity of different behaviors, and familial patterns, and cultures, and ways of doing things, that a gifted and talented kid, in many respects, shows up to your family, for example, and has their own diverse skill set, and brings to bear their own, unique behaviors that match those skill sets. So, if somebody's very cognitively inclined they may question everything that the family does. This is not to be adversarial. They simply are curious. As you said in the previous chapter, they are actually attempting to understand the culture around them, which is different.

Thomas Meylan Ph.D.: It's fairly innocent as a rule. Once they figure out some buttons to push, well, they might be button-pushing. I ain't saying that doesn't happen. I'm just saying, as a rule, the questions are coming from a very honest place.

Erik Lenderman: That's great, that's great. So, if you want to learn more about how do you prepare to raise a gifted and talented child in your family, and do so in a way that's smooth and cooperative for all members, click the link below and you'll see access to Tom's book. Get a copy. We're going to keep going through more of these chapters. So stick with us, and we're going to be back with more in just a moment.

Early Enthusiasm for Be the Boss by 12

Gifted children are not immune to harmful cultural messages about what our society expects from them based on gender. Parents and teachers are increasingly looking for antidotes to these toxic lessons. Tom's work empowers bright kids to understand themselves better in order to make the most of their passions and abilities. Jo B. Paoletti, Author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America

How it works — Prepare a Genius for Adult Life

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The gifts will mostly take care of themselves.


Build emotional toughness
into the child's inner dialog.


Teach the child to project
the social cues of "The Boss."

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