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Parenting Gifted Kids

By Joe WEquil

Dear Parents,

My philosophy on gifted kids took a turn during the pandemic. I had always emphasized "Time & Effort" as the determining factors for success. I still believe this, but have come to accept that aptitude matters and awareness of that is critically important to successful parenting and childhood education.

During the pandemic my daughters started a virtual learning community called "Makeshift Homeschool" for their friends. There were no teachers, grades or curriculums. Without knowing it my eldest who was ten at the time had gravitated toward what we call self-directed project-based learning. This more flexible approach unlocked their creativity and intrinsic desire to learn. My wife and I could not quantify the difference, but it felt like a 10X (1000%) increase in the speed at which they were learning, maturing, and retaining knowledge.

All the kids my daughters knew at the time went to great public schools in Falls Church Virginia. This skewed my perception because most of them were advanced placement with parents that had degrees from higher education and professional careers. Not surprisingly, many of them were able to do what my daughters were doing. They published stories on Kindle, built apps, created products, started businesses, taught each other skills in informal classes, and often made real money even in elementary school.

My daughters wanted to take their learning community to the next level so they created the website and opened it up virtually to the world. They built a website and wrote materials explaining how to do their preferred style of learning ... an almost unbelievable model without teachers, grades, or much structure at all really besides weekly presentations to parents they called "Demo Day". My eldest was 11 years old by then. She started a Slack group and asked me to share it on Facebook and email friends.

That's when reality set it.

She was flooded with students and parents from all over the world and every walk of life. We learned about "Unschoolers" who were attracted to the "self-directed" model, but often had teens who didn't even know how to read or write well enough to create a project. We found a parents with teens in public school who wanted to help them write and speak better, but many of them were too afraid to get up on camera and present.

There were over-bearing parents that would try to force their kids to do challenging projects like building apps, but their kids were not motivated because it wasn't their idea. Many parents were hoping we had a magic formula to get their kids to stop playing Minecraft all day. In truth something like only 10% of the kids coming on could really do what my daughters and their friends were doing...and even then my daughters were helping their friends a lot.

This frustrated my daughters because they had it in their minds that anyone can pretty much do anything with enough "Time and Effort" ... something we still generally believe. When kids start to attribute their successes to IQ instead of their own free will then they run the risk of fearing failure. When they have trouble they begin to think, "Maybe I'm just not smart enough?" instead of seeing their incremental improvements.

If they do not feel confident then they may start to avoid taking on bigger challenges out of fear of discovering their limits.

We learned from experience that many gifted kids actually lack confidence in part because of their gifts. Kids with higher processing power see the world more clearly and are thus less likely to believe they are competent at something because they are more aware of how much they don't know. The saying, "small minds talk about people...great minds talk about ideas" is often true. It is also often true that great minds have trouble connecting with others because they lack interest in the mundane like gossip...making friendship a struggle...further hurting confidence.

Explaining this to my daughters was a challenge, but I had little choice. My eldest is thirteen and runs her own tech company now with several professional employees. My youngest is ten ... a serial entrepreneur and published author. Both have given lectures at universities and run their own school. They had already figured out that they were different. If I had not come around I would have lost credibility.

In summary, I have come to acknowledge that my daughters are gifted, but I continue to pound the drum that at the end of the day what matters most is time and effort. Without putting in time and effort the most gifted child cannot succeed in life, because they will never know the feeling of discovering their limits in an effort to use their gifts toward service to others.

Sincerely, Joe WEquil

Father + Angel Investor + Entrepreneur Falls Church, Virginia

P.S. This is me and Sumay the day she became a teenager :)

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