I opened the folded letter, my twelve-year-old daughter watching my face for any information. The words I read took me aback. “To reduce pressure and stress anxiety, we recommend that you not ‘prep’ your child by saying s/he will be tested, but rather let your child know s/he is doing well in school and will be given an opportunity to complete some more challenging activities to help the school understand how to best meet his/her needs.”
My daughter is currently entering the screening process to see if she can be moved into the “gifted and talented program” at school. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I were a kid and my parents informed me I had some “challenging activities” coming up, and then was greeted with a test, I wouldn’t be thrilled. Number one, I’d be stressing over what kind of activities I’d have to complete. Number two, it’s a test. I looked at my daughter and said, “You’re going to have some tests.”
She raised her eyebrows. “I know.”
Her breathing remained normal, her pupils did not dilate, and I did not detect the smell of sweat. I must not have stressed her out too much with the awful truth. I plunged ahead. “It doesn’t matter how you do on them, right? They’ll just see where you’re at and, if you score high enough, they’ll move you up. If you don’t, they’ll keep you where you are.”
“Yeah, that’s fine. I know that, too.” She may have rolled her eyes, but I was busy reading the extra pamphlet, and might have been mistaken.
“Okay. Hmm … it says here the ‘uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order to develop optimally.’”
“What? I don’t need to be parented differently!”
“Well, apparently I might have to start doing something differently if you pass the tests. Maybe I should be meaner and less honest. And do things like not tell you that you have tests coming up.”
“Not ‘tests,’ Mom. ‘ Challenging activities.’”
“Oh, yeah.” I looked down at the papers in my hand. “Why would they think you can’t handle the truth about what you have to do in order to get into the program? Don’t they realize you’re smart enough to figure out you’re actually taking a test?”
I’m not a gifted person. I don’t know the answer to these kinds of things. I kind of figure sticking as close to the truth as possible allows for a real conversation where you can actually assess the stress level, vulnerability, and true desires of your children. Just like when you’re at the doctor’s and they’re getting a shot. You tell them it’s going to hurt at first, but then it’ll stop and they’ll be fine. You can’t lie about it; they’ll know the truth as soon as the needle slips into their skin. The concept goes along with when they’re young and you have to leave them: It’s better to look them in the eye so you can say “I love you; I’ll see you later,” than to sneak away in order to avoid a potential meltdown. All they learn from that move is you disappear when they’re not expecting it and, therefore, you’re not very trustworthy.
What about teaching them that they are strong enough to handle whatever comes their way by being responsible for their own choices, actions, and behaviors? That sometimes they might succeed and other times they might not. That they need to respect who they are, faults and all, before anyone else can respect them. And that you love them. No matter what. To the moon and back. Basically, you know, giving them the opportunity to keep trusting you as a parent and themselves as intelligent individuals.
Her sly grin let me know she was pretty smart, regardless of untaken test results. “Maybe because I’d be particularly vulnerable, I wouldn’t be able to cope with tests anymore. I could only manage challenging activities.”
She’d caught the irony of the program already setting limits through word-terms of partial truths. Meant to calm the nerves, the program is insinuating a gifted child is likely to be fragile and full of anxiety and may obsess over test-taking. I’m suggesting kids will learn to react to situations through the behavior of their parents. If I don’t spaz about a test, my daughter will never need to assume she can’t handle it. Just like if I don’t spew hate and racism and all the other shoddy “-isms” in our English language, she won’t have those traits ingrained in her. If I teach her to be open and loving towards all people regardless of religion, gender, color, etc., she’ll never put limitations on herself, on who she can be, and on what she can achieve.
“So, you’re okay if you pass and make it in?”
“And you’re okay if you don’t score high enough?”
“Alright, I’m signing the permission slip.”
“I knew you would. What’s for dinner?”