What I’m Reading: “Bringing Up Bebe,” Alone Time

There are so many commonalities between Ezzo parenting and French parenting. Bringing Up Bebe discusses the need for children to have alone time. The Ezzos suggest that we have a daily structured alone time in the form of room time. The benefits to the child are plentiful.

Off the top of my head, I can think of several benefits of alone time. The child:

  • Learns to play independently and doesn’t rely on a parent or sibling to show him how to play. The intellectual and academic benefits of this are far-reaching.
  • Gets some quiet time, well beyond the age when naps are outgrown.
  • Learns to be happy being alone. I know of some adults who find it difficult to be alone. I can’t imagine not having my alone time!
  • Sleeps and self-soothes better. The baby who is never alone will wake up and cry if he realizes he’s in his bed alone.
  • Learns important focus and concentration skills, playing contentedly without distractions.
  • Is secure in his own skin, comfortable in the quiet with nothing but his thoughts and a few toys to occupy himself.

French parents and psychologists agree with the benefits of alone time:

“A psychologist quoted in Maman! magazine says that babies who learn to play by themselves during the day–even in the first few months–are less worried when they’re put into their beds alone at night. De Leersnyder writes that even babies need some privacy. ‘The little baby learns in his cradle that he can be alone from time to time, without being hungry, without being thirsty, without sleeping, just being calmly awake. At a very young age, he needs alone time, and he needs, to go to sleep and wake up without being immediately watched by his mother,'” (Bringing Up Bebe, p. 53-54).

Such alone time is reportedly very important to French parents. The author discusses one mom’s story:

“Martine also teaches her kids a related skill: learning to play by themselves. ‘The most important thing is that he learns to be happy by himself,’ she says of her son Auguste…. It’s a skill that French mothers explicitly try to cultivate in their kids more than American mothers do. In another study, of college-educated mothers in the United States and France, the American moms said that encouraging one’s child to play alone was of average importance. But the French moms said it was very important,” (Bringing Up Bebe, p. 65-66).

French parents and the Ezzos are alike in their description of “helicopter parents.”

“Walter Mischel says the worst-case scenario is for a kid from eighteen to twenty-four months of age is, ‘the child is busy and the child is happy, and the mother comes along with a fork full of spinach. The mothers who really foul it up are the ones who are coming in when the child is busy and doesn’t want or need them, and are not there when the child is eager to have them. So becoming alert to that is absolutely critical,” (Bringing Up Bebe, p. 66).

So whether you leave a child alone during free play or schedule room time every day (or both!), make sure your child has enough time to simply play and to play by himself. Make alone time a priority!

What I’m Reading: “Bringing Up Bebe,” The Pause

Technically, I’m done reading Bringing Up Bebe, but there’s so much to discuss! Today, I’ll talk about “la pause” or “the pause.” Essentially, it’s the idea of allowing a baby to self-soothe, pausing before intervening. Now, this blog isn’t really intended for parents of babies, but this idea applies across the board. It’s all about giving children the freedom to gain independence.

For babies, this means not intervening the minute they cry. For starters, by rushing in and picking up the baby every time he makes a peep, the parent could unintentionally wake the baby. But there’s more:

“Another reason for pausing is that baies wake up between their sleep cycles, which last about two hours. [I’ve noticed sleep cycles can be as short as 35 minutes, particularly at nap time.] It’s normal for them to cry a bit when they’re first learning to connect these cycles. If a parent automatically interprets this cry as a demand for food or a sign of distress and rushes in to soothe the baby, the baby will have a hard time learning to connect the cycles on his own. That is, he’ll need an adult to come in and soothe him back to sleep at the end of each cycle,” (Bringing Up Bebe, p. 45).

By not pausing when a baby wakes up, we end up teaching them to wake up at every sleep cycle and depend on mom and dad for middle-of-the-night soothing.

“It’s suddenly clear to me that Alison, the marketing expert whose son fed every two hours for six months, wasn’t handed a baby with weird sleep needs. She unwittingly taught him to need a feed at the end of every two-hour sleep cycle. Alison wasn’t just catering to her son’s demands. Despite her best intentions, she was creating those demands,” (Bringing Up Bebe, p. 47).

Does this relate to older children? Absolutely! It’s all about using your power as a parent, through whatever technique, to teach our children to become independent. Whether you learn to pause when your little one is a baby or don’t learn to do so until he’s 5, it’s serves as an important philosophical parenting decision. Understand that coddling a child doesn’t do him any good. He will need to assert independence at some point in life, and the earlier he does so, the more capable he’ll be.

“Behind this is an important philosophical difference. French parents believe it’s their job to gently teach babies how to sleep well, the same way they’ll later teach them to have good hygiene, eat balanced meals, and ride a bike. They don’t view being up half the night with an eight-month-old as a sign of parental commitment. They view it as a sign that the child has a sleep problem and that his family is wildly out of balance. When I describe Alison’s case to Frenchwomen, they say it’s ‘impossible’–both for the child and his mother,” (Bringing Up Bebe, p. 48).

And don’t discount the importance of sleep in older children. Good sleep habits begin in infancy.

“There’s growing evidence that young children who don’t sleep enough, or who have disturbed sleep, can suffer from irritability, aggressiveness, hyperactivity, and poor impulse control, and can have trouble learning and remembering things. They are more prone to accidents, their metabolic and immune functions are weakened, and their overall quality of life diminishes. And sleep problems that begin in infancy can persist for many years,” (Bringing Up Bebe, p. 50).

So whether your ultimate goal is establishing good sleep habits or teaching independence, be sure to wait–to pause–before intervening.

What I’m Reading: “Bringing Up Bebe,” The American Question

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman is a fascinating book. I offered a summary here, but after starting the book, I couldn’t put it down! It’s a great read.

Today, I’ll discuss the author’s take on American parents’ tendency to push their children through milestones. Here’s an excerpt:

“In the 1960s, the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget came to America to share his theories on the stages of children’s development. After each talk, someone in the audience typically asked him what he began calling The American Question. It was: How can we speed these stages up?

Piaget’s answer was: Why would you want to do that? He didn’t think that pushing kids to acquire skills ahead of schedule was either possible or desirable. He believed that children reach these milestones at their own speeds, driven by their own motors.

The American Question sums up an essential difference between French and American parents. We Americans assign ourselves the job of pushing, stimulating, and carrying our kids from one developmental stage to the next. The better we are at parenting, we think, the faster our kids will develop….

French parents just don’t seem so anxious for their kids to get head starts. They don’t push them to read, swim, or do math ahead of schedule. They aren’t trying to prod them into becoming prodigies,” (Bringing Up Bebe, p. 80).

I wholeheartedly agree with Piaget and French parents here. Kids need to take their own time to reach developmental milestones. And things can get tricky when a parent interferes with that natural progression.

The first year, babies are learning how to eat, sleep, move and babble. At age two, toddlers are beginning to understand their place in the world and assert some independence. At age three, most children still do parallel play, and much of their play is imaginative. At age four, the imaginative play still guides them, and it does so as they become more social. At age five, kids start school and begin the job of learning.

Parental interference can take many forms. Some parents encourage their babies to walk early by holding them up or allowing baby to hold the parents’ fingers while “walking.” This could potentially rob the child of the bi-lateral integration that happens with the crisscross movement involved in crawling.

Some parents attempt to speed up the learning process by teaching abstract academics (math or reading) to a three-year-old. When a child is taught that the world has abstract rights and wrongs, imaginative play takes a back seat. This could rob the child of creativity or even the ability to think critically.

Some parents sign their children up for activity after activity. When a four-year-old child spends more time in the car than on the playground, he doesn’t learn crucial social skills that happen at this age.

When it comes to my own kids, I think that I have allowed this natural progression. I have talked about William’s academic abilities, but he sets that pace, not me. At age two, he started taking an interest in learning his letters, but as soon as he hit age three and started playing imaginatively, that interest in letters came to a screeching halt. At age 7, school is his job, and our only extracurricular activities are piano and occupational therapy. Otherwise, he plays.

For Lucas, I follow his lead. It is only recently (almost 4.5 years old) that he’s shown interest in academics. The Leapfrog Letter Factory video is his favorite. At the same time, he plays very imaginatively with his brother and with friends at school. Learning social skills is definitely his focus, and the job of learning is starting to emerge. He has one extracurricular activity, a “sports sampler” class. We don’t do it because I expect him to become some sports prodigy. We do it because he loves it.

How naturally do your kids hit their milestones? Do you let your child set the pace or do you try to speed things up a bit?

What I’m Reading, “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children,” Asynchronous Development

One concept that isn’t commonly understood among parents is that most gifted children excel in one or two areas, not all. A child may excel in reading, but do poorly in math. Or they may be a whiz with puzzles but show average ability in verbal development. In fact, because asynchronous development is so prominent among gifted children, many professionals believe it (rather than potential or ability) to be the defining characteristic of giftedness.

This certainly applies to William, which is why I didn’t think he was gifted before I understood the concept. I thought gifted children excelled in every subject. William is a master speller, but would be happy never to do math again (though he’s still working above grade level). He reads three or four grade levels ahead, but his comprehension or spoken verbal skills wouldn’t be considered advanced. Even on a physical level, he is amazing on his bike, but has difficulty catching a ball.

It’s important to understand asynchronous development when considering our children’s education:

“The more highly gifted the child, the more out of sync she is likely to be within herself, with wide differences between areas of strength and areas of relative weakness…. The wide span of abilities and skills has major implications for this child’s curriculum and grade placement. This type of asynchronous child, even though gifted, often needs an individualized educational plan,” (A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, p. 7).

So if your child struggles with a particular subject, don’t assume that he’s not gifted. Look to the subjects he does excel in and see if he performs above average compared to his peers.

What I’m Reading, “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children,” Inheritability of Giftedness

Is giftedness inherited?

I touched on this in an earlier post, but A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children is very clear that while there is certainly a genetic component to giftedness, environment is a factor.

“Studies by researchers in different parts of the world from the 1960s to the present have compared identical twins who were separated in infancy and raised in widely different environments. Researchers in these twin studies found a high similarity in intelligence–at least as measured by IQ scores–indicating a strong heritability component,” (A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, p. 3).

Environment plays an important role as well.

“Young children can even show an increase in measured intelligence if they are given strong emotional and educational enrichment. Up to seven or eight years of age, IQ scores may increase with enrichment of the child’s environment by 10 to 20 points or more,” (A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, p. 3).

It’s also important to note that gifted characteristics can develop over time and become more apparent as a person matures.

This segues nicely to the importance of first-time obedience. If you have trained your child to be obedient, this frees time for you and your child to focus on more important tasks. It allows for more learning to take place. Imagine a child who doesn’t quite know what his parents expect, where he can push the envelope, or how seriously to take his parents’ word. It’s possible he’s devoting much of his energy to figuring out how to behave. If he trusts that you mean what you say, and he knows how to behave, he can devote more thought to understanding the world around him.

What I’m Reading, “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children,” Defining Giftedness

In my last post on this book, I covered the book’s introduction which discussed the challenges facing gifted children and their parents. Among those challenges were the many myths that define giftedness. In chapter 1, the book goes into more detail to clearly define giftedness.

The U.S. Department of Education’s definition of giftedness is as follows:

“Gifted and talented children are those identified by professionally qualified persons who by virtue of outstanding abilities are capable of high performance. These are children who require differentiated educational programs and services beyond those normally provided by the regular school program in order to realize their contribution to self and society. Children capable of high performance include those with demonstrated achievement and/or potential ability in any of the following areas:

  • General intellectual ability
  • Specific academic aptitude
  • Creative or productive thinking
  • Leadership ability
  • Visual, performing arts, and psychomotor ability,” (A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, p. 2).

It wasn’t until I realized that giftedness included much more than academic ability that I came to believe that William might be gifted. While he excels in school and performs beyond grade level in many areas, his creative thinking and leadership skills have a stronger influence over his personality. He is very imaginative in his play, and his creativity is crazy! The boy will draw the most detailed drawings and come up with the most creative stories and games.

While intelligence varies by degree, it also varies by type. In his book, Frames of Mind, Howard Gardner identifies the following types:

  • Linguistic intelligence
  • Musical intelligence
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence
  • Visual-spatial intelligence
  • Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence
  • Interpersonal intelligence
  • Intrapersonal intelligence

The concept of multiple types of giftedness helps us to understand and identify our children as gifted.

What I’m Reading: “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children,” Introduction, Part 2

As I mentioned in my last post on A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, there are many weighty ideas in the Introduction. Here’s part 2 with more:

Optimum intelligence

Given the fact that so many gifted children experience challenges with underachievement, perfectionism, procrastination, stress and troubles with social skills, researchers have suggested that there is an “optimum intelligence” level. They theorize that a person with an IQ of 125-145 is bright enough to easily master most tasks, but not so bright as to stand out from others.

“People who are higher than 145 IQ are more likely to feel different and even alienated from most other people; as adults, they usually have only a small group of friends with whom they feel comfortable, understood, accepted and valued,” (A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, p. xviii).

Problems with the label

The term “gifted” is not an ideal one. In my personal opinion, it conveys elitism and the word itself often perpetuates the myths associated with it. Personally, I feel it also discourages many parents to identify their child’s giftedness because they don’t want their child to be “abnormal” despite any accompanying academic success. The label also connotes that a child is either gifted or not. Many parents may infer that giftedness requires that a child taught himself to read before the age of two or that a gifted child cannot have learning difficulties.

No gifted child is perfect and no gifted child will have the maturity of an adult, no matter how high his or her IQ score. Nonetheless, the authors of this book continue to use the “gifted” label because it is the familiar umbrella term that continues to be used in literature and legislation.

Understanding the gifted

This chapter is perfectly summarized with the following quote:

“Gifted children are like other children in most respects. They need acceptance, guidance, support, respect, love, protection, and the opportunity to grow without artificial distortions of their innate needs…. They need to grow in an educational environment that prepares them to make sense of the world and gives them the tools to change it” (A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, p. xv).

I love that this states that we are to give gifted children the tools to change the world, not just accept and acclimate to it. I hope to do my part to help equip my children with not only the tools to do so—but also the strength in confidence and character that convicts them in their belief that they can change the world.

What I’m Reading: “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children,” Introduction, Part 1

This book is so full of important content that I’m going to have to break it down. Here is part one of my discussion about the Introduction of A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children.

The main idea of the Introduction of A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children is that parenting gifted children is a lonely experience, fraught with misunderstanding. The misunderstanding stems, in part, from the fact that society believes that the life of a gifted child is a walk in the park. It’s true that the gifted child may have an easier time with academics, but a unique set of challenges make life more difficult than you might think.

Parents are important

Despite the many challenges that highly capable children face, a solid home foundation can make the difference between surviving or thriving. Read more about my take on family stability. When building that foundation parents must address the many emotional issues the gifted child faces and also act as an advocate for the child at school.

“Where there are insufficient educational opportunities, parents can provide enrichment and negotiate with schools to help ensure that there is a match between the educational program and the child’s interests, abilities, and motivation to learn,” (A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, p. xvi).

There was a time when I believed that there was no point to providing William with extra enrichment. I figured I would just be pushing him even more ahead of his peers academically. But I have since changed my tune. He is so very inquisitive and enthusiastic about everything he learns. I would hate for that flame to die simply because I chose not to meet his needs. I feel fortunate that we can afford a private school where he can read 3-4 grade levels ahead, do math that is a year ahead and be challenged in many more ways than I can count.

Parenting a gifted child is a lonely experience

While parents play a particularly key role in the life of a gifted child, few parents are aware that certain characteristics including intensity, sensitivity, perfectionism, less need for sleep and allergies are typical and more frequent among gifted children. These traits make parenting all the more difficult.

It was only a year or so ago that I figured this out. We have dealt with all of these issues (plus sensory processing disorder and the blood sugar roller coaster), but I had no idea they were related to giftedness. It was at birth that William first exhibited his sleeplessness. That first night in the hospital, I was exhausted but he was wide awake. I remember asking the nurse if it was okay that I go to sleep! To this day (he’s now 7), he takes melatonin every night because he can’t quiet his brain well enough to go to sleep.

Unfortunately, parents of other children are rarely sympathetic to the unique needs of the gifted child. The prevailing idea is that parents of gifted children are exaggerating their child’s successes or putting undue academic pressure on the child.

I feel guilty about the fact that I once bought into this portrayal of the gifted child. I figured that a truly gifted child doesn’t act or look like a typical child at all. Looking back, I realize that William (a fairly typical child) exhibited gifted traits that I didn’t even recognize for what they were.

Before the age of 2, William seemed to want to learn his letters. I didn’t push it and, in fact, wanted him to learn through play. But he would ask me to name letters, and he identified them so easily that it became a game. We were playing once at Starbucks (they had wall art made of stories written in capital letters), and a stranger commented on it, calling it “impressive.” Of course, the comment put a smile on my face, but even after seeing it from a stranger’s perspective, I didn’t think that William was all that different from other kids. It wasn’t until a few months ago, many years after this incident, that I started to wonder about giftedness.

Myths about gifted children

The misunderstanding gifted children and their parents face is fostered by myths of them portrayed in the media.

“The media, for example, often portray gifted children as pint-size oddities—geniuses who can solve amazingly difficult math problems, or play a musical instrument like a virtuoso, or go to college at age 12, and do nothing but read, practice, or study all day.

“Another myth, particularly common among educators, is that gifted children do not need any special help, because if they are so bright, they can surely develop their abilities on their own. Still another misconception is that gifted children are those children who do well academically in school or in a particular talent area, which leaves out those who are potentially gifted and currently underachieving. …

“Some gifted children are good in many areas; others are gifted in only one or two areas, such as math or science,” (A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, p. xvii).

Below is a list of common myths surrounding gifted children. It’s a long list, but each one is important to consider when forming opinions about the gifted children in our lives.

  • Gifted children are usually gifted in all academic areas.
  • Giftedness is wholly inborn.
  • Giftedness is entirely a matter of hard work.
  • All children are gifted.
  • Children become gifted because their parents push them.
  • Gifted children will become eminent adults.
  • Gifted children seldom have learning handicaps.
  • Gifted children are not aware that they are somehow different than others.
  • If you tell gifted children they have advanced abilities, they will become egotistical.
  • Gifted children will show their abilities and talents in their school achievement.
  • Gifted children are usually well organized and have good study skills.
  • Gifted children will only fulfill their potential if they receive continual pressure.
  • Gifted children’s emotional maturity is as advanced as their intellect.
  • Gifted children seldom have emotional or interpersonal issues.
  • Gifted children enjoy demonstrating their talents and abilities for others.
  • Families always value their gifted children’s advanced abilities, intensity and sensitivity.
  • Gifted children are easier to raise than most children.
  • Parents cannot identify giftedness in their own children.
  • Educators will know exactly how to work with gifted children.

What are your thought processes when you meet a gifted child? Do you believe the child to be naturally gifted or do you feel that the parents are exaggerating the child’s abilities? Now that I’ve educated myself about giftedness, it feels good to do my part to dispel these myths. Please do the same as you read these posts!

What I’m Reading: “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children,” Preface

I love to read. I read mostly fiction, but I also have a particular affinity for parenting books. I thought I would start a new blog post category to share with you my thoughts about whichever parenting book I’m reading at the moment, chapter by chapter.

Right now, I’m reading A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children. A friend, whose daughter is extremely bright, has inspired me to learn more about gifted children, and she and I are taking a class based on this book. (I’m seeing some gifted traits in William, my eldest.)

Giftedness is not solely genetic

Before you decide that this book isn’t for you, let me assure you that while there is certainly a genetic component of giftedness, it’s not wholly inborn.

“Environment plays an important role as well. Gifted children, like any other children, thrive in supportive environments and fail to thrive in non-supportive environments. Young children can even show an increase in measured intelligence if they are given strong emotional and educational enrichment. Up to seven or eight years of age, IQ scores may increase with enrichment of the child’s environment by 10 to 20 points or more,” (A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, p. 3).

Toddlers learn best by experiencing their worlds

Now, before you run off to buy flashcards for your two-year-old, let me explain my theories about educating toddlers. I wholeheartedly believe that toddlers learn best by experiencing their environment. They learn best by tackling challenging puzzles, going on nature walks, playing with peers, having tea parties with imaginary friends, listening to you read to them and seeing you read to yourself.

Academic learning of letters and numbers, no matter how much the child may request it, should take a back seat to experiential learning at this age. When a child reaches school age, and school becomes his “job,” then it will be time to dive into abstract academic learning. When you focus too much on abstract letters and numbers too early, the child will miss out on important social and imaginative learning. As you’ll soon read, gifted children often struggle with social skills. Don’t rush your child through important developmental milestones.

Raising gifted children is complex

This brings me to the crux of this book: parenting gifted children isn’t easy.

“One mother said, tongue-in-cheek, ‘My son is afflicted with giftedness.’ Suppose you do have a gifted child living in your house. This means she will grow up to be a contented, responsible, contributing, and valued member of society, right? … Well, not necessarily. Some gifted children with high potential never live up to it. Other factors can get in the way, and often, these are social and emotional factors,” (A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, p. xiii).

Parents must help their children, gifted or otherwise, find a balance between fitting in and following their own path.

“To help and support gifted children, we must first recognize that they are thoroughly different. Next, we must understand how they are different, because not all gifted children are the same. And finally, as the important and influential adults in their life, we must guide them—not only in academic endeavors, but also in social, interpersonal, and self-development skills,” (A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, p. xiv).

So while all parents may hope to have children who excel academically, we must understand that parenting them is a complex endeavor. Success in life is measured on many levels, and we must address them all if we are to help our children live up to their fullest potential.