Children all have their less-than-stellar moments around adults. They can be mouthy, sassy, or downright rude. Usually, this is a phase, and with gentle guidance, kids grow out of it. Unfortunately, as with so much of life, “growing out of it” may not be an option for gifted kids.
Gifted people tend to view and categorize the world differently from neurotypical folks. Respect must be earned, not randomly accorded, and since their measuring stick is often their own level of intelligence, that may be a difficult, and unreasonable, hurdle for most people to jump. The challenge then becomes not to force these kids into respecting adults, per se, but to teach them the importance of civility and kindness to all people they encounter, regardless of age, intelligence, or ability.
Perhaps your adult friend has issues with your gifted child stating house rules and expecting immediate compliance (“In our family, we don’t stand when we eat. You should sit at the table.”) Or, maybe an older relative takes umbrage at the way your gifted child refuses to do what she’s told until a satisfactory explanation is given.
We have definitely dealt with this, and still do, especially with our eldest son. Adults, myself and my husband included, have been taken aback by his responses and tone of voice. Initially, we used the various parenting techniques in modern parenting books, but like most gifted kids, our son figured out what was going on and found the loopholes, taking us straight back to square one.
For the past few years, this is what we've done, and it seems to be gradually working:
· First, we looked at how we were sounding. As tired, overworked, stressed adults, we can easily default to disrespectful tones when our children aren't moving fast enough, doing what we want or need to get done, etc. If we wouldn't speak to another adult that way, why would we speak to a child that way? They learn the good, bad, and ugly from us. I will give a warning before yelling (which I know I should never do, but no parent can be the perfect role model all the time—stress, tiredness, hormones, bad hair days all play their part in knocking us off our game) such as, “I have asked nicely and told you that you need to get your shoes on. I am frustrated and will get angry in a moment. What help do you need to make this happen?” Often, whatever needs to happen all of a sudden happens.
· Second, we needed to realize that what is said isn’t always what is heard. Have you ever said something, paused a moment, then thought, “Wow, that didn’t come out the way I meant it, at all!” Let’s assume the best of our gifted kids, and believe that they don’t necessarily mean to be rude, even when they sound that way. So, if they seem to be speaking rudely to anyone, not just an adult, I will say in the moment, “That sounded angry/mean/disrespectful. Maybe you could rephrase it.” As a Cub Scout leader, I have had the chance to do this with other kids, so I'm not always picking on mine. Take the time to talk about it after the fact. For example, I'll bring up what happened, ask why he responded the way he did (because he may have a reason that first needs assessing), then ask how it sounds when I say it to him (not in a nasty, mimicking way, just repeating it as accurately as I can). Often, he can recognize the problem when he hears it, then we can discuss better things to say.
· When all else fails, remember, the simulation can be as good as the reality. In other words, he doesn't have to feel great respect for people, he doesn't even have to like them, but he can still appear civil and even respectful. This is how the wheels of society are lubricated, and it's something we all must do from time to time. As adults, we can all think of work associates or bosses, past teachers, or other people in authority whom we didn't like or respect, yet we had to be civil toward. Share your challenges and how you overcame them (or are still struggling to do so), and kids will be more responsive, especially gifted kids, who tend not to do well with rules in isolation.
Gifted kids have so much going on in their heads, but social niceties often don’t rise to the top. It’s up to us to patiently work with our kids to make this vital aspect of socialization an easier task for them.