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From The Editor's Desk
by Valorie King (vjking@erols.com)

This issue of MonTAGe is devoted to explanations of human growth and development arising from the various child development theories.

Please accept my apologies for the dry, intellectualness of this issue of MonTAGe and the last two as well. This issue is for those of you who are dealing with the issue of whether or not to request acceleration for your child or who are preparing portfolios and background material for meetings with teachers and school staff regarding your child's academic placement. Hopefully, in the future, MonTAGe will have more humor and less pedagogery. But, for now, I've dispensed with the humor, satire, and sarcasm for fear of being misunderstood.

Teachers expect certain behaviors and characteristics of children at certain ages. Parents have their own expectations as do physicians and others who interact with children. Some parents of intellectually gifted children are fortunate to have professionals to whom they can turn for help and advice. Professionals who by virtue of their training or experience are familar with how gifted children tend to differ developmentally from their age mates and from the "standard" definitions of "children are like this" which arise out of the various child development theories. Other parents find themselves seeking the answers to these questions on their own.

My own quest for understanding began rather late. For a number of years we, my husband and I, went merrily along our way, ignorant, blissful, unknowing. We were the first in our "group" to have children. Our coworkers and acquaintences smiled when we talked about our little darlings and their latest achievements -- and then went back to talking about happy hour and long-weekends spent driving home to see their parents. Sure, there were times when the babysitters and preschool teachers looked at us a little "sideways" and tried to tell us that our children were "different." But, to us, different was good. Different was great! The last thing we wanted were cardboard cutouts who sang the ABC song incessantly. Then the school years hit. Our eyes were opened.

Our children weren't like the other children. Our children were not what the teachers expected. Our children were not what other parents expected. Our children wanted to build cities and roads in the sandbox. The water table became a kitchen were "icky soup" was being concocted from pretend catsup, marshmallow creme, shoe polish, and worms. Different. By the time elementary school came around our children knew that they weren't like the other kids. Different. Was different really such a bad thing? In the social system of the average elementary school, different is bad. Real bad.

Expectations. OK. Some where out there is a book that all these other parents have read. Right? This is the book that tells parents "children are like that." This is the book that defines "normal." Get the book, I said to myself. Somewhere in there has got to be a chapter that explains why my kids "aren't like that." Notice the choice of words here. "Not like that." I couldn't bring myself to even utter the hated N-word.

Before learning that my children were intellectually gifted I spent a lot of time searching for the BOOK. Freud, Erikson, Spock, Hazleton and Piaget -- I've read them all. Maria Montessori -- been there, done that, got the "golden bead-tray." Since the concept of intellectual giftedness entered my world I've spent even more time searching for the answers. There is a lot of research out there. You can drown in it. The BOOK doesn't exist. But, there are hundreds of child development authors, researchers, educators, and theorists who have explanations and theories about "what children are like" at various ages and stages in their lives.

I haven't found the EXPLANATION; what I have found, however, is a wealth of information that at least helps me to understand why other people hold the expectations they do about my children. I've learned that while gifted children aren't necessarily "like that" there are times when they do fit the mold. It's one of those "mysteries" of life.

Along the way, I've come to know my children better than perhaps anyone else on the face of the earth. I haven't always been able to say that. When teachers first began telling me that my children were "different" with the implication that "different was bad," I didn't know any better. Now I do. I've learned to evaluate and assess my children's behavior according to the standard expectations of teachers, scout leaders, and others who have had "training" in "children are like that."

I hope you find this issue of MonTAGe helpful. Grab a cup of coffee or your favorite form of caffeine and prop your feet up. Between this issue of MonTAGe and the previous two, I've tried to answer the question of "what do we do when the school opposes acceleration for our gifted child." This isn't a cookbook answer. You're going to have to work out the details for yourself. But, hopefully, the information and pointers to information from MonTAGe will help you get started on a path that will bring you to an acceptable resolution. If not, well, we'll reserve a future issue of MonTAGe to discussions of how, when and why to homeschool.

"Normal" Is A Setting On A Clothes Dryer
by Valorie King (vjking@erols.comv)

Sigmund Freud

Normality is an ideal fiction. It doesn't exist. It is something we seek after all our lives.

Laurence Kubie

Normality is the ability to learn by experience, to be flexible, and to adapt to a changing environment.

R. E. Money-Kryle

Normality is the ability to achieve insight into one's self, an ability that is never fully accomplished.

Melanie Klein

Normality is characterized by strength of character, the capacity to deal with conflicting emotions, the ability to experience pleasure without conflict and the ability to love.

Melvin Lewis

Normal childhood behavior is that which conforms to the expectations of the majority in a given society or culture at a given point in time. The definition of "abnormal" behavior arises from what the majority of adults consider inappropriate in form, frequency, or intensity. The criteria for such judgements are often nebulous and often arise out of the prejudices and biases of the adults.

The next time you find yourself wishing you or your gifted child could be "normal" -- think on these definitions. Look upon "normality" as a state of being where you are moving towards achieving that which you are capable of at this point in your life cycle.

Book Review:
"The 6 Vital Ingredients Of Self-Esteem" by Bettie B. Youngs, Ph.D. Reviewer: Valorie King (vjking@erols.com)

"The 6 Vital Ingredients of Self-Esteem: How To Develop Them In Your Students." Bettie B. Youngs, Ph.D. Publisher: Jalmar Press, Rolling Hills Estates, CA. 1.800.662.9662 ISBN 0-915190-72-9 Price: $19.95US pbk

Self-esteem is a concept that is getting a lot of "air-time" these days during parent-teacher meetings especially when the child is intellectually gifted. The subject may not be addressed directly, especially when the topic of the day is acceleration, grade-skipping, or IEP development. But, the concerns are there nonetheless:

"How is this going to affect my child? Will it help?"

"Does this parent understand what 'pushing' this student too hard can do to his self-esteem?"

What is self-esteem? Everyone talks about it, but, are we talking about the same thing? Or, is it just another wishy-washy feel-good sort of thing that we all "know when its seen" but can't really define it.

Ms. Youngs defines self-esteem this way:

"Self-esteem is a composite of six vital ingredients that can empower or detract from the vitality of our lives ... Perhaps you've heard the term self-esteem defined as 'how much you like yourself' ... self-esteem is much, much more than that ... Self-esteem is the way _we_ see ourselves and is very personal. That's why _you_ might think a child has everything going for him, but, inside, he may not see the same picture. Have you ever looked at a student and thought, 'If only Jane knew how capable she is?' Building self-esteem is the key. Nothing affects every aspect of our life, including our health and energy, peace of mind, capabilities, happiness, the quality of our relationships, performance, and productivity ... quite so much as our self-esteem."

The six vital ingredients of self-esteem, as Ms. Youngs defines them are:

1) A sense of physical safety: "A child who feels physically safe isn't fearful of being harmed or being hurt."

2) A sense of emotional security: "A child develops a high level of emotional security when he knows he won't be put down or made to feel less worthy, or be emotionally beat up with sarcasm or hurtful words."

3) A sense of identity: "A child with self-knowledge develops a healthy sense of individuality ... feeling secure about himself, he feels secure in praising and complimenting others."

4) A sense of affiliation: "A student who feels accepted by and connected to others feels liked, appreciated, and respected. He learns to seek out and maintain friendships ... he learns interdependence -- a healthy perception of interrelatedness."

5) A sense of competence: "When a student believes he is good at some things he's willing to learn how to do other things ... He is self-empowered through realistic and achievable goals."

6) A sense of mission: "A student with a strong sense of mission feels purposeful ... He makes his 'toys his tools, his joys his job.'"

This book is an excellent resource for teachers and parents who are seeking to instill a good sense of self-esteem in the children under their care. Ms. Youngs takes a responsible position with regards to investigating the sources of problems without invading family privacy.

I especially liked the chapter on "physical safety" as it regards classroom and schoolyard situations. The author stresses the importance of removing the threats of physical violence from bullies and others who perceive that a given student is "different" or "not like us." She stresses that it is the child's perceptions of safety or danger that are important -- the teacher is admonished not to downplay or dismiss the child's fears and to take immediate positive steps to intervene. She states, "Many fathers tell me that they think their children (especially sons) should 'fight it out and solve their own problems because it builds character.' That's simply not the case. Leaving a child to fight his battles alone is more likely to lead to feelings of abandonment, fear, depression, mistrust, low grades, and eventually, emotional or physical drop-out."

In chapter 6, Emotional Security, Ms. Youngs presents a brief but fairly comprehensive picture of the emotional development of children from ages two through eighteen. This information, summarized below, should be very helpful for those parents struggling with the question of whether or not to seek grade-advancement for their child.

Age 2: Autonomy. Growing sense of self as a separate person. Works to develop assertiveness which leads to independence.

Age 3: Mastery. Mastery over environment leads to feelings of "I can do this." Curiosity is an important part of learning.

Age 4: Initiative. Forerunner to responsibility and motivation. Needs praise for the attempt and to be "shown" rather than told how to do the task correctly.

Age 5: Separation Anxiety. Developing conscience leads child to want to please and to want to be near parents and other significant adults. Child _needs_ to know that others are OK even when not physically present.

Age 6: Self-centeredness. "Me-ness." Self at center of child's world. It is very important at this stage that the child be allowed to discover own interests and work to understand them.

Ages 7-8: Sameness. Child moves from "me" to needing to feel "oneness" with others, friends and playmates. Mastery of social and physical skills is an important indicator of this stage.

Ages 9-10: People. Needs same sex friends for development of sexual identity. Needs approval, direction, and affirmation from both adults and peers.

Ages 11-12: Taking Stock. Mellow stage between two major periods of "intense growth." Stands back and observes everything. Refines academic and physical competence as well as deciding what is "meaningful or not." Tries on different roles to "see what fits."

Ages 13-15: Go for it! On the threshold of adolescence, everything is possible. Student undertakes to build a solid sense of self and personal worth. Hormones are raging and students are both in-sync and out-of-sync with their age-mates as each matures at differing rates both physically and emotionally.

Age 16: Excuse Me, But You're In My Way! Needs to be alone, needs to be with peers/others. A time of duality and building of identity.

Ages 17-18: Establishing Independence. Career interests, values & ethics, and self-reliance are important parts of this stage.

Helping the gifted child develop a healthy sense of self-esteem is one of the more challenging parenting tasks we are faced with. This book, while directed mainly towards classroom teachers, presents a comprehensive overview of the subject, presents common problem areas, and proposes concrete steps to be taken in helping the child overcome each of the "sticking points" or problems encountered during the journey from childhood to adulthood. Personally, I prefer the straight forward style of this book over many I've read on the subject. I highly recommend it for both parents and teachers. I'm adding this title to my basket of "recommended books to give to teachers of gifted children."

Ages and Stages In Childhood (and beyond)
by Valorie King (vjking@erols.com)

Have you ever wondered where those "Your Child At n-Years of Age" books get their lists of characteristics? Have you ever met a child who fit one of those lists? Child development experts rely upon theoretical frameworks built from the work of Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud, Erik Erikson, Arnold Gesell, Margaret Mahler, Jean Piaget, and others. Theoretical frameworks form the basis of the more generalized "ages and stages" explanations of child development which are taught in parenting classes, educational psychology classes, and other human growth and development courses. Erik Erikson's work is presented here since it covers the entire life cycle.

Erik Erikson's framework relies upon the principle of epigenesis:

Development occurs in sequential, clearly defined stages and that each stage must be satisfactorily resolved for development to proceed smoothly. If successful resolution of a given stage is not achieved then later stages will reflect that failure in the form of physical, cognitive, social, or emotional maladjustment.

Erikson's framework includes the belief that humans continue to grow and develop throughout the life cycle. Human personality is determined not only by childhood experiences but also by adult experiences as well. The sequence of stages in human growth is not automatic; it depends upon both central nervous system growth and life experiences. Movement from stage to stage in the life cycle does not occur at specific ages but rather upon successful negotiation of that stage's "crisis."

Erikson's general framework includes the following:

1) An unfavorable environment can delay some of the developmental stages;

2) Particularly favorable environments can accelerate one's progress through the stages in the life cycle;

3) Each stage in the life cycle has its own characteristics and needs and it must be successfully negotiated before it is possible to go on to the next level;

4) The stages are not fixed in time; unfinished business from previous stages can be carried over into the next; severe stress may cause the individual to return to an earlier stage (regress) in whole or in part.

Erikson's Stages Of The Life Cycle

1) Basic Trust vs Basic Mistrust (ages birth to about 1 year)

"... a sense of basic trust which I think is an attitude toward oneself and the world derived from the experience of the first year of life. Trust is the expectation that one's needs will be taken care of and that the world or outer providers can be relied upon." (Erikson in "Growth and Crisis of the Healthy Personality")

2) Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt (about 1 to 3 years)

Child develops a sense of "me" and "I." Child develops willfullness and sense of "I can do it myself." Too much parental control leads to shame and doubt which undermine the child's development of a necessary sense of autonomy. Parental approval at child's displays of self-control and self-confidence leads to development of good self-esteem and a sense of pride in one's self and one's achievements.

3) Initiative vs Guilt (ages 3 to 5 years)

Child initiates both motor and intellectual activities. Conflicts over initiative, intellectual curiosity, and overly restricted physical freedom can prevent the development of ambition which normally occurs during this stage. Through play with peers, the child learns how to interact with others.

At the end of this stage, the child's conscience is established. The child learns to express aggression and anger in constructive ways. Excessive punishment restricts the child's imagination and initiative. If the crisis of initiative is successfully resolved the child will have developed a sense of responsibility, dependability and self-discipline.

4) Industry vs Inferiority (ages 6 to 11 years)

Industry is the ability to work and learn adult skills. Peer interaction is very important in this stage. Children learn that they are able to make things. They develop a sense of competency and are able to master and complete tasks. Too great an emphasis on rules and regulations removes the child's natural desire to work at the expense of developing a sense of duty.

The negative outcome of this stage is the possible development of a sense of inferiority. A school or home environment which denigrates, discriminates against, discourages, or which overprotects or causes the child to remain excessively dependent can result in diminished self-esteem and the development of a sense of inferiority or worthlessness.

5) Identity vs Role Diffusion (ages 11 through end of adolescence)

Identity is the sense of who we are and where we are going in life. The individual identifies with parents, peers, and other heroes or role models in an attempt to establish his own sense of self. Career goals become important; the individual may make several false starts before deciding upon a vocation in life.

Role diffusion occurs when the individual does not develop a sense of self and is confused about his place or role in the world.

6) Intimacy vs Self-Absorption or Isolation (21 - 40 years)

The success of this stage depends upon successful negotiation of previous stages. Erikson quotes Freud's view that a normal person must be able "to love and to work." Relationships, marriage, and work/career are the stuff of which this stage is composed.

7) Generativity vs Stagnation (ages 40 - 60 years)

Establishing and guiding the next generation. Creativity and altruism enable one to develop a sense of generativity even while childless.

8) Integrity vs Despair and Isolation (65+ years)

The conflict between a sense of integrity, satisfaction with one's life, and despair, the sense that life is without meaning or purpose is the hallmark of this stage.

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Copyright 1997 by Valorie King, All Rights Reserved
Last updated July 28, 1997 counter

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