11/14/2014 11:46 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Gifted Youth Specialist for American Mensa Spoke. We Listened.

Lisa Van Gemert, Gifted Youth Specialist for American Mensa, gave an awesome presentation two weeks ago. Thankfully my friend, Margo Cooper, was also there and is much more organized than I am... Margo's notes are allowing me to reflect back on the powerful evening.

"The Gifted Guru" gave us essential words of wisdom for parents of gifted children.
I am almost positive you will find these notes from Lisa Van Gemert's speech on "Gift of Self: Developing Effective Self-Concept in Gifted Learners," to be an indispensable resource.

You can read more from Lisa on her "Gifted Guru" website HERE. (If you ever have the chance to hear her speak, she is AWESOME. She's funny, articulate and obviously pretty darn smart.

According to research, only 29 percent of high school girls agree with statement "I am okay with the way I am."

(For boys it was around 30 percent). Therefore when our kids are young, we need to help them bolster their sense of self worth in order to prevent (or at least lessen) the inevitable decline in self-esteem during the teen years.

When it comes to confidence, Lisa uses the metaphor of poker chips: the more you have, the more you are willing to gamble. We want our kids to be loaded with poker chips (i.e. confidence), so they are willing to take risks, to grow and to learn throughout life. Don't worry about creating narcissists says Lisa... the statistics show quite the opposite.

The key to nurturing self-confidence is to help kids identify and develop their true strengths. There are 5 keys to help our kids develop their concept of self:

KEY #1: Our kids must have an unshakeable belief in their self worth. Humans need to feel that their life has meaning. As famed Nobel Prize winner Albert Schweitzer once said, "One can only be happy when they serve in some capacity."

During her speech, Lisa shared a moving story about the passing of her young daughter. Many friends came to her aid over the next six months; some taking care of her son, others providing meals or doing the laundry, all the while Lisa was withering into a deep and dark depression. Of all the people who offered their time, the person who helped Lisa the most was a friend who one day insisted, "You are coming with me. Just put some clothes on, and come." At first she resisted, not wanting to leave the painful comfort of her home, but her friend persisted. She took Lisa to a soup kitchen where they served food to the homeless for three hours. It was during those hours of service, although still grieving, that she realized she had something to give and must continue to live her life in order to do so.

The Message? Kids also need to feel necessary in order to feel fulfilled. Lisa offered the following suggestions and tools to help strengthen our kids' self-concept:

Have your child write a letter of reassurance to their younger self about how they overcame a particularly difficult situation or challenge (at least 2 years ago). What helped them get through it, or was it simply the passage of time? Did they seek the help of a specific person? If so, was it surprising whom that person turned out to be?

For example, maybe it wasn't an expected close friend. Did they rely on a personal strength? When this exercise is done routinely according to Van Gemert, kids will start to see patterns in how they overcome difficult situations, which helps them the next time difficulties arise. Also, they may identify a strength they already have, or one they would like to cultivate.

If they want a pet, make them responsible for the pet. Allow the pet to rely on your child. Have an older kid coach younger ones in a sport.

Tool: Help our kids develop a growth mindset. It is important to develop a growth mindset as outlined in the must-read book, Mindset. Recognize challenges and failures as opportunities for growth and learning. Sidenote: Time is longer for kids...a year to them seems like an eternity. So, if they, for example, don't like their teacher, don't just say "oh, you'll have a better teacher next year."

Give kids lots of positive feedback every day. Put notes in lunch boxes. Write get-well messages. Notes are very powerful for both kids and adults.

Hyper-criticism is common among gifted kids. Sometimes this comes from their being attuned to the aesthetics of nature, beauty, balance and an analysis of what is and isn't working. They have a vision of how things should be and can be frustrated when reality falls short.

KEY #2: Help kids recognize that they accomplish something of value.

A good self concept comes from knowing you have ability. Help your kids develop skill timelines. For example: remember when you were a toddler you sorted your toys, then you learned how to add, then you learned the future you will learn algebra. These skill timelines show kids how skills are developed over time and give them confidence in future growth to come.

Replace the words "easy" and "hard" with "familiar" and "new."

Many things become easier as we become more familiar with them....i.e. practice is the key.

Have kids create a pride timeline: "I was proud of myself when...(fill in with a very specific action, not qualities)."

Lisa told an anecdote about the importance of a "personal success symbol." She was in the hospital (near death) and her son brought her a cheesy robot doll (that he thought was great). Her son wanted to make sure she had the doll so she put it on her IV pole. She wasn't sure if she would live but the staff encouraged her to walk through the hospital to build up her strength. Almost every person she passed made a comment about the silly robot. The social interaction really helped her build her motivation to work on her recovery. Of course, she did recover but she keeps the robot in a conspicuous spot in her closet. It reminds her that, if she overcame a near-death experience (from a botched surgery), she can do anything. Also, it reminds her of what is important in life.

(Note: Actually, I wasn't entirely sure about the meaning of the story except that she implied trophies kids get these days often aren't meaningful to them but it usually helps kids when they can find/create personal success symbols that are meaningful, confidence-boosting and motivating).

KEY #3 Help kids connect with others.
There is a great and safe program for pen pals at

Pets are useful for a child when the child is actually responsible for taking care of the pet.

Help your child find friends.

KEY #4 Help Kids understand the role of Patience and Effort.

She refers to Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers in which he underscores that takes 10,000 hours of practice to become really expert at something. (This is based on research by Anders Ericcson). We need to remind our kids that becoming excellent at something is never easy (and we need to underscore this because if kids think excellence is supposed to be easy, then they will quit when things get hard). It is good to make sure kids know the back story on Olympians, for example, who get up at 4am every day to train.

But, just doing something over and over doesn't necessarily make you better (she says her husband will never get better at golf). Motivation to get better is required. It is important to get immediate feedback to improve (schools can be terrible about giving graded papers and tests feedback to kids a week later).

Also, try to do something in different ways to "get it deeper into your brain."
She gives the Math Facts example. Play card games to do math. Play Scrabble with equations. Underscore to kids that they will not necessarily enjoy practice every time (piano is a big example here). Comment: TAG (Talented And Gifted) kids often feel a lot of drudgery, so try to give their daily work a celebration. Don't wait for report cards. Post things on the fridge, etc.

KEY #5 Teach Kids to Trust their Intuition

Let them learn to trust their gut.

This can be important in life. Even experts often use their gut to make professional decisions (like the art expert who feels a work of art is fake but can't explain why.) At high levels of performance intuition is often key.

So, try to let your kids follow their intuition when you can. Our schools are working against this with all the admonitions to "prove your work" in math.

Comments made during Q & A Note: Praise effort when you can. "I notice you are working hard on that." Help kids with their personal strengths analysis. "What does good look like to you?" The intensities of gifted children can lead them to very active imaginations (this said in response to parents' worried about their kids fabricating stories). Lisa basically says their imaginations are very compelling to them. Usually they know the difference between the imagination version of a story and the "video version" (i.e. what it would look like if you had filmed an event in real life.) You can ask, "Is that video camera true?"

Note: Gifted kids do not accept positional authority. They do not give credence to people because of their position or age (i.e. doctor, teacher, parent, etc.)