Quick! Let’s make a list of all the words we can make derogatory simply by adding the prefix “over-“: overeating, overindulging, overwhelming, overpowering, overestimating, overprescribing, overcommitting, overweight… I could go on for awhile before hitting one word beginning with “over” that was not negative in nature. Today’s topic is equally negative: overcompensating. Compensating involves focusing attention away from the things we’re not good at by excelling in another area. Overcompensating is very similar in that it hides feelings of inferiority in an area. But in the drive for excellence, there are also goals of striving for power, control, and even superiority over others.
Usually gifted kids will shy away from activities that make them feel inferior, so overcompensating is not usually an issue. At our school, however, I make teens try again so that failure is not the last memory. Some students succeed the second time; more often, they either sabotage their second offering so they can prove they are not good at it, or they overcompensate, which still causes a failure. At that point, I use the teachable moment, and I let them move on to the next pursuit.
Ironically, the parents of gifted kids often overcompensate. My theory is that this is because gifted kids do a really good job of making their parents feel guilty. Guilty for working long hours, guilty for not keeping them in the latest technology and gadgets, guilty for making them attend regular school… you get the point.
Parents of gifted, you can compensate for the slowness of the classroom your child has to endure or the inability to keep financial pace with the demand for newer technology without having to move into overcompensating. Compensating for the slow pace in school could be done through supplemental material and a tutor, educational pursuits after school or in camps, or a move to an accelerated private school. Overcompensating would be paying for the grades because now they are going to “a harder school” or bringing your child a gift every time you had to work late.
Do not underestimate the mind of a gifted child. I tell my school parents often not to argue with their gifted children; they’ll come away making monthly payments to their child for having put them through hell during the birthing process! Your gifted child knows how to get what he wants, and he is more than willing to heap a dose of guilt onto your already horrible day to get it.
Compensating is part of being a parent. Kids, I know you have lots of friends and you really enjoy your school, but Daddy’s job is requiring us to move to Kansas. I know it seems like a bummer, but we are going to buy a house on ten acres, and we will put in a garden to raise some of our own vegetables and we are going to have chickens! Compensating is instrumental in moving on. Overcompensating means there is guilt involved. Did Dad have to move to keep is job? Then there should be no guilt involved. When the kids ask if they can also fly their best friends up once a month, the answer “no” roles easily and guilt-freely off the lips.
I don’t know if it’s the influence of social media or all the talking heads offering their opinion on anything and everything, but I see a lot more parents overcompensating nowadays. Examples: I have to go get groceries and you have to come with me; overcompensation -> if you’re good, I will buy you a treat. I have a big project due by Monday, and I will need every minute of the weekend to work on it. I cannot go to your game; overcompensating -> I’ve hired someone to video tape it and you and I will go to Disneyland next weekend to make up for me missing your game in person.
What’s wrong with just expecting kids to know you have to run errands and that little ones cannot stay home alone, no matter how boring the shopping is? Who decided parents must be at every event in which their kids participate? I’ve got to tell you, parents, I have had secondary students beg me not to allow parents to accompany us. It’s not that they don’t like their parents; they just want to be free to be goofy and hang out with their friends without Mom or Dad judging, correcting, or interfering. Your kids are playing the guilt card because they want a treat or Disneyland… or even just to see you writhe.
Lest you think I’m painting gifted children as beasts, let me clarify. Gifted kids are great! There are all sorts of positive traits I can list about gifted kids. Smart would fall under “great” and under “dangerous,” though. I can remember as a child arguing with my mother and being really cruel. In my mind, I was thinking You’re being really mean. You should stop. Then I wouldn’t because... well, she was wrong, and I couldn’t let her get away with being wrong. She had to understand that I was right, and until she did, I kept arguing. Many of my students have identified with this very same thought-process. Gifted kids don’t seek to be mean; it just happens in the process of proving a point! Wow, my parents feel really guilty about having to work so hard. It doesn’t really bother me; I like after care. I can’t let them know that, though. Maybe I’ll get an iPad out of this if I let the tears fall at just the right time.
This wheeling-n-dealing” behavior will be advantageous when they are older. Your job is to recognize when they are using it on you and teach them how to use their powers for good! If you are providing a good home with plenty to eat and lots of parental encouragement and support, you have no reason to feel guilty. Compensate, but don’t overcompensate.