Book Reviews

The Self-Driven Child, by Dr. William Stixrud and Ned Johnson

Reviewed by Dr. Melanie Hayes

I want to recommend a parenting book that is not specifically written about the intellectual and emotional needs of gifted/2e children, but offers a way of parenting that is at the heart of raising emotionally healthy, motivated, and confident children. At Big Minds, we have five tenets for successful schooling of 2e children, one of which is “To be a self-directed learner.” This seems like a no-brainer on the surface, but The Self-Driven Child, by Dr. William Stixrud and Ned Johnson, explores at a deep level why this is the key factor in becoming a successful gifted/2e adult. Our children are generally disconnected from their true selves through the process of highly controlled schooling and parenting. The agendas of adults overlay everything children do, and those agendas often do not take the child’s true needs or strengths into consideration. Gifted/2e children rarely get the chance to discover their capacity or reach their full potential. I believe that most of this is related to our efforts to fit them into a preset pathway: the standard, acceptable road to success. But for gifted/2e children, the road to success is not a well-marked highway, it is a bushwhacked path through uncharted territory. It is no wonder that most parents are reluctant to give their child permission to find their own way! I laughed at Glennon Doyle’s description of her own control/anxiety issues around parenting and the message to her children was:

“I exist to make all your hopes and dreams come true. So let’s sit down and take a look at this comprehensive list of hopes and dreams I’ve created for you. I have been paying very close attention and trust me, I see you and know you better than you know yourself. You can do anything I put your mind to.” (Untamed, by Glennon Doyle).

Dr. Stixrud and Mr. Johnson want us to understand that this approach will dumb our children down, disconnect them from their passions, and undermine their belief in themselves. As parents, we should be asking ourselves:

How can we help our children gain a sense of control over his/her/their life?
How can we help them find their own inner drive and make the most of their potential?

It has been my experience in working with gifted/2e persons for almost 20 years, that most of the behavioral, emotional, physical, and intellectual problems that arise for our children are primarily related to their need to rebel against systems that do not know them well or truly support their needs. Dr. Stixrud and Mr. Johnson want us to know that “we can’t control our kids—and doing so shouldn’t be our goal…Our aim is to move away from a model that depends on parental pressure to one that nurtures a child’s own drive.” A healthy sense of control over one’s life is the key to mental and physical well-being, success, and dare we say, happiness! Giving our children the freedom to set their own agenda, make their own mistakes, and create their own path is how we help them have those positive outcomes we all want for them.

I agree wholeheartedly with the research and methods outlined in this book and highly recommend The Self Driven Child as a how-to manual for raising gifted/2e children. Our children want a say in how they live their lives, including how they learn, what talents they pursue, and who they choose to be. We have seen some amazing differences in our students at Big Minds, because they finally have a place where they get to decide how, when, and what they want to learn. When the adults in the room are supportive facilitators and mentors who honor the child’s choices, the child becomes empowered and engaged. Through using the methods defined in The Self Driven Child, parents can become true allies who allow their children to become their best possible selves.

Dr. Melanie Hayes is the founder of Big Minds, an educational model for 2e children that mentors and supports their intellectual, social, and emotional well-being.She holds a master’s in gifted education, a master’s in marriage and family therapy, and a doctorate in educational leadership with a focus on twice exceptionality. Her research and outreach over the past decade has been centered on building support and understanding for the 2e population. Dr. Hayes focuses on helping gifted and twice exceptional persons find their niche and work to their strengths.

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