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Lives of Doctor Wives: Surivivor Saturdays - Raising Mini MDs

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Surivivor Saturdays - Raising Mini MDs

As of last week’s conversation in the soccer-dance class minivan taxi cab, all three of my children want to be doctors when they grow up. My ten year old daughter wants to be an M.D., Ph.D. in genetic degenerative disease (she hasn’t decided which one yet, but she’s considering Alzheimer’s). My eight year old son wants to be an internist (or a zoo keeper or a Jedi, depending on the week). And my four year old son wants to be a doctor who helps tummy aches. (He’s now learning how to pronounce gas-tro-in-ter-ol-i-gist.)

Just for the record, this is not my fault. I say nothing at this point, but you can be sure that between now and high school graduation, these brainy, ambitious tykes are going to receive numerous (gentle) reminders of what exactly is involved in this noble profession .

If you have kids or plan on having kids with your doctor husband, half of their genetic makeup comes/will come from him. And if he’s gotten this far, chances are he is pretty smart. That’s not an elitist statement – it’s just fact. Doctors have to possess an above-average intelligence in order to survive and advance their careers. So, logically, if your husband is smart and your children share his genes, then the odds are pretty good that you will have smart kids. Not always, but many times, yes. Again, this is not an elitist statement, but just one of probability.

And, since the other half of their genetic makeup comes from mama, they will not only be geniuses (because once you add mama’s brilliance to the genetic mix, these kids will be downright prodigies!), but astonishingly gorgeous and talented and creative as well. Beautiful, smart kids. Likely perfectly behaved, too. Oh, the doctor’s wife has it so easy, doesn’t she?


The topic of giftedness in kids is one that I’m passionate about because all three of my kids are crazy-smart, and while that’s great and something to celebrate, it comes with a whole host of issues. As a doctor’s wife, I am often left to deal with these issues alone. But just as my husband and I have never known anything other than a medical marriage, we have also never had “normal” children, so as in marriage, this is just what we do. I figured there are many of you with smart husbands and crazy-smart kids, too, and you can relate or will someday relate and could benefit from my experience so far.

First, as I have said many times when I feel like I have to defend my kids’ giftedness, there are Really Smart Kids, and there are Gifted Kids – and the parents of the Really Smart Kids have the better end of the deal. True giftedness not only involves intelligence, but thinking so far outside of the box that the box is not even recognizable. Gifted kids think differently, learn differently, relate to people differently. They are often misunderstood by teachers and peers, and they often struggle with “fitting in.” Additionally, their bodies do not keep up with their minds - a lovely little term called “asynchronous development”: the gifted child may have the intelligence of one many years older, but his body, his maturity and his emotions are still at his biological age – or younger.

In a nutshell, the gifted child does everything earlier than his peers (crawling, walking, talking, reading), uses advanced vocabulary fluently, thinks about and notices things that other kids don’t, have an acute sense of justice, may be ultra-sensitive, perfectionist, underachieving, and have a higher risk of depression and/or suicide. A gifted child could have all of these characteristics, some of these characteristics – or none of them. Think of it this way: if you put IQ scores on a Bell curve, the gifted child would be as far to the right as the mentally disabled child is to the left. They are, in their own unique way, "special needs" kids - which creates a big problem when the educational system teaches to the middle or to the lowest common denominator.

(This list of characteristics is by no means comprehensive, and there’s no way I could do it justice in a short space. Two great websites on giftedness can give you much more information: Hoagie’s Gifted and Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted.)

Whether you have a Gifted Kid or a Really Smart Kid, the most important thing you can do is advocate, and this is a delicate art – and as a doctor’s wife, it is a job you will often undertake alone. Getting to know and help your child’s teachers is key in raising a gifted/smart child. If at all possible, volunteer for your child’s teacher – hang bulletin boards, make copies, cut out 22 construction paper candy canes – whatever she needs. In this way, you are not only freeing time for your child’s teacher to have more time to spend with her students (especially your student), but you will have more opportunities to get to know her, get to know what your child is doing, and make sure that your child is getting what he or she needs in the classroom.

My mom was a teacher and an administrator for gifted education for years, so her advice to me has been invaluable as I have navigated these waters. She noted that teachers often will give more attention to a child whose parent she knows, especially one who has volunteered for her.

In advocating for your child, it is extremely important that you partner with your child’s teacher instead of demanding preferential treatment. My mom has guided me countless times in this area as I’ve prepared for parent/teacher conferences. I never, ever use the word “bored” when describing my child (that will put a teacher on the defensive and make her feel like she is doing a poor job), and I always tell the teacher “I don’t want to create any extra work for you, so please tell me how I can help you with my child.” I work with the teacher (and GT specialist and librarian) to create projects or assignments that will stretch my child to his or her potential. I go out of my way to thank the teacher multiple times for all she is doing to help and challenge my child. (Thankfully, every time I’ve said this, my child’s teachers have replied, “I’m just doing my job,” but from what I understand, many teachers do not share this gracious attitude.)

As in a medical marriage, you will need peer support. Many schools/school districts have parent support/education groups, and there are countless websites and organizations who can advise and encourage you as you struggle to raise and motivate your gifted child.

If you are in the preschooler stage (as I was during my husband’s training), take your kids to the library, to museums, to any free or low-cost cultural or educational experience you can. Sit down with them and read, read, read, read, read, read. Then read some more. And don't forget to read! Get to know them and their interests, and feed their knowledge in whatever piques their interest. When my daughter was five (and reading at a 2nd grade level), she was obsessed with China – because she noticed everything that was “made in China” – so we read lots of books about China, found videos on China, and - much to my husband's chagrin - cheered for the Chinese athletes during the Summer Olympics. Gifted kids have a tendency to hone in on one subject and want to know everything about it – so by all means, feed it.

Entire books have been written on the subject of giftedness, so I don’t feel like I can speak comprehensively within a single blog post. If you find yourself in this boat with me and need more encouragement or advice, please feel free to email me: jenniferhunt73 (at) verizon (dot) net. If you are an educator, I would especially love to hear your insight and comments below!

In the meantime, we now have yet another reason to be embittered and disillusioned. Just kidding.

Survivor in Pediatric Ophthalmology
Writer of From the Corner of My Couch
Mom of three future MDs ...or not.

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Blogger Tasha said...

Thanks for writing this. My husband was very much in the gifted area (and still is--the words he thinks of for scattergories astound me), and I imagine one day our kids will have the same problem he did about staying interested in school. What a good reference for understanding the other side!

September 19, 2009 at 7:04 AM  
Blogger Jason and Katie said...

Coming from a teacher - your advice is right on for meeting not just the needs of gifted children but all children! READ and explore their interests. And READ again! Make their learning meaningful and authentic!

And that parent help really allows teachers to direct more attention to creating relationships with and meeting the needs of their students! Thank you!

September 19, 2009 at 10:32 AM  
Blogger Kathi Browne said...

Great post, Jennifer. I wish I had been given this advice so many years ago. I frequently used the word "bored" or implied my son could become a disruption if not challenged (oops). By the way, my three sons are all teenagers and still talking about the MD track, so ladies, it isn't just a phase. It's a reality,

Something that should probably also be mentioned is that gifted kids who have high aspirations will likely have higher tuition costs, so... plan ahead. I'm caught in this reality of not having enough savings for all three and college financing is not as available as it used to be; especially if you make good money.

September 19, 2009 at 10:42 PM  
Blogger JLee said...

My son is almost two and has been talking since 14 months. We are still in medical school and can't afford preschool. He already knows his alphabet, colors and can count to 20. Are there any recommended studies I can do with him at home? Programs that can help him learn to read?
Thanks for the post!

September 21, 2009 at 12:17 AM  
Blogger Melisa said...

Great post! My boys are pretty advanced too, so we made our moving decision based on the school system. It means living in a crap house to be able to afford it, but it is worth it for me so they can get a decent education.

September 21, 2009 at 11:36 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

September 21, 2009 at 4:41 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

JLee - Yep, sounds like you have "one of those"! Welcome to the club! I don't know of any "programs" per se, but there are a lot of things you can do with him at home. My daughter had a 120 word vocabulary at 14 months, and she was reading 3-letter words by age 3. I found a set of cards at the grocery store that were mini-puzzles w/pictures to form 3 letter words (cat, dog, pig, etc). Once she knew her letter sounds, she was able to put the sounds together to read the word. My 3rd child did the same thing but a little earlier.

Right now, you can just work on sound recognition, and he'll quickly transition into reading. Any of the LeapFrog toys are great for learning letter sounds (though you'll never be able to get the songs out of your head!). There are a couple of refrigerator magnet musical things that my kids loved. And the Leapster! I swear my now-4 year old learned how to read from the Leapster, and my friend's son learned multiplication in kindergarten. They are fantastic learning tools (and VERY handy on airplanes, doctor's offices, etc.)

The Bob Books are fantastic 1st readers. They're short and come in sets that gradually get harder.

There are all kinds of fun things you can do at home - a bowl full of dried beans or rice and different sized cups, bubbles, blocks, balls. You'd be amazed at what gets his brain working.

Good luck!

September 22, 2009 at 12:28 PM  
Blogger Timani said...

Great post!

I cannot say enough about being IN the schools every chance you get! Not only get to know your child's teacher, get to know the teachers in the grade above. Walk the halls during school and listen outside the doors, it'll help you choose the best teacher for your child. Some years I was the only volunteer that teacher had. (They love me and my kids are the benefactors). By the time my oldest 5 kids were in the same elementary at the same time and I was the PTA President and I know the teachers! Since the birth twins, I haven't volunteered at all at school, but my kids still reap the perks. Their teachers know that I would be there if I wasn't a bit too busy now, but that I support them by reading and making sure my kids do homework and eat breakfast.

Get to know and love the teachers!

I agree with Kathi, my oldest is 15 and he is still set on being a doctor. BTW, my husband just graduated from med school, so he does have a good idea of what it's all about. I've told my kids that they can do WHATEVER they want as long as they are honest. Who am I to discourage dreams...my husband started med school with 5 kids and ended with 8. Believe me, we had critics! Kids need encouraging, there will be far too many people trying to knock them down. And if being a doctor was really that bad...what are we still doing here?

September 23, 2009 at 10:36 AM  

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