Welcome to Dear Puttylike, where our team of writers tackles your burning multipotentialite questions! Submissions are edited for length and clarity.
We’re contacting you from Switzerland after having watched Emilie’s wonderful TED talk. We have an 8-year-old son who has always been demanding and thirsty to learn and try new things. He has so many hobbies (piano, basketball, football, karate, swimming) and he is brilliant in all of them. School bores him—he is first in his class. And at home he is driving us nuts to get more.
He currently acts in a theater and sews with a machine, but we know that soon he will close these chapters and ask for something new. My hubby is an engineer; I’m a biologist. The next step for us is to create a lab at home and start our son with technical drawing, etc. But we know that this, too, will only keep him engaged until he finishes it in his mind.
Luckily, his teachers see his talents. We went to a psychologist, who tested his IQ. She told us he is not “highly gifted,” and that we should go home, lean back and not worry. But we do worry. We don’t know how to handle our son. Continuing my search online, I found Puttylike.
It’s clear, our brilliant boy is something different. We cannot name it yet. But multipotentiality is kind of a full match.
Is there anything you could recommend to us? Anything that parents should know to deal with talents like my son’s? It is a gift, for sure, but it has a downside for us parents as well. We are so exhausted…
Hello! I’m Mel and your delightfully demanding 8-year-old son sounds a lot like 8-year-old me. You are not alone.
Surprisingly, if I were to summarize my advice to you in one sentence, it would sound exactly like what your psychologist said: Go home, lean back, and do not worry. Since you’ve already heard that advice, let me get into the why of my recommendations.
Firstly, as a fellow multipotentialite, I am admittedly envious of your son’s after-school schedule. Basketball, football, karate, swimming, and theatre—what fun! This packed schedule might be incredibly valuable for your son, especially if he’s a tad socially awkward like I was. As a young person, I vacillated dramatically between being socially disengaged (because I was too busy watching a more fascinating idea flow through my mind in high-definition movie quality) and talking so much that it seemed like I kept very little to myself. Allowing your son to participate in activities that he finds fun and fulfilling is a great way for him to learn vital skills like turn-taking, leadership, empathy, and losing graciously.
Although they may be great for you son, are all of the activities you mentioned the source of your exhaustion? Is funding your son’s ever-expanding list of extracurriculars is breaking your budget? Or, is shuttling him from one activity to another without enough time to breathe ruining your family time? If this roster of activities is making your life unmanageable, go home!
Don’t force him to quit everything (unfair!), but engage your wonderfully creative son in a conversation about how, together, your family will decide on a few activities for him to focus on per period of time. Don’t forget to talk about why you are making this decision—it will help all of you. Conversations like this can help your son start to practice what it feels like to make good decisions as a result of identifying – and living – his values. And it can help you get clear about why him choosing only a few things at a time is so important to you and your family.
Once you and your son have more time at home, you say that you plan to create a lab and start with technical drawing! These could be great family activities…if you actually anticipate this being a fun experience for everyone,—and if you can mentally handle the possibility that he will abandon both before you’ve paid off the equipment bill. If the lab and technical drawing studio are just the newest additions to his already-bursting schedule, resist the urge to bring more in until you have that “why” conversation and he decides what costly (either in time, financial resources, or emotional energy) activities he’d like to focus on for now.
Since you may be rolling back the big-budget activities, remember that creativity is still free! In addition to learning about new disciplines and ideas, multipotentialite kids need to work out how to be in the world with their own gifts and limitations. You might decide that being bored at home counts as an activity that your son gets to (perhaps literally) wrestle with. What if, in those moments, it was his responsibility to bug himself until he figures out how to quench his thirst for learning and trying new things? Parents can have two roles here. First, communicate your excitement for the creative things your brilliant boy comes up with all on his own. And, if he needs help practicing how to quiet his mind, try some kid-friendly mindfulness activities with him during family time.
“Do not worry”
When you say you don’t know how to handle your son, is it because he seems to be running through activities, ideas, and experiences at an alarming rate? Are you concerned about the speed at which he claims to get to the end of each chapter in his young life? I still get this worry from friends & family in my middle age. For one thing, I seem to read faster than humanly possible. People often ask me to prove that I’ve actually read something they’ve sent to me seconds earlier. Similarly, people in my life often express concern when I come to a strong decision or announce that I am finished with something. From the outside, these changes seem to come out of nowhere.
In reality, some multipotentialites really do process information at a speed that seems unsettling. When you are the parent or partner who processes information or experiences at a more “normal” rate, it can feel like you are locked out of a mysterious process that the multipotentialite isn’t able to fully share or demonstrate the return on investment right away. Therefore, your differences become an exercise of trust and communication that you will all keep growing into day by day.
You will have fascinating conversations about what your son gleans from his learning activities. You will undoubtedly learn something new from him, and he will learn from you about what he can discover when he persists a little bit longer. Sometimes, he’ll still be done too soon for you, and you will make him stick with it or decide to trust that he really did get everything he could out of it at that moment. Remember that, for multipotentialites, quitting doesn’t always look the same over a lifetime. Your son might circle back later, either to the activity or to what he learned from it, to apply it to something new in his life. I do that daily in my personal and professional lives.
You’re doing great
Switzerland, I admire the attention and care you have shown to your son’s interests and development. You are doing a great job. Writing to Puttylike is just one small example of the countless ways you demonstrate that you want the best for your son. I understand that, as a parent, it is impossible and wrong to never worry about the future. I can imagine the excitement and fear that comes with knowing for sure that your son is something different, yet feeling equally unsure about what exactly to name it. I bet that there are days that you find yourself wrestling with the uncertainty that manifests as a deep longing for that thing to have a name… Because, with a name, we desperately hope that there might be a roadmap to tell us how to handle what comes next.
But, as we know, none of us has that kind of crystal ball. (If you do, I want one too!) What I’m proposing is that you consider how your daily experiences with your multipotentialite son could be more joyful and less fretful when you intentionally seek opportunities to live more of your life together in the present. If there’s one thing I have learned after a life of too much education and rumination, it’s that we don’t have to figure out what everything means today.
Your son will keep discovering new things every day—and you are not required to keep pace all day, every day. Set your own boundaries about the resources you can provide to support each new discovery he makes. Roll along with him as best as you can, in your own way and at your own pace.
Much love to you and your son,
How does balancing self-care and supporting friends and family members show up in your life? Any tips for parents of multipotentialite kids? Share your experiences in the comments!
Is there something that’s getting in the way of you living your best multipotentialite life? Got a puzzling productivity challenge or career quandary? Is there a particular family member who won’t accept your many facets? Or maybe you have a more general question about multipotentialites and how we move through the world? Send your “Dear Puttylike” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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