Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman on Redefining Giftedness and Intelligence

gender nonconformity kids

​I’m kicking off the new year with an interview with someone who I’ve had the honor of getting to know over the past year, Scott Barry Kaufman, and have been looking for an opportunity to get him on the show for some time now. Scott joined me and Marcus Soutra of Eye to Eye at my NYC Differently Wired book event this past summer and shared his personal story of being labeled and underestimated as a result of his learning difference when he was in elementary school and and middle school.

Today he is a psychologist, author, and podcaster who’s interested in redefining giftedness and helping all kinds of minds live a creative, fulfilling, and meaningful life. Scott has a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Yale University, and is currently based at Barnard College, Columbia University where he is exploring the depths of human potential. Scott is also a prolific writer, having written the books Ungifted, Wired to Create, Twice-Exceptional, and more, and he’s a regularly writer for the Scientific American.

Scott is incredibly passionate about what he sees as his primary work in the world—changing, or perhaps expanding, the way intelligence is defined and measured. In our conversation, we talk about his ideas about intelligence, potential, and what it actually takes for our children to develop into self-actualized adults. I hope you enjoy it.


About Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman


Scott Barry Kaufman is a cognitive scientist and humanistic psychologist exploring the mind, creativity, and the depths of human potential. He is a professor at Columbia University and founder and director of the Center for the Science of Human Potential. Dr. Kaufman has taught at Columbia University, Yale, NYU, the University of Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. Dr. Kaufman received a B.S. in psychology and human computer interaction from Carnegie Mellon, an M. Phil in experimental psychology from the University of Cambridge under a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, and a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Yale University. He is also an Honorary Principal Fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Wellbeing Science.

Dr. Kaufman hosts the #1 psychology podcast in the world The Psychology Podcast which has received over 20 million downloads and was included in Business Insider’s list of “9 podcasts that will change how you think about human behavior.” Dr. Kaufman is interested in using his research to help all kinds of minds live a creative, fulfilling, and self-actualized life. His early educational experiences made him realize the deep reservoir of untapped potential of students, including bright and creative children who have been diagnosed with a learning disability. In 2015, he was named one of “50 groundbreaking scientists who are changing the way we see the world” by Business Insider.

Dr. Kaufman likes to share his enthusiasm and knowledge of the science of potential through his books, teaching, self-actualization coaching, podcast, blog, articles, and speaking engagements. If you’d like him to speak at one of your events, you can make a request here.

Dr. Kaufman’s writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Scientific American, Psychology Today, and Harvard Business Review, and he is the author and editor of 9 books. In his latest book Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization, he presents a new hierarchy of human needs for the 21st century, one that allows for the fulfillment of individual potential as well as the actualization of transcendent purpose and peak experiences.


Things you’ll learn from this episode

  • Scott’s story of redefining giftedness and pushing past limiting labels as a student to thrive
  • Why Scott believes traditional markers of intelligence are missing the mark
  • The problem with assessing for “labels” instead a child’s highest strengths
  • Scott’s thoughts on how we can create a better educational model
  • Why potential in our children is a “moving target”
  • How gifted education as a construct has a “fixed mindset”
  • Scott’s ideas for expanding the definition of intelligence through a multiple manifestations of intelligence lens
  • Why we should focus on self-actualization as opposed to excellence
  • What qualities we should be helping our children develop to become self-actualized


Resources mentioned for redefining giftedness


Episode Transcript

Scott Barry Kaufman  0:00

See, here’s the interesting thing that it was put in my IEP. You know, he needs to forever be in special education because he’s an anxious person. Well, that’s one way of viewing the situation. But another way of viewing the situation is, this kid is anxious because we told him he’s learning disabled as any normal human being. It’s a natural reaction to any normal human being, saying that you’re not capable of doing anything in your life. Therefore, what we need to do, our task is to reduce his anxiety by showing him his highest strengths. Now, that’s a whole different way of framing the whole IEP, the whole purpose of education of that child than the way that it normally is treated.

Debbie Reber  :47

Welcome to Tilt Parenting a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring and forming and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. Actually, perhaps I should say, welcome back to the podcast. For the first time since launching this show in 2016. I took a little break during the month of December to get my family resettled in the US where we just moved from the Netherlands, and just to have a little breathing room, but I am excited to be back in the podcast chair from my new office in New Jersey. So I’m Debbie Reber and I am kicking off this year with an interview with someone who I’ve had the honor of getting to know over the past year, Scott Barry Kaufman, I have been looking for an opportunity to get him on the show for a long time now, Scott actually joined me and Marcus Soutra of Eye to Eye at my New York City Differently Wired book event this past summer, and he shared his personal story of being labeled and underestimated as a result of his learning difference when he was in elementary school and middle school. Today, he is a psychologist, an author and a podcaster, who’s interested in helping all kinds of minds live a creative, fulfilling and meaningful life. Scott has a PhD in cognitive psychology from Yale University, and he’s currently based at Barnard College Columbia University, where he is exploring the depths of human potential. Scott is also a prolific writer, having written the books Ungifted, Wired to Create, Twice-Exceptional just to name a few. And he’s also a regular writer for The Scientific American Magazine. Actually, I could fill up an entire episode just sharing Scott’s accomplishments. So I’m going to stop now. But you get the point. Scott is incredibly passionate about what he sees as his primary work in the world these days, which is changing or perhaps expanding the way that intelligence is defined and measured. In our conversation, we talk about his ideas about intelligence potential, and what it actually takes for our children to develop into self-actualized adults. I hope you enjoy our conversation. And just a few short announcements before I get to the episode. As I mentioned in my mini solo cast that I released in mid-December, my book Differently Wired is now finally available as an audiobook narrated by yours truly, to listen to Differently Wired just go to amazon.com. And you can download it using Audible. And last month, I did a TEDx talk in Amsterdam called Why the Future Will Be Differently Wired. So Ted Talks are all about ideas worth spreading. And I would love your help spreading this one. I wrote this speech with a broader audience in mind as I want to challenge employers, colleagues, community members and other people in our lives who may not be raising differently wired kids to consider the importance of neurodivergence in our society to consider the importance of our kids in society. You can find it at tiltparenting.com On the homepage, or on YouTube or on the TEDxAmsterdam website. So I would love your help spreading the word to these audiences. Thank you so much. Oh, and one more thing, I just want to give you a heads up that next week, I’m also releasing a very exciting episode with another guest I’ve been wanting to have on the show for a long time, Julie Lythcott-Haims, the author of the fantastic book, How to Raise an Adult so that will be dropping next Tuesday, January 15. Make sure to listen to that one. It’s also a great episode. And now here is my conversation with Scott Barry Kaufman. Hey, Scott, welcome to the podcast.

Scott Barry Kaufman  4:48

Aw, thanks for having me on. I’m so glad I could finally be on the show.

Debbie Reber  4:52

I know I remember when I first reached out to you. I don’t know if one of your TED Talks had just blown up or something but you were like I’m not accepting. I’m doing any interview requests, and I was like, Okay, so I’ve been kind of gently pestering you for a little bit. So I appreciate that this is happening. So you and I had a chance to talk this summer, at my book stop in New York, we did an awesome panel with Marcus Soutra from Eye to Eye. And in that conversation, you shared your story. You know, I know that the work that you do is really personal for you. And that are that that’s how you got into the work. And your work encompasses so many different facets now, so I would never pigeonhole you. But I would love to know a little bit about your own journey, who you were as a young child and a student, to where you are today and how you went through that transition.

Scott Barry Kaufman  5:44

Okay, so I was always a very creative, quirky kid, I guess you could say, I used to have a treasure chest of that. So my mom, my mom’s friends made me have all sorts of different costumes and capes from different superheroes. And I would, without thinking that it was inappropriate to wear them to school. I wasjust ravenously curious and interested in everything. And I also, on top of that, I mean, I had an auditory learning disability, which made it very difficult for me to process things in real time. So I really resorted to my imagination, I had a really rich fantasy life, but no one could see that, of course. And I really kind of checked out and it created quite a cycle because the more I checked out, the more they tell my parents, I think something’s really wrong with your son. And then the more that they would tell my parents, there’s something really wrong with your son, the more wrong I would suddenly perceive to be by everyone. It’s fascinating how that works. And I just was just really creative in my own room, doing all sorts of things, acting out soap operas, writing stories, creative writing, I was really into creative writing. But my parents did let me have some creative outlets, like I went to a performing arts summer camp that I really loved. But I was in special ed and was taking remedial classes for my auditory processing disability as well as my high anxiety. And I’d say like I was just unquestioningly kept in that system, until ninth grade, when a special ed teacher took me aside. And she was actually a sub, or she was the covering for the regular teacher that day, I’d never seen her before. And she took me aside after class and said, You know, I know this is like, the first time that I’ve been here, but like, you know, it just is very clear to me that you’re yearning for something more, you know, like, why are you still here in this classroom? And I was just so taken aback because no one ever asked me that question before and never dawned on me to ask myself that question. And maybe because of my personality. But as soon as I asked myself the question, Why am I here? It really quickly turned into like, yeah, why am I here? Like, I’m getting out. You know, I always have this, like, I always, I always had this really rebellious side of me that I’ve just always had it like, it’s just an undeniable part of my DNA or something, you know. And I remember that moment, like someone empowering me to be rebellious. Like, that’s all I need. Like, that’s all it takes for me. So it sounds a little bit of a nudge to be rebellious. I’m in, you know, like, it took nine grades for that even that little nudge. I mean, all it was, I mean, you think about it, oh, how simple and easy was that for a teacher to just take a student aside, and, but no one had that dawned on doing that in my nine grades you get, you just get caught up in the system, these kids poor kids, just get these labels, and then just unquestioningly are given the same low challenging material without it without ever questioning that we can grow or change as humans, you know, it’s like, you’re not allowed to grow with that label. You don’t even know how to grow with that label. Like, that’s pretty good. So anyway, so long story short, because like, I don’t want to, like just go on and on with the story. But I did take myself out of special ed in ninth grade and signed up for mainstream classes to see what I was capable of achieving. And I literally did not realize that before that moment, that I actually enjoyed learning. Like also like what, you know, like, I didn’t just have to have this private fantasy creative world that like no one knew about that was secret, but I’m allowed to actually show intelligence, you know, like, I don’t know, it was just such an eye opening moment for me. I was like, I voraciously care about everything. I signed up for Latin. I signed up for advanced English classes, history, I found history fascinating. You know, I had to catch up on nine. I wasn’t college bound in ninth grade. And I was like, well, I could actually be college bound like that was that was really news to me as well. So yeah, long story short, I mean, I really found that the one at once I really look to see what I was capable of and people supported me in my decision to do that. Things just took off.

Debbie Reber  9:55

Well, yeah. I was just curious about you know, you mentioned that you were feeling like you were wrong, you know that you had been pigeon-holed, you’ve been labeled in this space. And that’s something I hear a lot from. And I talk a lot about how our kids kind of grow up feeling that they’re broken, the wrong, they need to be fixed, you know, or that some part of who they inherently are isn’t okay. And it sounds like you were in that space, too. I’m just wondering, just I’m wondering if in those years before the teacher pulled you aside, and said, Hey, I think you know, there’s a lot there’s other things, and you don’t really belong here anymore, have you yourself, felt like, wait a minute, I think everybody else is getting this wrong, you know?

Scott Barry Kaufman  10:40

No, I did not actually question it. I knew in my bones that something was wrong. I knew that there was a mismatch between the people’s expectations of me, I could feel it in my intuition, but did not have thoughts of grip up I imagine. Like, I mean, here’s something that you might find interesting, because I work this. We found this by looking at my old papers. At each time that you know, they asked like, what do you want to be when you grow up? And I have it saved. It’s an academic PhD psychologist. Seriously? Yeah. So yeah. So I feel like my mom said that one of the school psychologists said to her, that they thought I had what’s called delusions of grandeur. Because I told this, and I remember them, I remember what I said to that psychologist, I actually remember that moment because they had me see a psychologist. They said, You know what, you know, what are you? What do you want to do someday? I remember looking at his door and saying, I want to be a psychologist. I want to be like you someday. I think they told my parents that. So, you know, I guess to answer your question, I, it’s not like I necessarily. It’s like, I didn’t have ambitions. But I did. I did feel too timid, I guess too shy to like, question, the way things were. And I kind of accepted it until, but there’s obviously a part of me that really was just waiting for someone to say to me, like, Hey, you’re not you’re not so you’re not so bad. To this day, by the way, to this day, I am super sensitive to expectations. I wonder, I think in my studies of twice exceptional children, it will just be kids learning disabilities, or any, as you say, as you know, as the great Debbie, Reber says, differently wired. Anyone who’s differently wired, I think there’s a common thing there where they grow up, just being hyper, hypersensitive to how the person is perceiving them. And I can’t completely kick that, even to this day, I can spiral downward really fast, but I can also spiral upward really fast. You know, like, I’m really in tune with, like, the resonance or frequency of the person I’m talking to. And, yeah, I don’t know if you resonate with all of this, or the kids you’ve worked with?

Debbie Reber  12:55

Yeah, I think, I think it’s, it’s interesting and incredible to hear what you’ve accomplished, that still comes up for you. And I also think it makes sense, you know, if you, if you kind of grow up, always feeling as if you’re not being understood, or people aren’t really seeing you for who you are, then it makes sense that there would be a just an awareness that at any given time, people may still not be seeing you for who you are.

Scott Barry Kaufman  13:21

Yeah, I think that’s exactly right, and exactly what it is. But even people who are normal, what’s the opposite of differently wired? And what’s the rest of the of

Debbie Reber  13:30

The common word is NT is for Neurotypicals? You know, no one said, no, no.

Scott Barry Kaufman  13:38

Every brain has their own unique kind of wiring.

Debbie Reber  13:41

For typically developing.

Scott Barry Kaufman  13:44

Yeah, yeah, I think this for all of us, I think that it’s really important for teachers to look deeper than some of the superficial sort of academic content or indicators of potential. This has been a big mission of mine, is to I while I studied traditional markers of intelligence, that’s how I started off in my career, because I knew that if I ever was going to make a change to the system, I would have to start with the traditional as possible, I came to realize just how much these tests lack fundamental humanity of an individual. And, you know, some scientists might cringe at what I just said, you know, like, Oh, that’s a really like, non-scientific, airy fairy sort of thing to say. But I have scientifically shown throughout my career that that is the case, you know, like I’ve studied extra dimensions of what it means to be a human and have tried to systematically show how much we’re missing out on those things, especially imagination. You know, that was a big research interest of mine that is not captured by an IQ test.

Debbie Reber  14:52

Yeah, I’d like to, I want to talk about your book Ungifted and your work that you’ve done in that space. I know again, that you’ve done many more things, since that time, but the idea of how intelligence is measured is something that comes up a lot in my community. You know, a lot of parents have kids who are twice-exceptional or 2e. So their kids were either late and being identified as gifted, or, you know, they aren’t able to tap into the services for them. Then there’s the gifted word in general, that is so controversial, yeah, loaded. And then there are so many, you know, differently wired kids who do come with these incredible gifts and sensitivities and talents to share with the world. And they’re completely overlooked. So can you talk a little bit about what you know, maybe a little more in depth about what you see, that’s wrong with the way students are currently being identified and categorized?

Scott Barry Kaufman  15:51

Oh, ha, where do you start?

Debbie Reber  15:53

How much time to get out of here? Yeah.

Scott Barry Kaufman  15:57

Well, first of all, the whole problem is that we were so desperate to categorize Yeah, that’s one of the problems. Yeah, that’s one of the major problems. There’s this, we feel like there’s this need to, to know, right away? What are they going to do? What’s their potential? What? Where are they? Are they autistic? Or they, you know, are they? Are they typically wired, are they ADHD? There’s such a focus in most training programs and educational psychology to answer that question, and not enough attention in educational psychology training programs on asking the question, what are the highest strengths of these kids that we’re serving, you know, when you come to the table, when the kid, you know, is referred and comes to the table, I mean, the first, the first thing you should do is, will smile at the child that, you know, assess their character strengths. You know, like have them take the Character Strengths Survey, see where their top three strengths are. And then make sure to do your whole workup, your battery, don’t focus on the global IQ score. And there are a lot, it’s really moving that trend in educational psychology to really look at the individual scatter of sub test scores. But don’t just look at the sub-test scores on an IQ test, like gain information about that child’s personal goals, their classes, that they’re more or less engaged in their social situation, whether or not they’re bullied, whether or not they have anxiety. See, here’s the interesting thing that was put in my IEP, you know, he needs to forever be in special education, because he’s an anxious person. Well, that’s one way of viewing the situation. But another way of viewing the situation is, this kid is anxious, because we told him, he’s learning disabled, as any normal human being, it’s a natural reaction, any normal human being, saying that you’re not capable of doing anything in your life. Therefore, what we need to do is to reduce his anxiety by showing him his highest strengths. Now, that’s a whole different way of framing the whole IEP, the whole purpose of education of that child, then the way that it normally is treated?

Debbie Reber  18:22

Absolutely. So first of all, I you know, just to go back to that idea of categorization, this is something I’ve been thinking a lot about this need to label and identify and based on your expertise, is that a natural instinct that we have as humans to categorize? I mean, is that

Scott Barry Kaufman  18:39

absolutely is I mean, that’s why there’s prejudice. You know, it serves us well, in a lot of instances, I can imagine going through the world where you couldn’t categorize anything in any category, you would be sitting on people instead of chairs. Confused? So clearly, that’s not it, it did serve us well in the course of human evolution. But it leads us astray. And it especially in a school system, where the categorization purpose is to really target a certain level of challenge, low content based on a paucity of information about the child that’s very problematic, because you’re setting up self-fulfilling prophecies. Without even realizing it, you know, and then, you know, it’s like, I stay in remedial classes to eighth grade. And then I say, hey, you know, I’m still in remedial classes. They’re like, Oh, we told you, it’s like, but you’re the one who put me in remedial classes, free grades.

Debbie Reber  19:40

You know, it’s interesting, I’m just thinking of the Dutch education system, you know, that I just moved back to the US from the Netherlands and my Asher was not in that system. I have many friends whose kids are in that system. My Dutch teacher explained it to me in great detail, how it works, and it’s very it’s probably Typical of a lot of European countries. But it is a system in which pretty early on maybe by fifth grade, sixth grade, you are assessed and it’s determined whether or not you’re going to college or not. And you know, if you’re going to be more of a, what we would call low tech here in the US, and that’s it, you know, once you’re in one of these three systems, the really high performing kind of medium, and then the low performing, and that’s your future all laid out for you. And it’s very hard to change that once you’ve gone down that path. So that’s the context for this question about education. If you were to create a school, the Scott Barry Kaufman school,

Scott Barry Kaufman  20:43

SBK school?

Debbie Reber  20:45

Oh, yeah. SBK like that. The SBK school? What would that look like? You know, because I love this idea of strengths-based. I mean, that’s what I believe so deeply as well. What would a school look like?

Scott Barry Kaufman  20:56

It would look like a school that exists called Bridges Academy. Oh, yeah. Yes. I visited them. And they just started a training program for twice exceptional. Yeah, there’s early faculty members, one of their first faculty members, and they really get those kids. You know, I feel like when people ask me to design a school, you know, I feel like it takes a lot of hubris to say, you know, the right way to design a school. I never really liked that question. And I don’t really like people who answer that question too readily. I’m always suspicious. You know, there are people who wouldn’t educate writers, you know, who think they know the answer. I think that a lot of what I would do is, have it be student-driven, you know, like, sort of let them tell us to a certain degree, what they need, and be like, Why didn’t my favorite psychologist Abraham Maslow put it he clearly said, we should be the role of horticulturist, like really trying to get and shape what’s already there. And I always liked that metaphor of the horticulturist, you know that the Aztecs are like this Tao-istic helper. You know, from Buddha Buddha’s philosophy. I like the idea of teachers, as Tao-istic helpers, you know, guiding the learning process by not forcing, cramming memorization down, you know, down their throat, not, not allowing them to change and grow, you know, so, so part of the school system would involve constant, constant chickens, chickens with the students. You know, what? Are you ready for more such challenges? You know, like, every year, right, for next grade? Do you want to take it up to the next level? You know, do you want to take it down a level? What are your personal goals? Well, if your goal is to go to Harvard, maybe you should take that up high level, you know, up, but working with their personal goals, you know, it would be really grounded, the SBK school would be very much grounded in my theory of personal intelligence, which I have been trying to apply to the twice exceptional population. I think, like grounding that, that in personal intelligence, which I define is the dynamic interplay of ability and engagement in the pursuit of personal goals, is a good form of intelligence that we can get out of kids.

Debbie Reber  23:14

So can we talk a little bit about potential then to tie into that? You’ve said that the things that we typically think of as the best predictors of potential aren’t actually that great, and that we have to recognize that potential is a moving target. So can you tell us what you mean by that?

Scott Barry Kaufman  23:36

Well, potential by potential being a moving target, you know, like what is potential mean? It means at any given moment in time, it’s the probabilistic probability that your likelihood of actualizing x, but if we don’t recognize that probability constantly is shifting. You know, it’s like, my class, here’s a personal example, I’m trying to lower my cholesterol levels, my potential cholesterol levels can be at one moment in time very predictive of heart disease, and then let’s do this huge diet regimen and I lose a lot of weight, and I do all stuff, and then I will lower the numbers to the normal range, suddenly, my potential is much greater for for, I guess, living longer. So that’s what I mean by moving target. You know, we really need to recognize that in a lot of ways we create, create, we create and shape potential. don’t realize that

Debbie Reber  24:33

Well, and also, as you’re saying that I’m thinking of mindset, too, and that we’ve talked a lot on this podcast about growth mindset versus fixed mindset, and, you know, and how important it is to help our kids develop growth mindsets. But I think so many of us adults in these kids’ lives actually have fixed mindsets about their potential, like pretty early on.

Scott Barry Kaufman  24:57

Sure. And the teachers do too. Hmm,

Debbie Reber  25:01

It’s absolutely true. And I know that there’s plenty of research saying that, you know, teachers, if kids come in, and they have an idea in their mind of whether they’re gifted or they’re there ungifted to use your term, then that’s how they will actually perform those kids will live up to those labels and the teachers, well, what they expect is what they’re going to get. Right.


Scott Barry Kaufman  25:22

Yeah. And I think the field of gifted education is deeply, deeply fixed mindset approach to identification and cultivation of those kids.

Debbie Reber  25:34

Do you see it changing? I mean,

Scott Barry Kaufman 25:36 

I see people, I meet some amazing, gifted education teachers from time to time, and I’m like, wow, you’re awesome. I don’t know if that system wide change.

Debbie Reber  25:47

It’s challenging. I think, you know, for a lot of parents, again, in my community, we’re always having to advocate and figure out new ways to understand who our kids are, so we can best support them and tap into their strengths, because a lot of traditional systems or testing doesn’t give us that information. So yeah, and I agree with you Bridges is doing it right. We’ve, I’m actually going to be speaking there this spring, which I’m super excited to check out that school in person myself. But I just wonder if the if, if maybe the question is, do you see a willingness among schools in general, just again, in your, with your knowledge of this field? To start looking at multiple intelligences are different ways of looking at kids that expand the definition of intelligence and giftedness?

Scott Barry Kaufman  26:45  

Well, that’s what I’ve been working on, sort of in trying to do my whole career. But I don’t go through multiple intelligences and really look at them as multiple manifestations of intelligence lens, to look at that subtle difference. You know, I don’t deny that there’s something called general intelligence that people differ on, you know, some people in education are like, horrified to, to admit that, that IQ matters at all. And I’m not that person. I mean, people want to slot me into that, because I have these more nuanced views. And I wrote a book called Ungifted and then so they automatically think that I’m therefore a multiple intelligences guy, but I I’m for like, almost in a sense, maybe that I’m into, like, unlimited intelligence. Because I think like, who are we to? Like, say that? Like, oh, you seven are, are the intelligences you know? And like, so then what if you’re not gonna eat those seven? Like, you’re up a creek, whatever. They bet at my metaphors, but I’m gonna paddle Yeah, yeah, you’re up some creek without a paddle. And that’s not good. But students, you know, can tell us whether the key level analysis is not what is your ability? The whole ability question is so between person. It’s so competitive, it’s so hierarchical? The whole idea of multiple pillars? If you really think about it, it’s like, what are you really excellent, you know, it’s like, okay, everybody calm down about excellence. Like just calm down. I’m all about self actualization is what I’m about, you know, like, what do you what does this kid want to actualize? I don’t care if they’re, if they’re, if that’s one of their intelligences, maybe it’s not their intelligence, but they still want to develop and actualize it on their intelligence level, then, can we give them the resources? Or are we preventing them from actualizing, a potentiality, or a motivation that’s within them? So I get very passionate about this stuff. Because I think, you know, we need to stay within the realm of science, I think science definitely shows that there’s something called general intelligence that a lot of kids who get in gifted education programs, they have a very high G score, which means that they’re very quick learners across and make connections very quickly. That is the thing, you know, like, we don’t need to, like sweep that under the rug, you know, some multiple intelligence, people say, Oh, that doesn’t, that doesn’t matter, all that matters. Are your dance ability or your visit your art ability? Well, no, it does matter. It does matter a lot. That’s one slice of human cognition that, you know, we shouldn’t have those kids fall under the, between the cracks, either, you know, like I when I’ve studied the breadth of human potential, I don’t want to neglect those who are off the charts on IQ tests. Because that is predictive of, of something that they need help with, actually. So I’m not anti that, but I’m infinite, infinite, not intelligences, but infinite goals that a child can have and we should listen to

Debbie Reber  29:35

I love that. So I’m just wondering if you have any, you know, for parents who are listening to this, I think, hopefully, there’s some paradigm shifting happening. You know, one of my biggest goals in this podcast and through tilt parenting is to help parents lean into who their kids are. And a lot of that means shedding the expectations we have of who they are and what their journey will look like. What It’s possible for them, and instead, meet them where they are, and help them become the best version of themselves they can be.

Scott Barry Kaufman  30:08

So I have some quote my favorite quote of yours, I have written down; allow our children to fully realize their best selves, and then let their gifts flourish. I really like that one. Yeah.

Debbie Reber  30:19

That’s awesome. Thank you. Do you have thoughts on, you know, just based on what you experienced when you were younger? Were there things that for parents who have kids who are maybe in the position you were in back then, you know, what can parents do from your perspective to help them tap into their strengths?

Scott Barry Kaufman  30:41

I know that your book is very focused on empowering parents, which is a population that is really neglected. In the education, it’s often the parent is the last person to know of an education decision, which is crazy, you know, like, you know, that the teacher knows, first than the principal, and then the whole IEP team, but I don’t know, like, so the thing with the parent is like, they know their child more than anyone. And it’s like, really important to advocate for your child’s needs, and help teach your child and power your child to advocate for themselves, when they’re in the school system, and they’re away from their parents, they’re also I think it’s important to, to make sure that like, the kid is not too dependent on the parent, this is something that I guess a pet peeve of mine is, you know, some of the most well-meaning parents have differently wired children create a codependency with their child, where their child, you know, calls them from school all the time, it’s like, the child doesn’t realize that they have the coping capacities within themselves, like the parent immediately jumps in and says, I’ll take care of this, you know, I think there’s needs to be a healthy balance there. Where, you know, the parent encourages the child to, to really self out but you know, self advocate for themselves and when they’re not around, because they’re gonna have to do that the rest of their lives.

Debbie Reber  32:04

Absolutely. You know, I, I just spoke with Julie Lythcott-Haims yesterday who wrote how to raise an adult and we had this exact conversation, she said it in a way I’d never heard it before that parents of atypical kids can sometimes actually become our child’s executive functioning, we can become their, you know, we can take over for them in that realm, and in the advocacy realm, and it’s so important for these kids to learn those skills. I’m wondering about your advocacy. So I know that when you that, you know, when you had that aha moment in ninth grade, and you said, you know, what, I’m I want to take Latin, I want to do these things, to what do you attribute your ability to, to advocate for yourself in the way that you did?

Scott Barry Kaufman  32:50

Well, we can’t ignore the role of genes in in some of that, so it’d be very easy for me to say my mom, you know, taught me by example, what it means to have grits and to be a tough lady, but don’t forget, I got a lot of her genes as well. So, you know, like, I feel like, you know, she, she’s very, like, I’m not accepting that, you know, like, nobody does that to my Scottie, you know, rolls up her sleeves, you know, going to like super, superwoman. And I think that there’s a part of that’s within me as well, a little bit. So the more that people, were really having low expectations of me, the more did kind of fire me up to want to disprove them, which I don’t think is healthy. But I think that is what that was, at that time, my life. And that is probably what got me through, you know, a lot of things that aren’t healthy in the long run, a lot of our defense mechanisms that aren’t healthy for growth in the long run, can still be immensely helpful in the short term for getting us out of really horrible traumatic situations, you know, like, people who are abused in various ways, their brain literally shuts down. So they can cope with the reality. Now, it’s not healthy in the long term to have your brain shut down. But in the short-term, it’s healthy. So I think I had some of these defense mechanisms that almost ironically, these defense mechanisms, propelled me to work harder to practice more in the school orchestra. My grandfather, I asked my grandfather to teach me how to play cello. And I was so determined to show my school that I can do something, I can play cello. And I practiced nine hours a day. I didn’t go to the lunchroom. Not a great way to make friends. But, you know, I was so determined. So that’s my answer.

Debbie Reber  34:36

That’s awesome. So I want to ask you one last question. And then I’d love if you could tell us a little bit about what you’re up to now, which I know again, as a moving target. You’re one of the most prolific writers that I know I’m constantly amazed by your productivity. But I think a lot of parents like me, we get caught up in this comparison trap of thinking, you know, of chasing This successful using air quotes here a successful future for our kids. What would you say are the most important qualities that we should be focusing on helping our kids develop in order for them to be self-actualized and fulfilled adults?

Scott Barry Kaufman  35:17

Oh, wow, I just cited created a scale of self-actualization, and new test

Debbie Reber  35:23

Do tell.

Scott Barry Kaufman  35:24

I believe those 10 facets answer your question, go to selfactualizationtest.com. But the characteristics include things like developing your purpose, fun focusing on that, not getting stuck in the muck, with all the other pressures and things, stay in your lane. Don’t worry if you’ve got the multiple intelligences or not just do it. Authenticity, which is related to that, of course,. Having integrity is a really important thing to develop in your life. Grit is an important one, but I like to think of it as equanimity, you know, which is more Buddhist, and it’s a more gentle, loving form of grit. Having, you know, cultivating your creative spirit, your spontaneous, childlike sense of wonder, and awe is something that I think is very underrated. In our school system. It’s like, think I was in awe once in seventh grade, and I was sent to detention. You know, that wasn’t good. You know, and acceptance, self-acceptance, oh, boy, that one is so huge. But so is other acceptance, you know, accepting others as well.

Debbie Reber  36:41

It’s interesting that a lot of differently wired kids, I think, end up having more of the traits that you’ve just, you know, talked about, because they often work on, you know, maybe they don’t naturally have the social skills, and so they’re doing the work on it. And they end up being much more emotionally intelligent and evolved than their same age peers who who aren’t focusing on these traits at all,

Scott Barry Kaufman  37:07

No they really aren’t. The more from a neurological perspective, the more that you focus on the attentional control of the child, like the executive attention and brain now, or it gets called, the less, you’re able to develop the human imagination, they are toggling with each other these two brain networks, so And yet it really isn’t use it or lose it sort of thing. You know, we literally build brain tissue, the more that we exercise or engage, it doesn’t stop with, you know, these amazing effects that I have here. doesn’t stop there, you know, like, it happens in the brain as well. You know, like, you gotta like, work that out. And if we don’t give kids the opportunity, we’re creating a school of zombies. With no imagination. quote me on that.

Debbie Reber  37:54

It’s a good quote. Yeah, so interesting. Okay, so now I’m like, as soon as we get off, I want to go check out this. The tests and listeners, it’s selfactualizedtest.com. Is that correct? actualization, test so, selfactualizationtest.com. I’ll have links, of course, in the show notes pages to, to that and to Scott’s website and podcasts and books and Scientific American articles I’m so there’s so much we could talk about but it to kind of wrap this up, would you tell us a little bit about maybe where your work is taking you now I’m just curious where your focus is,

Scott Barry Kaufman  38:32

Oh, I’ve really gotten lately into humanistic psychology, which was popular in the 50s and 60s. The hippies really liked humanistic psychology. But I think in the world that we live in today, it’s more important than ever to follow these principles. And I’ve been trying to bring and introduce some of these ideas back. They haven’t really been in the public consciousness since the 50s, or 60s. But there was a small group of psychologists who really were interested in understanding the whole person and understanding what it means to focus on self-actualization and growth versus happiness or even achievement. You know, we live in such a achievement- and happiness-focused society. And I don’t think either of those two things should be our literal focus. Like you see these type A people who they’re like, to us to do lists to a goal. It’s a goal, be happy, it’s like, calm down, okay? Like, you’re never going to be happy. If that’s all your happiness is on your to do list. You don’t get it though they don’t get it. So and then what let’s say you, let’s say you can cross that off your list, that do you think you’re gonna be happy for the rest of your life?

Debbie Reber  39:44

It’s an emotion, not a condition,

Scott Barry Kaufman  39:48

You’re gonna have to put it back on your list. So my own personal journey and purpose right now is to teach these ideas so I’m teaching a course created at Columbia University next semester, called The Science of Living Well, was the name of the course. And it’s grounded in humanistic psychology and the latest science well being. And, and I’m teaching a course at the 92 Y starting in March, April for the general public. So I’m really excited about that. Yes, I’m just like, kind of focusing on bringing some human elements back to education and society.

Debbie Reber  40:27

Fantastic. Well, Scott, I’m gonna let you get some rest and get on with your day. And

Scott Barry Kaufman  40:34

Just you know, she’s saying that because I’m a little bit under the weather today. Under the weather always need rest, but I won’t be very clear. That’s my gritty. That’s my gritty, mom’s side coming down. Thank you, thank you. This was really energizing. For me. The thing is, like, I was really exhausted. And before this interview, not sure whether I couldn’t do it. And the second you get me talking about this topic, can you tell? Can you tell?

Debbie Reber  41:00

Absolutely. You light up,

Scott Barry Kaufman  41:02

I just like, oh, man, it’s like, I forget that I’m sick. You know, like, I’ll be on my deathbed someday or something, you know, and like, bring up a topic of twice-exceptional children. I’ll just like, like, spring up.

Debbie Reber  41:14

But I’m, you know, I’ve just personally am so grateful for the work that you’re doing in the world for how you show up and just who you are like, I just think you’re so inspiring for so many of us. So it’s an honor to have you on the show. So thank you. Thanks so much for doing this

Scott Barry Kaufman  41:34

The feeling’s mutual as well. Thank you.

Debbie Reber  41:38

You’ve been listening to the Tilt Parenting podcast for the show notes for this episode, including links to Scott Barry coffins website, His books, His podcast, which is called The Psychology Podcast, his characteristics of self-actualization scale and all the other resources we discussed. You’ll find them at tiltparenting.com/session139 If you get value out of this podcast, please consider signing up for my Patreon campaign to make a small monthly contribution to help me cover the cost of production. Even $2 A month helps to sign up, go to patreon.com/tiltparenting and Patreon is spelled PATREON you can find a link on the tilt parenting website on any of the show notes pages. And don’t forget to leave a rating or a review or both for Tilt Parenting on Apple podcasts if you haven’t done so already. Thank you so much for considering. And thanks again for listening. For more information on Tilt Parenting visit www.tiltparenting.com


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