Saturday, August 1, 2015

Tips for parents of gifted children: What most parents wish they had known

In my clinical psychology practice, I have listened to many parents of gifted children express regrets over the path not taken. They bemoan not having spoken up sooner. They wish they had demanded more intensive educational services. They regret not having planned more strategically for their child's future. Often isolated and confused, they feel depleted after weathering years of mixed messages, criticism, and downright bad advice.


As a parent, I also experienced the challenge of raising gifted children, and faced constraints (as well as opportunities) within their particular school community. Even though trained as a clinical psychologist, I was unprepared for the "parent of a gifted child" role, and had to quickly learn how to advocate within the schools.

What are some general guidelines many parents of gifted children wish they had known?

The following are some tips that may help you maintain your resolve, perspective and focus as you navigate this journey:


1. Get as educated as possible
Learn as much as you can about giftedness. Read, attend conferences, meet with other parents of gifted children. Great sites include NAGC.org, SENGifted.org, and Hoagiesgifted.org. The more you understand about gifted children, gifted education, and the social, emotional and intellectual needs of the gifted, the better prepared you will be when you need to advocate for your child.

2. Your child is different
You assumed that your child would have different learning needs. But what may come as a surprise is how much your child differs from her peers in terms of social skills, emotional reactivity and development. Whether it is asynchronous development, where social/emotional maturity may lag far behind intellectual skills, or intense sensitivity and a preoccupation with fairness and justice, your child is often out of sync with peers her age. Even on the playground. Even at family reunions. Even on the soccer field. So get ready to help her cope with these differences. 
(For more on helping your child cope, see previous blog posts such as: what to say to your child about being gifted, finding like-minded friends, coping with middle school, adolescent distress, dreading high school, and adjusting to college.)

3. You will have your own reactions
Most parents are flooded with emotional reactions when they realize their child is gifted, ranging from pride and excitement, to guilt and fear. Even after you adjust to the reality, you may struggle with anxiety or frustration related to your child's social and academic adjustment, or a lack of resources in the schools. You may feel isolated if there are few parents in your community who understand, and end up downplaying your child's accomplishments to avoid the appearance of bragging. Finding sources of understanding and support within your family, community, school or even online is essential for your own well-being, and will also help with parenting.

4. Assume you will have to get involved
As much as you might like to rely on the "experts," you will have to be involved with your child's education. This does not mean you get to control everything. It does mean, though, that you need to be alert to what your child is and isn't getting out of school, and take steps to advocate for appropriate accommodations when needed. It is a rare school that readily meets the needs of gifted students. And "gifted programs" may not necessarily offer your child what he requires in particular. You may have to request IQ testing, search for extracurricular opportunities, and work collaboratively with your child's teacher. So get ready to get involved.

5. There is no ideal school
No school setting is perfect. There are no public, private, charter, boarding or even homeschool settings that will meet all of your child's needs. Most teachers mean well, but have no training in gifted education. That's not their fault; it's just not a big part of their training. Recognize that any school you choose is a compromise (as it is for all children) and try to accept that you will need to work with whatever decision you have made for your child. 

6. Prepare to be an ambassador for gifted children
Most people don't understand giftedness. You will hear comments like "every child is gifted," or "all it takes is effort," or "those gifted kids are a product of privilege and hot-housing." You will face ignorance from family, neighbors, friends, and the schools. Much of this is due to lack of understanding; sometimes, though it's the result of envy and plain old nastiness. Either way, it falls on you to consistently, tactfully and clearly explain what giftedness is and is not, how gifted people have unique learning differences as a result of their "wiring," and that giftedness and achievement are completely separate entities. Prepare an elevator speech and a more in-depth explanation for those who care to know more. But get ready to be an ambassador for giftedness.

7. Assume all schools have competing agendas
Your gifted child's needs are not your school's highest priority. While most schools claims that they support the learning needs of all children (and many flaunt the awards and achievements of their most accomplished students), gifted children are frequently overlooked due to competing financial concerns, policy goals, or just plain ignorance. Even cost-effective solutions, such as ability grouping or compacting, are often dismissed because they conflict with philosophical views about education. And don't assume that private schools are a panacea. Some discount the need for gifted education completely, as they promise a high level of academic instruction, and assume that your child won't need anything beyond this. Accept that it will seem like an uphill battle at times.

8. No teacher knows as much about your child as you do
You know your child best. You can tell when she grasps material much sooner than other children, when it comes way too easily, or when it is truly a struggle. If the feedback you receive from school differs from your own impressions, gather more information. Ask for further evaluation, testing or observation. Share your impressions in a respectful, collaborative manner. If you cannot reach a consensus, you may need to pursue other options (e.g., advocacy with school administration, transferring schools, homeschooling), or you might decide to just wait it out until she has a different teacher next year.

9. Consider your child's emotional needs as much as the intellectual ones
Your child will not excel in school if he is unhappy. Any decisions regarding school choice, acceleration, programmatic decisions and extracurriculars need to consider whether he will thrive emotionally as well as academically. This might even mean foregoing full-grade acceleration if your child is not developmentally ready, or eliminating an extracurricular that creates too much stress. It means ensuring that your child can find a like-minded peer group. It also includes recognizing if your child is becoming bored and apathetic in an academic setting that is much too easy, since this may set the stage for underachievement. 

10. Pick your battles and don't sweat the small stuff
Determine what is most important and assert your concerns. Ignore the unimportant. Your gifted child probably will be bored at some point and may not get all of the opportunities you think he deserves. If the concerns are minor, let them go. Many parents withhold complaints because they don't want to be labeled "one of those parents." While it is important to remain actively involved, voicing concerns over every problem will not win favor with most teachers, and probably won't work anyway.

11. Be strategic: Plan well in advance for college
Forget the stereotypes about hovering parents who shepherd their overachieving children into elite colleges. Gifted children have plenty of options for getting into great colleges on their own merit. But it does take some vigilance and planning. It means that you will need to pay attention to what colleges expect, and investigate a variety of informational resources, not just one source of advice. There is an astonishing amount of misleading advice online about college, from what is takes to get into elite universities to financial aid expectations. And don't assume that your child's guidance counselor will be of much help. So get educated about what is required... and do it early.

12. Keep it in perspective 
Recognize that you are doing your best. The fact that you are even reading this blog suggests that you are searching for answers. And even if you don't find them here, elsewhere online, or through books, workshops, conversations with other parents of gifted children, or through professionals in your community, your efforts show your dedication to helping your gifted child. Imperfect as it may be, any attempt to enhance her options will serve her well in the future. 

What do you wish you had known sooner?

This blog is part of the Hoagies Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Gifted 101. To read more blogs in the hop, click on the following link:
http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_gifted_101.htm