Monday, June 10, 2013

What to say to your gifted child...about being gifted

What should you tell your child about being gifted? Whether identified as gifted, referred for evaluation, or placed in a “gifted and talented program," children quickly form impressions about all the fuss. Does this mean I’m really smarter than the other kids? Will they see me as different/better/weirder? Will I have to live up to even MORE expectations from my parents and teachers? What if I don’t want to be gifted anymore?

Parents themselves often struggle with how to understand giftedness and its effect on their child. It is even more difficult for a six-, eight-, or ten-year-old to grasp its full meaning, and place it in a context that makes sense. These children already know they are different, as do the other children around them. They have most likely weathered boredom and frustration in classes geared toward the average learner. They may have already experienced both positive and negative feedback about their interests, quirks, and academic talents. While the label of “gifted” provides some validation for what they already know about themselves, it can also create uncertainty, misunderstanding, and even anxiety.

Children look to parents to provide a framework for understanding what the term gifted really means. The following are possible explanations you might suggest to your child:

1.  Gifted is just a word. It doesn’t mean someone is better than someone else. It was named a long time ago because people felt that it was a “gift” to be able to read well/solve problems quickly/paint beautifully/(you fill in the blanks). People might feel the same way about kids who can run really fast or dunk basketballs easily. It is a very fortunate thing when something comes easily to someone. But it does not make them better than anyone else. People are special for all kinds of wonderful reasons. Being gifted does not make someone any more special than the next person.
  
2.  Gifted is a word given to kids who have different learning needs. (Yes, it sounds like jargon. But it is an accurate way of confirming and explaining why your child needs accelerated/enriched/differentiated learning instruction.) Everyone is different. Just like some people are taller or shorter than others, or more or less athletic, some people need a different approach in school to make learning more interesting.

3.  You were found to be “gifted” because of some tests you took. We asked the school to give you these tests because you complained about being bored. We knew that if the testing labeled you as “gifted,” we could ask the school to give you more interesting work. We didn't care if you were gifted or not. We didn't care what score you got on the test. The only reason for taking it was to give you more choices in school. (Note: it is never a good idea to tell a young child his or her IQ score.)

4.  Giftedness is something that is a part of you, just like your eye color or height. It doesn't come from how hard you work in school, and will not go away if you slack off. It is always there and gives you some great choices to do some really creative/intensive/interesting/(you fill in the blanks) things. If you work hard, you can achieve a lot. If you don’t, you will lose out on the opportunities your abilities have given you. Just like you can decide what clothes you wear or what haircut you get, only YOU can decide how to use your abilities.

5.  Giftedness comes in all shapes and sizes. Some kids are really gifted with math. Some are great writers. Some are born leaders. Others paint up a storm. Occasionally, a few gifted children are good at many things; most are not. You have your subjects in school that come really easily to you, and have interests that you love. We hope you continue to put a lot of energy into these things. But you still need to work hard in those areas that are not easy for you. 

6.  Gifted children sometimes feel they are different from other kids. Even if you like how easy school is, it can be uncomfortable when you feel like you are different from a lot of the other kids in your class. It’s normal to feel this way. We can help you to figure out what to say if other kids make comments about your interests. We also can help you find things you do have in common with some of the other kids or help you find outside activities that school does not offer.

These ideas are just a few suggestions for starting a conversation with your gifted child. You will need to modify them to suit your child’s needs, and incorporate your family's beliefs and values. What is most important, though, is conveying that giftedness and achievements play no role in how much you love and appreciate your child.

If you have some suggestions for what to say to your child, please offer them in the comments section below.

21 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post. It was really hard to know what to tell my son when he got tested and we didn't want to make him think too highly of himself. We tried to tell him that he was just like other kids, just a little different.

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  2. This is really helpful advice. We had such a hard time deciding how to tell our daughter about being gifted and just tried to point out that it did not make her special or more deserving than her classmates. It's hard to know what to say when they are so young.

    Great ideas!

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  3. We told my grandson that he is gifted and that it means God gave him a special brain that can think differently from others and that he often sees things differently than others but it is a gift that God expects him to use well because it was given to him for a reason that we just don't know yet and he should try all types of interesting things and all subjects until he finds the one that he loves the most and then use it to make all the other subjects more interesting and that when the time is right, God will let him know what it is He wants him to do

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  4. My son is bored in class but fears being gifted because he believes he will not want to do more work or more challenging work? What advice or words of encouragement do you give the "lazy and gifted?"

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    1. Anonymous,
      I think the first thing is to find out why he doesn't want more challenging work. Does he think it will just be more busy work? Does he doubt that anything at school will be challenging at all? Is he depressed? Is he worried about not succeeding or getting a perfect grade? A lot may depend on his age, also. Is he young or a teen? I think the first step is to find out what is contributing to his concerns. Then you can come up with a plan. Good luck.

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    2. It's likely not laziness nor depression. Gifted kids often believe their identity is defined by their giftedness and achievement. If/when they don't achieve, their label/self-worth is challenged.

      You need to change the dialogue from how smart to how hard he worked. Please watch this 3 minute video. It will turn on a light bulb for you!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTXrV0_3UjY

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  5. Opps I told my son his results. But he asked me straight out and I didn't know what else to do! I didn't tell him the percentile though - just the actual results. How would you have handle a straight out question about

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    1. No problem - you can always go back and clarify if you want to. A lot also depends on your child's age and what he can take in. If he's six or seven, he probably didn't even register what the number means. If he's older, you could always explain whatever thoughts or impressions you have about IQ, giftedness and how it relates to other aspects of who he is. I think it's important to suggest that he avoid sharing the actual number with friends, since this can usually create problems.

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  6. Thank you for this post. Very practical advice that is missing on many articles about this subject.

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  7. We just crossed this bridge. Our son just turned 13 and he wanted to know the results, so we told him. He has allways know that he is gifted and I believe that now that he knows he also knows he has the ability to achieve great things and as parents it is our job to balance this with humility. It is a gift that should not be wasted and i think it is important for them to understand this fact. The psychologist who provided the test gave him some great advice. 'Never tell anyone how smart you are show them'. 'It is about effort and results that you can produce not a number.'

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    1. Glenn, Thanks for your comments. I agree that gifted children know they are different and helping them understand their differences and putting it in context is something we as parents can offer them. If we pretend they are just like every other child, we are being dishonest and denying their own experience. It sounds like you are on the right track with helping your son.

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  8. We requested a screening for giftedness at our daughter's school. She should be screened soon, but we don't know how to explain to her why and what to expect. She's 6 and very shy, and English is not her first language, so we are nervous. Any tips will be greatly appreciated!

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    1. Tanya, It's great that you're getting her tested. I hope that the school accommodates her language differences during the testing; that is certain something to ask them. I wrote a blog post about explaining testing to your child, and perhaps that might help: http://giftedchallenges.blogspot.com/2015/02/how-to-explain-iq-testing-to-your.html. You might also check articles on hoagiesgifted.org or davidson's list of articles. Good luck.
      Gail

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  9. I am a teacher of gifted and talented at the elementary level. I am trying to put together a lesson for the first week of school to talk to my students about why they're in my class. I've had problems in the past (often due to parents) with students bragging about being in my class or being elitist with other students back in homeroom and I'm trying to address this more directly from the start. Any thoughts on how to speak about this as a teacher to students this age (and their parents on Parent Night)? Thank you for your input.

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    1. I am a parent of a recently tested gifted child and on the opposite end to you as a teacher. Our 6 year old is often telling the other students he is smarter, can run faster etc. and brags to the others and we as parents don't know what to do about it. His teacher says the same thing to us and I would love to know a good tactic to deal with this.

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    2. These are both really important points. When you combine some general information about giftedness with the immaturity of childhood, problems can arise. I think it's important to let children know about neurodiversity in a very simple manner. You could even draw a bell-shaped curve, with lots of examples, including shoe size, height, etc., pointing out that we all have differences and they don't make anyone better than anyone else. Helping them develop empathy (e.g., how do you think that would make the other child feel?) with respect to any bragging, and point out the importance of respectful behavior, just like you would with any other disrespectful, inconsiderate behavior a child might show toward others. But helping them understand that being gifted is just a variation in terms of ability, not a privilege or a sign of being better than others, is critical.

      If a child continues to brag about being smarter, etc., it might be important to explore what is prompting this. Is the child feeling insecure about his friendships? Does this allow him to feel dominant or in control, when he might not feel this in other ways? Is he having trouble with aggression, insecurity, etc. in other areas? Again, if basic clarification and insistence on appropriate behavior is not enough, further exploration may be needed. Good luck.

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    3. Just curious with these questions above with the socio-emotional issues. What if an 8 year old gifted kid talks in baby talk at school and at home?

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    4. Anonymous, It is hard to say without knowing more. You might consider speaking with your pediatrician or the school psychologist to get more feedback about this.

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  10. I feel different to my family. They are mostly clever etc. and are quite good in what they do. I am, I suppose but I feel emotionally, like an anomaly. I feel things differently - I can go from happy to sad. Sometimes I am removed, in a sort of calculating and critical (but not a completely sociopathic) way (I'm not that good!) and can mould an event. Other times, I feel emotionally in depth and understand situations entirely, and what others are feeling. Other times I am confused and anxious to what has just happened and feel like I need to "tone myself down" because I am over intense, or comparatively, to be more confident and engage.
    I don't believe myself to be gifted, but emotionally, I am miles behind my intellectual age.
    Bye.

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