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 claim 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


39 comments:

  1. Gail, this is like the perfect gifted child owner's manual in a clear, concise form! This truly is a gifted 101 guide for parents of gifted children just starting out on their journey. As I read this, I realized each and every point would have been critical to my own gifted journey raising gifted kids, if I had known them before. This post will be immensely helpful to those just starting out! I dislike using the cliche, "spot on", but yes, this is "spot on".

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    1. Thanks so much, Celi. Really appreciate your feedback. It's been a long road, and I have learned a lot along the way - and am still learning!
      Gail

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    2. It really is very well done.

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  2. I wish I had read THIS POST two years ago :) This is fantastic, Gail! I will be sharing with readers!

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    1. Really appreciate your comments, Cait. So much that we have all had to learn along the way. Thanks!

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  3. I wish I had read THIS POST two years ago :) This is fantastic, Gail! I will be sharing with readers!

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  4. I always love how you provide such well written clear advice, Gail. As I read these posts on the Hoagies Hop, I can imagine sending parents to these posts. It's such a fine way for them to begin the journey. So much wisdom in one place!

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    1. Thanks, Paula. I really appreciate your feedback. I agree - there are a lot of wonderful ideas in all of the Hoagies blogs. A great compilation of information.

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  5. This is such a wonderful compilation of advice for parents of gifted children. I love that you address the intellectual and academic needs as well as the social and emotional aspects that can be overlooked with gifted children but are such an important part of who they are. I will definitely be sharing this with our community!

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    1. Thanks for your feedback. Really appreciate it.

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  6. Thank you! I am saving this read over and over and over again. Other people think having a gifted child is so easy, but they don't see all the struggles that go with it. It's so nice to know that we aren't alone and we're actually "normal" in all these feelings!

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    1. Dana, I am glad this helps you fell less alone. It is "normal" to have these feelings because it is complicated raising a gifted child, given the roadblocks in society. Good luck and thanks for your comments.
      Gail

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  7. I am still working on educating even my own husband on how our child is different. This is a great and informative post!

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    1. Natalie, Thanks so much. The differences are sometimes the hardest to accept - so difficult to understand and accommodate at times. I appreciate your feedback.

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  8. Gail,

    When those of us who work with gifted children find ourselves advocating for our own it shows how far we still have to go. It can be an emotional journey, and I'm glad that you pointed out the inevitable hurdles that will pop up no matter the choices made for a child's education. Sometimes I think as parents of gifted kids, we take on extra guilt for not better serving our children's needs, but that's a common trait I believe most parents share. The reality is that there are no easy answers. Thanks for reminding us.

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    1. Lisa, Thanks for pointing out that there are no easy answers and that there are often hard choices. We all do the best we can. Thanks for your comments.

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  9. My husband and I, along with our oldest daughter, all tested as gifted when we were in school. All of us were high achievers, who found school boring and easy, but excelled at it. Which has made it very frustrating and confusing as we try to navigate the issues that our youngest three are having (ages 11, 14, and 18). I'm learning way more than I want to about being twice exceptional, overexcitibilities, asynchronous development, paralyzing perfectionism, and why being PG is a recipe for disaster in the school system. I have felt guilty about not getting more intervention sooner, and not really realizing just how *different* these kids' minds are! I think it's because most things they did as babies and young children (such as having huge vocabularies and relating to adults better than kids) are "normal" within our family. I wish I had known more earlier, but it's nice to know I'm not alone out there.

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    1. Becky,
      It sounds like you've learned a lot and are doing a lot for your children. I think most parents of gifted and PG or 2e kids have regrets and wish they had known more about what to do sooner. I know I had those same feelings. There's a lot to learn and figure out, but the fact that you are here and have done so much independent reading and self-education shows your dedication to help your children get the education they need. Wishing you all the best with them.

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  10. Gail, this is a great post for parents to read! It's so clear, concise, and empowering. I'll be sharing this with my readers. I appreciate your words.

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    1. Colleen, Thanks so much for your kind words. Really appreciate your feedback.
      Gail

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  11. Anyone who needs to understand what's wrong with American parenting in the early 21st century only has to read this blog post. Geez.... The thought that parents should consider a gifted child as somehow entitled is mind-numbing. I think it is time we tossed the word gifted and all its variations in the trash can. My son is certainly gifted, but that did not make him special. The gift of intelligence he has been blessed with only added to the responsibilities he was expected to accept as he makes his way in the world.

    If you are the parent of child with exceptional intelligence, set the bar high and expect your child to get over it. Don't expect schools to do it for you. Don't expect your child to be treated differently, because he/she is not special. You are raising an adult, not a child. Be thankful your child is intelligent, but that is only one facet to becoming a well-rounded individual. Treating your child as "special" and "gifted" is actually counter-productive to the goal of becoming an adult.

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    1. Anonymous,
      Even though you assume that being gifted and being special are somehow similar, you have actually summed up a dilemma facing so many gifted children: "The gift of intelligence he has been blessed with only added to the responsibilities he was expected to accept as he makes his way in the world."

      Gifted individuals face a burden of oversensitivity, overexcitabilities, intensity, boredom in schools, and increased responsibility to live up to their potential, to name just a few. No one is expecting them to be treated as "special." The expectation is for their basic needs to be met within the school system; otherwise many become bored, underachieve, and fail to reach their potential. They deserve a chance to benefit from an appropriate education, just like neurotypical students or children with learning disabilities.

      I completely agree that they should not be treated as "special." But pretending they are not different will not make them the same as the other students.

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  12. Thank you for your column and thank you for a place to post.Our daughter tested MG I believe,from checking which end of the spectrum on the bell curve they define,mg,pg,etc.Can't remember them all,not gifted like my daughter.Her teacher once said if anyone in her class needed to know anything,they could just ask my daughter.Then she said "she knows everything."That's when I thought she was fed up with her.Not so,just sounded that way.Last night I ask her something we learned together way back when,which I couldn't remember but she did.Then I thought ,gee,this is pretty good.All I will ever have to do is ask her quick answers,but I also thought so that's what gifted means,she remembers more than others.The school paid for her first IQ test,but she was shy and when she was thinking over an answer in silence they would not know,I heard a teacher say to her and she needed to let them know she was thinking,anyway she did not complete it.One question she missed was,a picture of a fork and asking what it was.She was either in kg or 1st grade and answered prong.Well that was plain wrong for the IQ test.Another was a picture of a shower head,and she had never had a shower in her life,so she did not know.Lastly there was a picture of light house,and she called it a sea tower.All wrong.The next year they were going to test her again, and were only two weeks away from it when I got in a hurry and paid for one myself.She passed and went into gifted with in a few days.I had her tested again one year later,with a different IQ test and results were near the same,so all I felt,was what I could of used that money.She's now in 4th grade and we moved a year ago,so she could get into full time gifted.I would like to know more about her gifted instruction and how it compares to others,but I have never found online a site where people mention specifically about her school. Thanks for a great article.

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    1. Anonymous, Thanks for your feedback. It sounds like the initial testing your daughter received was more of a screening tool and obviously not very accurate.It is good that you got additional testing. It is always difficult to compare gifted programs between schools. But what is most important is that the school meets your daughter's specific needs. It is not about the "program" but what the school can do to accommodate her abilities. Good luck and hopefully the new school will work out.

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    2. Here is something I didn't know sooner,from a collector's edition of Scientific American Mind,winter of 2015.On page 12,it's titled,The Thinking That IQ Test Miss.By Keith E. Stanovich.He says IQ test do not measure dysrationalia,but also mentions it's in his book from 2010 by the same name with :The Psychology of Rational Thought.I guess I am just referencing it for anyone who is curious about how some one can still be a genius because of these parts not on IQ test.

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  13. Thank you--I love your posts. They are so clear, accurate, and affirming. It's just nice to not feel alone :-)

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  14. Great post. As parents of a gifted child (horrible term by the way), me and my wife chose simply not to tell anyone about it. People usually have no idea what that means. For example my 6 years old, while still in kindergarten can out do most 3th and 4th graders at languages and math, but he is very imature both emotionally and socially, very insecure and shy. He cannot pronounce the letter R properly (while most kids master it around 3) and he has a very hard time learning how to do basic stuff, like how tie his shoes, take off his clothes, close a jacket etc. It's scary how underdeveloped he is on some areas. I believe when other people know his IQ for example, most would assume he would excell at anything, and this is as far away from reality as it gets. I think that it is important that parents of gifted children realize it, and protect them from unreal expectations from other people (and even from themselves). Cheers

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    1. Nerenahd, Thank you for your comments. You so clearly describe the uneven development common to so many gifted children. Good luck with your son.

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  15. I wish I had known that a surprising number of professionals who consider themselves knowledgeable about giftedness have no understanding of people who are profoundly gifted.

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    1. Although it is alarming the number of professionals that do not understand giftedness there are many of us out there educating the public. With more advocates in the schools it will be possible for a better education for our gifted kids.

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  16. I LOVE this! I am a School Psychogist and have often felt that parenting a gifted child is not something where my training has given me much advantage. It was heartening to hear from someone in a similar profession who feels the same way!

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    1. Tara, Thanks! Yup - being a parent is a challenge, even with our background. I appreciate your feedback.

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  17. Thank you for a Great Article, I'm trying to gather as much information as I possibly can to understand what it all means, as a psychologist can you tell me what is the difference between "gifted" & "Highly Able"? Do they need a gifted program or if your highly able you go ahead with the current curriculum? please advise. thank you :)

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  18. Thank you for these wonderful tips. In addition, I guest authored an article on Powerful Tools that Will Make You Better Parents. You can read it here: Powerful Tools that Will Make You Better Parents

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  19. Gail, what a wonderful article. I have been a classroom teacher for over 15 years. Recently, I have taken on the role as Gifted Coordinator for Roycemore school in Evanston, IL. We are trying our best to get our teachers trained so that we can understand the gifted child better. It is truly unfortunate that more teachers don't know more about gifted. If you have any advice or tips for moving forward with Roycemore to help make it a better place for our gifted students I would greatly appreciate the support.

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    1. Judy, So wonderful that you are working to inform the other teachers about giftedness. Without knowing more about their specific needs, I would suggest checking the NAGC website for more information and links. If you would like to PM me, I could speak with you further. I also consult with schools via skype if that is an option for your school. Good luck.

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  20. thank god i found this post just when i was on the verge of pulling my hair out. is there any sites to meet other parents of gifted kids.?

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    1. Unknown, You might want to see if there are any organizations in your state that offer parent groups (if you are in the U.S.). There are some SENG parent groups (check Sengifted.org) and online forums through Davidsongifted.org. Otherwise, you can connect with through FB and twitter - you just need to explore to see what works for you.

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