“She says her child is gifted. What makes her think he’s so special?” Most parents cringe at the thought of overhearing those words. The dreaded backlash that comes from misinformation and envy is a nightmare for parents of “gifted” children. No one wants to be seen as an elitist, overindulgent, blindly adoring parent. “She must be a Tiger Mom. She’s hot-housing her kid. He thinks his child can do no wrong. They think she deserves more than other kids. They think they’re better than us.”
Parents of gifted children are often regarded with caution by those who do not understand that giftedness is a learning difference, identified through careful assessment, and marked by an IQ at least two standard deviations above the norm. It is not an achievement parents create through early intervention, immersion in rigorous preschool programs, or French lessons at age five. While educational enrichment can certainly enhance learning for anyone, it does not produce giftedness.
As a result, parents often feel isolated, lonely and misunderstood, a striking parallel to how their child may feel at school. In addition to worrying about whether their child will fit in, they also struggle with how they can be a part of the school community when their child is so different. They may downplay their child’s successes, and even offer a disclaimer when describing him to others, noting his flaws and negative traits in an attempt to avoid any appearance of bragging. A blog post on Childhood Inspired poignantly highlights the loneliness one parent experiences when trying to describe her gifted child's
Parents need to educate the misinformed.
It would be ideal and certainly convenient if families could rely on schools, the media or even governmental agencies to spread the word. But that is not going to happen. At least not just yet. While various advocates, researchers, educators, and organizations support gifted education, they face an uphill battle in the face of budget constraints and divergent priorities and demands. Rather than apologizing for gifted children’s abilities, parents may need to assume the role of educator when speaking to others who do not understand. Here are some ideas you might want to try:
Help the misinformed appreciate your child’s learning style. Explain that your child thrives in an environment that challenges his interest in scientific investigation. Or mathematical problem-solving. Or visual-spatial thinking. Inform them that based on the school’s assessment, your child requires some different instruction that will engage his interests more fully. Instead of noting his advanced abilities, explain that he has developmental needs that are somewhat out of sync with his actual age, warranting subject acceleration or enriched instruction. Just like kids walk and talk at different ages and stages, some learn math or reading at different ages as well.
Explain that all kids learn differently, and that your child's educational needs are not always met in the regular classroom. Without appropriate accommodations, your child will not receive an adequate education. Children who learn “differently” and do not receive appropriate accommodations sometimes fail to learn, act out, lose interest in school, become a distraction for their peers, or develop unhealthy behaviors outside of school. You do not want this for your child. No parent would. That is why you are advocating for appropriate instruction.
Remind the misinformed that gifted services follow from a careful psychoeducational assessment. You are not demanding these services. You didn't twist anyone's arm. If your child did not qualify for them based on a thorough evaluation, she would not be receiving them. The district has agreed to provide your child with the additional services she requires for her education.
Avoid using the “smart” word. You know your child is smart. Beyond smart. Yet, “smart” is not particularly descriptive, has an evaluative connotation, and evokes an emotional reaction in the listener. Along those lines, avoid using the term “gifted” as well. While technically accurate, the label of “giftedness” is problematic, as it arouses confusion, envy, and bitterness.
Sharing your greatest excitement, fears and concerns about your gifted child may need to be reserved for your closest family and friends, and for other parents of gifted children who truly understand. Over time, though, you may be able to educate the misinformed enough to freely use the "gifted" word without apology or hesitation. The suggestions above are several examples of what might help toward educating others about your child's needs. Perhaps you could add some of your own ideas in the comments section below.
I can totally relate to this. I often feel embarrassed when telling others about my daughter's achievements, and have given up mostly. I only tell my closest family an friends. It would be nice if other parents in the school would understand that I am not bragging - I am just trying to get her the services she needs so that she is not miserable.ReplyDelete
I certainly understand your dilemma. There may be a range of reasons why others misinterpret your need to advocate for your child. What you can do is try to educate them the best you can, and try to not take it too hard if they still do not understand.
I loved the article..so appropriate. You really hit the nail on the head, except I would have gone further. My experience of being gifted was one of being deprived of educational help while being expected to help everybody else, because I was gifted...and then people would project their inadequacies onto me...I was just a child...I think the biggest problem is that the thing we gifteds dance around is we are better, we are...it is not a judgement on other people but for example if you played basketball with Michael Jordan you wouldnt expect to win, he is better than you! You would be delusional if you thought you were better, not with giftedness. I usually had to hide my giftedness and let everybody else win, or they would be mad or awful..and what a thing to do to somebody...I am beginning to own and excavate my giftedness now as adult and it is painful...but I am amazing and good...and worth being :)ReplyDelete
This is all so true--being the parent of a gifted child (or children) can be incredibly isolating and lonely, and is compounded by having a child who often has trouble navigating the social landscape of school. But the word "gifted" absolutely makes things worse. It is value-laden word, unlike "learning disability," which goes too far in the opposite direction of sounding like the person has a deficit. The term "gifted" seems almost designed to set kids apart and make them seem somehow better than others--my kid has "gifts" that other kids don't have. We would all be better off if we could come up with a different term. I appreciate the suggestion that we avoid using the term, but given that it is the word used to identify those children whose IQs are at least 2 standard deviations above the norm, that it is the term used in all the literature and in all of our kids' paperwork and evaluations, how do we go about changing it? At this point, it is synonymous with "super smart" and simply serves to isolate us, and our gifted children, even further.ReplyDelete
I totally agree that the gifted label serves to separate, differentiate and results in isolation for the bearer of the label.Delete
I have two children. The oldest has difficulty with processing (words, sounds, noises, social cues etc) and low short term memory. Throughout her entire school career I have been fighting tooth and nail to just get teachers to understand her difficulties not to expect less from her. The youngest is the opposite (reading and writing at 3, math concepts extremely easy for her, understanding of concepts and application of skills at higher than age development etc..) When fighting for my oldest's needs I was encouraged and applauded by other parents, teachers etc.. Now let me say that the youngest's needs aren't being met and I get eye rolling, excuses and general bad attitudes! I didn't force her brain to grow this way! I provide and capitalize on 'teachable moments' and as much info as I can get my hands on things they are interested in. I am very happy to read this article, it makes me feel a little more 'normal'.. Think I will be forwarding to some friends.ReplyDelete
So glad you are feeling comfortable with who you are.
I agree completely about the value-laden problems with the term "gifted." It would be ideal with there were more advocacy to eventually change the term.
I'm glad you feel more "normal." Advocating and feeling like you're in an uphill battle can really affect how your feel about yourself. Good luck with your children.
I appreciate this article and would love to see more of the same! Many parenting books bring up the issue of isolation with gifted children and sharing them with others, but I have not seen much in the way of practical advice (like you offer here). I find myself doing just what you said, downplaying gifts to ease my worry, and not admitting it unless necessary. In many ways, the response from others is what causes a GT group to become "elitest". One finds comfort in the commonality and over time we stop trying to leave the boundaries of the GT world. That is true for me anyway. I even find talking amongst the family difficult. Because all of the kids are smart and amazing, it seems I'm trying to make mine "better" in some way.ReplyDelete
I did have a thought while reading and wondered if this could add to the conversation at all: what place do overexcitabilities play in how we share information with other parents? My children exhibit textbook overexcitabilities, which makes it twice as hard in group settings which are recurring (such as sports), when you feel an explanation would help your child but telling the truth might be... well, impossible to do without alienating your child (and yourself) Thanks for the article and practical advice!
I was a musical prodigy born w/perfect pitch. My family went ooh lah lah over all this and glued me to the piano for my entire childhood. Naturally, I am NOT fascinated by music in the least and am much more interested in empowering kids through insightful lyrics that give them a clue. In a nutshell; I write the songs I wish I would have been taught as a kid.ReplyDelete
My oldest was "gifted" intellectually. Long story short, we put him in a school where he could learn at his own speed and that was that. We were lucky that we had that choice. We never made a fuss over him being super bright, we never made a fuss over him being a bit sensitive. His wicked sense of humor kept him popular with other kids and was a great cover for his natural sensitivity.
I am really glad the word "gifted" was never used in any conversation while he was growing up. He was just a bright kid put in healthy environments where he could thrive. I hated being "gifted" because it boxed me in as a kid. I could never just relax and be a kid. Forgive me for my strong opinion, but I do wish there was another word used, and sometimes, a different attitude. I love what you have written here. Spot on :-)
Thanks for your great comments. Your question about overexcitabilities is a good one, and too long to answer in a short comment. I hope to write further about it in a blog sometime soon.
Thanks for your very open comments about your experience. The pressure talented young musicians and artists experience can be particularly difficult.
It is fortunate you were able to find a supportive school for your son. I agree that it can be problematic when children are told they are "gifted," as they also can misinterpret the meaning of the term.
Glenn said ....ReplyDelete
My EG son is an early entrant to Kindergarten. His friends don't know he is younger but one of the parents put it together the other day and mentioned it to me. We chatted for about 15 mins and I was honest. I told her about the stress on us as parents on finding the right educational setting, on dealing with asynchronous development, on perfectionism, on his preference to hang out with the more mature girls in his class as opposed to the immature boys and what that could mean going forward, on his low tolerance for boredom and what that might mean for his teacher and other kids in the class, on his thoughts about going to University at age 11. I left her with the knowledge that we just face different challenges, but challenges nonetheless ... no outcomes are guaranteed.
Also, there is no problem with the word "gifted". However there is a problem with what people think it means. You can change the word to whatever you want but if you are way above the norm in society you will stand out, and if you stand out someone will want to cut you down, regardless of what name is attached to you. A rose by any other name ......
Good point about how gifted individuals will stand out no matter what.
I think the dilemma arises when parents of gifted children struggle to describe their child's needs and scramble to find the appropriate words that do not alienate others.
Thanks for your feedback.
What a great post--I can really relate to this. As the parent of a PG boy, I sometimes feel self-conscious about services my son receives that other students do not. Kids pick up on who's doing what in school, and they report this to their parents. Since most of my son's friends do receive some gifted services, it can be awkward to acknowledge that my son receives additional ones.ReplyDelete
I've taken to framing "giftedness" as a particular set of "needs." If my son's learning needs aren't met, his behavior suffers due to frustration and boredom. After having enough conversations with (select) other parents--usually when they ask about services my son is receiving--they seem to understand this. It helps to offer the "why" behind the services (appropriate challenge is tied to appropriate behavior), rather than just the "what."
The knee-jerk reaction I still have, though, is to downgrade my son's accomplishments to others. This is where that isolation comes in, I believe--the feeling that I must always hold something back from others.
Thanks, Ann. It's hard when you feel you even have to apologize to parents of other gifted kids.ReplyDelete
It's an important point that all gifted children have different needs, and the "gifted programs" offered at many schools are not sufficient. Many PG students need a lot more than these programs currently offer, and schools and parents have to be creative in developing alternatives for them.
Good luck with your child.
last 9 comments are SPAM!ReplyDelete
and while I'm here, let me say thanks for writing this and offering practical advice. I feel like so much of what's out there is describing the problem, but much less about offering solutions. We've already learned to avoid the G word, and in its place describing our daughter's highly creative individual approach to the world. Seems like the word creative isn't a downer in people's eyes, and anyone who meets our kid can see just what we're talking about (without needing to look at her as a brainy/pushed/coached child).
Dora, That's a great idea about using the word "creative" as a way to describe your child. And thanks for alerting me to the spam posts. I had deleted them from my spam folder, but had not been aware they were still published on the blog. Ahh... technology. I'm still learning!ReplyDelete
Hi Gail: I can relate to the "envy, misunderstanding and downplaying" aspect of things. I came to this blog because this is what we have been experiencing as parents of a child who at two and a half stunned me by asking me, while I was bathing him, "dad, are you smiling at me or making fun of me"? At three, when a friend of mine was mimicking a young boy's way of talking (first time they met, by the way) he told him "you don't pronounce those words like that but like this...........). At 6 he won a "conceptual" non-smoking drawing that covered 54 schools. At 10 he started with cello lessons in a community orchestra. At the first presentation, his sound was very different from all the kids. At 12, he ranked very high in math and grammar contests involving a large group of students at a state level. At 13 he participated as a flutist in a national youth symphonic band. At the same age was the only minor to attend a conductors' course nationwide and was identified as having perfect pitch. One of his high-school teachers referred us to a psychiatrist specialized in dealing with children with IQs above above average because of how easily he learned and his tendency to get bored and correct his teachers. This specialist told us, after applying a battery of tests on him: "I resist using these words, but your son is a multiple-talented gifted boy".Now, at 15, his music teachers are telling us that he is ready to start his professional music studies (has a talent for composing, interpreting several instruments, conducting), 3 years before the "normal" time. He gets bored in his pre-professional studies as it takes him only a few minutes to learn the one-hour classes. His way seems to belong to somebody much older than 15. Jokes need to be very witty to make him laugh. Has a very profound social concern. For example, he gets sad to "foretell" the future of some of his classmates and tries to help them. At 15, he was the youngest and only non-professional to pass an audition with his quartet (21, 24 and 25 years old) to attend a national quartets' seminar in a conservatory.and played at the same or similar level as most students at a professional level or young professional musicians 4 to 10 years older than him. All of this makes him stand out as a very different individual. For us, as parents, sometimes is like walking on a thin line where pride is alternated with concern, downplaying of his achievements, etc. to avoid talking of his special traits, as family members and friends alike think or may think that we are bragging and that he is just a conceited cousin/nephew/friend who is hard to approach "the normal way" as most kids his age or older. We try to gain insight about this situation because we are also having problems with the "normal" or "standard" institutional times and methods. It's a big challenge and we feel that whatever we do is not enough. His mental energy demands big, big efforts and long days.ReplyDelete
Anonymous, Thank you for your vivid description of what you and your son are going through, and how others react. It can be lonely when other people have no understanding of how complex and confusing it can be when a child is so exceptional, and does not fit in with most peers. Parents can feel lost also. If you can find any other parents who have children even a bit similar, this might be a support. Also, the forums at Davidson at http://giftedissues.davidsongifted.org/BB/ubbthreads.php/forum_summary.html might be a support and offer useful information. Good luck.Delete
Your article just makes me cry.. it's so overwhelming to parent these kids, people are so quick to point out my 3 kids' 'problems' and try and force them to fit the normal mode in the classroom and preschool, yet hiding their abilities only breeds shame about ourselvesReplyDelete
Dairyqueen, I hope you are able to find some support in your parenting journey. Good luck.Delete
Hi Gail! Thank you for this piece.I am from a small country town in Australia and have two very different gifted girls. I have never had either tested but, as a trained teacher, I know they are at least on the lower end of being gifted. The eldest, now excelling at university, has some crossover traits with high functioning autism and some kind of hyperactivity trait.The youngest is a highly sensitive person overwhelmed with the world's stimuli and has unusual perceptive abilities. She is in the early years of high school, mostly bored but excelling also. I decided that to send them to a special school wasn't the best for them, as I wanted them to learn social skills necessary to deal with all sorts of people and coping mechanisms to deal with every day life.Neither are geniuses and they are going to have to find their own way of functioning successfully in life. So far so good and each to their own as far as parenting choices go. What I find difficult, though, in a typical school is that which you have described above. You can't mention gifted or talk about their achievements. Some parents, teachers and children do often behave in a negative way even to the point of bullying. Even the most open people just don't understand.I could go on and on with stories. I don't work because it takes all of my energy, researching skills and analysing abilities to parent my girls and to help them find coping mechanisms for every day occurences.It's lonely.ReplyDelete
It really can be lonely when so many adults don't understand. It is astonishing how much envy and animosity gets projected onto these kids - and their parents. What helps is finding other adults who have gifted children and know what you are going through. If you can't find them in your community, sometimes connecting online can help. It sounds like you are really attuned to your girls' needs. I hope you find some support along the journey.
Thank you so much! Just being able to read other people's articles, opinions and stories is affirming. The occasional comment that I may give also helps as a release and is a form of safe sharing. Thanks again.Delete
Love this article. I feel isolated, lonely and scared to talk. Nobody understand why she is and act the way she does and we struggle as a family. Which online community I can join to connect and get support? Thank youReplyDelete
Sorry you are feeling alone. Unfortunately, this is a common feeling for a lot of parents of gifted children. Hopefully, you can find some support within your family, friends and community. But online support can be a great additional benefit. You may want to see what is available through Davidson's Gifted forums at http://giftedissues.davidsongifted.org/BB/ubbthreads.php/forum_summary.html, Gifted Homeschoolers Forum at www.giftedhomeschoolers.org, even if you are not homeschooling, or SENGifted.org. Good luck.Delete
Hi Gail, thank you for great posts. I am in Australia like previous post.ReplyDelete
I have experienced all the difficulties with a bright eldest son. Because of where his birthday fell he was made to do 18months of Reception class (first year at school) - he whizzed through the sight words and readers - just ate them up. When he was in a year 1/2 class he was top of Year 2 marks so I begged with teachers to move him up to year 3 and not let him do Year 2 again. I did lots of reading and much said that acceleration was best option if possible. Our school gave me a list of pros and cons, cons + outweighing pros, mostly social reasons. I still pushed hardly daring to hope - they allowed him to do year 3 'as a trial'.
He never looked back ! Dealing with the opinions of the other parents 'left behind' was whole other ball game. The next year I thought I had better get him tested professionally as I still felt doubt that I had done the right thing by him with change of friendship group etc.
I thought he was 'bright' but result came in at 99th percentile ! Then I wished i had acted sooner on his behalf ! I have told barely anyone his real score. My sisters kids all have dyslexia so very difficult. My mother who lived in a council flat in uk, got a boarding scholarship to elite girls school then died at 37 in Aust. of Melanoma. I myself completely underachieved at school, did not want to appear different to rest of class. I did not want it to happen to him. My father not interested - on 3rd marriage. Feel so lonely and isolated sometimes - have found some late night solace in gifted blogs and sites like yours.
My husband told me that by moving him up he would have a worse chance at high school scholarship tests. Well I was privately worried after this but I got him to sit them anyway and we have got test back and he is in top 2 percent of all Aust students. Thankfully he has been accepted into a very good school for high school with all tuition paid ! It has freaked me out a bit ! I am so embarrassed that I told friend that he must have 'fluked' it - didn't want to come across as bragging but now feel like I have let him down - I am so proud of and in awe of his abilities but find it so difficult to handle other people's adverse reactions.
Our public primary has been difficult - not big into recognising any potential - other than sport.
Am very pleased that new private high school has culture of celebrating ALL achievements and hope that he will really thrive there next year.
Second son also reasonably bright - 94th percentile - but knew school would not likely let me move him up as easily due to his birthdate was less on cusp with year in front - but was also settled in relatively good class cohort with some like minded friends. Keeping friends has been good but he still says he is often 'bored' in class. Was it right decision or not ?? Still wondering/ anxious.
Learned lesson though for no 3 - daughter - had a birthdate that meant that she would not start school until almost 5 yrs 8 mths !! Knew she (and I) would go crazy so have done everything possible about negotiating with ed dept. /school to advocate for early entry (4 yrs 8mths) - knew I had to get in before friendship groups played defining role (for her and us). Much better as most other parents have not picked up on younger age - helps as she is tall for age though. A bit tough first few months as school put her in class furtherest away from junior primary toilets and playground and she got lost and was upset a few times but finally feel relieved as now into second year has brought home her first 'A' - in her extra curricular French class !
Sorry for long post - all came tumbling out ...
Anonymous, Thank you for your post about your long, difficult journey to support your children. What a tremendous effort your have shown to get them the education they need. You have truly conveyed what a struggle it is for parents - not just in terms of securing an education that meets our children's needs, but also, the self-doubt and second guessing that goes on.Delete
Should we push for more? Should we let it go? Should we have realized things sooner?
These are common reactions most parents of gifted children go through. And a lot of it is because there is little support out there to guide us through this process. I am glad you are at least finding some online support, and am glad that my blog is of some support also! I hope you can also find some other parents nearby who can travel this journey with you. Good luck.