“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.