Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Gifted education "lite": Helping your child adapt

When a child is identified for gifted services, parents usually feel relief. “Finally, my child will get the education he needs.” “Now she’ll be challenged and energized by learning.” But what many parents soon realize is that the much anticipated gifted program has gaping holes, glaring inadequacies and an array of watered-down services. It starts to look more like “gifted lite” than a bona fide educational plan.

It’s not that most schools don’t attempt to meet gifted children’s needs. It’s just that budgetary constraints, lack of training, or philosophical differences frequently place limits on what is offered. Sometimes gifted children receive no more than one hour a week of a pull-out program. Sometimes, they get a few extra assignments. Sometimes they are enlisted to tutor other children. These inadequate attempts at gifted education fail to address the full-time needs of children who are gifted all day long, not just for a few hours of enriched instruction.

Until the public school system offers more than a lukewarm attempt at meeting the needs of its gifted children, parents are left to advocate for their children. Many spend years meeting with teachers, administrators, and school board members, achieving only incremental success. Other parents pursue private school, cyber school, or home schooling. These outside alternatives may provide more enriched and individualized programs for gifted children, but might not be locally available, financially feasible, or even appropriate for a given child or family. Public school education offers a wealth of benefits private schools cannot provide (such as a greater selection of classes and extra-curricular activities, as well as sociocultural diversity), and an exodus of students from the school district does nothing to improve a system that taxpayers fund. (See a recent blog post about this on gifted parenting support.)

So, how can you help your child when your school’s best option looks a lot like gifted education “lite?” How do you prepare your child for an imperfect and sometimes disappointing classroom experience? How can you help your child adapt?

1.  Advocacy

First, let your child know that you will continue to advocate for the services she needs. Help her understand what it means to be gifted and explain why she may feel impatient or bored with some of her classes. Let her know that all of the children in her class deserve an appropriate education, not just the gifted kids.  With only one teacher, sometimes not everyone gets what they need. Let her know that you will continue to work with the school to see if they can offer more interesting material for her, if possible. Until then, she will have to adapt to the situation.

2.  Practice Assertive Skills  

Help your child learn to tactfully and appropriately assert himself. Teach him how to ask for more challenging school work in a manner that is most likely to work. Teachers respond best to children who are assertive, but not pushy, clingy or demanding. You could role play various situations with your child to help him learn what to say. Teach him to notice cues, so he can avoid interrupting the teacher at inconvenient times. Help him identify what he might want to say. For example, he may want to study a topic in greater depth, write a creative story about an area of interest, or tackle more challenging math problems. When he is detailed and specific, it saves the teacher time and effort, and increases the likelihood that he will receive material tailored to his interests.

3.  Banish Boredom

Teach your child creative ideas for enriching her learning experience. If she complains about feeling bored in class (and you have exhausted your options for obtaining enriched/accelerated alternatives), help her develop strategies for entertaining herself. For example, she could (silently) ask herself more in depth questions about the subject matter, invent a rhyme for what she is learning, or compose a musical tune to link together material she is reading. Helping your child learn how to manage feelings of boredom in class is a skill that will be a benefit to her in a variety of situations.

4.  Model Tolerance

Contain your anger as much as possible. You may certainly want to validate your child’s feelings and empathize with how bored he might feel. However, it will fuel your child’s frustration if you complain about the program’s inadequacies. Your reaction can serve as a model for how to be persistent with advocacy, but also respectful toward the individuals involved, and strategic in identifying what battles to pick. You can be a role model of patience, tolerance, and acceptance in the face of disappointment.

Many gifted children recognize that some classes, programs, and years in school are more engaging and challenging than others. They benefit from an understanding that this ebb and flow will continue throughout their time in school. Until public education is able to consistently support the needs of gifted children and adolescents, parents can help their children develop the skills, creativity and patience to learn as much as possible in an imperfect situation. 


  1. Seriously? It is not ok to subject children to years of boredom and ask them to "be patient". It's abuse. Gifted children are also deserve an appropriate education. And really?....Why should I leave my kid in a failing system? My responsibility as a parent is to my own child, not "the system". Please

  2. Anonymous,

    I understand your frustration about a failing system. However, many parents lack the financial ability to remove their child from the public schools, and when advocacy falls short, their responsibility is to help their child adapt as best as possible. This does not mean that they need to stop advocating - just that they help their child adjust emotionally to a difficult situation.

    What do others think about this dilemma?

  3. I agree that I have to help my daughter put up with the gifted program at school. They have a pull-out model, but it is only twice a week and it does not offer much more than this. I keep meeting with her teacher to try to get more services for her, but it seems like she gets a little, and then it stops after a while.I suppose I will have to keep at it for a long time.

  4. Carolyn,

    It's great that you're continuing to advocate to get her what she needs. But until that happens, helping her to adapt to what she DOES have is just as important. Good luck.


  5. I know this is an older post but I am just finding it and finding your blog. Trying to teach my son to manage boredom is getting him labeled as "distracted", ADHD. Yes he is distracted but that is because he is trying to make the assignment more interesting to himself. He's 8 and in 3rd grade. I"ll keep reading your blog for ideas.