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.
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?
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.