Monday, September 29, 2014

Fearless advocacy: A day in the life of a gifted child's parent


Gifted advocacy

What do you think about when you hear those words?
  • Meetings with school administrators?
  • Lobbying to get your gifted child identified?
  • Insisting on ability grouping, enrichment or acceleration?

But battling with the schools is not the only place for advocacy; parents find themselves championing the needs of their gifted child wherever they go. Dismissive comments about gifted children are overheard as often at family reunions and the sidelines of soccer games as they are during parent-teacher conferences At first timid and uncertain, parents quickly learn that if they don't educate others about gifted children's differences, their own child will suffer.

Most parents never expected to become spokespersons for gifted children. Yet by default, they become experts, educators and ambassadors, endlessly explaining facts about giftedness to those who don't understand. They confront misinformation, always careful to avoid the appearance of boasting, and seamlessly reframe their child's offbeat behavior in light of gifted intellectual and social/emotional complexities. Every day can seem like a new challenge.

Here is a partial list of advocacy efforts that regularly occur in the life of a gifted child's parent:

(How many of these fit for you?)

1. Asking teachers for more complex, challenging, meaningful schoolwork (not extra homework or busy work)

2. Overcoming reluctance to tell friends and family that, yes, your child is gifted, has unique needs, and deserves accommodations in school

3. Explaining contradictory behaviors to others (why your child's immature or childlike behaviors do not negate her giftedness)

4. Meeting with school administrators to explain your child's needs and how they are not being met in the classroom or gifted pull-out program

5. Having to "apologize" for your child's "rude"  (blunt, uncensored) comments to teachers and other children ("So sorry he said the classwork was boring - I know he needs to learn tact. I guess he just wants something a little more challenging.")

6. Commenting in online forums, blogs or articles to remind others that no, not every child is gifted!

7. Explaining the difference between gifted traits and behaviors that warrant a diagnosis (high energy, intense curiosity vs. ADHD; detailed, hyper focus on an area of interest vs. OCD)

8. Helping relatives, neighbors and other parents understand that your child's moods, quirks and intensities are associated with her giftedness (and are not behaviors she just does to be annoying)

9. Speaking up regularly at school board meetings to request (demand) more appropriate and necessary gifted services

10. Meeting with other parents of gifted children to form parent advocacy efforts (groups, lobbying efforts with the schools, collaborative meetings with gifted supervisors)

11. Letting your young child's friends know that when he wants to play by himself, it's not because he doesn't like them; it's just because he really wants to play by himself

12. Researching alternative educational options and presenting them to the teacher (online courses, subject acceleration, special projects, mentorships)

13. Learning about state-wide and nation-wide advocacy efforts and getting involved

14. Educating people you never thought you would have to inform about the complexities of giftedness: your child's teachers, pediatrician, coaches, spiritual leaders, trusted friends and family

15. Defending any accommodations offered to your child at school when others question the need for them (explaining that additional challenging work or acceleration is not a privilege or honor, but a necessity)

16. Advocating for yourself: asking for support and advice from those who understand, and letting those who don't understand know how hard it is for you

You never planned for this. No one prepared you. Yet, you are the chief proponent, enthusiast, spokesperson, defender, and champion of services for your child. It just comes with the territory. Once you overcome your hesitation and fears about advocacy, you can move on to what is necessary.

You can make change happen.

Let us know what a day in the life of advocacy is for you in the comments
section below.


This blog is part of the Hoagies Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Gifted Advocacy. To read more blogs in this hop, visit this Blog Hop at:



For the next blog in the Gifted Advocacy Blog Hop, click on the following link:


9 comments:

  1. "You never planned for this. No one prepared you."

    Nope. And that's a big reason I work with gifted support and advocacy. To help prepare parents and reach out with resources. Thanks for being a resource!
    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much. I know that for myself, even with training as a psychologist, it was an eye-opening experience learning the amount of gifted advocacy these children need. So glad you're also out there helping parents learn how to advocate!
      Gail
      Delete
  2. Gail. Your writing is always so clear and concise. This is a great list and a different way to look at the topic of advocacy. Very helpful for parents, I'm sure.
    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Paula.So much advocacy to do in so many ways! Really appreciate your feedback.
      Gail
      Delete
  3. I teared up when I read this. This is my life now and future.......

    Gifted education in Australia is yet to gain majority support in schools, the journey of advocacy is very lonely
    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gifted education is not supported very well in the U.S. either. Sorry you're feeling so alone. Maybe you can seek out others in the same situation, at home and online, who can share your struggle with you. Good luck.
      Gail
      Delete
  4. Cherry's right. Gifted education in Australia has very few resources or proponents in comparison to the US. It's really pretty dire. We gave up on educational advocacy and now homeschool. We were getting nowhere whatsoever, and our son was suffering.
    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder what can be done in Australia to get things going? Just curious, given how bad you indicated the situation is. Such a shame that it sounds so bad.
      Gail
      Delete
  5. This is the first time i am reading your post and admire that you posted article which gives users lot of information regarding particular topic thanks for this share.
    Only Children

Monday, September 15, 2014

The $5 Million Embarrassment: What Our Nation Is Not Doing for Its Gifted Kids (guest post with Dr. James Delisle)

Question: What’s a gifted kid worth to the federal government?

Answer: Less than the cost of a Happy Meal.

I am honored to present a guest posting from esteemed author, professor, and long-standing gifted advocate, Dr. James Delisle. Keep reading...

We’re all aware of the enormous sums of money spent to meet the needs of kids with disabilities in our nation—about $13 billion federal dollars in 2013 alone. I don’t begrudge even a penny of this expenditure—all kids deserve to have an education that meets their individual learning needs—yet while the feds have both empathy and dollars to spread around for kids with disabilities, they harbor no such dedication to gifted kids. In fact, the entire current federal budget for America’s gifted kids is $5 million. Divide that number by the estimated number of gifted kids in America—2.5 million—and each of our nation’s gifted kids gets about $2 worth of support. Trying buying lunch with that, much less an education!


My new book is titled Dumbing Down America: The War on Our Nation’s Brightest Young Minds (And What We Can Do To Fight Back). Some have questioned my use of the word war as overly dramatic or exaggerated, yet what other word better describes such rampant neglect of a segment of our student population so lacking in educational efforts to move them forward? When people spout that “gifted kids are able to take care of themselves . . . let’s spend money on kids who really need the help,” they are declaring that gifted kids have no needs at all that can’t be addressed by what schools already offer to them. But after 37 years of working with gifted kids as a teacher, counselor, professor, and dad, I can assert one thing: the naysayers are wrong; gifted kids exist and their needs are as complex and important to address as are those of any other child with a special learning need. This war against gifted kids needs to end. Saving smart kids isn’t our choice, it’s our obligation.

James R. Delisle, Ph.D., has worked with gifted children and their caregivers for 37 years. He is the author of 19 books, and his latest, Dumbing Down America: The War on our Nation's Brightest Young Minds (and What We Can Do to Fight Back) is published by Prufrock Press (www.prufrock.com).

What do you think? Is there a war against gifted children? I know that I certainly agree with Dr. Delisle's points. Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Banish boredom from school for your gifted child

At some point, soon after gifted children start elementary school, something unexpected happens.

Boredom strikes.

It's not the typical backseat of the car are we there yet, sit through your sister's ballet recital, wait in line with mom at the grocery store boredom. That seems normal, although not without the requisite whining and complaints.

No, this is something new. Most gifted children have spent preschool and kindergarten indulging their creativity, following their muse, exploring whatever piqued their interest. But then real school starts.

It's not that school isn't boring for everyone some of the time. All of us have gone through this. But gifted children quickly realize that the degree of boredom they endure seems vastly different from what their peers experience.
  • They finish papers, projects and reading much more quickly.
  • They don't require the same level of repetition
  • They hunger for a faster pace and greater complexity
  • They see their classmates engaged in class and sometimes even struggling with assignments that are easy, and often simplistic for them.
  • They may start to notice the teacher's frustration when they ask "distracting" questions, complain they are bored, or talk too much.
This is all very puzzling. After all, enthusiasm for learning and creative exploration were encouraged a year or two ago. Now, they are told to cool their jets: wait, be patient while other kids catch up, and refrain from those pesky questions! Just when they thought they could delve into learning, like the big kids they used to admire, they find themselves standing still.

Soon their bewilderment morphs into anger, even as they settle into the classroom routine. This isn't what they expected! They would rather learn on their own, read a book, draw pictures, build Legos, or just use their imagination than reiterate facts they already know. Some go to the teacher and ask pointed questions like "why are we doing stuff we learned in preschool?" Or "why do we have to do the same thing over and over again when it's so easy?"

But most gifted children save their complaints for home. Parents get to witness their tears, angry outbursts, and refusal to complete assignments they label as "stupid" and not worth their time. After having suppressed frustration all day at school, they batter the family with misdirected anger. Parents must weather their child's disappointment and anger, limit conflict at home, provide empathy for their child's experience at school, and take care to not fuel further frustration by showing too much of their own distress. A delicate balance to achieve.

And when children cannot express frustration directly to their teacher or family, it may emerge in one of several forms:

Acting out - Some children entertain themselves by talking too much, becoming the class clown, or causing trouble in the classroom. At worst, frustration may be expressed through outright aggression - bullying, fighting, or using their advanced verbal skills to manipulate other classmates. Typically, parents receive feedback from teachers about their child's problem behaviors.

Internalizing  - These children don't show outward signs of distress, but instead, become shy, withdrawn, or develop physical symptoms, such as stomach-aches or headaches. They may become  anxious, have difficulty getting up in the morning, or refuse to go to school, citing physical complaints or vague fears. Often they fall below the radar, and teachers may not recognize their distress.

Regardless of whether the child's boredom is expressed overtly or indirectly, it can create long-lasting damage. Boredom fuels apathy, disregard for authority, underachievement, and sometimes a complete loss of interest in school. Even those gifted children who are remarkably patient and tolerate the situation are left with a distorted perception of their abilities. They may assume all academic challenges will be easy, never learn to struggle or push themselves, and fear failure. They avoid taking academic risks and may never reach their potential.

When schools are unable or unwilling to challenge gifted children, parents need to mobilize their efforts:

1. Start by asking for help.

Ask the teacher for advice. Approach him or her respectfully, avoiding the "boredom" word, since this can be off-putting. Instead, focus on specific behaviors. Describe your child's distractibility, daydreaming, and complaints at home. (Sometimes schools are more open to ameliorating behavior problems than creating a more challenging learning environment.) Ask the teacher about options such as extending and enriching the curriculum, subject or grade acceleration, or gifted programming. If you are met with roadblocks, find out what further steps are needed .

2. Gather information.

Become informed. You need as much information about your child, your district's and state's regulations, and available resources as possible. Get your child tested by a licensed psychologist or school psychologist. Testing provides valuable information about your child's strengths and weaknesses, and can offer concrete data that can aid in requesting additional services. Learn as much as you can about gifted children and their academic and social and emotional needs through books, websites such as NAGC, SENG and Hoagiesgifted, and even online forums such as Davidson's Gifted Issues Forum.

3. Explore other options

Determine whether the school is the best possible fit for your child and whether other options should be considered. Sometimes a local private school or homeschooling can provide relief and offer greater flexibility or a more challenging curriculum. Yet these options present limitations (financial or time constraints) that limit their suitability for some children and families. Public schools are free, and ideally, gifted children deserve access to an appropriate and challenging education that meets their needs.

4. Help your child adjust

You can offer ideas for coping with boredom, while still assuring your child you are advocating for change. Even when enrichment or acceleration are offered, many gifted children still endure periods of boredom. Your child benefits from learning coping skills for managing boredom at school.
  • Ask the teacher for alternative activities for your child when classwork is completed; at the very least, get permission for him or her to draw or read a favorite book while the other students are still working
  • Find enriching extra-curricular activities, depending on availability and your financial resources. These enhance life outside of school, although may not compensate for what the classroom lacks.
  • As noted in a previous post, you may need to help your child develop strategies for banishing boredom until the situation hopefully improves. For example, your child could learn to manage free time by coming up with more in-depth questions about the subject matter, creating a poem related to what is being taught, or composing a musical tune that fits with the reading material. 

Create a learning experience

You are your child's best role model and teach how to adapt to difficult situations through your actions. Your child will notice how readily you advocate, how respectfully you treat school staff, how strongly you push for change, and when it is appropriate to back down and accept a compromise. Children learn humility, respect, collaboration, appropriate assertiveness, and tolerance from this experience. There are no perfect solutions to addressing the dilemma of giftedness and boredom in the classroom, but you can help your child face this challenge through your caring, attentive and persistent presence.

What solutions have you found? Let us know in the comments section below.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Parenting an artistically talented child

Most parents love to see their child's first school concert, dance performance, or watercolor. Yet, this milestone is usually seen as an enriching activity and not a path toward a future career. What happens, though, when parents realize that their child is artistically talented? How do they react to this, support their child's artistic growth, and make the best choices for their child and family?

At first, parents may be flooded with a range of feelings, both positive and negative. Some common reactions may include the following:

1. Excitement

Parents are often thrilled when they realize that their child is gifted. They may take pride in their child's abilities, and perhaps even feel amazed as they witness signs of burgeoning talent. If the child is their biological offspring, reactions may range from immodest pride ("I guess he's got some of my abilities") to bewilderment ("how did I end up with such a talented child?"). Parents who are also musicians, artists, dancers or performers may feel a special bond with their child, as they can fully appreciate their child's experience and possible future career trajectory.

2. Uncertainty

After the excitement fades, parents typically feel some uncertainty. Many wonder how to best support their child's abilities. And if they have no prior experience in the arts, entering an unfamiliar world of new terminology and expectations can be daunting. They may question whether they can find the best resources, how they should assess their child's teacher or class, and if they will be able to afford growing expenses. They may wonder what role they must play in their child's daily routine and how much to push their child. Should they be taskmasters and insist on regular practice, or allow their child to develop at his or her own pace? Have they done enough to foster their child's growth and development? Even if they follow advice from teachers and other artists, nagging doubts may remain.

3. Anxiety

Fears can arise when parents consider what lies ahead. Music study and dance practice, for example, take tremendous discipline and dedication, and the commitment often eliminates time for other extra-curricular activities or social opportunities. Some worry that their child will be ostracized because of appearing different, or will be unpopular, especially if he or she performs traditional classical music, musical theater or acting. If their child takes art classes, or performs jazz, rock or alternative forms of music, parents may worry about possible exposure to negative peer influences and drugs. And parents of dancers know that eating disorders are a risk. Long-range concerns include college planning, realistic career choices and deciding whether a career in the arts can sustain a viable income.

4. Emotional Turmoil

Parents also weather the emotional ups and downs of their child's successes and failures. Pride following a solid performance, anxiety before an audition or juried exhibition, and frustration when their child lags behind with practicing all come with the territory. Parents may be surprised by the competitive feelings they harbor toward other children at auditions. Some may feel conflicted and ambivalent; they may resent the cost of lessons, art materials, costumes or instruments, along with time spent traveling to rehearsals or competitions. Many feel saddened and angry if their talented child fails to live up to his or her potential, or gives up pursuing artistic goals completely. On the other hand, some secretly feel relieved when their child tackles a different career path.

Remaining attuned to your child's needs

Just like with most aspects of parenting, raising an artistically gifted child involves awareness of one's feelings, but ultimately remaining attuned to the child's needs. Parents support their children best by recognizing if their own wishes, dreams and fears are driving their decisions. And just as with all parenting decisions, distinguishing between one's own personal wishes and what is best for the child is critical.

As a parent, you can ask yourself the following questions:
Am I pushing my child too hard?
Am I using misguided motivational strategies, such as harsh criticism and shaming?
Am I expecting too much and setting unrealistically high standards?
Am I downplaying my child's interests due to fears about future career prospects?
Am I too worried about my child's success because of my own needs, worries and insecurities?
Am I holding my child back because of my own fears?

Self-reflection is an important first step. Parents also can benefit from the following:

  • Consultation with your child's teacher about practice guidelines, level of parental involvement, progress toward future goals, and what to expect is essential. A frank and honest discussion about your child's strengths and weaknesses, and the likelihood of future success is also necessary as he or she progresses.

  • Developing connections with parents of other gifted students can provide support when needed. Sharing concerns, questions and advice with others who understand is both informative and reassuring. Contact with parents can be developed informally while waiting at rehearsals or classes, through participation in parent groups, such as theater or band parent organizations, or even in online forums.

  • Gathering information from respected artists in your child's field of study can offer valuable information about career prospects, lifestyle, benefits and drawbacks of the work, and their path from student to successful artist. You can assess where your child stands in comparison, and what he or she may face in such a career.

  • Seeking support from a trusted friend or family member can be reassuring, challenging and enlightening. Those who know you best can provide some fresh perspective about your decisions, and help you discover blind spots that may be creating problems. Participation in therapy can be helpful in addition to the above mentioned resources, particularly if fears and doubts become overwhelming. It is also beneficial if your level of involvement or expectations create conflict with your child.

Raising an artistically talented child can be a deeply fulfilling challenge. Parents' increased awareness of their own feelings will improve their ability to support their child by reducing the tendency to respond in a counterproductive manner. Once parents are aware of their reactions, thoughts and feelings, they can more effectively encourage their child's artistic efforts.

(This blog post was modified from a recently published article: Post, G. (2014). The emotional highs and lows of parenting an artistically talented child. National Association for Gifted Children Arts Newsletter, 1, 15-17.)

This blog is part of the Hoagies Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Gifted, How? To read more blogs in this hop, visit this Blog Hop at:
http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_gifted_how.htm.



Some suggested reading:

Haroutounian, J. (2002). Kindling the spark. New York: Oxford University Press.
Lott, M. & Martin, J. (2013). Dance mom survival guide: Growing a great dancer without losing your mind. USA: Buzz Books.
Siteman, J. (2007). The pleasures and perils of raising young musicians: A guide for parents. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.
Tofler, I. & Foy DiGeronimo, T. (2000). Keeping your kids out front without kicking them from behind: How to nurture high-achieving athletes, scholars, and performing artists. Danvers, MA: Jossey-Bass.
Whitehill, A. & Noble, W. (2003). The parents book of ballet: Answer to critical questions about the care and development of the young dancer. Hightstown, N.J.: Princeton Book Co, Publishers.