Monday, July 16, 2018

Welcome to gifted parenting: A checklist of emotions

Surprise! Your child is gifted.

Or maybe it wasn't such a surprise. Perhaps you saw the signs from an early age - the precocity, the early language acquisition, the endless questioning, the obsession with everything LEGO. Regardless of whether there was any warning, it is a shock, a joy,
and a bundle of anxiety all wrapped in a bow.

Welcome to gifted parenting!

As you grapple with decisions about schools and advocacy, as you search for books/classes/activities that engage your child's passions, you might notice that your own emotions surge at unexpected times. They nag at you when your child seems bored at school. They erupt in anger when she is misunderstood or her intentions disparaged. They swell with anxiety as you lie awake worrying about his future. Fear, envy, pride, resentment, disappointment, anger, bitterness - these are no strangers to gifted parents.

So many emotions

The first step toward coping with the emotions that catch most gifted parents by surprise is to identify them.

Which of the following seem familiar to you?

___ I worry about my child's ability to fit in with other kids

___ I resent the amount of extra energy I have to expend to engage my child's academic needs

___ I am angry that the school offers few (or any) gifted services

___ I feel embarrassed when my gifted child is so immature; sometimes she acts like she's five years younger than her actual age

___ I am tired of being treated like a pushy parent just because I ask for more challenging work for my child

___ I envy other families whose kids seem so "normal"

___ I am frustrated that my child exerts little effort and is coasting through school; he seems to be wasting his potential and the school overlooks this

___ I wish I could show my enthusiasm and pride over my child's accomplishments and not worry that others might think I'm bragging

___ I resent it when others think my child's abilities result from me pushing and prepping her

___ I worry that my child will never reach his potential because of the schooling we have chosen for him

___ I resent that I have to do all of the work sorting out college options - and the school offers little guidance

___ I feel angry toward relatives who don't get it and minimize her abilities and my concerns about her

___ I feel guilty that I don't want to do all of this advocacy work in the schools.

___ I feel in awe of my child sometimes; I can't believe he can accomplish some of the amazing things he does.

___ I worry that I am not doing enough to push her to succeed

___ I also worry that I am pushing her too much and it will backfire

___ I feel heartbroken when my child is excluded from social events because he is so "different" from his peers

___ I wish I could just relax and trust the schools to do their job

___ I worry that she never will be happy - that she always will feel so different from others and have trouble finding friends, a spouse or partner, and a job that is truly meaningful

Do some of these sound familiar? Okay... most of them? 

Parents of gifted children often struggle in silence with emotions that evoke guilt and shame. This is heightened when others imply that they should feel grateful about their child's abilities. After all, high IQ should be a ticket to happiness, Harvard and any job he wants. Right? Well, not exactly! Such myths and stereotypes only compound the stress involved with raising a gifted child.

Parenting an intense, curious, and reactive child, who may be asynchronous, highly sensitive, and out of sync with peers, is not easy. Constantly advocating for academic needs is demanding and overwhelming. And although intelligence certainly offers many advantages, it is no guarantee of success, joy, or even college admission.

What you can do

Parents of gifted children benefit from accepting the challenges of the road ahead; their attention to their child's needs is critical, and can be exhausting. You're in it for the long haul, so get the support you need. The following may help:

1. Read as much as you can about gifted children, gifted education and parenting. The more you know, the more you will understand about what you and your child are experiencing. It will normalize, validate and provide much needed information. A few of the well-known publishers of books about giftedness include Prufrock Press, Gifted Unlimited Press, GHF Press, and Free SpiritPublishing. A few of the great online information sites include NAGC, SENG, Hoagie's Gifted, and Davidson's. Get informed!

2. Find or start your own gifted parenting support group. These provide support, mutual understanding, and validation rarely found elsewhere. They provide a venue for shared information about what works and what doesn't within the schools, and a powerful tool for advocacy. If this is not possible, at least consider joining an online parent forum, such as Davidson's, where you can find support.

3. Take care of yourself. This goes for every parent, of course, but don't forget to find time for enjoyable activities, relaxation, and fun and silliness with your child. Learn stress management techniques for when you need them, and make time for friends, your partner or spouse, and enriching, meaningful activities. Your child also will benefit from you as a calm, happy parent.

4. If you haven't already realized it, please know that EVERY emotion listed on the above checklist is normal, understandable, and widespread among parents of gifted children. It is understandable to feel angry, alone, resentful and sad about these challenges. Accepting this reality may help with the guilt and sense of isolation that accompanies some of these feelings. Get the support you need from those friends and family who truly "get it," other parents of gifted children, and gifted parent support groups. Don't allow these emotions to overwhelm and interfere with the joy you might otherwise experience with your child.

What were some of your surprise emotions as a parent? Let us know in the comments section below.


  1. This article is awesome! I could check off every item on the list. I can't think of anything to add to the list, unless you want to add some from when your child is grown...then you think about what you might have done differently, how you failed as a parent, whether you should have done more - or less. It really never ends.

    The advice on what you can do is excellent. I did them all and they really do help. They may not help your child get what he or she needs, but they sure can help you from going nuts as you try to do what you can for your child.

    1. Carol, Thanks for your comments. Although we might think that getting support does not necessarily help our gifted kids, being a calm, stable parent is ALWAYS a benefit for them! I am glad you found a variety of tools to help you through parenting your child. I agree that the questioning about what one could have done does not necessarily end... Thank you again for your feedback.

  2. This is a really helpful list. I feel like the worst of it is the worrying about whether I made the right decisions about school, whether I should have homeschooled, or found a way to send my son to private school. I never found that others with children who aren't gifted could understand fully what we were going through.

    1. Trying to decide on a school is often a dilemma, although most families don't have a choice for financial reasons. There is rarely a perfect solution, since gifted children often don't fit the norm, even in private schools, and homeschooling can have drawbacks as well. Sometimes the public schools are the only option available, which results in parents needing to advocate for the services their children need. Thank you for your comments.

  3. I was surprised by the intensity of my emotions more so that having them in the first place. Frustration with the lack of understanding from people with high-level degrees in education is probably my greatest stress. These are supposed to be experts and I am the one educating them (if they allow me to)! Ugh! Why aren't the educators more educated than me? Why don't they *want* to be? Frustration, constant frustration. Patience is a parent's best friend.

    1. Michelle, Such an important point about how patience is so necessary. It is so frustrating when educators have little training or understanding about giftedness. This is so distressing and overwhelming for parents who feel at a loss with nowhere to turn. It takes a lot of patience to advocate and persist and find ways to ensure that one's child gets an appropriate education. Thank you for your feedback.

  4. All of the above emotions! There are so many more resources available than there were when my children were small. Important caveat: Find the ones that fit your situation. My children were PG, and much of the available information at the time seemed nonsensical to me. I tried to make me and my children fit, which did not work! Also, with each child the difficulties are multiplicative--or perhaps exponential--not additive.

    1. Anonymous, This is great advice. Every parent needs to tailor the resources available to what works. This is especially true of PG or 2e children. Thank you so much for your comments.

  5. As a parent of a gifted adult child AND GT teacher in a district that is starting to not serve the population, this list is amazing!

    1. Carol, Thanks for your feedback. As a parent and teacher, you know the field from several perspectives and I imagine bring that understanding to your work.

  6. We had WISC testing done today. The process has made me so anxious. The testing didn't go for as long as i expected, and I could hear our son (6) mucking around. The school asked us to test on his 3rd day at school, and I've delayed for 7 months, but finally his disengagement got the better of me - and he turned 6. I've found the whole process a double whammy - it has made sense of him (and the energy it takes to parent him) but also of me and my experience going through school. I was always top of everything but had (and have) terrible imposter syndrome. Its the double whammy that is killing me - experiencing it all again, through him. And if he doesn't show up gifted, I don't know. I'll feel like a pushy parent fraud all over again. Ugh.

    1. Jo, It is understandable to feel anxious about the testing. A lot of time, children who are not cooperative during testing may need to be retested at a later time, and six can be too young for some kids. Whatever the results are, the testing experience should provide valuable information about his behavior and skills, and I doubt it will invalidate your perceptions. Advocating for your son does not make you a pushy parent. It reflects your care and devotion. Good luck with your son.

  7. Colleen Kessler (former gifted ed specialist now raising her own 4 gifted children) is doing some amazing things supporting the parents of gifted children. You should check her blog, and her Facebook group, Raising Poppies.