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.