While this may come as no surprise, you still might feel overwhelmed - and left with a flood of questions and churning emotions. You hope your child will excel and reach her potential, but won't have to sacrifice her creative spark or love of learning. You wonder how to best help her navigate a world that both idealizes and devalues intellectual talent. And you most likely face a school climate where gifted education is a low priority.
What is your next step?
1. Get educated
After you take that deep breath and digest the reality that your child really, really is gifted, the next step involves learning all that you can about giftedness. Websites, such as NAGC, SENG, GHF, Hoagie's Gifted, Davidson's and state- or province- based gifted organizations provide a wealth of information. If your child is identified as twice-exceptional (gifted with an additional disability), 2eNews and TECA offer helpful information. There also are great books about giftedness available through Great Potential Press, Prufrock Press, and Free Spirit Publishers.
2. Learn about your local resources
Every community is different. Find out everything you can about your local school district, any local gifted advocacy groups (or consider starting one if none exist!), your state- or province- based gifted organization, and laws regarding gifted education. Learn what the public schools provide, and their policies about gifted education, acceleration, ability grouping, honors classes, and channels for communication. Even if you choose to homeschool, cyberschool, or place your child in private school, gifted education services still may be accessible. Learn about extra-curricular and summer activities as well. Some extra-curriculars are free or low cost, and you might be able to start some on your own, such as a chess club or reading group.
3. Your child may need a lot from you
Many people think that raising a gifted child is, well... a gift. In reality, though, gifted children are not the easy, compliant, academic superstars that many incorrectly expect them to personify. Your gifted child may be highly sensitive and emotionally intense, pepper you with endless questions, debate you like a law student, and require an array of stimulating activities often unavailable in the schools. You may be reluctantly drawn into the advocate role at your child's school, and spend your free time searching for afterschool and weekend activities that will challenge his intellectual curiosity. You won't be able to just sit back, attend a few parent-teacher conferences, and bake cookies for the PTO; your child needs so much more than the school typically provides, and it will be up to you to navigate these uncharted waters.
4. Recognize your own emotions
Accept that a cascade of sometimes surprising emotions will arise at unexpected times. You might feel sad because you suspect your friends will never quite understand your child's struggles - or might resent his accomplishments. You may feel envy toward other children, whose social skills and popularity seem light years beyond those of your asynchronous child. You spend sleepless nights worrying that you have not advocated enough, or have not encouraged your child to succeed, or perhaps, pushed him too much. You resent the extra time you must spend advocating for your child's academic needs. Recognizing, understanding, and coping with these emotions is another responsibility you never signed up for - but nevertheless, must learn to manage.
5. Prepare for the unexpected
Your gifted child may surprise you with her talents, accomplishments and awards. But just as likely, you may be walloped with unexpected stress and drama. It might be heartbreak when she cannot find a like-minded friend in her new class, and feels isolated and alone. It could be boredom, school refusal and underachievement, as your child - once eager to learn - has lost all interest in school. It can be emotional melt-downs, as her sensitivity leads her to ponder the meaning of existence and feel empathy for those less fortunate. Expect your gifted child to at least occasionally experience some emotional turmoil and distress.
6. You must forge your own path
There is no clear roadmap for families of gifted children. Traditional paths through school and college frequently backfire. Many gifted students become bored with routine classwork, and attempts at differentiation often fail. Too often, parents must fight for acceleration, ability grouping, or non-traditional models of education that will address their child's basic learning needs. This unfolds in a culture that frequently misunderstands giftedness, and frames concerned parents as pushy or overinvolved. Parents also must help their children navigate college choices, whether this includes dual enrollment, early college entrance, or merely finding the right school for a gifted college student.
Despite these challenges, parenting a gifted child is a whirlwind of quirky surprises, hilarious interactions, and heartwarming discovery. It will warm your soul - and try every ounce of your patience! But it is never boring or routine. You might even learn as much about yourself as you learn about your child. Enjoy and relish your child's journey, and the many discoveries that emerge along the way.
What have you discovered in your experience as parent of a gifted child? Let us know in the comments section below.