Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Is it all right to feel proud of your gifted child?

Parents of gifted children often struggle with disappointment, frustration and fears that extend beyond routine parenting dilemmas. They feel compelled to advocate at school, worry about their child's social connections, and fret over complexities of executive function and asynchronous development.

But what happens when parents feel proud of their gifted child?

Is it okay to feel pride when your gifted child shines... when he excels in school, wins an award, attains a stellar SAT score, or wows the audience with a musical performance? What about when she receives a scholarship, is accepted into her first choice college, or if she is recognized for humanitarian volunteer efforts?

How do you manage that swell of pride, the tears, that flush of astonishment when your child accomplishes something amazing? You feel like you might burst... yet, worry about whether to share your joy with others. Will you appear to be bragging? Is it fair to parents of struggling students? Are you just supposed to feel grateful that your child is gifted, and keep quiet about anything beyond that?

Many parents of gifted children feel compelled to squelch their enthusiasm. They apologize for any expressions of pride or downplay their children's successes with commentary about their drawbacks (yes, he won that award...but you should see his room!). Given widespread misconceptions about gifted children, media critiques, and unfair assumptions lobbed at their parents, it is unsurprising that some parents keep their child's accomplishments a well-guarded secret.

These are some questions many parents consider before sharing their gifted child's accomplishments with others:

Will it seem like bragging?

Fear of boasting and bragging is often the strongest deterrent to sharing your joy with others. It is hard to mention your child's accomplishments when he appears to outshine your friend's child, who tries just as hard - or even harder - to succeed. What do you say when your friend's child sings karaoke at the school talent show, but yours just won a concerto competition? How do you share that your child landed a prestigious merit scholarship when your friend's child struggled to graduate?

Some parents feel guilty if they display excitement over accomplishments that other parents would easily shout from the rooftops. Some don't even share certain information or achievements at all, as if their mere mention (e.g., the lead role in a play, admission to an elite college) were equivalent to bragging. Many parents learn to save their enthusiasm only for those who truly understand.

What will others think?

Along with fears of bragging, parents of gifted children often worry that others assume they are "tiger" parents who push, prep and "hothouse" their children. We all have witnessed parents who actually boast and brag, who are inappropriately demanding, who break the "rules" so their child will get ahead (e.g., the recent college cheating scandal), or view their child's talents as a means of fulfilling their own personal needs. Most parents of gifted children do not fit these stereotypes, and shudder to think that others might project these assumptions onto them.

Parents of gifted children certainly may care about their child's achievement and academic success; however, most stand back in puzzled wonderment as their child dives into interests and passions, with little input on their part. In fact, many parents struggle to keep up with their whirlwind children, seeking activities that maintain their interests. But people who have not walked in your shoes may not understand, and assume that giftedness stems from flashcards or prep classes or grit or growth mindset. You may need to accept that you cannot control what others think, and move on with just being there for your child.

What if my child exerts little effort?

Sometimes your gifted child might receive recognition or attain top grades without trying very hard. You want to support her accomplishments, yet it feels inauthentic to praise her for relatively effortless work. So you weigh your options. At least she turned in her assignments and didn't get in trouble for being bored in class. I don't want to be overly critical - after all, she brought home all A's. Is it okay to show enthusiasm when I know she didn't put in much effort? 

You know what your child is capable of, and struggle with mixed emotions over successes that seem big to other parents, but were relatively easy for your child. Many gifted children learn to tailor their efforts to only meet the school's expectations, rather than challenging themselves. Some become underachievers under-the-radar - experts at exerting minimal effort, and avoiding detection by the school because of their relatively good grades. Parents struggle with guilt and ambivalence about their reactions, and question when it is okay to feel good - or not - about their child's successes. Is it okay to be discerning and feel ambivalent when I know he is capable of so much more? Or can I just feel good about his accomplishments, even though he could have tried harder?

When did you feel proud?

When did you feel most proud of your gifted child? 

I know that I felt the most pride when my children accomplished something that was difficult for them, when they had to push themselves, and when they showed compassion, insight and creativity. Routine awards at school were nice, but often reflected the whims and preferences of the teacher. My children recognized the limited "value" of perfunctory trophies (everyone on the soccer team gets rewarded for just showing up!), and conversely, learned that truly meaningful accomplishments sometimes go unrecognized.  

Parents of both gifted and neurotypical children feel pride when their children excel. Sometimes it coincides with awards, honors and performances. Other times, it will catch you by surprise. Attempts at something new, a fear that was overcome, an act of kindness, an unexpected success - all evoke pride. Even though gifted children's accomplishments may come easily to them, and sometimes seem to outshine those of other children, their achievements deserve of your loving attention and recognition. And as parents, we are entitled to feel pride when our child succeeds, and share our joy with others who understand.

Please share in the comments section below how feelings of pride have affected you. Thanks.

For more blog posts related to being the parent of a gifted child, see the list below:

When your gifted child disappoints

Your child is gifted! Now what?

Welcome to gifted parenting: A checklist of emotions

Weathering rough times: The highs and lows of raising a gifted child

Guilty thoughts: What parents of gifted children really think

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

What hidden emotions complicate parenting a gifted child?

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Blog Hop on Parent Considerations. To see more blogs, click on this link.


  1. This is a great topic, Gail. I haven't seen much written about it. Thanks for tackling it. What you say makes so much sense!

  2. This is so accurate! I have felt guilty when I tell my friends about my daughter. I worry that they might be judging me and think I am bragging just because I am telling them about things I am proud of. They would share the same things, but because their kids are not as talented, it doesn't sound like they are bragging about them. I don't share as much about her any more because of it.

    1. Thanks for your comments. It is so hard when you feel you can't share your joy with friends. Hopefully, you can find those whom you feel comfortable with, and who can appreciate your child's accomplishments along with you.

  3. I see many of proud moms and dads share on the FB when their kids won a tournament in hockey, or got an award in a piano competition. It is from pure excitement, not bragging. People congratulate them on their accomplishment. I guess every kids has some kinds of talent, but in various areas - sports, art, music. Our kids happen to have it in academic area. I think it is totally fine to be proud when my son got accepted to a GT class, won in a robotic competition or math competition, and so on. Those are the areas my son truly loves and shines! But I know my friends' reaction are not totally the same as to the accomplishments of other areas (sports, music...). I don't care though, because me and my families' happiness doesn't depend on our friends reaction. We are all different and you cannot control what others think anyway, like Gail mentioned.

    1. thanks for your comments. That is wonderful that you are able to enjoy your son's accomplishments and not allow others' reactions to bother you.

  4. Thank you for touching on this. It's so hard. I acknowledge that I'm oversensitive to what others might think, probably because my sister has always accused me of bragging and/or grandstanding. I don't, I never have, I'm actually shy, but she sees it that way, I guess because I won more awards than she did when we were growing up and she's still angry about that, and so I hear her voice in my head whenever it occurs to me to mention an accomplishment. What ends up happening instead? I still feel like a jerk because someone might be bragging about their child, while I nod and agree (and I really do, I think any and all accomplishments are special and should be celebrated) and it all goes well, until the actually ask, and which is your child? And then I point him/her out and he's the one pitching the no hitter. Or scoring all the goals, or winning the race by a mile. What do you say? What do you do? How do you handle the parent who's bragging about their kid getting into the state college (which is a wonderful accomplishment), but then they ask where your child is and the answer is Cal Tech or MIT? I just want to have friends, real, honest-to-goodness friends, but I feel so isolated. At least my kids have friends, it doesn't seem to bother the other kids, just their parents.

    1. Thanks for your honest take on this. It is so hard as parents when we feel we can't openly express our reactions. I hope that you find some adults who are supportive about what you share about your children.