Parenting a Gifted Child? You aren’t alone.

Does your child have some extra smarts? While its fun to brag and easy to be proud of that high IQ, being the parent of a gifted child has its own set of challenges.

Laura of New Hampshire knows better than most. All four of her children are gifted in one way, or more, and she goes out of her way to not only nourish their interest in learning, but also to find ways for them to be “average.”

“I think you can have the classic ‘genius social issues’ when the child is only involved with things they excel at,” said Laura. “So, she (her youngest daughter, Celeste) goes to dance and plays baseball –we do baseball, not softball, because it’s more challenging, and she’s more average. It may sound mean, but she needs to be average, sometimes, to know how it feels. She needs to learn how to work at something to improve. It’s also really, really important to remember that she’s still 7.”

And although Celeste can read adult-level reading books, Laura keeps them out of her hands wanting to be careful to preserve the innocence a seven-year-old mind possesses.

“The two most important things to remember about a gifted child is one, every gifted child is different, just like every other child, they all have strengths and weaknesses; and two, a gifted child is still a child, even if they’re reading on a college level and playing piano like Mozart,” said Laura.

How do you know if your child is bright and organized, or gifted? Speak with his/her teachers. “If you learn that the child is bored, that your child wishes he/she could move at a faster pace, that your child is not challenged enough, set up a face-to-face meeting with your child’s teacher to discuss the situation,” advised Harlan Weber, math and advanced learning administrator for the Sheboygan Area School District (SASD), Wisconsin.

“An important thing to remember too,” said Laura, “A bright, well-prepared student and a gifted student don’t look very different at a young age. It’s not always easy, even for parents, to know which they have. I’m not a huge advocate of testing young either, because then kids identify themselves by their test scores. My seven-year-old has no clue that her scores are higher than the school’s ever seen — but, ask her about her loose tooth! Childhood is a journey to be enjoyed, not measured and compared in an effort to be the best.”

Something to watch out for is that “’smart’ children may present themselves as a discipline problem if their educational needs are not being met,” said Harlan.

“Robert is scary smart, but very unmotivated. He’s very lazy, and he can glide through. We have to make sure he puts in the effort on stuff,” said Laura who has worked hard to find her high schooler’s motivators, but they always seem to be a moving target. “I’ve resigned myself to the fact that he may never realize his full potential, because he just doesn’t care. We’re not thrilled at this, but we can only put the tools in front of him.”

If you are five grades higher than everyone else, who needs to work? “What we’ve found that has worked in our family is, find what the child loves, and use it as a carrot. You have to help the child see that it’s in his/her best interest to put forth some effort. Praise them when they do a good job at something — especially if they had to work at it,” said Laura.

She continued, “Most importantly, it’s very valuable to help each child find their strengths and interests, and help them to see how these things could become a passion, if not a career, for them. As a parent, you have to set your ego and expectations aside and really look at the child in front of you.”

A child needs to be challenged and if a gifted child is forced to study material that is below his/her level, there could be problems.

“Sometimes gifted children will try to hide their giftedness or not work up to their ability so they are not different than their peers. Investigate why a child is underachieving,” said Harlan.

As is the case with all children, regardless of their ability, it is important that the child is taught at his/her level and assigned meaningful tasks that are his/her level.

While each school district’s criteria may vary, Harlan outlined five areas that are reviewed when determining if a child is identified as being gifted and talented. Those areas are intellectual, creative, artistic, leadership and academic.

Most schools have thresholds that must be met before placing a child in a gifted and talented program. Once appropriate screenings have taken place, the parents, along with the school staff can meet and discuss the opportunities available to help the child succeed.

“If you feel the teacher isn’t teaching your child at an appropriate level, by all means, ask for a conference. But — and this is a big BUT — don’t go in all defensive, demanding that ‘Snookie’ be moved to the highest reading group or whatever. Ask for specific reasons as to why she’s not there,” advised Laura. “You will achieve more for your child if you go in with an open mind. If you meet with the teacher and still think she isn’t teaching your child appropriately, then ask to meet with the principal.”

There are alternative schools and programs out there for children who are well above-and-beyond their level. It just requires extra diligence on your part, as a parent, to seek those venues. At SASD, once a student has been accepted into the advanced/gifted program, he/she remains in that track throughout her/his entire school career.

“Assuming that the teacher has seen your child’s test scores and so forth, and is willing to put in extra effort to keep your child challenged, then I just let things be. For example, my first grader saw the gifted teacher three times a week, plus had differentiated work in reading, math, science, and social studies. She only left the class for the gifted stuff, but while in the classroom, she had harder books and worksheets on the same subject matter (reptiles, for example) as her classmates. When she was done with her work, she could read whatever book she wanted — she’s currently on the fourth Harry Potter. Since these things were done in the regular classroom, she isn’t singled out, which allows her all the social aspects of first grade.”

Some ways to help your child is to:

    • Keep the lines of communication open between you and your child
    • Spend time in the library enjoying games, puzzles and lots and lots of books
    • Engage in hands-on learning at museums, zoos, farms, music festivals, etc.
    • Provide easy-access to reference materials for curious children
    • Play music, both in the background and take music lessons
    • Get them involved in your activities, cooking, baking, gardening, etc., and answer their questions
      as they learn along the way
    • You are your child’s best advocate, be persistent and never give up.
    • Stay in continued communication with the school
    • If the school suggests activities and programs that would best meet your child’s needs, follow up
      and get your child involved

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