Fourteen Tips For Parents of Gifted Children

Four of the top concerns I hear repeatedly from parents of gifted children are: finding appropriate schooling options, making friends/building relationships, managing intense emotions and sensitivities, and perfectionism. Here are my recommendations:

(photo by CDC, Unsplash)

1. Look for the teachers who are more sensitive, flexible, smart, and creative. Ideally, they have some training in gifted education. But even if they don’t, some will teach in ways that work better for these kids. Methods that work better? Project-based learning. Independent reading programs. Interdisciplinary approaches. Open-ended assignments. Acceleration. Flexible deadlines. Enthusiasm.

2. Volunteer in the classroom if you can. Be supportive of the teacher and share your concerns directly. Offer to work with a small group of the more advanced kids. Run a book club in the class or after school.  Start a chess club or find one in the district. When your child is older, debate is often an activity these kids love where they can find others like them. Be the debate coach!

3. Suggest to the school administrator which teacher is the best fit for your child and that you will be a very agreeable and grateful parent if your child gets placed there. It is good educational practice to match a child with a particular teacher. Get support from the school’s or district’s gifted education coordinator. 

4. Learn about curriculum compacting which is a way to allow a child who already knows the material to test out of or skip the regular assignments and work on projects that are more appropriate for their rate and level of learning. Look into teaching materials designed for gifted kids in the classroom. Prufrock Press is one publisher of curriculum. Suggest the teacher check them out.

5. Suggest to the school administrator they use cluster grouping. This is the practice of placing the gifted children of a certain grade together in one class. This gives the kids a chance to find intellectual peers and provides them with a buddy so that they are not off alone doing a different assignment. It allows the teacher to design curriculum for more than one student so it will be easier to plan. It is a simple and inexpensive way to accommodate these children. If your schooling situation is just not working, consider home schooling, if you have the means. The more gifted your child is, the harder it can be to find a traditional school that works. If you have an older child, look into Davidson Institute.

6. Look for friends outside of school in different activities. Friends can be older or younger. Arrange play dates with potential friends and get together with the families. Role play with your child how to make friends. You may need to give your child some basic skills for talking to other kids. If your child is reluctant to talk with you about this or other uncomfortable subjects, they are more likely to share if you are doing an activity together, using puppets, or art work or if you are in the car. They may be very smart in certain areas but need lots of guidance in others.

7. Find mentors who have interests similar to your child. Mentors can be high school students, neighbors, and family friends. A good mentor will be an important support for developing their interests. Parents may not have the same interests or be able to answer the many questions these kids ask. (That said, parents do not need to answer all of the questions!)

8. Teach them self-soothing techniques such as deep breathing, visualization, drawing, movement, and mindfulness. Tapping or Heartmath can also be useful. Remind them that their deep, intense feelings are a wonderful part of who they are and learning how to manage emotions in certain situations will help in their relationships and in life.

9. Use active listening to validate feelings. Reflect what you hear so your child feels understood. This will reduce the intensity of a meltdown. Once they are calm, problem solve with them. Brainstorm solutions together. Frustration in school is real. It makes sense your child will feel angry some of the time. Let them know you are working on solutions. Thank them for their patience. 

10. Explain to your child what it means to be gifted, including the fact that it does not mean advanced in all areas all the time. Use the rainforest mind analogy. Talk about their strengths and weaknesses. They may feel rejected by peers or that something is wrong with them, so these conversations are important. Help them understand that other kids may not have similar interests or abilities but they all also have strengths and weaknesses. Include explaining sensitivity and empathy. Understanding giftedness won’t make them arrogant. It will help them feel more comfortable in their own skin. Avoid too much praise or the phrase “you’re so smart,” which is often received as pressure to over achieve. If your child has other exceptionalities like ADHD or autism, research twice-exceptionality or 2e.

11. Talk about high expectations and high standards. Striving for excellence might come naturally to your child and is often a strength. Differentiate this from fear of failure and pressure to be perfect which is unhealthy perfectionism. Encourage your child to try projects where they might make mistakes or even fail. Model this yourself. Talk about how being smart does not mean making no mistakes. Find activities that are difficult for your child and that take time to master such as a musical instrument, a foreign language, staying organized, doing mundane tasks, or playing a sport.

12. Take time for yourself and your partner. Find good childcare and take breaks from parenting. Make time to rest, relax, and pursue your own interests. Be a role model for self-care and also for accepting mistakes as part of life.

13. Find a therapist for yourself if parenting is bringing up your own unresolved issues. If you are also gifted, how did your parents understand or misunderstand you? What was school like? How are you similar or different from your child?

14. Look for helpful resources such as The Gifted Parenting Journey by Dr. Gail Post, Perspectives on Giftedness, and GHF Learners. Join the community for The G Word film. Listen to the podcasts Neurodiversity Podcast or Parent Footprint or Our Gifted Kids. And, of course, my book, Your Rainforest Mind, will take you on a journey to understanding your own giftedness.

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To my bloggEEs: What are other ideas and resources you have as parents or as adult children of parents? What do you wish your parents had done for you? Thank you, as always!


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Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

9 responses to “Fourteen Tips For Parents of Gifted Children”

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  1. Sarah Avatar
    Sarah

    Hi Paula,

    There are some good tips here, but honestly, project based learning is a disaster for my highly gifted kids. In elementary school they were in a gifted magnet that did clustering and that was helpful, but the school was absolutely not open to any input from parents and I think it’s unlikely that any public school would be. My kids are both demonstrably gifted but I still got the “every child is gifted” blowback. Finally, when my oldest was in 5th grade, the assistant principal told me that public school probably couldn’t accommodate kids like mine.

    They’re now in a very expensive private school that caters to the gifted, but even there I would say the priority is catering to the wealthy donor parents. The curriculum skews more toward bright high achievers than actual gifted kids, even though there are many at the school.

    Davidson gifted forum was very helpful to me when the kids were younger, as was SENG Gifted. Gail Post’s blog has a lot of very helpful articles.

    Volunteering in school can help to establish good relationships with teachers, which in turn makes it easier to communicate with them.

    I don’t know that I would change anything that we did, but I really wish there were better solutions out there.

    And one more time: project based learning is not the panacea they claim it is, and certainly not for gifted kids who will find every shortcut and will eventually get it done but not without self torture due to perfectionism and procrastination. A recent physics project comes to mind. That said, for bright, motivated learners it’s probably great.


    1. pprober Avatar
      pprober

      Thanks for this, Sarah. Can you say more about what works for your kids?


      1. Sarah Avatar
        Sarah

        Yes, they actually do well with traditional read/discuss/ test formats. They absorb information quickly and are able to apply it.


  2. hksounds Avatar
    hksounds

    Gee, Paula, usually, I have some points of intersection with your posts, but this time I really have none. I can’t comment on any of your suggestions because they don’t connect for me with the results someone would want for their gifted child.

    I did none of them with my gifted child. What I did do, and what is missing from your suggestions, is what parents themselves can do. I taught my child how to think. I talked to her about what was going on in the world around her, both in the immediate present and what the implications were in a broader sense. I named, then explained things. I pointed out the connections between things. I would point out the unstated assumptions and then later would ask her to consider and to look for what wasn’t being told when reading a story. She’s still pretty darn good at it!

    What comes across from your post is the idea that parents aren’t or don’t need to be actively engaged with their child intellectually, and to leave that development to others, who may be incompetent at best. My experience says that is a mistake. Parents can do their child a favor by doing some targeted research on critical thinking techniques and delve into major issues so as to encourage critical thinking from the start. Think about all the unstated assumptions in most children’s rhymes and fairy tales. It doesn’t take much to be able to discern and discuss what is going on in a society where such things are happening. For example, why do so many stories have step-mothers? What was the health situation and longevity of women in those days? How has that changed? Why would we want to normalize this negative view of step-mothers in today’s world? What does it say about women’s worth if they are so readily replaced, and always shown as evil? Talk about whether this is what we want and whether things are better now. Coming up with ideas initially might be challenging, but it does not strike me as being beyond the capacity of motivated but non-gifted parents once they are exposed to the ideas. Then it a matter of willingness to do the work.

    Does it help if you are a gifted parent? Of course, but putting in the effort to learn how to do these things can make a huge difference to your child, regardless of where you are intellectually. My opinion is if you are a parent who is waiting and expecting the institutionalized educational system to help your gifted child to develop to his or her potential, that horse has already left the barn.


    1. pprober Avatar
      pprober

      Oh, hksounds, thank you for this. Of course, parents have so much they can do themselves. I think I just assumed that so did not specifically include it in the post. I appreciate your pointing it out.


      1. hksounds Avatar
        hksounds

        Hi Paula,

        I think it can’t be taken as assumed as I see far too many parents delegating raising their kids to others, and having almost no interactions with their kids in any meaningful way. Who sings lullabies? Who reads bedtime stories? Who analyses the tv shows, or the news with their kids these days?

        With the possible exception of Montessori schools, the most important thing a parent can do, with regard to schools, is to try to stem the harm schools will otherwise cause to kids.


        1. Cat Avatar
          Cat

          HKsounds, I agree with what you are saying and as a full time working and virtually single parent, I devote as much time as I can to teaching my son myself, aspects and angles and details they will not teach at school. However, we should also be holding schools accountable and they should be meeting the needs of our gifted children and especially 2e children (like my son). Here in Australia, it is legislated for schools to provide accommodations for gifted children and when they don’t, it’s up to us parents to advocate for our children. Yes, of course, we should be teaching our children what we want them to know and the way we want them to understand or to think for themselves, but we shouldn’t have to, simply because school doesn’t or can’t or won’t.


          1. pprober Avatar
            pprober

            Raising, loving, teaching our children. Is there anything more important than that? The issue of schooling and gifted kids is an ongoing complicated conundrum. There could be so much to say about it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Cat and hksounds.


    2. Sarah Avatar
      Sarah

      In your comment I hear the frustration that our school system (public and private) is inadequate to the needs of all but average children.

      We spend a lot of time discussing current events and encouraging the same kind of depth of thinking you describe. I agree that this is important and I don’t think it requires large swaths of time to achieve. Bits and pieces, talking about the -why- behind current events, short conversations add up.

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