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:
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.
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!