IEA hosts monthly Gifted Child Parent Support Group meetings throughout the school year. These meetings are intended to provide support and community in the midst of the joys and challenges of raising a gifted child. At the April 2013 meeting, parent speaker Sharon Duncan presented “Gifted Children at Home and in the Classroom.” This post offers a few of the many highlights from Sharon’s talk.
Gifted Children at Home
The innate characteristics of gifted children appear in both the classroom and at home. Two of these characteristics, as Sharon points out, are perfectionism and intense intellectual interest.
Perfectionism is a common trait among gifted children, and it can be quite a challenge to deal with at school and at home for both children and their parents. “Learning to fail and learning it is okay not to be perfect are some of the best gifts we can give these kids,” Sharon explains. She suggests playing games of chance with your children to help them learn what it “feels” like not to win.
It is also important to teach our gifted children balance; but as Sharon points out, balance can be very difficult to achieve. Our children have deep, intense intellectual and/or creative interests, and they want to pour all of their energy into what they love doing. While this drive is part of their gift and may lead them to amazing success, they also need to learn how to calm themselves and how not to get themselves into overwhelming situations. Thus, Sharon suggests encouraging your kids to go out and do something physically active when they feel tense or allowing them some down time alone.
Gifted Children at School
Gifted children often encounter many challenges in the traditional school. Some of these challenges arise because schools are designed for the developmentally average child – and your gifted child is definitely not average – and some challenges result from teachers who, through no fault of their own, have been less exposed to gifted students and do not know how to recognize or accommodate their unique needs. These kids are a population often ignored by teacher training programs and misunderstood by the population at large. So, it is important to understand some of the unique challenges of gifted children and a few of the ways to assist gifted children in dealing with them.
Sharon stresses the importance of teachers understanding the difference between “gifted” and “high-achieving” children. Unlike the high-achieving child, “Your child can be many different ages at the same time, and that age can turn on a dime,” Sharon explains. This will affect your child’s behavior in a classroom. Understanding gifted children – including asynchronous development and the intensities commonly found in the gifted – will help teachers see the root of issues in the classroom more clearly.
If gifted children are receiving appropriate accommodations in class, they generally are able to thrive emotionally and socially. Sometimes gifted children are especially sensitive to issues of fairness and justice, especially when prizes are awarded or when teachers are publicly charting progress. After all, it takes much longer to read a book at the sixth grade level than one at the first grade level. When a child feels that something isn’t fair in class, it is important to correct the situation so that the child does not hide his or her advanced abilities to get the easier assignment. One parent in the group shared that she thought it was really important and valuable when her daughter advocated for herself with the teacher, sharing why she thought something was unfair and asking for it to be corrected.
Recess can also be a huge struggle for gifted children at school, as Sharon describes. Gifted children tend to value rules and order more than other children, so they often see recess as anarchy. No one enforces rules, kids are playing with the “wrong” rules, and there is a lot of noise and overstimulation for those with sensual overexcitabilities. Sharon explains that, while many gifted kids are eventually able to deal with the playground as they get older, some younger children find it the most stressful part of the school day. If your child is having a hard time at recess, take it seriously and work with the school to see if your child can participate in alternate activities during recess until they are able to tolerate it. It is also important to note that because of overexcitabilities, lunchtime can produce similar problems. Read how one mom worked this out with the school for her twice-exceptional son – and how he grew out of it – here.
Sharon feels that it is extremely important to talk with your child about what it feels like to be gifted. Gifted children know that they are different, and often, if you do not address this with them, they may internalize these differences, not understand why they are different, and believe that there is something wrong with them. Sharon emphasizes that one of the best things you can do is to ensure that your child is able to socialize with like minded peers. This helps them to understand that they are not alone, that there are others like them out there, and that it is okay to be different.
As the parent of a gifted child, it is also incredibly important for you to seek support from other parents of gifted children, Sharon encourages. The child development books do not apply to your child, and other people probably just don’t get it. Parents face a lot of judgment from relatives, friends, and other parents that comes from their misunderstanding of the nature of giftedness. Many of them think that you are babying or spoiling your kids, that you are pushing them too hard, that you have been “flashcarding” them since they were babies. But the reality is that your child is at a breaking point when the tags on his shirt feel like razor blades on his skin, and that your child is the one pushing herself too hard, not you, and that when your child was three he pulled a physics book off the shelf and started reading while you were in the other room making dinner. The life our kids are experiencing is not the same as what other parents often describe, and it is important for you as a parent to seek support from other parents who are going through situations similar to yours. Parent support groups are critical. It is important for you, too, to know you are not alone.