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All parents think their child is gifted.
Parenting a gifted child can be an overwhelming experience, one that most parents are inadequately prepared for. During a child’s first five or six years some of the most commonly exhibited characteristics are:
In general, giftedness is defined in terms of performances on tasks, skills, and understanding of concepts usually associated with children who are much older. Educational research suggests that opportunities to engage in cognitively complex tasks are essential to optimize potential. This has been affirmed by studies in psychology and neurophysiology, as well. MRI brain studies show that the developing brain is plastic during the first seven or so years of life and begins to network and “hardwire” based on the degree of exploration and level of complexity a child engages in over time. That is one reason it is crucial for young children to engage in exploratory, hands-on, meaningful discovery learning rather than static, directed learning. A note of concern and caution has been issued by groups such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the American Psychological Association (APA) on the misuses of computer technology during early childhood, for instance. (See Remote Controlled Childhood NAEYC; and Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds by J. Healy for more information.)
Talented and gifted students are identified in one or more of the following areas: general intellectual capabilities, specific academic subjects, creativity, leadership, and the arts. Following are some examples of commonly observed traits and behaviors of highly advanced learners. This isan abbreviated list – there are many more characteristics found in each of the categories. Also, it is important to remember that children and adolescents who are talented and gifted in these areas will exhibit many, but not necessarily all of the listed traits.
Coping with the challenges of parenting a child or adolescent with outstanding abilities can sometimes feel delightful, but also uncontrollable, isolating, frustrating, and confusing. To compound the problem, it is difficult for many parents to find appropriate resources to consult regarding their child’s advanced learning behaviors and the effects this has upon the family system as a whole. Whom can they turn to? someone in the school? the community? relatives? friends? Too often, parents find themselves facing much of this challenge alone.
Contrary to a popular myth that these children and adolescents will succeed on their own, many experience academic, social, and personal problems when they do not receive suitable encouragement from society and their families. Of primary importance in the recognition and development of their special abilities is the active, engaged support of parents both at home and in school. Learners with advanced abilities require developmentally appropriate curriculum consistent with their learning rates and passions. Most schools today believe that the exceptional educational needs of children can be best served within the regular classroom when outstanding content curriculum, effective teaching and learning practices, school-wide supports, and home-school-community partnerships are in place. Academic rigor, staff development, student services, parent involvement, and curriculum adaptation are essential components of gifted education and talent development programs. This philosophy of education should be absorbed into the total fabric of each school’s culture to serve the needs of the whole child.
In examining schools and programs for highly advanced learners, look for philosophies, principles, and beliefs such as the ones below.
Parents know their children best, and several studies in gifted education have concluded that parents are accurate 80-90% of the time when it comes to the identification of their child’s abilities and an understanding of their needs. Therefore, collaborative parent involvement is a vital component of successful education. The National Association for Gifted Children (www.nagc.org) publishes issues of Parenting for High Potential for parents of gifted children several times per year. School resource centers, public libraries, college/university libraries, the Davidson Institute (www.ditd.org), the Hoagies Gifted Education site (www.hoagiesgifted.org), and Supporting Emotional Needs of Gifted (www.sengifted.org) are some additional good sources for more information on giftedness and talent development.
Becoming an engaged, collaborative parent who provides support and advocacy on behalf of a child with advanced learning needs takes time, practice, and patience. The National Education Association (NEA) has offered several suggestions regarding the important role parents play in the development of exceptional capabilities in their children.
You are your child’s most important advocate. Children and adolescents do not have the capacity and means of access that adults have. Guide your child in setting realistic goals and objectives. Help dispel any notions that highly advanced learners are expected to function at optimal levels at all times. Help them learn to stop doing, or to say “no” gracefully. Difficulties may arise from having an overwhelming number of choices, or from being capable of high performance at too many things. Discuss and model ways in which difficult but necessary decisions can be made when faced with too many alternatives.
All children and adolescents need trusted authority figures in their lives. Provide structure and boundaries for behavior. Often high ability individuals are able to argue very convincingly about their “rights” to be excused from conventional behavioral requirements. While reciprocal communication, trust, and collaborative decision-making are valued in effective adult-child relations, there will be times when the parent or teacher must make a “tough-love” choice and enforce the decision based on their maturity, experience, and an adult perspective. Help your child learn why this is important, and why respect and manners matter across life. Some parents worry as their children begin to grow up – it’s easier in many ways to give “roots” than to give “wings,” It may be comforting to bear in mind that in most situations, when children and adolescents are faced with serious decisions, they almost invariably seek out their family for support. Remember that above all – family matters.
Davis, G. & Rimm, S. (2004). Education of the Gifted and Talented. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Hillmann, P.J. (2007). Educating Advanced Learners in a Diverse Society, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin -Madison Press
Neihart, M. et.al. (2002). The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press
Webb, J. et.al.(2007) A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children. Scottdale, AZ: Great Potential Press
National Education Association, Gifted and talented children: How parents can help (Pamplet)
(A Parent's Guide to Giften Children by James T Webb can be found in our bookstore under the category "involving Parents," "Especially for Parents.")
Posted on April 2, 2011 by Paula J. Hillmann, Ph.D.
Dr. Hillman specializes in giftedness, creativity, and talent development. Located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she provides assessments, advisory services, and programs for children, families, and schools. She is on the faculty of the Educational Psychology Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and serves on the National Advisory Board of the National ParentNet Association. Website
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