In celebration of National Parenting Gifted Children Week, Great Potential Press is pleased to present a series of guest blog posts covering some of the biggest topics in childhood development and gifted education today. GPP author and blogger Suki Wessling takes a closer look at how parents can support their gifted children.
Before I had children, I reacted to the word “gifted” like the majority of people I knew: I just had no use for it. I distinctly remember a friend telling me that she was having trouble choosing a school because her son might be gifted, and I wondered, “Why would she care?”
When my husband and I bought our house, I only gave cursory thought to the real estate agent’s admission that our local school district “wasn’t the best.” My husband and I figured that we sweated through public school, and our kids would, too.
How things change when your children move from the realm of imagination to the physical world! Our kids’ intelligence didn’t surprise us, but their needs did. I had always believed that every child’s needs could be served well by a single good school. But when I started to experience the world as a parent, things changed. I still believe strongly that a well functioning society offers everyone the chance to pursue a fulfilling life, but I no longer believe that kids’ needs are as interchangeable as their sneakers.
Research shows that parents are the best identifiers of their children’s giftedness, and this aligns well with my experience. Most parents I have met are well-attuned to their kids’ needs, and most of them are unlikely to call a child who falls within the typical learning curve “gifted.” In fact, I think the problem is not that too many parents identify their children as gifted, but rather that too few acknowledge their kids’ giftedness when doing so could help their kids thrive as students and as people.
Why are parents reluctant to identify their kids?
First, many parents are unwilling to identify their children as different from the herd. They are influenced by teachers and administrators who believe that in order to have cohesive school culture, all kids must be treated the same. They are influenced by our culture, which places a great emphasis on being part of the team. But of course, look at any well-functioning team and you will see a group of people who acknowledge each other’s different skills and needs. A baseball team doesn’t offer the same training opportunities to pitchers and catchers. A bank doesn’t look for the same qualities in tellers and financial analysts, nor does it offer them the same training.
Second, there’s the whole weighted issue of what giftedness is. Lots of parents (my past self included) think that even using the word is divisive. They think that their gifted kids should be able to deal with school as it’s presented to them, and even when their kids are unhappy in school, they will blame their student’s behavior before even considering that perhaps the classroom is unsuited to their student. People who would never consider putting their “husky” child into “slim” jeans think that any school should do just fine.
Third, there’s the general confusion about why our schools should serve the needs of gifted students. Some experts promote the idea that we have to serve the needs of the gifted because they are an elite who will be important to the future of our country. Parents with gifted learners who aren’t high achievers will generally be turned off by this attitude, because their children don’t fit the mold that this view of giftedness promotes.
Other experts believe that gifted children have a form of special needs, and their giftedness makes them not only unusual in the classroom but also unsuited to typical classrooms. In this case, parents might fear that separating their kids from the general school population won’t be healthy for their students or for the school. And parents may be hesitant to label their kids as having “special needs” when they expect them to be high achievers.
Amidst this confusion of ideas and attitudes, it’s understandable that parents might not consider the possibility that their children are gifted or might downplay their children’s differences from the general school population.
It’s common on gifted support e-mail lists for new parents to enter with their digital tails between their legs. “I don’t really know if I belong here,” they’ll start. “My child never really did well in school,” they’ll apologize. “My child doesn’t even like math,” they’ll despair, “can she really be gifted?”
So many of us fall victim to the feeling that there’s something wrong with parents identifying their children as gifted. But instead of being embarrassed with self-identification, we should feel comfortable knowing that we know our children – and their needs – better than anyone else.
Suki Wessling writes about parenting, education, homeschooling, and gifted children. Her forthcoming book, From School to Homeschool: Should You Homeschool Your Gifted Child?, will be released by Great Potential Press in Fall, 2012. Find her at www.SukiWessling.com.
Read other posts in this series from Suki:
Part 5: A Parent’s View From the Psychiatrist’s Couch
Read all the posts from our National Parenting Gifted Children Week series:
Technology and 21st Century Parenting - Arlene DeVries
On Being the Parent of a 2e Child - Suki Wessling
Misdiagnosis: An Idea Whose Time Has Come - Marianne Kuzujanakis
The Difficult Question of Gender Identity - Suki Wessling
Understanding Twice-Exceptional Children - Dr. Carol Strip Whitney and Gretchen Hirsch
The Pressures Bright Children Feel, and Why They May Underachieve - Dr. Sylvia Rimm
How Other Parents Add to the Challenge of Raising Gifted Kids - Suki Wessling
Spanking: An Ineffective Punishment With a Hidden Cost - Dr. James T. Webb