Assorted Useful Advices for Gifted Children’s Parents
I wrote this essay in order to try and help gifted children’s parents face the challenges and problems stemming from having a gifted child. Giftedness, as evident from its very definition, is quite a rare phenomenon, and therefore it is hard for gifted children’s parents to find places and sources where they can be assisted by other people’s knowledge and experience. Often, they learn from mistakes, which as known is a very expensive learning method. There are real need and shortage in a source for help, guidance, practical suggestions and advice, which are based on experience and face the special problems of parenting a gifted child. Being a parent of a gifted child is different from being a normal parent, just as the gifted child’s needs and problems are different and unique. The parent has a very special and important role in the healthy development of the gifted child or adolescent, and in bringing her potential to its realization. This is often not an easy role, even more demanding than the role of a normal parent.
The more the child is special, talented, and interested in less-conventional domains, the less her road will be paved, a road few have taken before. Even when ways and possibilities exist, often parents do not know about them, and every parent has to discover or even reinvent them. Our goal is to give practical guidance, well grounded in this country, with an emphasis exactly on the common problems gifted children have, while giving specific advices. We will try to avoid empty talk and silver bullets, and concentrate on what is in sight and not on what is desirable.
This essay is partly based on material collected from the gifted children parents’ web forum (in Hebrew): http://gifted.cet.ac.il/gifted/forums/parents.asp.
This forum is now succeeded by the new gifted children parents’ web forum under Tapuz:
It is highly recommended to visit the forum, and consult it for every specific problem and doubt concerning your child. As the essay was adapted out of tens of comments from the forum, its style is not uniform, so we beg the reader’s pardon. All given sources are in Hebrew, except where specifically mentioned. To ease English reading, we have translated sources names to English, and put the original Hebrew name in parentheses following the translation.
Eli, (eli1879$yahoo.com), a gifted adult and a frequent contributor to the gifted children’s parents’ web forum, wrote this essay. Yuval, (yuvalf2001$yahoo.com), a gifted adult, translated it into English.
Recommended books in for gifted children’s parents:
c. Gifted Children (Mehunanim) by Avner Ziv – mostly theoretical.
d. The Gifted Child’s Drama (Hadrama shel hayeled hamehunan) by Miller – a book which, despite its name, does not deal with giftedness in its updated definition. The following web address shows an interesting case study of five gifted children - http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/kitveyet/hagigey/hamisha-2.htm
Amazon has great books in English about giftedness, including books in more specific subjects (e.g. gifted girls, emotional aspects, gifted children with learning disabilities etc.) The best, most comprehensive, web site for gifted children’s parents is undoubtedly http://www.hoagiesgifted.org. This is a huge site, which is a shame not to use. Among other things, it contains links and book lists sorted by fields of interest for gifted children. It is advisable to start reading Gifted 101: A Guide for First Time Visitors, and continue by reading Gifted 102: The Next Steps.... In addition, it is recommended to contact and consult with other parents of gifted children. Such contacts may also help creating friendships between the gifted children themselves. Some of the enrichment centers have initiated guided meetings for interested parents, accompanied by talks with professionals.
As a rule, the ministry of education’s diagnosis of gifted children consists of two stages performed during the second grade. According to the gifted children web site’s staff “They ask questions related to reading comprehension, geometry (very general) and arithmetic. There are also general knowledge questions”. Tests meant to locate older gifted children, in case of a need, are being held at the Karni Institute. The Institute’s web site includes a “test yourself” in the address: http://www.karni.co.il/testus1.html, and a description of the tests for giftedness. One may appeal on the results of every test, and there also exists an option of a private diagnosis whose validity is subject to an administrative procedure.
The test is multiple-choice with a limited time. Even the most gifted child may fail it if this is her first time to meet such a test. This may happen if, for example, she delays over questions she does not know, does not want to guess, or simply does not understand what is expected from her. Therefore, she should experience similar tests and questions in advance. A good book to prepare for the test, or to develop thinking abilities in general, is “Improving Thought Processes 1” (“Shipur Tahalichei Hashiva 1”) by Kidum.
Parents with an obviously gifted child should prepare her to the test and not trust that she will surely succeed. For various reasons, children do not always succeed, and this is hard to mend later. Sometimes the child herself is not interested to try again out of psychological reasons. On the other hand, no parent with a non-gifted child should prepare her to the test. Such a child has trouble completing her studies in a regular class or a gifted children class and usually quits with frustration at the first year’s end.
The gifted child’s diagnosis often has a profound impact on her development. The fact of labeling the child as “gifted” changes the environment’s expectations from her: schoolteachers, friends and also parents; these expectations tend to be self-fulfilling. Moreover, many gifted adults report that getting this title has had a crucial effect on their self-perception and building their self-esteem. All these observations are also right in the converse, when for some reason a gifted child is not diagnosed as such. Such a child, noticing her difference, might think “something is wrong with her” and consequently suppress her giftedness. Often the giftedness is finally diagnosed at a much later stage, following various problems that emerged. Sometimes a hard feeling of missed opportunities follows this discovery. Therefore, in case of doubt, or an unanticipated negative answer, you should diagnose.
As a rule, frameworks and systems are not cut out for handling exceptional people. Gifted children in the educational system are no exception to this rule. This is why many gifted children and their parents experience a ceaseless, maybe inevitable, struggle for a reasonable or even tolerable answer to the child’s needs. Still, one should try as much as possible to struggle not against the system but rather with it. The more this struggle is like cooperation and less like war, the better are all: the teachers, the parents and most importantly – the child. Like in every long struggle of many (12) years, and as we shall later demonstrate, it is best to remember that “it is better to be wise than right”. It is also important not to give up, and, god forbid, not to abandon the child alone in the battle. In addition, it is worthwhile to draw red lines, and in the case of need move the child to another class or school instead of dragging on an intolerable situation. It is also very important to acknowledge the necessity of this struggle. Gifted children’s need of an academic answer is basic and fundamental, an existential necessity, which cannot be yielded. Lack of challenges and persistent boredom may not harm the gifted children physically, but they can harm these children’s spirit, and what makes them special, their essence: curiosity, enthusiasm and the joy of learning. Interviews with gifted adults tell us about the sometimes irreversible accumulated damage that may form over the years: laziness, frustration, detachment, lack of learning habits and ways to deal with hardships and failures and even more.
On the other hand, we also need to acknowledge the system’s limitations. Often the case is not only of lack of good will (which also may exist) but simply incompetence. In this case, instead of investing energy in struggling with the system, one should give it up at the soonest possible stage, and give the child a direct solution. Parenting a gifted child, as opposed to normal parenting, includes the direct responsibility for the child’s academic answer. The gifted child’s needs and talents are often unique, and therefore they also require a unique solution. No framework can be trusted to “do the job” instead of the parents, even not a gifted children class, which groups together children who have vast gaps in abilities, talents and interest fields (far larger gaps than those found in a normal class).
Hence, the framework’s importance for the gifted child is often social, both in creating social contacts, and in adapting to the existence of frameworks, which are an inseparable part of the society where the gifted child will eventually live and hopefully make a contribution.
It is advisable to meet the child’s intended educator, and to get to know her personality and personal position regarding gifted children (as opposed to the declared position towards “giftedness”). If the teacher is attentive to a gifted child’s problems and needs, and expresses her good will, then half the problem is solved. Now you can build the solutions along with her. Here are some possible and widespread directions: a regular supply of study booklets or books to the child, who can advance in class almost independently, in her own pace, through self study. Making projects, individual themes or research essays that will be presented to the whole class’s relief and enrichment. It is also possible to develop the creative domain: painting, or writing compositions, poems, stories or plays in connection to the material being studied.
The personal relations and cooperation the parent either creates or not with the educator is as important as the “school policy”. For many gifted children, the level of study in school is irrelevant in any case. It is the encouragement, appreciation, and emotional support that a teacher may (or may not) give to the child, which are essential. This support is very less than obvious, and to our regret some gifted children face teachers with some aversion regarding giftedness, on various levels of severity. Therefore, if a teacher shows her good will, it is advisable to know how to thank her. Sometimes a “thank you” works well even when a teacher does not show her good will: a gifted child’s mother told us that when a teacher refused to cooperate, instead of going to the school manager, she chose to send her a letter with thanks and appraisal to the teacher (with a copy to the supervisor) supplemented by a request to report the continued treatment of the child…
Many parents find that it is good to talk to the educator about enrichment and advancement, but not always good to mention the word “boredom”. Moreover, it is better to give the educator a feeling one comes to “consult” her, rather than bring her a requirement to accept the ready-made home solution. Many gifted children find also the informal solutions: drawing, writing a story, doing homework or reading “under the table”…
However, it is important to keep in mind that not every lesson or task is redundant for every gifted child. A part of the gifted child’s responsibility is knowing when a lesson or a homework assignment is an utter waste of time for her, and when they are not. This is a higher level of responsibility than the one required from a normal child. On the other hand, if the child claims to “not study anything in class” and get bored, you should believe her. Not only does this claim reflect her subjective feeling, unfortunately it is also often close to the objective reality. One of the problems of parenting a gifted child, which may cause many tensions, is the gap between the parent and what goes on inside the classroom. Sometimes, parents who have grown in other times (or maybe other places) have trouble believing or even imagining the state that exists in class. A parent who can sit in class or even only tape the lesson is guaranteed a much better understanding of the child’s viewpoint.
Many gifted adults say that surprisingly, their years in the middle grades were the hardest. Both the start and the end of this period may vary considerably among different gifted persons, and in many cases it lasts most of the school years. In the first grades, whether because of the greater openness to creative activity, the high parental investment that gradually erodes, or other reasons, the situation usually is less serious.
In the last grades the student is usually already much more independent, and she can provide for herself at least some of the solutions. In the middle there is a hole, which regrettably can be black.
There exist many attempts to fill up this hole, which do not always succeed in their task: after school lessons, Science Seeking Youth (“Noar Shoher Mada”), Erica Landau, various contests and Olympiads, courses through correspondence, one day a week enrichment program until the ninth grade, on-line courses (which can be found in the gifted web site “In the land of Knowing” (“Be’eretz Hada’at”), in frameworks like Science Seeking Youth (Noar Shoher Mada) and more…
One direction to handle this problem is spreading the parental investment over a long time. It is preferable to invest less in the first years, than to “run out of power” after several years. Even a gifted adolescent does not always know or is aware of the options open to him, and is not always able to find out about them, initiate or try them by himself, without direction and encouragement. In this age especially the parents have a very important role, which may constitute the difference between “wasted years” and years of blooming. Almost all the suggestions given in this essay to parents of a “gifted child” are just as relevant, and sometimes even more, to parents of the “gifted adolescent”.
One should also be open to solutions that are not “by the book”. A gifted child burning her time at school, will sooner or later find (along with her friends), the method of “skipping” and absence from school. In this state, it is better to arrange, or even initiate and back up absences in which the child advances academically (e.g. reading a book in return for a “vacation”), than to create tensions and agree to absences dedicated to staring at the television after the fact.
As a rule, in educational doubts it is better to trust your common sense and acquaintance with the child, than the “educational experts” from school, who often have less long-lasting experience with gifted children than the parent has with his child.
As said before, no framework can fulfill the parent’s educational role. One should be careful of exaggerated and naïve expectations from gifted children’s frameworks to give “the solution”. This kind of expectations and hopes out of educational frameworks often leads to disappointments both of the parent and the child. The problem is very grave when the gifted framework is used as a cover instead of handling the child’s needs. In such a case it might be better for the child not to attend the framework.
One should also be very wary of slogans like “enrichment”, “fostering excellence”, and “individual attention”, and see what really is behind them. For instance, if a certain framework promises “individual treatment and personally paced progress” when studying is based on a teacher facing a group of students, you should be very suspicious regarding this framework. All gifted frameworks mainly rely on frontal teaching, like in the regular educational system, even though in smaller classes.
bottom of the following web site you may find maps of
We emphasize once again: it is not worthwhile to nurture the illusion that a one-day-a-week program will give the child an academic answer. A gifted child is not only gifted one day per week. Another problem the centers have is their view of “enrichment”. An average syllabus of a study year in an enrichment center looks roughly like this: Japanese, Chemistry and International Relations in the first term, and Chess, Ancient Egypt and Comics in the second term. In every year the child meets a brand new list of disciplines, and the less they are interconnected and routine, the more this is considered good and enriching. This is part of an educational world view which claims that if we “bring together and expose the child” to a vast variety of possibilities, and to strange and varied fields, he will be “enriched”, which will aid in making him a creative and interdisciplinary man of many trades, a Renaissance man.
Let us explain this worldview’s problematic nature by something the parents can control: the choice of private lessons for the child. A child who on the first year goes to a French lesson, on the next year to an Organ lesson, on the third to a Painting lesson and so on, will eventually not know how to paint, nor play, neither any French. Many times, all he has learnt will go to waste. Usually, only subjects that continue along the years, have real meaning. The keyword here is perseverance; if you have a budget only for one lesson, it is better to send the child over the years to lessons in a single field that he likes and is talented at. Talents and interest fields should be developed and built along years, and the quality of the child’s experiences can be immensely more important than their quantity.
Although one can find lots of good intentions at the enrichment centers, many gifted children feel that the centers are not giving them enough value, and the drop out rates for these programs are high. On the other hand, many gifted children report having enjoyed the weekly enrichment day, which is also important. It is recommended to participate in the enrichment day for its social aspect – the friendships that sometimes form there – that also is largely dependent on parental encouragement (inviting friends over etc.) Hence, it is a pity that this framework ends in the very stage where the need to find likely minded friends becomes more significant – adolescence.
According to the gifted web site “a study done at the gifted children department shows that although the gaps are relatively small, the gifted children classes are slightly better in the academic field. The children’s mental welfare and self-esteem show also a slight gap”. Graduates of these classes often have extreme opinions: some describe their experience as heaven, while others describe it as hell. It seems that the improvement in gifted classes versus normal classes often is in the quantitative aspects of the material being studied at the regular educational system: the learning speed, work load, grades, amount of assignments, number of matriculation units, advancement in material etc., and this highlights some of the existing problems in this kind of education. What was written above about the social aspect is sevenfold more true here, even though a gifted class can be a very competitive environment – which is not always every child’s cup of tea.
there is almost a consensus against skipping grades, after its damages to
adults became evident. Another option, gaining popularity in the
The Open University is not an option suitable for any gifted adolescent, but every gifted lad wanting a challenge should give it a serious try. As a rule, studies at the Open University are on a high level and demand a lot of investment and motivation, even from the gifted. Their contribution to the learner is similarly high: exposure to a different (academic) level of study, and developing self-study ability, which is a lifelong asset (much more so than at a regular University). At the Open University, as opposed to a regular University, one can zigzag between different subjects and take courses from a variety of fields of interest. Many details about this, including a list of high-school student counselors and recommended opening courses, may be read at the web site: http://www.openu.ac.il/academic/Young/.
As in every University, the first semester is often the hardest. It is recommended to would-be students to start with buying or borrowing opening courses booklets, and studying them alone. If one succeeds dealing with the material (which should anyway require a serious effort), she may enroll in the same courses and pass them relatively easily in the first semester. Usually, the rest of the road will be smoother. If you see you are still not ready for academic studies, you can try again at a higher grade.
You can get into another university based on first year grades at the Open University (together with a Psychometric grade) instead of matriculation. There also exist a growing number of students completing their first degree at the Open University and going straight on to a second degree at a regular University. Nowadays, the army approves postponement of enlisting until the end of the first degree to students who have finished half a degree in high school – which is definitely achievable – even if one takes a very moderate pace of a course or two per semester all through high school. Even for people who have not completed a degree, studies at the Open University are often a significant springboard for placement in interesting, quality positions at the army.
The IDF has several prestigious courses with a high concentration of gifted persons. Initial information sources about the examinations for these courses can be found at articles in the Tapuz forums dedicated to the academic reserve and newly enlisted people (“Atuda” and “Mitgaisin”) forums at Tapuz. The spotting process includes not only skill and knowledge tests, but also psychological checkups and interviews, and sometimes, situational social tests. It is recommended to gifted persons, especially ones whose path was not routine, to send their resume to the “Intelligence Corps Spotting” (Itur Haman) web site in the start of their pre-enlistment year, and make sure that they were indeed “spotted”. Some of the army courses with an exceptionally high rate of gifted persons require knowledge in Graph Theory and Mathematical Relation Theory, and also experience with arithmetic problems where some of the numbers were exchanged for letters.
Frontal teaching is by its nature in conflict with many gifted children’s form of study; these children find the personal tutoring system as much preferable. One of the most significant experiences a gifted child or adolescent can have is meeting an excellent mentor – one who is great at her field, a superb teacher, and having a true interest in sharing her abilities and nurturing the gifted child. Regrettably, such people are very rare… But if such an opportunity occurs, it is very important to know how to use it. The enthusiasm, encouragement, ambition and sense of direction such a teacher gives the gifted child in many cases may be just as important as the chance to meet the frontier of development in the mentor’s field (which may also be a one-time chance).
Not every gifted child gets to have such a teacher, but you can actively search for one, and thus enlarge the chances for such a relation to evolve. A mentor does not have to be a school teacher; he can be a big brother, a gifted friend, a gifted adult, a teacher at an enrichment center, or of course – a parent. Budget permitting, you should try to hire a private tutor for the child, who will advance with her according to her abilities and her personal pace in subjects to her liking. This may well be a much more useful and efficient way to spend the money than paying for an after school lesson. For instance, if the child likes or has connected a certain teacher from the enrichment center, you can suggest the teacher to give the child private lessons or paid personal guidance (which might be at the end of the school day at the center). You can also hang on the advertisement board of the relevant university department an ad saying you are looking for an ex-gifted student as a paid private tutor for a gifted child. Such a relation may have many added values, but as always it is best to speak to the intended teacher and get an impression of his personality, motives and suggested ideas. Guided reading, a research essay or guided self-study are other options, which may contribute a lot to the child. One may even find tutors on the Internet, through references from the giant English language site for gifted children that was mentioned above.
Good teachers are really a rare and precious resource, and should be treated accordingly. The end of the formal relation between a teacher and a student should not necessarily make their meetings end, provided that both sides are interested in the relation. This is another example that often the most meaningful experiences are not part of a formal framework, but rather occur in an informal relation or at home.
These are endangered groups of gifted children, having their special difficulties and problems, and thus requiring special care and proper treatment on the parent’s side. As always, awareness of the risk and its causes is a first and important step in handling it, and this goes not only for the parents, but also especially for the child. Similarly to any other gifted-related subject, the giant English language site mentioned above gives lot of treatment to these populations, and also to other groups (gifted children with learning problems, disabilities or low socio-economic background).
The very fact that half of the human species is included here as a special population, is very regrettable and in the end of the day also harms the gifted boys. Today, just about a third of the gifted children being diagnosed are girls, and their rate of dropping out of the gifted frameworks is higher. There are also signs of things getting worse, instead of getting better.
It is recommended that the girl gets to know feminine role models from her fields of interest (e.g. using biographies). Another option parents have is developing the girl’s “feministic awareness” starting at a young age. For example, as a drill or even a game, you can let her watch television and teach her to find and recognize ender-based stereotypes and hidden messages broadcasted there (even in children’s shows and fairytales).
This describes a not-insignificant subset of the gifted population of children whose ability is as different from “normal” gifted children’s as a gifted child is different from an average child. Everything written in this essay, such as the need for challenge, personal guidance, support and gifted friends, is sevenfold truer regarding these children. The more the child’s potential is high and unique, and his difference more profound and essential, the larger the problems and hardships he will encounter and the greater the risk for not fulfilling his potential. Accordingly, this is an extra high-risk group, which requires a close parental follow-up with an emphasis on the psychological, emotional and social development of the child.
A known heuristic for spotting gifted children is that smaller siblings of a gifted child are often gifted, especially so siblings having a high age difference from their older sibling, and even more so the youngest child in such a family. The last ones also have a higher chance to be exceptionally gifted. Naturally, they tend to admire their older siblings and imitate them. When two siblings are in competition, it is worthy to help the smaller sibling find a field of interest which is not already “taken” by the older sibling, which will be “the younger sibling’s field” and where he could be “the best”, and gain the neighborhood’s appreciation.
It is very important for a child to have at least one field of interest she studies seriously, deeply and along the years. In such a field she could encounter challenges and should learn how to make an effort, face difficulties, and even failures and boredom (in any field one sometimes meets parts one does not immediately enjoy); this will happen even if she is very talented and used to succeed easily with no real effort in her studies at school or at the enrichment center. Part of the parent’s duty is to make sure the child always has open options to advance in her fields of interest, and she will not have to stop or leave a field just because she has exhausted them. Moreover, it is very important to teach the child the history of the field, and also provide her with biographies of the greatest workers in this field in the past.
Defining the child’s fields of interest, talents and abilities has a lot of importance. It is desirable to strive for a broad definition, and also one that will support the child’s confidence and self-esteem. It is better to say “good at math” than “does well in addition”, “you like to face challenges” than “you have enjoyed the game”, and “you learn quickly” rather than the vague “you have succeeded”.
It is very important to try bringing the child together and encouraging him to take an interest in fields related to his field of interest. This is said especially about a gifted child who solely has interest in a specific field, or has a prominent talent at one field. This will pay off in the long term, also for the child’s advancement and deepening in this field. Moreover, it is recommended to show the child the connections among the different fields he is interested in (and among them and daily life), encourage him to find and discover similar connections himself and freely, and thus create kind of a network of interest fields. It is suggested to develop at least one field of interest from every kind: natural science, humanistic, artistic and “fun” (games, riddles, humor etc.); even for a child who is not “gifted” in one of these fields – it is sometimes good to engage in something you are not great in.
One of the gravest dangers facing gifted children is being swallowed into one hobby or discipline, while building a closed world, sometimes in parallel to an emotional, or even social, detachment from the environment. In such a case, one should try varying at least the type of study, and establish learning in interaction with a friend or a tutor. The converse, as opposed to children with a specific giftedness, it is much harder to find solutions for children who are interested in “everything.” Many of them have to narrow themselves down artificially, which is a pity. These children may have special gain from good encyclopedias and general guidebooks.
Another problem one should be aware of is passive learning by the gifted child, advancing only through absorption of knowledge. Every learning, project or reading plan has to have a component in which the child is required to create something (even a mere summary). The more significant the active ingredient is, the higher the learning effectiveness, the deeper the understanding, and the more the gifted child gets the skills and confidence to create in the future as well. No challenge is more contributing and significant to the gifted child than creating “something of her own”, through exercising her full abilities and personality powers.
When a child is advanced at any field, there is an enormous importance for deepening and seeing advanced high-level materials in a young age, and in as soon a stage as possible. There is a very significant difference in the ability of internalization between a child and an adolescent, and between an adolescent and an adult. The younger the age in which learning takes place, the deeper and easier the learner absorbs things and makes them a part of him, a part of his way of thinking. The widespread claim saying: “why rush things? He will reach these subjects later anyway” does not take into account that even if “these subjects” might wait without changing, “He” will not stay the same child, and cannot wait.
One of the best ways to find adequate books for the child is taking her to bookshops and buying together books you both like. Such a voyage has added value from many aspects, and is an excellent way to spend a joint afternoon. It is recommended to get used to having this shopping trip on regular times: at holidays, birthdays, and the start of the summer vacation. You can also build the child a reading journal, and the birthday is a great date to summarize the progress and reading done last year, and think and plan the goals and aspirations for next year. You should also get used to buying the child books as gifts. The gift certificates for buying books at a certain overall sum are very recommended – and always preferable to a mere check, in case you are being asked what to bring for the child. Needless to say a gifted child is entitled to a library subscription for as many books she needs.
An extra option is reading with the child a good introductory textbook intended for adults in a specific discipline, and study with her the subject at a high level and deeply. Even if all you have for this is a quarter of an hour daily, or an hour once a week, this could be a very positive and enriching experience, and also with a great academic contribution – both to the child and to the parent. Of course, books from fields that the parents understand or have an interest in are the most recommended for joint study.
Two phenomena one should be aware of in this context are reading many holocaust books, especially by gifted girls, and the “reading crisis” in early adolescence, which sometimes appears, in various severity levels, also in children who have read a lot in younger ages. It can be sometimes characterized as the problem of passing from the library part which holds “the children’s books”, to the part which holds “the adult literature”, or even as part of the “middle years” crisis. Here also parents can help, by aiding the child in finding books which, on the one hand, are already not “children’s books”, and on the other hand, still do not require adulthood and maturity. Also, it is fit to guide the child on how to find her way in the part of the library meant for adults. Often children’s books are classified by levels and grades, while adult books are classified by the author’s name. Parental recommendations should replace grade classification, at least in the beginning.
some Hebrew reading recommendations. Generally, the
A genuine eye-level sharing of a gifted child with doubts concerning her is often the best way to try and solve a problem. It is amazing how much gifted children can understand things given the related considerations and rational behind them. Instead of thinking “what to do with the child”, brooding over how a certain thing will influence her and what message it sends to her, you can simply talk to her; this talking is often no less important than the actions.
The same goes for developing a child’s interest field. Explanations, questions, discussions and talking to the child about the subjects interesting and bothering her, may be as important as “activating the child” and “giving stimuli”. For example, when visiting a museum (be it a science museum, an art museum, archeology or another), instead of jumping from one exhibit to another in order to “see enough”, it is better to stay with the child near one exhibit and discuss it with her at some breadth. Chances are this will be the only meaningful thing she will remember from the visit.
It is worthy to set an hour of weekly talk with the child about her field of interest, ask and get interested in her ideas and progress. Should the parent not even have a vague idea about the child’s field of interest, on the contrary, this is a great opportunity to care for improving the child’s ability to explain and teach, which is immensely important for real understanding of the subject, and being able to communicate her ideas to others. For the parent this is a chance to learn new things. If the child has little siblings, it is recommended to establish another “lesson” in which she teaches them as well.
It is also important to know how to ask the child questions, give her time to think them over and even clues if necessary, and search together for answers for the child’s questions in the internet, books or encyclopedias. It is most important that the child gets used to recognize and handle basic and central questions and challenges facing those pursuing her field of interest, and tries to think about possible future developments in that field. Many gifted children use guesses and intuition to answer questions, and they should be encouraged to do this freely, but it is also advisable to try and help them define how they got to that “lucky guess”, and teach them examples of successful creative moves made in their fields of interest’s history.
Often the gifted child struggles with problems that are not at all simple – social, emotional as well as academic. There is almost no gifted child who has not encountered problems in all these fields at some stage, and therefore almost every parent of a gifted child knows these problems, in one version or another, in various levels of severity. There are some common patterns of problems one should know and be aware and sensitive to. Often it is easier solving an emerging problem, or even finding a preventive treatment for a possible problem, than handling a problem when it can no longer be ignored.
Many children dislike school because they do not like to learn. However, many gifted children dislike school exactly because they do like to learn. Boredom is one of the gifted children’s most serious problems, and things usually only get worse when the child goes to higher grades. Boredom can have immediate influences – from chattering, through unrest during lessons to interfering in class, aggression, seclusion, loss of motivation and more – but its long-term influences are often the most destructive ones. These influences deviate by far from the area of mere academic problems, and may evolve into a whole spectrum of psychological and personal problems.
An essential part of a child’s healthy and normal development includes facing difficulties and recognizing the limits of his ability. A child not required to meet these limitations and learn how to deal with significant difficulties may fail to acquire the psychological tools enabling him to do this, which are essential for making any valuable human achievement. Such a child might develop a personality that combines extra high self-esteem with an enormous difficulty acknowledging mistakes or handling a situation in which success is not immediate, but rather requires an extended effort, and may even not be promised. He might start avoiding such encounters and difficulties, and as a gifted child he will be capable of doing this with a lot of ability, while finding excellent excuses. This kind of problem must be tackled with top seriousness: you should discuss the problem with the child, choose with him a favorite subject and set together a gradual and challenging (but not too hard) plan for reading/project/research work about it, to be achieved with close parental encouragement and support.
It is important to give a gifted child real positive responses for her efforts, and not for achievements she may reach easily with no special effort. It is also impossible to endlessly and honestly admire a high mark received by a child who always similar marks, and the child is the first to notice every bit of fake complement by the parent. True effort, however, is always commendable. Thus, even when the gifted child encounters hardships, or maybe even another gifted child having better achievements, this will not cause a crisis, because she will have internal psychological foundations of self-esteem for her personal efforts, rather than a self-image built upon external achievements or superiority over others. Succeeding after overcoming difficulties and failure is a much more reinforcing and significant experience than direct success – only effort pays off.
The gifted child’s achievements should be compared not to her environment, but rather to her personal potential. Beyond any assignment or specific challenge given at any framework, the gifted child needs a genuine, personal, broad interest in some field, not dependant on external requirements and comparison to others.
Some parents are reluctant to “push” the child to fully fulfill his abilities and face challenges suitable to his level, and prefer for his difference not to be too prominent. They are aware that it is not always easy to be different, and want to spare and protect the child from the side effects of being different inside an intolerant, sometimes even cruel, society of children. In the future, they think, he may realize his potential in the adult society, and gain the society’s appreciation – “His giftedness will not run away”. The damage done to the child may be irreversible. On one hand, some children do not succeed in “sweeping the problem away”. They suffer from the lack of challenges, and their intellectual energy erupts in other, not always positive, directions. On the other hand, some children manage to do this, their social status improves, but the price is substantial: losing giftedness.
Giftedness is not only good grades and high intelligence, which is quite a constant attribute, but a whole collection of personal traits and learning and thinking habits, which may be developed, or god forbid, neglected, degenerated and suppressed. The gifted child’s motivation and ambition, and her pursuit of challenges, has crucial importance for her future success, no less than her IQ, and maybe even more. A gifted child who does not have to use her abilities is like a cheetah in the zoo, locked in a narrow cage – if it grows there for twelve years, you cannot expect her to be able to run. The purpose of advancing the gifted child is not so much to give her a better starting point in the “race of life”, but rather to preserve and nurture the ability to run itself.
In an ideal situation, a gifted child has both gifted and non-gifted friends. If the child has social problems in the mother class (and even if not), it is recommended to help and encourage him to find gifted friends in his own age. Being that the children meet at the enrichment center once a week only, parental contribution and initiative may be very important and significant in this regard (driving the child, inviting other children over, maybe even a joint project by two children about a subject of joint interest). One of the best things that can happen to a gifted child is finding a “similar” friend – they can share interests, ideas and enthusiasm together, and learn a lot from each other.
Individualism, intensiveness, stress, perfectionism, obsessiveness…These are all psychological characteristics common in gifted children, and along with their advantages, each has its faults. Another known phenomenon are swank, proud and arrogant children, and on the other hand, extra sensitive, introverted, or “flying” children, sometimes suffering from seclusion, loneliness or lack of self-confidence. Here also, it is very important to discuss things with the child, explain the problem, its causes (emphasizing also the positive causes and aspects), and the ways in which he could try to improve. Sometimes, you have to teach the child explicitly, using intellectual explanations (which are his strong side), “through the head”, things that a normal child picks up by himself from the environment. In addition, it will be good for the child to know the subject of giftedness through learning about it and through stories of other gifted children and famous gifted persons (it is recommended to read and discuss together the stories inside the aforementioned book by Erica Landau). It is also important to know that if there is a problem that is growing worse, one cannot continue hoping that time and age will make amends, and you should seek professional help. Some enrichment centers have counselors, and there also exist psychologists who specialize in treating gifted children. If a child lacks basic social skills, this is a red warning light.
Activity, independent thought, criticism, stubbornness, and polemics or non-conformism are common traits in gifted children, which may create problems in dealing with frameworks and authority. One should not suppress these traits, but should rather know to give them their proper time and place, and channel them towards positive and creative directions. In addition, instead of a frontal conflict with the framework, you should teach the child to regard things with humor, and find their funny and ridiculous aspect. Many gifted children develop a sense of humor, which helps them deal with their many problems, and eases their fitting in society and their personal feeling.
problems are inherent to the gifted child’s very special situation (e.g.
jealousy) and cannot be “solved”. This does not mean they are
impossible to handle. On the other hand, it is very important to be aware of
the most realistic possibility, which is: someone who has so many obstacles in
their way, may not necessarily succeed in overcoming
them. One of the hard problems in educating gifted children is the lack of
parents’ acquaintance with older gifted persons. Many of the parents
would probably have been astonished had they known some of the adult gifted
stories. It is very hard to research gifted persons’ success in the long
term, and even harder to measure, or even define, failure (even more so
relative failure, and missed potential - could some mediocre professor be a
brilliant professor? Is a computer programmer who might have been a poet a
failure, or rather the opposite?) Although a longitudinal study of gifted
persons was never held in
If you have benefited from this essay, we will appreciate it if you distribute it to other gifted children’s parents.