If you are the parent of a gifted child, you likely experience a wide range of emotions, from pride for your child's accomplishments, to concern when your child wrestles with stress over performance and test scores. And if your child hasn't yet been tested as gifted, he or she might be bored in school -- perhaps even underperforming.
It's your support that can make all the difference in your child's potential and achievements in the future. According to the National Association for Gifted Children, students with high abilities need gifted education programs to challenge them in regular classroom settings, to enrich them and to enable them to make continuous progress in school. The organization points to a recent study saying that more than 7 in 10 teachers of gifted students say that their brightest students were not challenged or given a chance to "thrive" in their classrooms. The study states that the general education program is not yet ready to meet gifted students' needs because of a lack of educator training in gifted education and regular pressures of the classroom environment.
As a parent, you can help your gifted student thrive during the school year, particularly when the curriculum doesn't seem to engage your child. Here are some ways to help your child maintain a love of learning and keep a positive perspective on achievement.
--Keep an eye out for the characteristics of a typical gifted child, understanding that gifted children are diverse and will not exhibit all traits all of the time. They are: excellent memory, large vocabulary and complex sentence structure for their age, enjoying problem-solving, logical thinking, concern with social and political issues and injustices, asking probing questions, being organized, being curious, and having either a wide range of interests or extreme focus in one interest. Performance traits aside, gifted children are often highly sensitive and have deep feelings and intense reactions. Note your child's traits to share with his or her teachers, to provide the important information needed to help get your child on the ideal track.
--Have realistic expectations. Your child's teacher may have limited resources and time to work with a large number of students in her classroom. At your meeting, show understanding for the teacher's realities, and work together to create a plan.
--The NAGC suggests offering to volunteer your time, such as providing extra materials for class, or organizing classroom parent volunteerism.
--Ask the teacher to group your child with others who display traits of -- or have been tested as -- gifted students.
--Ask the teacher whether your child may participate in his or her own curriculum, says the NAGC. Perhaps he or she can come up with an idea for an independent study project, or write a weekly story using the week's new vocabulary words.
--Engage your child verbally. Gifted students are highly verbal and inquisitive, say the experts at the parenting website BabyCenter. If parents dismiss their questions because they're too busy, kids get frustrated and shut down. Recognize that conversations teach your kids verbal and social skills, and seize every opportunity.
--Ask your child about his or her current interests, and provide fresh material, such as biographies of scientists or botanists or a trip to a garden center to chat with a plant specialist.
--Familiarize your child with the library, as well as with online research tools, say the BabyCenter experts. To a gifted child, the library is a haven of wonderment.
--Visit museums that offer interactive displays so that your child can work different angles of his or her talents.
--Don't overschedule your child. Resist the urge to compete with other parents who have their kids signed up for multiple sports and activities each season. Be sure your child has plenty of downtime to read, relax, play with friends and recharge to avoid an early burnout.
And importantly, study up on how you can provide the emotional support a gifted child needs. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, author of "Smart Parenting for Smart Kids: Nurturing Your Child's True Potential," says, "To the outside world, these kids may seem confident, but their parents often see the other side: their stress, suffering, and even emotional melt-downs. The world tells bright children that performance matters; they need us, their parents, to tell them that they are much more than the sum of their accomplishments. They need to know that we love them for their kindness, curiosity, imagination, determination, and sense of fun. Qualities like these matter deeply."
Kennedy-Moore suggests helping your child develop his or own sense of motivation by breaking down new skills into smaller challenges along the path to accomplishment. Taking on a big task may be too much pressure on a gifted child. Give kids a choice on which project they'd like to work on first. A degree of autonomy is motivating to a gifted child. Plan lessons and activities that connect them to others. Kids need a well-rounded social circle to thrive.
"Telling children, 'You're great!' or 'You're so smart!' can actually backfire by making them afraid to try activities where they might not appear great or smart right away," says Kennedy-Moore. "If we want our children to have better self-esteem in a particular area, we need to help them actually do better in that area. Anything else is just wishful thinking that won't stand up to the feedback of reality. Self-esteem can't be given; it has to be earned."