Q: If your child has been identified as gifted and talented, should you share this information with your child? What do I say to my daughter?
A: Though this seems like an easy question, it can feel really complex for a parent to answer and a child to understand. "Gifted and talented education" is a specific category of special education in most states. Though the federal definition includes five categories (general intellectual ability, specific academic aptitude, creative thinking, leadership and the visual and performing arts), school programs generally target children who are gifted in general intellectual ability or specific academic aptitude and who are in need of a different curriculum. In other words, these students already know much of what is being taught in the grade, or the pace and depth of instruction are not challenging enough for them.
The real question is: How do you tell this to children without making them think that they are superior to other children or that other children aren't so smart as they are? Also, how do you tell children about this identification without causing them to have overly high expectations of themselves, which they may feel as pressure? On the other hand, if you don't explain what this identification means, they can jump to some really wrong conclusions. They are also likely to hear you talking to their grandparents or your other relatives or friends about their identification and will be suitably puzzled. Furthermore, if and when more difficult work comes with the gifted programming, they may indeed decide that they wish they were just regular cool kids.
A safe and realistic way of explaining gifted and talented identification and programming to children is in terms of skill differences. You can tell them that everyone has some strong and weak areas in school learning. If teachers gave all students the same curriculum, some children would find some things far too difficult, and others might find the same things far too easy, while most of the students would be getting just about the right amount of challenge. For those children at both ends of the continuum, there have to be special programs so that they can learn at the right pace for them. Some children have two exceptionalities. They actually can be both gifted and learning disabled.
If your daughter was identified for math or reading, you can simply explain that the program will be harder and perhaps more in depth so that she can experience some challenge and learn as much as possible in school. If her identification was more general, you can say that the program will give her more opportunities for in-depth and creative experiences. You can explain that both the school and her parents want her to learn to her abilities and that some careers and jobs in the world require a longer and more complex education, so the school will prepare her better for those opportunities. Be sure to let your daughter know that you're happy about that identification because it means the school really wants to provide a good education for her. Also, tell her to keep you informed about how she likes her new program and whether she has any questions about it. Explain to her that you can always get further information from the school to share with her as she continues in the program.
Your answer may not be so easy as it seems when your daughter tells you that her best friend isn't in the program and should be with her or that she's only earning a B in the gifted program instead of her usual A or that she has more homework than other kids. The hope is that you can convince her that in the long run and when she's all grown up, she'll be glad she had this opportunity to work harder and learn more. Also, don't worry too much that the program will be so difficult that she will want to drop out of it; most gifted programs, though more challenging, are extremely interesting and do result in children setting reasonably high expectations (not pressures) for themselves.
Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at www.sylviarimm.com. Please send questions to: Sylvia B. Rimm on Raising Kids, P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI 53094 or [email protected] To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.