Parenting is one of the greatest joys in life.
Parenting any child is a challenge and a blessing. You get to watch a human being grow right before your eyes, from infancy to adulthood. Along the way, you see them learn to walk and talk. You teach them how to do everything from tying their shoes to driving a car. You send them off to school when they’re little and watch them graduate high school when they’re one small step away from independence.
As you watch them grow, you learn about what makes them special. Because, as corny as it may sound, every child is special. They all have something amazing to contribute to the world. All children have gifts. All children have talents. They all have a unique spirit. Each has their own personality and way of looking at the world.
Some children fall into a category that educators and child development experts identify as gifted. Parents of these children typically recognize giftedness early. A parent might find their five-year-old knows how to take apart and rebuild an old radio – with no instruction. Another parent might discover their young child has perfect pitch and can reproduce any melody they hear automatically with their voice or any musical instrument they pick up – also with no instruction. Some outpace their math teachers after a week of school. Others pick up any sport and excel immediately. Still, others are born leaders, with magnetic personalities that draw in peers and parents alike.
This article – and National Parenting Gifted Children Week – is for and about the parents of these children.
But what exactly is giftedness?
The Gifted Child: A Definition
The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) offers this definition of giftedness in children:
“Students with gifts and talents perform – or have the capability to perform – at higher levels compared to others of the same age, experience, and environment in one or more domains.”
That’s a basic concept of giftedness that most people grasp intuitively. However, that’s not where the definition ends.
Here’s the rest:
“Gifted children require modification(s) to their educational experience(s) to learn and realize their potential. Students with gifts and talents:
- Come from all backgrounds – cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic.
- Require access to appropriate learning opportunities to realize their potential
- Can have learning disorders that require specialized intervention
- Need support and guidance to develop socially and emotionally as well as in their area of talent.”
The second half of the definition is why we need National Parenting Gifted Children Week. Gifted children require accommodations to allow them to meet their full potential, and while teachers and school staff are a big part of these accommodations, parents have to approve and support any changes teachers make. Parents of gifted children also need to learn how to carry those changes – in practice and theory – to home life.
That’s why parenting a gifted child is not always the easiest thing in the world. The idea that a gifted child sails through life getting great grades, excelling at sports, or shaking the world with their amazing talent with no glitches or hiccups sounds ideal – but that’s rarely how it happens.
The Gifted Child: Parenting Challenges
We should point out here that no child arrives with an instruction manual. Parenting, by definition, presents challenges, regardless of whether a child is gifted or not. Let’s look at the common traits of giftedness – without commentary – to get an idea of what life is like with a gifted child in the house. As you read along, try to guess how these types of children may challenge their parents – with the disclaimer that all kids are challenging in one way or another.
Traits of Gifted Children
- Cognitive. Kids with cognitive gifts typically have:
- The ability to engage in abstract thinking early in life
- An interest in problem-solving
- Voracious reading habits
- An independent streak
- An intense curiosity about the world
- Creative. Kids with creative gifts tend to:
- Pick up artistic pursuits such as music, drawing, or writing easily
- Have a highly developed sense of humor
- Display independence
- Show an interest in alternative or radical idea
- Be open to new stimuli
- Be flexible
- Have a highly developed sense of fantasy
- Affective (moods, feelings, attitudes). Gifted kids may have:
- Intense and deep emotions
- High expectations of themselves and others
- The tendency to take things hard: they may be easily hurt by words or actions
- Increased self-awareness
- Highly developed moral and ethical concepts
- Behavioral. Gifted kids tend to:
- Ask lots of questions – more than your typical inquisitive kid
- Be spontaneous
- Be impulsive
- Have a temper
- Get frustrated when they don’t succeed at things right away
- Talk a lot
- Have lots of energy
- Focus intensely on things that interest them
- Ignore things they don’t find interesting
We bet you can see how parenting a gifted child may be an adventure. Take a math whiz, for instance, born to parents who are not math whizzes. The gifted math kid will outpace their parents and teachers academically – that’s a given. The parenting challenges come when that kid dives deep into their area of interest and displays traits mentioned above. They ask a million questions a day, devour all resource material quickly, talk about it nonstop – and get frustrated when their parents can’t keep up.
How to Support Parents of Gifted Kids
We discovered something interesting when we researched this article: National Parenting Gifted Kids Week is more about the kids than about the parents. Which makes sense, because parents prioritize their kids over everything. Please understand that we support gifted kids, and value every ounce of awareness and accommodation afforded them by teachers, school staff, therapists, and counselors everywhere. However, we want to recognize the role of parents in their lives – and we want you to do the same thing.
Here are simple suggestions to raise your awareness and appreciation of the parents of gifted kids:
- Understand. Having a gifted child in the house does not make parenting easier.
- Support. If you happen to have gifts, yourself, and you have friends with kids that have similar gifts, then offer yourself as a mentor. You don’t even have to be gifted: if you’re a musician and your friends have a budding Mozart on their hands, then offer to mentor, teach, and help that kid achieve their potential.
- Advocate. Be aware that school programs for gifted kids help the parents, too. When you have the chance to interact with school administration or offer feedback on where to allocate school resources, make sure your school knows that though your child may not be gifted, you support and value special programs for gifted kids.
That last point is important. As schools re-evaluate and retool their 2020-2021 school year budgets in light of COVID-19, we went to ensure all kids get the resources they need to grow and thrive in their education. That includes gifted kids. And look at that: we managed to make our last point about the kids.
That’s because we’re parents, too, and we simply can’t help it.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.