Parenting Your Gifted Child

Although I usually write about pregnancy, birth and parenting the young child, a friend asked a question the other day about educational options for her gifted four year-old. Sometimes as I write about breastfeeding, talking to your child, reading to them and the other child-centered techniques, I almost feel as if I should place a warning box on my articles: CAUTION the prolonged and continued use of these parenting tips may result in children and teens who are both highly intelligent and extremely non-compliant. As a result I have dealt with various GT (gifted & talented) programmes and options in the US and bemoaned the lack of adequate ones in the UK.

With my four older children we home-schooled them until my oldest was 10 and the youngest was 6. When my oldest went into public school it was in a highly competitive university town and he was tops of his class from the beginning…well above his peers. With him, we supplemented his education with extra-curricular activities including competitive swimming and scouts. When we later moved to Houston, he was in the highest stream, but as you say…coasted. He did high school in CA and did not do his best. But he is now doing well in his second year at Goldsmith’s. The lesson I learned with him was – good is not good enough.

My 20 year old daughter was not GT, just an over-achiever. She was the exact opposite of her brother – she worked her ass off to do what came easy to them. She did though qualify for a special extra-curricular project through Duke University. She enjoyed it very much. And in her final year of HS she took several AP courses. But when she came to the UK, it has been hard. She came in mid-year and could not get into school. She went to college here and got a CACHE Level 2 certificate. She is now working and plans to go to university here as soon as she can qualify for home fees.

My 17 year old son is a problem child. He is GT – to the max. He began to read at 4 – just by watching my ex home-school the other kids. He entered 1st grade miles ahead of the others. At one point I even removed him from the school he was in and asked for an intra-district transfer to a school in a wealthier area…thinking it would challenge him. He now informs me that he was horribly picked on by those kids and hated it. He was involved in a GT program through the school district that had him taken out of class one day each week and given special instruction with his peers. When my husband and I divorced, he stayed with his dad for a few years…and coasted. Then when he moved to California with me, he was the only 10th grader who had ever been enrolled in not one but two AP courses. Then we moved to the UK. Even though he was in the best state school in our area…and their top stream…it was ridiculously easy. He has gotten into the habit of placing friends above studies…and frustrates the bejesus out of me.

My seven year old son is also hell on wheels. His birthday is late November and California schools have a 1st December cut off for enrollment. His father and I argue over his education. His dad wanted to hold him back and place him with kids closer to his emotional age. I wanted him to take advantage of his birthday and be placed ahead…more academically suited to him. I won. But even though he is almost a year younger than most of the kids in his class, he is still the highest in everything. Of course, his father was right too. He drives his teacher absolutely nuts…because he does not have the emotional maturity to match his intellect. I have to keep reminding them this was to be expected and that won’t come until middle school or later. He is currently being tested for a programme with Johns Hopkins that his older cousin is in. That program would (like the Duke project and the district one that my 17 year old went to) take him out of class and place him with his peers one day a week. It would also provide unparalleled summer opportunities. His cousin went to Hawaii to study vulconology last summer.

In complete honesty the only reason I agree with my husband about returning to the US is for our daughter’s education. I think that the special projects such as those available in the US are worth the move back.

So what has twenty-two years, six children and numerous schools and districts, taught me about parenting the GT child? Below are a few tips that I think will serve you well when looking out for the best interests of your special person:

Do a bit of research…the programmes run by the higher education centers such as Duke and Johns Hopkins not only offer great summer options but often guarantee early admissions to their schools for those completing them. They are priceless.

Learn to demand what your child needs…Lest it sound like bragging I also had a special needs child. The sad thing about the education system was that I had an IEP (Individual Education Plan) for him each year…and was guaranteed by law that he would receive any special services he needed. With my GT kids, I have to fight to get them the challenging material they need just as much.

Listen to your child…Even very young ones can let you know through their actions that something is wrong. For me, I have a hard time reprimanding my boys for talking in class because their work is done…they are bored to tears…what else are they to do. I know that may seem harsh but the system is not serving them.

Consider other options…Extremely gifted students simply do not fit the education system. Albert Einstein did horrid in school. Bill Gates dropped out of college. Is it possible to find a private or magnet school specifically for this child? What about a radical approach such as Montessori? And I strongly feel that sometimes home-schooling is the best option for GT kids. It allows you to tailor learning to those subjects they want to explore while covering everything else as well because they are not sitting in classroom waiting for others to finish. If things do not improve for my seven year old with the Hopkins program, I will be speaking to his father about that…same with my two-year old daughter.

But never let your child give up. It is not easy being the smart one. But this world counts on those same people to change it. With my older children, we had a saying…Born to raze (destroy) hell.