I just returned from a trip to Calgary, Canada, where I was invited by the University of Calgary Werklund School of Education and their Integrated Services in Education to lead a group of professional workshops for teachers, educational administrators, and psychologists. I also was asked to provide an evening talk with parents of gifted students. This blog is about the evening parent talk, which proved to be an extraordinarily fascinating and moving experience.
I was rather tired from the six-hour professional workshop that same day, so I decided to structure the 2-hour parent evening event as a more informal and more interactional experience. As a speaker, you never know how the event will be received or turn out for the attendees! I’ve given perhaps 200 parent talks over the course of my career, both across the USA and internationally; some prove to be awe-inspiring and amazing, whereas others, sadly and sometimes inexplicably, can be rather uninspiring and lackluster grinds! Well, this meeting of parents of gifted kids in Calgary was, thankfully, breathtaking and awesome!
One aspect of the evening parent workshop that proved to be particularly interesting was my reading to the group of over 120 parents in the audience from a stack of 3×5 inch index cards the comments that the parents provided to me- anonymously! The information on the index cards was in response to my very specific instructions to write down, privately, with no identifying information on the card other than the gender and age of their gifted child, on their card: “What is the one thing that you find most worrisome or challenging as a parent of a gifted child?” Much of the rest of the evening was sharing and discussing some of the parent-reported challenges.
What makes this technique particularly powerful, in my experience, is that many parents who are struggling with how to best raise their gifted child, are reluctant for any number of reasons to share in a group setting their very private and personal struggles. In groups like these, you always have a sub-set of more outspoken parents who are quite willing and comfortable to share their thoughts and feelings about their gifted child. But there are many, many parents who keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves, hoping that some other parent will “speak for them” in sharing a challenge or concern that they also are struggling with in their life as a parent. The anonymity of each and every parent being able to privately write down their own personal challenge on an index card without having to voice the challenge out loud in a social group setting or even write down their name is powerful.
I’d like to share a handful of the challenges and struggles that these courageous and concerned and loving parents shared with me, and permitted me to share anonymously with the group for discussion. I hope that in sharing these parental concerns, the reader is provided some additional insights and new perspectives into the world of parenting a gifted child. These are in no particular order:
- “My daughter, age 6, is a very smart kid, but she is way-to-cautious and hates risk. How can I get her to try new things?”
- “Denise’s [name changed; age 16] room is incredibly messy. Horrible. She refuses to clean it up. She still manages to do well in school, be successful in extra- curricular activities, and be social. What is the root of her problem and what can I do about it?”
- “You write about family meetings as very helpful to promote character strengths, social skills and emotional intelligence [this parent has obviously read my books!]. How can we as a family organize family meetings?”
- “What are the risks of not having gifted programming for a gifted child? Meaning, what are the risks of my child staying in the mainstream school system?”
- “My daughter, age 9, who is gifted, has significant anxiety at bedtime over things out of her control, such as the house burning down, the dog dying, etc. She overthinks every scenario. What can we do to help her?”
- “Our daughter, age 17, is very passionate about her interests but lags far behind her age-peers in socio-emotional development. For example, she does not want to drive, does not want to get a job, doesn’t want to do “adulting.” Any thoughts on how to support her development as an independent adult?”
- My ten-year old daughter is gifted. She rarely performs to her full ability. How do we encourage her to show how talented she is?”
- “Has your research supported sports as a method to increase the gifted child’s ‘heart strengths’ “(another parent familiar with my work!).
- “In reference to misdiagnosis of ADHD, what differentiating factors would you look for to assess whether my child is just bored or has ADHD?”
- “Is social intelligence deficiency more pronounced in the gifted children population, and if yes, why is this?”
- “Our 16-year old son questions everything, analyzes, scrutinizes all. How do you get your child through the educational system when they question, debunk, and poke holes in the way the system operates!”
- “What would be the positives and negatives of not telling your child about giftedness? Our 6-year old was recently tested as gifted.”
- “Our gifted daughter (age 10) is demonstrating isolation and periodic emotional breakdowns.”
- “Our 7-year old son is super-sensitive and gets easily upset. How can we deal with this issue as his parents?”
- “How can you set high expectations without overwhelming your child?”
- “Our son, in grade 1 (age 6) wants to be perfect at everything he does. When he can’t meet these expectations, he internalizes it, thinks poorly of himself as a result. How can I help him build his self-esteem and self-confidence when he has these unreasonable expectations for himself? Nothing I say o encouragement helps.”
- “At what age, generally, do gifted kids become aware that they are different”?
- “How can we help our daughter (age 7) maximize her potential without pushing past her boundaries and being a ‘tiger mom’?”
- “How do you make your child interested in your opinions as a parent?”
As you can see from the above sample of almost 100 questions on index cards that were posed by the group of parents, there are quite a huge variety and range of concerns, unanswered questions, and fears that parents of the gifted worry about. The take-home for me, as the leader of the evening session, and as a practicing clinical child/school psychologist, is that those of us who work in the gifted field need a ‘heavy measure’ of humility, patience, understanding, compassion, and answers based on facts and not opinion, if we hope to be responsive and helpful in our work with parents and families of gifted kids.
Note: It is with great indebtedness that I express my gratitude and appreciation to the many parents that I met with at the Westmount Charter School in Calgary, Canada. Their honesty, sincerity, candor, and authenticity made for a very powerful evening. This blog post is dedicated to these parents, who permitted me to share their thoughts and feelings.