What should you tell your child about being gifted? Whether identified as gifted, referred for evaluation, or placed in a “gifted and talented program," children quickly form impressions about all the fuss. Does this mean I’m really smarter than the other kids? Will they see me as different/better/weirder? Will I have to live up to even MORE expectations from my parents and teachers? What if I don’t want to be gifted anymore?
Parents themselves often struggle with how to understand giftedness and its effect on their child. It is even more difficult for a six-, eight-, or ten-year-old to grasp its full meaning, and place it in a context that makes sense. These children already know they are different, as do the other children around them. They have most likely weathered boredom and frustration in classes geared toward the average learner. They may have already experienced both positive and negative feedback about their interests, quirks, and academic talents. While the label of “gifted” provides some validation for what they already know about themselves, it can also create uncertainty, misunderstanding, and even anxiety.
Children look to parents to provide a framework for understanding what the term gifted really means. The following are possible explanations you might suggest to your child:
1. Gifted is just a word. It doesn’t mean someone is better than someone else. It was named a long time ago because people felt that it was a “gift” to be able to read well/solve problems quickly/paint beautifully/(you fill in the blanks). People might feel the same way about kids who can run really fast or dunk basketballs easily. It is a very fortunate thing when something comes easily to someone. But it does not make them better than anyone else. People are special for all kinds of wonderful reasons. Being gifted does not make someone any more special than the next person.
2. Gifted is a word given to kids who have different learning needs. (Yes, it sounds like jargon. But it is an accurate way of confirming and explaining why your child needs accelerated/enriched/differentiated learning instruction.) Everyone is different. Just like some people are taller or shorter than others, or more or less athletic, some people need a different approach in school to make learning more interesting.
3. You were found to be “gifted” because of some tests you took. We asked the school to give you these tests because you complained about being bored. We knew that if the testing labeled you as “gifted,” we could ask the school to give you more interesting work. We didn't care if you were gifted or not. We didn't care what score you got on the test. The only reason for taking it was to give you more choices in school. (Note: it is never a good idea to tell a young child his or her IQ score.)
4. Giftedness is something that is a part of you, just like your eye color or height. It doesn't come from how hard you work in school, and will not go away if you slack off. It is always there and gives you some great choices to do some really creative/intensive/interesting/(you fill in the blanks) things. If you work hard, you can achieve a lot. If you don’t, you will lose out on the opportunities your abilities have given you. Just like you can decide what clothes you wear or what haircut you get, only YOU can decide how to use your abilities.
5. Giftedness comes in all shapes and sizes. Some kids are really gifted with math. Some are great writers. Some are born leaders. Others paint up a storm. Occasionally, a few gifted children are good at many things; most are not. You have your subjects in school that come really easily to you, and have interests that you love. We hope you continue to put a lot of energy into these things. But you still need to work hard in those areas that are not easy for you.
6. Gifted children sometimes feel they are different from other kids. Even if you like how easy school is, it can be uncomfortable when you feel like you are different from a lot of the other kids in your class. It’s normal to feel this way. We can help you to figure out what to say if other kids make comments about your interests. We also can help you find things you do have in common with some of the other kids or help you find outside activities that school does not offer.
These ideas are just a few suggestions for starting a conversation with your gifted child. You will need to modify them to suit your child’s needs, and incorporate your family's beliefs and values. What is most important, though, is conveying that giftedness and achievements play no role in how much you love and appreciate your child.
This article is reprinted with permission from Gifted Challenges and is used here with permission.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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