Parenting any child comes with its highs and lows, but when parenting a gifted child, the highs might look like Mt. Everest and lows like the Mariana Trench! The joys of parenting gifted children are many, as parents in our Young Scholars program will tell you. You glow with pride when they start an underground newspaper or startle in amazement when they start speaking well ahead of schedule. However, parents may feel at a loss when dealing with the challenges of raising a gifted child. You may find that your child doesn’t respond well “conventional wisdom” or that parenting magazines don’t always prepare you to drop your 13-year-old off at a community college class. In this article we review some of the common issues parents of gifted children may encounter with tips and insights to help you along the way!
Gifted Parenting Challenges
Gifted Parenting Challenge #1: Gifted Underachievement
Gifted children are a special population with special needs, although they are often not thought of in these terms within the general education system. Many gifted parents worry when their child’s grades slip into Bs and Cs and may be met with the response, “Those grades are passing – it is fine!” from peers or even educators who don’t understand the unique challenge of raising gifted children. Many gifted children experience a kind of “potential gap” because their abilities are often beyond what the classroom can provide for. Gifted children may become disengaged and start underachieving when they feel the schoolwork is beneath them or is not connected to real world issues.
What parents may see if their gifted child is underachieving:
- Lack of interest in achieving good grades despite having demonstrated the ability to do well in the past or outside of school, like in an enrichment or distance learning program.
- Children may push back on work that is repetitive or considered meaningless (queue the homework battles!).
- Authority struggles with the teacher in the classroom.
What parents can do:
- See if the schoolwork can be connected to subject areas that the child is passionate about. For example, turning the history of the solar system into a game design challenge.
- Replicate strategies or approaches that allowed the child to do well, such as those outlined in “Paving the Path to Meaningful Achievement,” or increase the child’s buy-in through self-advocacy.
- As Jim Delisle describes in “Tips for Parents: Doing Poorly on Purpose: Underachievement and the Quest for Dignity,” put aside the blame-game and get parents, teachers, and children into a dialog about what is working and what is not.
Gifted Parenting Challenge #2: Underachievement as it Relates to Twice-Exceptional Students
Underachievement may also be present in gifted children who also have a learning difference, disability, or deficit in one area. These children are referred to as twice-exceptional and they tend to be underserved, especially when their challenges mask their gifts. This becomes especially problematic for twice-exceptional children when it comes to gaining access to gifted programs if the teacher or parents aren’t aware of how their challenges might be affecting their ability to perform in certain areas.
What parents may see if underachievement stems from being twice-exceptional:
- A large achievement gap between different subjects, such as getting consistent high marks in math paired with low marks in writing.
- Children may be defensive or avoidant when it comes to completing work in specific subjects, often writing it off as “stupid” or engaging in negative self-talk like “I’m stupid”.
- Children taking hits in their grades for forgetting to turn in assignments, forgetting textbooks at home, being disorganized, engaging in off-task behavior, and/or being late to class.
What parents can do:
- Use a strengths-based approach. For example, let the child demonstrate mastery in a different medium, such as a diorama with an oral presentation in place of a book report.
- Set up an IEP or 504 Plan with the school to make sure the child is getting appropriate accommodations in the classroom.
- Learn about executive functioning (EF) and its important role in helping children initiate tasks, project follow-through, and more. Then, help the child with scaffolding strategies to support the development of EF.
Gifted Parenting Challenge #3: Gifted Perfectionism
Perfectionism is a special kind of challenge for gifted children that parents will need to be aware of. Children who have perfectionist tendencies can’t accept mistakes or failures in their work or regular activities. It might mean tearful episodes when a child comes home with an A- or came in third place in the science competition. Perfectionist children often seem like regular high achievers until the stress and anxiety of perfectionism begins to cause damage to the child’s wellbeing.
What parents may see if their child is a perfectionist:
- Children with perfectionism may experience intense anxiety, feelings of moral failure, or engage in “catastrophic thinking” if they perceive they are not living up to a certain standard.
- It can also look like procrastination or underachievement. Many perfectionists tend to not initiate any task unless they can do it perfectly the first time around or may not turn in work they find less than perfect.
- Perfectionism might be expressed outwardly by having high to unreasonable standards that they hold others to, including an unhealthy amount of competitiveness, which makes it difficult for them to corporate with authority figures and peers.
What parents can do:
- Perfectionism is often a self-esteem issue for gifted children. They may hear praises like “You are always the smartest in class,” which can later be a real blow to their confidence if they are struggling with an assignment or subject. Parents need to be cautious about how and what they praise their gifted child for. Healthier options might be “You put so much care into that project” or praising students for their effort and other growth-mindset approaches.
- The pressure to be gifted 24/7 in all walks of life can be very intense for these children, which is why parents should try to remember that these children are children first and gifted second. Make time to connect and do activities that have nothing to do with their college trajectory like a cooking class.
- Perfectionism tends to be accompanied by anxiety and intensity, which is why it is important to practice self-soothing skills with your child when they get upset, such as mindfulness or even a short walk.
Tips for Raising a Gifted Child
We know this has not begun to cover the full scope of gifted parenting challenges. Educational fit in particular is an ongoing struggle for most gifted and twice-exceptional children. Parenting a gifted child means working within an educational system that may not be aware of, or prepared to meet, their needs. A child’s asynchronous development and age may also become an obstacle when trying to nurture a gifted child and develop their talents. Their social and emotional worlds may look significantly different from their age-peers as well. While these topics all warrant further articles, here are a few more general tried and true tips other gifted parents have found useful.
- Understand your child’s learning profile through above-level testing, achievement tests, or intellectual assessments so you know what their strengths are and where they need additional support.
- Do a yearly assessment of the child’s educational environment to determine what is working and what isn’t. Don’t be afraid to try something new! Many of our members have cycled through public, private, homeschooling, and distance educational options.
- Acceleration is your friend.
- Talk to your child about their educational goals and be prepared to advocate on their behalf.
- Provide the opportunity to meet like-minded peers through gifted summer programs or enrichment programs.
- Practice parent self-care! Your child is your world, but they can’t be your whole life 24/7. Making time for yourself can provide perspective and balance, so don’t be afraid to give yourself a break or make special time for you and your partner.
Whatever highs and lows you experience raising your gifted child, it’s probably not exactly what you imagined when you had just become a parent. It might mean that your child’s library is bigger than the school’s library or that you must change schools three times in two years. That’s okay. Above all, take the time to connect with your child and let them know that you’ll be there to celebrate the highs and support them through the obstacles.
More Gifted Child Parenting Resources:
- Our Favorite Gifted Parenting Books
- Parenting Math-Talented Students
- Tip for Parents: Parenting for High Achievement and Avoiding Underachievement
- Tools for Practicing Joy and Building Your Emotional Vocabulary
- A Parent’s Perspective on the Young Scholars Program and Raising a Gifted Student
- Education & Support Options for Gifted Children
- Social & Emotional Learning Resources for Gifted Children