The Davidson Institute recently conducted an online seminar with Judy Galbraith, president and founder of Free Spirit Publishing in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Free Spirit publishes resources for and about gifted & talented children and teens, including books such as The Gifted Kids’ Survival Guides. Prior to starting Free Spirit, Judy was a teacher and specialized in work with GT youth as well as guidance and counseling. The topic of the seminar was “Growing Up Gifted.” Parents of Davidson Young Scholars wrote in with their questions about raising gifted kids. Here is a summary of comments and advice made during the seminar:
It’s very important for kids to develop meaningful friendships, though it’s not uncommon for gifted children and teens to have only a few. What’s key is to see that your child has the social skills needed to be able to make friends. Break it down to the basics at first to ensure your child knows how to make an introduction, how to make eye contact, and how to make small talk, which is where we all start. Children should have a repertoire of at least 5–10 basic questions they can ask to start a conversation (e.g., What did you do over the weekend? Do you like to read? What’s your favorite band? What’s your favorite food?). Talk about the qualities of a good friend, and point out that friendships require give and take.
Have conversations with your child about some of the benefits of having a diverse group of people you know and can hang out with. Think of some things you can do to facilitate that (e.g., help plan a party, find hobbies your child might be interested in where he or she would encounter smart kids).
It is not at all uncommon for gifted kids to make friends with older children who are, perhaps, closer in terms of intellectual ability. Encourage your child to make friends with whomever he or she seems interested in (and vice versa) no matter what grade level.
On relationships between siblings…
It helps to have conversations with your children about what giftedness is (diverse) and isn’t (sameness). Giftedness doesn’t necessarily manifest itself the same way, even within families. If siblings make unhealthy comparisons (e.g., “Tom is smart and I’m dumb”), say, “Each of you has different strengths, and as a family we don’t all have the same interests and talents.” Keep reinforcing this message throughout the year, and give examples anytime they’re apparent.
Some sibling rivalry is normal and a part of growing up, and there’s truly only so much you can realistically do to see that siblings supportive of each other rather than competitive. Pick your battles—intervene when the competition becomes disrespectful or mean. Tell them, “We don’t talk like that to each other in this family. I need you to rephrase what you just said in a way that is respectful of your brother, and apologize.”
It’s crucial that you carve out some special time to spend one-on-one with each of your children, so they know they’re important and that you’re there for them. Let them know you love them just the way they are and that you like that they’ve got unique interests and abilities. Be aware of making comparisons, even unintentionally.
My mother always used to tell me (because I had to work to get A’s and my older sister didn’t), “smart isn’t enough.” What she meant by that is that no matter who you are, a lot of things go into being successful, no matter what the endeavor. Part of that includes discovering who you are, what you’re curious about, what you enjoy, and what you can excel at if you work at it. That also means appreciating and valuing yourself. If you hear your child being self-deprecating, empathize with his or her feelings. Say, “When I hear you say that, it sounds like you’re feeling discouraged. Let’s talk about that because I know how it feels, and we can figure out ways for you to deal with it.”
Studies have documented that kids with the highest abilities who feel pressured often don’t get the highest test scores because they’re so anxious about how they’ll do. When we’re nervous or anxious, less oxygen reaches our brain. It concentrates on our large muscles as a part of the natural flight or fight response. What our brains need to do well in anything is a lot of oxygen-rich blood. Help children learn simple relaxation exercises and breathing techniques to calm themselves down before a test.
On self-esteem and confidence in girls…
Talk with your daughter about how esteem comes from doing esteemable things, like doing the best you can without expecting that you do great in everything all the time. When you "catch" your daughter exhibiting positive character traits—integrity, reliability, honesty—let her know that you’re proud of her for being who she is.
Reading books about interesting/adventuresome/remarkable women is a great way to encourage gifted girls.
Volunteering and engaging in service in the community are terrific ways to build social skills, learn new things, develop leadership, and enhance self-esteem. Research shows that kids involved in service also do better in school and are much less likely to engage in negative behaviors.
On talking to your child about being gifted…
It is very difficult for a child whose abilities are so far ahead of same-age peers to know what’s going on and to put things in proper perspective. Some kids conclude there’s something wrong with them. That’s why it’s so important to have open and honest conversations about intelligence, talent, etc. Although it’s key for kids to understand that bragging is inappropriate, having an honest pride in your accomplishments is healthy. Make your home a safe haven to talk about what giftedness is, and what it isn’t.
Giftedness is just one aspect of who we are, so it’s also of value to note the importance of character traits. Also, most gifted people aren’t gifted in everything. We all have peaks and valleys, as one parent of a gifted child once said.
Many people, and especially young children, have a very limited vocabulary when it comes to expressing what’s going on. There is a big difference between feeling frustrated and mad. I always encourage, at home and in the classroom, developing a rich feelings vocabulary to better know how to empathize and help.
On making mistakes…
When I worked with gifted teens, I had them brainstorm things we could say (to ourselves or to others) when someone made a mistake or flubbed up. The rule was that whatever we came up with couldn’t be a put-down or pejorative. The truth is, everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes offer us the opportunity to try again and learn more. And, as Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner once noted in a speech, “Life is more fun when you’re free to make mistakes.”
On helping your child stay motivated in school…
Talk with children about what encouragement “looks” like to them. Let them know that if they feel pressured rather than encouraged, you want them to talk with you about it. Have conversations with them, and ask, “Does what I just said feel encouraging or discouraging? Do you feel I’m pressuring you too much when I say . . . ?” You’re showing your child that you respect him or her when you have this level of conversation.
Many gifted kids, especially boys, have a hard time putting a lot of effort into things they’re not interested in. These students report that it’s more difficult for them to complete easy work than work that’s challenging. Assess which types of activities or assignments he puts the least amount of effort into. Take a look at them to see if the challenge is meager and below his ability level. If so, talk to his teacher to find out what can be done to differentiate the curriculum so it’s more appropriate for your son.
Persist in your efforts setting standards and expectations for your child’s achievement. (E.g., “This homework is messy—let’s work on it together so you do a great job and can be proud of it. When you’re done, we can make a snack or go outside and do something.”)
Time management is a learned skill, so help your child break things down and see a fun “reward” once tasks or assignments are finished. It might help keep your child on task if you are near or sitting together when he or she is working on homework. You can say, “It looks like you’re losing your concentration here. Can I help? It’s important for you to focus so you can finish this and do a great job.” Or if it’s a task such as room cleaning, make it more palatable by seeing that your child has fun music to listen to while doing it.
Encourage your child to find a study buddy. That might make doing homework more challenging and a little less frustrating.
Look for things outside of school that would interest your child. I believe strongly that some of those experiences can educate more than being in a classroom.
Take lots of trips to the library or bookstore. Librarians are typically great about offering suggestions for quality books that are very appealing to young readers. Also, you can check out the lists of Caldecott and Newbery Award winners.
Help your child learn to prioritize tasks. It takes time and experience to know how to prioritize, and a part of that is learning what your true interests and talents are—in other words, “finding” yourself. You can teach your child by example by working side-by-side with him or her and explaining how and why you prioritize the way you do.
It’s also important for you to realize when to back off. If you try to force interests, your children may go along, but it will be for you and not for themselves, which usually doesn’t have a positive outcome in the long run.
Don’t argue with your children about chores. That is, if it’s their turn to do the dishes, you can say, “As you know, it’s your turn to do the dishes and they need to be done within half an hour after dinner.” And then leave the room. Resist the temptation to argue about it. State your expectation once and that’s it. Don’t give them an opportunity to engage again.
Have a heart-to-heart with your children. Let them know you’re frustrated with the arguing over dishes, and that you love them, and you don’t want them to be upset or frustrated either. Chores need to get done, and you can’t do them all by yourself. You need your kids’ help as a part of the family. Then ask if they have ideas for how things might go better. Rather than thinking of how you can get them to “obey,” see what might happen to engage their creativity in working things out, so you’re all happy. You could give them a choice between chores—sometimes kids feel more power and less resentment when they’re given a choice (e.g. between doing dishes or laundry).
You can take privileges away, but if it isn’t logical, teens often just get angry and may even want to get revenge or become passive aggressive.
Family meetings are a great way to foster more harmony and respect at home. There’s a lot online and in books about how to have successful family meetings.
I strongly recommend this book: Faber, Adele, and Elaine Mazlish. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. New York, NY: Harper Paperbacks, 1999.
If your child is being bullied, the school should and needs to intervene. Bullying, taunting, and exclusion are all cruel behaviors and your kids can’t deal with this on their own (nor should they have to). Talk to the teacher and principal and have them address this without pinpointing your child, or the kids may be even worse to him or her. If the school doesn’t respond with solutions and actions, go straight to the superintendent. More and more school districts and even states now mandate curriculum to support safe schools and have procedures in place on what to do when bullying is reported. Schools and adults need to be responsible for seeing all children can go to school without having to deal with disrespect, disregard, or meanness.
Teach your children to walk away when kids say mean things and that they can report such happenings. This isn’t tattling, it’s reporting what’s happening. Let them know that if they are being treated this way, other kids are as well. By reporting, your child is helping the school know there’s a problem and that they need to step in on behalf of your child and other kids, too.
A few titles I’d recommend for kids (ages 9-13) that relate to dealing with bullies are:
For girls, 13 & up:
First 2010 Seminar
3 Keys to Help Gifted Kids Have a Successful School Year
Your child’s teacher can be an ally. With a positive, proactive, informed, and helpful mindset, you can help ensure that’s the relationship you have.
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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