Parents seem to unwittingly engage in a competition when they talk to their friends about their children. Their pride can turn into a comparison on what their child can do better than another person’s child, and vice versa. “My son can count up to 20 and he’s only 4” can be met with “That’s really great…did I tell you that my daughter can play the introduction to Chopsticks on the piano…at 5 years old!” Parents only want to believe good things about their children, and want to believe that their child is the best at something. There is a line though. Most parents are content with their child being ‘just’ good at something, and rightly so. A child who is truly gifted in a certain area does not necessarily have things easier than other children, although it may seem like that on the surface.
What does being gifted mean?
A gifted child exhibits a number of attributes. An overall IQ score of at least 120 (superior range), although usually closer to 130, can indicate giftedness (To put this into perspective, an IQ of 100 is average – meaning the majority of people of a certain age will fall into this category). However, giftedness is also multifaceted, and high intelligence is not the sole determinant of giftedness (if at all in some situations). A gifted child’s abilities will generally surpass those of their same-aged peers – either in all subjects or certain areas of learning. According to Dr Linda Kreger Silverman of Mensa (IQ society), gifted children may begin to read early, be good at puzzles, have a vivid imagination, prefer the company of adults, have an excellent memory and wide vocabulary. They will be quick learners, keen observers, have a wide range of interests and have a strong curiosity. Gifted children will generally have met their language and motor developmental milestones earlier than expected and be highly alert to their external environment during infancy.
Talented and bright vs gifted
There is a difference between being gifted and being good at something or a talented or bright child. Neither is more positive or negative than the other because each have their merits and each have their challenges. A bright child generally works hard, wants to please the teacher, gets A’s for their assignments and is successful in a mainstream school environment. Gifted children can be somewhat more difficult in the classroom setting because they are easily bored with certain topics or work, because they know it all. Janice Szabos’ research on gifted children draws a clear distinction between talented learners and gifted learners. She says that a talented or bright child will know all the answers, whereas the gifted child will know all the questions. A bright learner can work hard, study hard and learn subject matter. A gifted child has an excellent memory and can easily absorb information given to them, while being able to use this information to draw inferences and relate with the subject matter in a more abstract way. A bright child will complete a project as required in class, a gifted child will complete a project purely because they want to discover more. The gifted child goes beyond. A bright child will have to work hard to achieve, whereas a gifted child can seemingly put in little or no effort and still achieve higher results than their peers. According to Janice Szabo, bright children enjoy school and learning, whereas gifted children enjoy self-discovery outside of the confines of the classroom.
The challenges parents face, and what to do
Dr Silverman goes on to say that parents will find it a challenge to keep their child busy. Parents of gifted children need to do some of their own learning to understand their child better in order to establish appropriate activities and toys that their child may find interesting.
The Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted Organisation (www.sengifted.org) offer the following do’s and don’ts for parents of gifted children:
- Provide an intellectual challenge – ask your child’s school to provide them with additional work. You need to avoid your child becoming bored in class which can lead to insolence or distracting of others.
- Give compliments. Even a child who can do things well needs to be praised.
- Demonstrate how to prioritise their lives – model positive behaviour.
- Create an environment at home for your gifted child to extend themselves and learn. Offer experiments, opportunities to write or read or do projects, and to discuss topics of interest.
- Allow for creativity.
- Forget who is the parent and who is the child – your child being gifted does not mean they are capable of making bigger decisions than what they’re developmentally able to. Bring gifted also does not give your child the right to special treatment or no rules or boundaries about behaviours at home.
- Overschedule your child – they need freedom to make decisions, but should not be forced to take on extra commitments that they’re unable to manage, just because they’re gifted.
- Excuse your child from learning necessary skills to be a functioning adult in society.
- Worry that your child will become big-headed. With correct guidance and modelling of behaviour they will be understanding of others without dismissing them or their abilities.
It is important for a gifted child to know that they are a ‘normal’ person, with specific areas of excellence. A child becoming ‘big headed’ about their abilities is not a good way to maintain friendships or relationships. Your gifted child needs to be reminded that others may be better at certain tasks than they are, or that it’s ok that others may not be as good, and that that doesn’t mean they can’t be friends.
Gifted children are placed under a lot of pressure to perform…all the time. Performance pressures can lead to performance anxiety which can lead to burnout. Parents need to be aware to alleviate pressure from their child. Being gifted doesn’t mean they’re never going to fail, or do badly, or be lazy, and there need to be exemptions for the gifted child who is just being a child. Gifted children will tend to be perfectionists, and need to be reminded that their work, performance or bedroom doesn’t need to be perfect.
There may be gaps in social relationships when dealing with a gifted child. A gifted child of 4 may be able to intellectualise at an 8 year old level, but may not be able to interact socially with an 8 year old, thus often being rejected by an older learner. Your gifted child then feels lost as he is not able to relate to his peers of 4, but is being rejected by those older than him. Careful attention needs to be given to friendships, and helping your child socialise with others appropriately. In the same way, be careful not to burden your child with emotional and social issues that are above his chronological age. Because a child relates well to adults does not mean they should be privy to the ins and outs of the relationships of the adults around them.
What happens when parents are told their child is not gifted?
Many parents struggle to accept when they are told that their child is not gifted. This is often because they have been told from other professionals something to the contrary. Unintentionally teachers may send a child in their class for giftedness testing because they feel that the child meets some of the criteria and exhibits the attributes. This may get a parent’s hopes up, thinking that their child is gifted and set apart from the rest, only to be told that their child is not gifted. The challenge is two-fold in that they themselves need to accept the reality (and often disappointment) of the situation, but parents often need to also rectify the ‘misunderstanding’ for their child. Parents may prematurely tell their child that they are brilliant, genius or the cleverest child in the class. There is a fine line between damaging a child’s self-esteem though and letting them think that they are better than the others in their class.
Having a gifted child is neither an outright blessing nor a curse. There are numerous challenges that are accompanied by having a gifted child, often making schooling as difficult as it is having a child with specific learning needs. As in most situations of utmost importance is parents modelling positive behaviour, allowing their child freedom to make decisions and be who they are, in the confines of healthy rules and boundaries. Gifted children and parents of gifted children require as much support and guidance as others.
Written for Mamas and Papas Magazine