Raising and nurturing a gifted child can be an exciting yet daunting challenge. This brochure defines giftedness and offers some insight into what parents can do to act as their child’s best advocate throughout the school years.
Perceptions of giftedness vary even among gifted-education specialists. Today, giftedness generally includes a wide range of attributes, from traditional intellectual measures to interpersonal abilities. Giftedness can be found in children from all cultural, linguistic, and economic groups.
The U.S. Department of Education (1995) defines giftedness as
“children or youth who give evidence of high performance capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop such capabilities.”
Many states and localities use this definition or a variation. School districts use a wide variety of methods or tests to decide which children qualify for gifted programs or services. Some school districts use a definition from a specific model, such as Renzulli’s Schoolwide Enrichment Model or Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
How Can I Tell If My Child Might Be Gifted?
Some early signs of giftedness include:
|Abstract reasoning and problem-solving skills|
|Advanced progression through developmental milestones|
|Early and extensive language development|
|Early recognition of caretakers (for example, smiling)|
|Enjoyment and speed of learning|
|Excellent sense of humor|
|High activity level|
|Intense reactions to noise, pain, or frustration|
|Less need for sleep in infancy|
|Long attention span|
|Sensitivity and compassion|
|Unusual alertness in infancy|
|Vivid imagination (for example, imaginary companions)|
If a child exhibits several of these characteristics, parents may wish to have the child assessed by a child development professional with experience in evaluating young gifted children. Firstborn children tend to be recognized more often than their siblings; however, when one child in the family is gifted, there is an increased possibility that others may also be. Early identification of gifted children (ages 3 years through 8 years) permits early intervention, which is as important for gifted children as for any other children with special needs.
Gifted children develop cognitively at a much faster rate than that which is considered normal for their age. They require modifications in parenting, teaching, and counseling to develop optimally. At the same time, their physical and emotional development may occur at an average rate, posing some interesting problems. For example, ideas forged by 8-year-old minds may be difficult to produce with 5-year-old hands. Gifted children typically tend to experience all aspects of life with greater intensity, making them emotionally complex. The brighter the child is, the greater is his or her emotional complexity and potential vulnerability. Parents should prepare themselves to act as their child’s advocates.
How Can I Encourage My Gifted Child?
Children learn first from their parents and families. Parents who spend time with their gifted child are more able to tune into their child’s interests and can respond by offering appropriate enrichment opportunities. If you are the parent of a gifted child, you should:
|Read aloud to your child. It is important that parents read to their gifted child often, even if the child is already capable of reading.|
|Help your child discover personal interests. Stimulation and support of interests are vital to the development of talents. Parents should expose their child to their own interests and encourage the child to learn about a wide variety of subjects, such as art, nature, music, and sports, in addition to traditional academic subjects such as math, reading, and science.|
|Encourage the support of extended family and friends. As an infant, a gifted child can exhaust new parents because he or she often sleeps less than other babies and requires extra stimulation when awake. It can be helpful to have extended family in the home, grandparents who live nearby, or close friends in the neighborhood who can spend some time with the child so the primary caretakers can get some rest and to give the infant added — or different — stimulation.|
|Speak and listen to your child with consideration and respect. From the time he or she can talk, a gifted child is constantly asking questions and will often challenge authority. “Do it because I said so” doesn’t work. Generally, a gifted child will cooperate more with parents who take the time to explain requests than with more authoritarian parents.|
What About School Placement?
Gifted children generally benefit by spending at least some time in a classroom with children of similar abilities. Their educational program should be designed to foster progress at their own rate of development. Parents who become involved with the school can help administrators and teachers be responsive to the needs of these children. Open environments provide students with choices and encourage independence and creativity. “Advice to Parents in Search of the Perfect Program” (Silverman and Leviton, 1991) includes a checklist of specific qualities for parents to look for in a school.
Early entrance or other types of acceleration may be considered when a school offers insufficient challenges or when gifted children are not grouped with peers their age who are intellectually advanced. Early entrance is the easiest form of acceleration. In “Early Admission and Grade Advancement for Young Gifted Learners” (1992), J. F. Feldhusen provides excellent guidelines for acceleration. When a child expresses a willingness to be accelerated, chances are good that he or she will make an appropriate social adjustment.
During the preschool and primary school years, mixed-aged groupings are beneficial as long as the gifted child is not the oldest in the group. Gifted, creative boys are often held back in the primary years because of so-called immaturity.
When a 5-year-old boy with an 8-year-old mind cannot relate to other 5-year-olds, nothing is gained by having him repeat a grade. The best solution is to find him compatible peers — boys his own age who are intellectually advanced. Distance learning, which uses radio, television, and computer technologies instead of face-to-face contact between the students and the teacher, is another option. For example, Stanford University’s Educational Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) offers a K-12 self-paced mathematics curriculum.
Parents of gifted children need opportunities to share parenting experiences with one another. It takes the persistence of large groups of parents to ensure that provisions for gifted children are kept firmly in place. It is important for parents of children with any special needs to meet with teachers early in the school year, work regularly with teachers, and stay both involved in their child’s education and informed about gifted education in general.
The key to raising gifted children is to respect their uniqueness, their opinions and ideas, and their dreams. It can be painful for parents when their children feel out of sync with others, but it is unwise to put too much emphasis on the importance of fitting in; children get enough of that message in the outside world. At home, children need to know that they are appreciated for being themselves.
Where Can I Get More Information?
The following organizations offer information on the topic of gifted education:
The American Association for Gifted Children
1121 West Main Street, Suite 100
Durham, NC 27701
E-mail: [email protected]
ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education
The Council for Exceptional Children
1920 Association Drive
Reston, VA 20191-1589
Toll free: 800-328-0272
E-mail: [email protected]
Sources: References identified with EJ or ED are abstracted in the ERIC database. EJ references are journal articles available at most research libraries. ED references are documents available in microfiche collections at more than 900 locations or in paper copy from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service at 1-800-443-ERIC (3742). Call 1-800-LET-ERIC (538-3742) for more details.
Alvino, J. 1995. Considerations and Strategies for Parenting the Gifted Child. Storrs, CT: National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.
Feldhusen, J. F. 1992. “Early Admission and Grade Advancement for Young Gifted Learners.” The Gifted Child Today 15 (2): 45-49. EJ 445 888.
Gardner, H. 1996. “Multiple Intelligences: Myths and Messages.” International Schools Journal 15 (2): 8-22. EJ 522 811.
Renzulli, J. S. 1994. “New Directions for the School-wide Enrichment Model.” Gifted Education International 10 (1): 33-36. EJ 496 249.
Silverman, L. K., and L. P. Leviton. 1991. “Advice to Parents in Search of the Perfect Program.” The Gifted Child Today 14 (6): 31-34.
U.S. Department of Education. 1995. The Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994. Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Washington, DC. ED 399 649.
Webb, J. T. 1994. Nurturing Social-Emotional Development of Gifted Children. ERIC Digest #E527. Reston, VA: The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. ED 372 554.
This brochure is an updated version of the 1992 ERIC Digest How Can Parents Support Gifted Children?, written by Linda Kreger Silverman of the Gifted Child Development Center. It has been updated by Sandra Berger of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education.
This publication was prepared by ACCESS ERIC with funding from the Educational Resources Information Center, National Library of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under Contract No. RK95188001. The opinions expressed in this brochure do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education. This brochure is in the public domain. Authorization to reproduce it in whole or in part is granted.