This past weekend, my co-author Karen Isaacson and I spent the whole weekend with a couple dozen parents of gifted kids. It was Montana's first-ever (and long overdue) Parent Institute, aimed at gathering together parents of high-ability kids from across Montana and providing them with an in-depth opportunity to begin learning about giftedness in children, advocacy strategies, social and emotional needs of gifted children, academic needs and educational options, resources, and much more. Co-hosted by our state Office of Public Instruction and Montana AGATE (a collaborative relationship that apparently doesn't exist in all states, sadly), the weekend was an intense, jam-packed, and thorough session of discussion, information, and sharing of strategies.
Parenting a gifted child is not usually the cakewalk others assume it to be. These kids are intense, they crave (and seek out) challenge and mental stimulation, and their learning needs are typically not well-met by a regular classroom pace and content. These factors can lead to parenting struggles that a parent's friends just don't understand. It's not easy to say, "My child is four grade levels ahead in his reading abilities and I'm worried he's not getting what he needs in the classroom" when the societal response to that worry is cynicism and sarcasm. Learning that they aren't alone was perhaps one of the biggest benefits of the weekend. We hadn't even finished round-the-table introductions before you could see relief and recognition on the faces of the parents in the room. That feeling of not being alone, coupled with all the information presented (essentially a "Gifted 101" in two days!) led one parent to tell me Saturday night that it felt like there was "finally some rain in the desert." Other parents had the following to say on their evaluations:
"I am going to re-double my efforts to emphasize challenge and growth over grades and simplified performance measures."
"I learned that I am not alone in my hopes, dreams, and concerns for my child. I learned that some of the concerns I have are very valid."
"Speak to children about their experience and they will communicate valuable information from their perspective." (One session during the weekend included a question-answer panel discussion with a few gifted kids ranging in age from 8 to 15.)
"The most important thing I learned would be that I am the advocate for my son. I'm the one who needs to be there, involved. I had thought that you put them in school and they take it from there. You helped me find my backbone and to know that it's okay to speak up."
"I learned that I have many years of advocating in front of me. It doesn't stop with acceleration."
"My kids deserve an education that challenges them and lets them develop their natural abilities."
The whole weekend was a great reminder for me of the challenges that the parents of my gifted students face. Being a Gifted Specialist means not just attending to the needs of my students, but to the needs of their parents as well... because doing so both directly and indirectly helps the kids, too. Letting the parents of my students know that I am a resource, available for their queries and concerns, is a step easily (and sometimes) overlooked. Focusing on my students is at the forefront of each day, as should be the case. But it doesn't hurt to have this past weekend as a reminder that their parents have secret concerns, and often no one to share them with, and that I need to reach out to them...
Are you parenting a gifted child? Consider checking out the following resources: