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RAISING A GIFTED CHILD

Much as they might like to, parents cannot decide to create a gifted child. Giftedness is something a child is born with.

Obviously, parents should maximize EVERY child’s learning potential with appropriate early stimulation and continuous encouragement to learn.

What is a gifted child? Bear with me, the definition is not easy. We used to think that outstanding general intelligence (high I.Q.) was the only way to define giftedness but now we know that a child may be highly gifted in one domain and average or even learning-disabled in others.

If we think of intelligence not as a single entity but rather made up of several different abilities it makes sense that giftedness could fall in one or more but not all of these. One breakdown of these “intelligences” includes linguistic, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, logical-mathematical, intrapersonal, and interpersonal.

Children with high achievement in linguistic and logical-mathematical spheres have what has been termed “school-house giftedness” and excel in academic learning. Other children have special talents in music or chess or art. Some children do indeed seem to have “global” giftedness.

Rarely a child is so remarkably gifted that the term prodigy applies. Prodigies are children who perform at an adult level. Or even above that level–Mozart as a child composed music better than many adult composers then or since.

The book, Gifted Children, (Ellen Winner, Basic Books, 1996) describes three atypical characteristics of gifted children: precocity (they begin mastery of some domain at an earlier than average age–sometimes much earlier), insistence on marching to their own drummer (they need minimum help or scaffolding from adults to master their domain because they teach themselves), and a rage to master (they are “intrinsically motivated to make sense of the domain in which they show precocity”). Indeed it is the “lucky combination of an obsessive interest in a domain along with an ability to learn easily in that domain” that results in the high achievement level these children demonstrate.

How is giftedness determined? How do parents ascertain whether their child is gifted? The parent’s observations are the first clues. Parents realize that their child can do things other children that age cannot. Testing by a qualified psychologist with an interest in giftedness is a next step.

What difference does it make whether a child is gifted? Or whether parents know this? It is important to know about giftedness for two basic reasons. Gifted children greatly benefit from special school programs and parent-led enrichment. Gifted children also may have problems in social development requiring some help in this area.

Depending on the school district and the child’s grade level there are a variety of options for the gifted child. Because gifted children are easily bored and may even exhibit such high-intensity, high-curiosity behavior that they are thought to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), they do better in accelerated programs which can include grade-skipping, in-class enrichment, pull-out programs (resource rooms), special interest clubs, honors classes, etc.

I know several families with gifted children. The parents all have a close partnership with the child’s school and work with the teachers to maximize their child’s potential and best meet the child’s needs. In addition these parents are themselves important providers of enrichment opportunities.

Parents help develop their child’s talents by providing materials in the child’s interest area, seeking out private teachers and mentors for the child, and finding other children with giftedness in the child’s area (chess clubs, for example).

Parents of a gifted child do have to work harder at parenting that child. There is extra driving to special lessons, frequent communication with school teachers, competitions to attend, etc. They also must bear the additional expenses that go with the enrichment activities.

Siblings who are not gifted may object to the degree to which parental resources go to the gifted child. It requires creative parenting to be sure the non-gifted child is not slighted. Every child is good at something so parents need to learn the fine art of “niche-picking”. It’s also important that parents not expect too much of the sibling who is not gifted.

Moderately gifted children are often not only academically superior but also demonstrate high levels of social adjustment. However, classmates frequently isolate the “nerd” because the child is different and therefore suspect. This means that gifted children, especially the highly-gifted ones, are apt to feel socially isolated.

Parents then have the additional task of finding suitable peers for their gifted child. Solitude does have its rewards as gifted children use these hours to develop new skills and acquire new knowledge. But children need friends as well as knowledge.

My advice to parents of a gifted child:

o Determine as early as possible the degree of giftedness and decide on a “management plan” to include school and enrichment activities.

o Provide what the child needs at home in terms of equipment and supplies.

o Don’t be in awe of the child or the giftedness. You are the parents and all children, gifted or not, need parents.

o Neither “push” nor discourage the child.

o Although many gifted children do not grow up to be especially high-achieving adults–and many eminent adults were not gifted children–those who do are endowed with high drive and focus and GROW UP IN FAMILIES THAT COMBINE STIMULATION WITH SUPPORT.

o Finally, enjoy your child and the gift!

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