How can we support our gifted children, without resorting to only praising them for their bright minds but for who they are beyond the “gifted” label?
How can we remember to treat those brilliant and well-adjusted children who already seem so adult as “adults in the making” and provide them with much-needed, very regular feedback on their behavior, their actions and their self-worth?
Gifted children are extremely well-attuned to the expectations of their environments, so when we only praise them for their school achievements, proficiencies, or model behaviors, we can unconsciously pressure them to keep on excelling to deserve their parents’ love and approval. However young, even if not yet able to articulate their thoughts and feelings, they can sense when a parent is pushing them, just because they are gifted. Because of their unique temperament, gifted children can respond to this pressure differently: some react, others don’t. This can be confusing to parents. Parents can think their approach is working until a non-reactive child, who appeared to be obeying, explodes because she can no longer keep up.
However well-intentioned, this approach can undermine a gifted child’s self-esteem. He may feel that:
In order to fulfil his potential, he needs to be pushed hard
It is normal for more to be expected from him and to be treated differently from his “non-gifted’ friend
He is obligated to perform because of his intelligence and is not allowed to fail.
Sadly, gifted children are often reduced to, and valued for, their intellectual capacity. But, this becomes a “double bind” since the general conception is that it comes so easy for them that they don’t deserve any real credit.
Am I stirring your compassion yet?
First and foremost, the gifted child is – a child. A child, even with her own special traits, who is learning what it means to be herself and to live and interact with others. Let’s not project our own hopes, dreams, and ambitions on to our gifted children.
And, instead of expecting so much of them, make sure you listen to how it is for them as they learn to navigate their reality.
Two questions for your consideration:
Are you biased because you know your child is gifted and feel justified in pushing her more than you would a “non-gifted” child?
Do you have disproportionate ambition concerning her future?
While it is fair to encourage our gifted child to develop her full potential, it is never fair to relentlessly push her; she is an individual and must not be pushed to go faster or deeper. In fact, if she understands the reason behind an idea, and if her parent is able to find engaging ways of teaching a subject, our gifted child will start working on her own, asking questions and learning, albeit in an unconventional way.
Encouraging our gifted children to joyfully explore the learning curve and enjoy the process of discovery is easier than you think. Speak positively about their efforts, integrity, sense of wonder, sensibility, ability to focus, sense of humor. Also, listen to their often time grandiose ideas with curiosity, helping them to identify what is useful and what is not.
Clearly and regularly express what you think your child did well and make sure you balance the merit of his achievements at school, at home and outside of the home with his own personal qualities. For example, “You did so well in helping your little brother put his socks on.” “I love spending time with you.” “You are a great friend to Mary.” In this way, we remind them how much we love them for who they are.
Caring for the Gifted Child
Mentor for gifted children, and for parents