By Carol Raymond.
Citation: First published in the SENGVine, February 2012
Several years ago, I enrolled in my first graduate course in gifted education – “The Social and Emotional Needs of Gifted Learners.” At that point, I did not have plans to continue an advanced degree in gifted education; I simply sought to understand my eldest stepdaughter better. I yearned for answers to her questions and solutions to her problems. Through my graduate work, I developed answers to some of the questions she had as an adolescent, but as I grew, so did she, and she can still pose questions to which I have no answers, and those solutions to her problems that I might suggest are often ignored in her stubborn pursuit of her own independent solutions.
However, the education I received opened my eyes to the importance of the field of gifted education while also shedding light on many of my own idiosyncrasies and lifelong struggles.
After my own personal revelations, I desired to share all I knew about giftedness and gifted children with others. As a gifted specialist, I attended numerous parent-teacher conferences and heard many similar questions and concerns. I began offering courses for parents and quickly saw this parent education transform the understanding of giftedness at my school. Participants shared their new insight with other parents which incited a paradigm shift within the school community. I was hungry for more and was thrilled to attend the SENG Model Parent Group (SMPG) training and become an SMPG facilitator.
The SMPG sessions continued to make a difference within the gifted community in my area. Many of the individuals involved in the sessions became strong, educated advocates for gifted programs within our area school districts. More importantly, they became advisors and counselors to other parents of gifted children. After witnessing such positive effects of the groups, I became eager to see the SMPG grow in size and influence. This desire led me to a nationwide research project measuring the effectiveness of the SMPG on parent attitudes and the understanding of giftedness. I was anxious to see if the changes that I witnessed within my group were constant throughout the nation.
Although the SENG-Model parent group concept was conceived in 1981 and thousands of parents have participated, no formal study has been carried out to document this model’s effectiveness. This study aimed to add quantitative data to support the SENG-model parent group’s success.
At the time of the study’s inception (Fall 2009), the SENG website listed 128 trained facilitators in 25 states and three countries (United States, Australia and France). All facilitators received an electronic invitation with information about the study’s goals. Thirteen facilitators agreed to participate in the study. Twenty-six participants from three states (Texas, Kentucky and Utah) completed the Pre-SMPG survey in the Fall of 2009. Sixteen participants completed the Post-SMPG survey following the 10 week study.
The survey questions focused on five areas: gifted characteristics, unique social and emotional needs, peer and family relationships, discipline issues, educational concerns, and advocacy. Four individuals completed a follow-up phone interview.
Understanding Gifted Characteristics
Participants expressed an increase in their understanding of the gifted characteristics of their children. One participant stated “I went in not understanding a thing about gifted children. Now I feel I have a much better understanding of my child and of other gifted children, and an educated awareness of his needs.”
In a follow-up interview, one parent of two children, ages eight and nine, discussed how she entered the group thinking that only one of her children demonstrated “true” gifted characteristics. Through the SMPG, she discovered the wide range of gifted characteristics and the unique manifestations of different combinations of these characteristics. She realized that both children, though extremely different, displayed typical characteristics of gifted individuals. Another interviewee who entered the study with a solid understanding of giftedness shared her discovery of the “nuances” of gifted characteristics.
Understanding Unique Social and Emotional Needs
The survey results showed a better understanding of characteristics such as “asynchronous development” and “twice-exceptional.” Parents reported that they gained insight on important questions to ask when choosing a mental healthcare professional. Participants also showed marked growth in utilizing effective strategies to assist children with stress management.
In follow up interviews, parents shared stories of vast improvement in the understanding of their child’s social and emotional needs, as well as their ability to meet these unique needs. One parent stated “I feel better about things. I was ready to put my daughter in counseling because I couldn’t understand the temper tantrums at age 9, but now I patiently sit and talk with her and work things out…I think she will be fine.”
Another mother expressed that the SMPG “helped [her] to see better ways to help [her] child’s emotional needs.” Parents expressed different approaches and strategies that they had learned which had benefitted their child’s social and emotional development.
Attitudes toward Peer and Family Relationships
Many parents entered the SMPG due to their child’s difficulties in relationships either within their families or with peers. Through the study, parents gained a better understanding of their own giftedness and the importance of self-understanding while parenting gifted individuals. One parent remembers, “I think it has just made us a little more relaxed about it all. He’s a good kid, but you can get lost in all the issues that you can lose sight of that and think ‘Oh we’re failing miserably’ or ‘we have some serious problems here.’ It’s helped us chill out.”
Another parent commented on the helpful strategies discussed for assistance with discipline issues with strong willed children. “I took away many [strategies from the group], but mostly how to view my child’s behavior and the reasons behind it. Instead of reacting quickly and without thinking, I try to think about what is motivating him and respond accordingly. I also try to listen more and ask questions differently so that I’m able to be a better listener.”
Attitudes about Educational Concerns
Though the SPMG primarily focuses on social and emotional concerns within gifted children, many parents gained confidence in their ability to advocate for their gifted child within the educational setting. Parents recognized that a good education “fit” will consequently improve their child’s social and emotional wellbeing. Participants grasped educational terminology as well as strategies necessary for advocating for their child. One parent stated, “I really knew nothing of giftedness before the group and now feel comfortable advocating for my child.”
The results of this study show a positive growth within parental attitudes and an understanding of giftedness. After attending the sessions, the parents reported a gain of confidence in their ability to meet the unique needs of their gifted children and recognized unique gifted characteristics within their children. Many parents commented about how they had never had a place before where they could honestly share their concerns about their children – concerns which seemed foreign to the same-age children of their peers. Gifted parents often suffer the same types of isolation that gifted students face. Often, it appears that no advice exists for the unique characteristics and circumstances of their child (Geiger, 1997). The SMPG served as the “safe” place they had not previously experienced. Outside of the SMPG, others often construed the participants concerns as “bragging” or “unreal problems.”
However, within the group, parents validated each other’s concerns. They relished in the environment where peers understood and empathized with their frustrations. Many appreciated the conversations with parents of older children who had experienced similar issues. These timeless conversations helped parents realize their children would “be alright” in the end.
Parents also gained a wide variety of tips and tools for advocating for their child’s needs within the school system. Instead of fearing their contact with the schools, the SPMG encourages a partnership with educational institutions. This collaboration increases the likelihood of a wholesome educational experience for both the child and the parent. A positive educational environment greatly benefits the social and emotional needs of the gifted child.
One significant benefit of the SMPG is the realization and acceptance of the parents’ own giftedness. “Appreciating differences in children starts with parents appreciating their own differences” (Meckstroth, 1990, “Gifted Parents,” para. 1). Most mothers enter the group saying that their child “got their smarts from their dad.” Many parents admit that they still experience frustration with colleagues and peers who “don’t get them.” Throughout the 10 weeks, parents gain an understanding of their own intelligence and sort out their past hurts and regrets. Parents often realize how they struggled with many of the same issues that their children currently face, and cherish strategies that help their child avoid some of the difficulties that they encountered.
Where do we go from here?
A further longitudinal study regarding the success and benefits of the SPMG must be completed in the future.
To enlarge the sample size, Pre-SMPG and Post-SMPG should be collected over multiple years with additional participants. If you are a facilitator, please consider future involvement.
Positive interaction between schools and parents enhances student success. The awareness of the unique gifted characteristics, gifted terminology, and potential difficulties that the SPMG imparts empowers parents in their pursuit of educational excellence as well as social and emotional stability for their child. Districts should reach out to SENG to create SMPG programs within their district. Whether district supported, grant funded, or offered with a pass-through fee for services, a program such as the SMPG serves as a vital element for a successful gifted program. Once individuals understand the importance of the gifted program within their district, their willingness to dedicate time and finances toward the program drastically increases. A SMPG can foster mentorships, community partnerships, and volunteerism within the local school district.
For many, attending an SMPG serves as an awakening, much like my experience in my first graduate class. Parents often enter the first session looking for advice and “quick fixes” for pressing issues with their precocious children. Months later, they leave with a greater understanding of giftedness and quite frequently gain a renewed self-awareness. The readings, facilitators and other parents offer fabulous tips and strategies, but no strategy, no matter how great, can “solve” the puzzle of a gifted child! Parents learn to accept and appreciate the complex structure of their gifted child. Let’s work together to grow the SENG Model Parent Groups and empower parents of gifted children with this life-changing experience.
Geiger, R. (1997). Meeting the needs of the highly gifted: A parent’s perspective. Roeper Review, 19(3), 6-9. doi:10.1080/02783199709553817
Meckstroth, E. (1990). Parents’ role in encouraging highly gifted children. Roeper Review, 12(3), 208-210. doi:10.1080/02783199009553273
Carol M. Raymond, M.Ed. currently teaches sixth grade and leads SENG parent groups in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. She has served as a gifted and talented specialist, classroom teacher, elementary music specialist, and private music instructor/performer. Mrs. Raymond enjoys advocating for gifted individuals whether through professional development workshops, conference presentations, and parent seminars or through simple conversations with neighbors and community members. Her gifted and twice exceptional step-daughters have largely influenced her passion for gifted education.