Updated: Jan 12, 2019
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