By Rose Blackett (SENG Director, NZAGC President).
As president of the New Zealand Association for Gifted Children (NZAGC), parents wanting information on how to connect with other families who have gifted children often approach me. My personal journey as a parent of two gifted children started with reaching out to other parents of gifted children. The information, contacts, and resources I gained this way have been invaluable on my parenting pathway. Therefore, I would like to share with you how to set up a support group NZAGC style.
Most of our NZAGC branches started as support groups. A support group is less formal than a branch and when you are first considering getting together with other parents of gifted children, this is a lot less imposing and overwhelming than forming a branch.
The goal of NZAGC branches is to provide parents and families of gifted children contact with other people facing similar educational, parenting, and social/emotional challenges. A support group offers an informal way to gain this support. An important element of these initial support groups is the social contacts available to parents and their gifted children. I gained just as much as, if not more than, my children from my initial support group. Some of my long-term friends are parents I met in this way.
Gifted children provide their parents with many happy moments and times for celebration. Unfortunately, as with most things, there are challenges on the parenting journey. Many parents of gifted children live with a “bush-lawyer” who has the skill to win any battle… sometimes blindfolded. Research indicates this is particularly true when parenting gifted boys, who may exhibit negative physical behaviors when their needs are not being met, or the environment afforded to them does not meet their current needs. I can now confess that my own son fits this category and when I went in search of answers, the local gifted children’s support group provided many.
If there is no support group in your area you may feel strongly enough to set up your own. How you go about it depends somewhat on the community that you live in. Smaller communities often have networks in place that make communication with the members of that community easier, which will expedite contact. In larger communities other forms of communications may be required.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
· If you would like to form a support group for gifted children, decide on the aim of the group. Speak to other parents who may be interested in forming the group, and ask what they would like to get from it. It may be helpful to have one or two initial outcomes to guide the group.
· Schedule an informal coffee meeting for interested people. Try to decide whom you would like to cater for within the group – will it be preschool gifted children initially? Will you try and have speakers for parents/teachers?
WHAT FORM SHOULD YOUR GROUP HAVE?
· Smaller groups tend to be informal. Monthly meetings at someone’s house or a supportive school may be all that is needed to start with. These meetings offer the opportunity for gifted children and their parents to meet socially, support each other and work in partnership to develop solutions to challenges.
· The group may decide to offer activities (or club days). These could entail visits into the community or having someone in to take a workshop or do a presentation. In my experience the workshops that were interactive proved most popular. For example, a Deconstruction Day, where everyone brings old appliances to “deconstruct” with tools, they then “reconstruct” the parts as robots, using the screws, connectors, and a hot glue gun. These could then be spray-painted as garden sculptures. There are many people in every community that are willing to share their knowledge and skills. It is sometimes just a matter of reaching out.
· Social activities are also a way for the group to bond. A board-game pizza tea is popular as the social negotiation, often the cause for dissent, is taken out of the equation. The games have rules and give gifted children (and their parents) the opportunity to play complex games, at their pace and level, with other gifted individuals. The type of social activities offered by the group will be dependent on the type of community you live in and the interests of the members.
· NZAGC recommends that all members of informal support groups join the National Association so that they receive our Tall Poppies magazine (3 x per year) and gain access to the library. Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) membership is also important, as you will in turn support other parents and get discounts on publications and webinars that will help your group learn and grow together. Receiving the SENG emails will ensure that everyone is aware of upcoming conferences, SENG Model Parent Group (SMPG) Training opportunities, and local SMPG and SENG Online Parent Groups that are forming.
· NZAGC offers an open, public forum where parents ask other parents questions. They may be parenting, educational or social/emotional questions. Other parents can offer suggestions and we have a growing international following.
· When your group grows in numbers, a more formal organization may be considered, such as forming a branch. This requires a more formal structure with designated positions within the group, and representation on the national NZAGC Committee.