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Q & A with SENG Model Parenting Group (SMPG) Facilitators

By Shari Hill.

First published in the Twice-Exceptional Newsletter (, March/April 2012

2e Newsletter asked three SMPG facilitators to discuss their experiences leading these groups and what parents get out of the experience. The facilitators are:

· Melissa Sornik, a licensed master social worker and author of the accompanying article (

· Lori Comallie-Caplan, a licensed master social worker specializing in children and adolescent counseling and evaluation (, current president of the SENG Board, and Board Champion for SENG Model Parent Groups.

· Heidi Molbak, an educational consultant about to receive a master’s degree in counseling and specializing in the placement of gifted and twice-exceptional students (; former SENG Director and current SENG Liaison for the state of Louisiana.

Their edited responses follow.

2e Newsletter: Why do parents join the SMPG — what are they looking for?

Lori: Parents are looking for answers, reassurance, and other parents who have similar experiences. They are faced with questions about their concerns that are difficult for parents of non-gifted children to understand.

Heidi: Parents are looking for help to understand their children so that they can learn to guide them more effectively and to “roll with the flow” of the gifted family. Sometimes they’re confused by their children’s behaviors and the intensity of their households, despite doing everything “by the book.” Their children don’t act like other children at the park, in school, at birthday parties, and in the grocery store.

2e Newsletter: How does the SMPG differ when it’s presented for parents of 2e children versus parents of gifted children?

Heidi: If there are parents of 2e children in the group, I address it. I would cover that chapter [in A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children] early on and infuse 2e into all of the sessions.

Melissa: To me it’s pretty much the same because all 2e children are gifted. I supplement the group with my own information and knowledge about 2e and offer strategies and interventions for parents based on my experience.

2e Newsletter: How do the meetings work?

Melissa: The 10-session format is based on SENG’s book A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children and includes:

· Identification and characteristics

· Communication

· Motivation, enthusiasm, underachievement

· Discipline and self-management

· Intensity, perfectionism, and stress

· Idealism, unhappiness, and depression

· Acquaintances, friends, and peers

· Siblings and only children

· Values, traditions, and uniqueness

· Complexities of successful parenting

Heidi: There are typically 10 to 20 parents in the group, representing 5 to 10 families. Both parents and caregivers are encouraged to attend so that the adults caring for the child are learning together and applying what they have taken from the group.

Some weekly sessions are held in a community space, such as a community center or library, and others are held in a psychologist’s office or in a school meeting room. The session opens up with reviewing homework from the week before and then moves to a discussion of the current book chapter. Facilitators ensure that each member of the group is heard and that no one dominates the discussion.

Lori: Facilitators do not lecture but take a back seat and let the parents communicate with each other.

2e Newsletter: How does the group come together, open up, and share with one another?

Lori: Parents come the first time and are nervous but searching for a sense of belonging. The facilitators model that we are all here because we want to nurture the social/emotional needs of our gifted children. Facilitators, then parents, introduce themselves without any disclosure of occupation or social/economic status. I have multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-socioeconomic transcends the differences that families may have.

2e Newsletter: What happens when the group ends?

Lori: Eight to ten weeks is the optimal time for a family to keep a commitment to the group. Sometimes participants form friendships that last beyond the group, and some parents come back and do the group all over again when their elementary child reaches middle school and they develop a whole new set of questions.

Melissa: I’ve just finished my second SENG model group. The first one was held at the Lang School [a school for twice-exceptional students in New York City] last year. Those parents expressed an interest in going on with a general support group, which I will be facilitating at the school once a month.

Members of my other group on Long Island became so attached that they were dreading the last session and asked to continue. I will be running a once monthly support group for them as well.

2e Newsletter: What changes do you see in the participants over the course of the sessions?

Heidi: Participants change quite a bit over the course of the 10 sessions! I have witnessed a quiet father, initially reporting he was there because his wife wanted him to support her, share with us that this was the single most important life-changing event he has ever had. Participants learn as much about themselves, or more, than they learn about their children. The group becomes a peer group for the participants. They leave invigorated, supported, and validated.

Lori: Parents recognize the gifted traits in themselves. Self-reflection leads to better parenting, and better parenting leads to better relationships with their children. I’ve had many parents tell me, “This group saved our family!”

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