By Molly Isaacs-McLeod, JD, LLM.
Earlier this year SENG Online Parent Support (SOPS) Groups were introduced to the public as part of the SENG Model Parent Group (SMPG) program. As many of you know, SMPGs are the heart and soul of SENG, being the first “program” offered by SENG in the early days of the organization. The SENG Model consists of certified co-facilitators guiding a conversation of ten chapters of the book, A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children (Webb et al), and meeting weekly over an eight to ten week period with a group of 10-20 parents. Parents not only learn more about giftedness and the impact giftedness has on family life, but also come away from the groups feeling less alone in their journey as parents of gifted children. For many, this is the first time they have been able to discuss the joys and challenges of raising their gifted children in an open and safe setting. Parents develop supportive relationships with one another through the SMPGs. It is not uncommon for long-term friendships to result from participation in these groups.
SENG regularly receives requests from parents wanting to attend a local support group, but despite our best efforts, there are always circumstances under which parents are unable to access local SMPGs. Some families reside in a remote area or an area where no certified SMPG facilitators are available. Often people encounter scheduling conflicts with locally offered groups. SENG wanted to be able to serve those families too, so we developed SOPS to fill the void for those who could not otherwise participate in an “in real life” (IRL) SMPG.
Only highly experienced SMPG facilitators who are certified at the trainer level facilitate the SOPS groups. A typical SOPS group meets for an hour once a week for eight weeks and also covers the ten chapters of A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children (Webb et al). As you can imagine, some of the group dynamics are different with an online meeting then with an IRL SMPG. However, we have found that the similarities far outweigh the differences. The foundation for long-term supportive relationships is formed during the online groups. In fact, a number of SOPS participants attended our conference in San Jose in July, brought their children, and were able to establish that IRL connection!
Some questions that have been asked since we started the SOPS program:
Q: Why is it so expensive?
A: An experienced and certified trainer commits not only to the eight online hours, but also to hours of preparation and administrative time. SENG must compensate these facilitators as they would any other professional.
Q: Why do the meetings last only an hour and not an hour and a half like the SMPGs?
A: We have found that with an IRL group extra time is needed to “settle in” and “disengage” at the beginning and end of each meeting. In our online meetings the virtual “room” is opened 10-15 minutes prior to start time. This allows participants to be settled in by the time the meeting actually begins. While there is a wrap-up to a SOPS meeting, there is no need to stand up, put away chairs, turn in name tags, etc.
Q: Will I have time to visit with the other parents?
A: It is not uncommon for the facilitator to leave the room “open” for a while after the meeting so parents can visit, much as they would in the parking lot of an IRL group.
Q: If I have a choice between SMPG and SOPS, which should I pick?
A: While both offer an excellent experience, you might consider the SMPG if you have access to both. There is something to be said for local community/support building. Also, consider your own comfort level – are you comfortable with video communication or do you prefer meeting others in person?
Q: If I have participated in SOPS, can I participate in SMPG if one becomes available in my area?
A: Yes! The experiences are somewhat different, and you will always have a different dynamic based on the participants. Additionally, unless you participate in back to back groups, your child and related issues have probably changed.
Finally I would like to make a few clarifying comments about SMPG and SOPS:
SMPGs and SOPS may be therapeutic, but are NOT therapy groups.
SMPGs and SOPS are discussion groups run according to the SENG Model. They are neither advocacy groups nor ongoing support groups, though inspired parents who meet through a group may later decide to form some type of advocacy or ongoing support group.
SMPGs and SOPS are to be facilitated only by SENG trained and certified providers.
Are you interested in joining a SENG Online Parent Support Group? New groups are forming soon!
Please click here to find more information about upcoming SENG Online Parent Support Groups.
Molly A. Isaacs-McLeod is an attorney, mediator, educator, and mother of three gifted children. She provides advocacy, mediation, and educational planning services to families seeking appropriate accommodation for their gifted children. She is co-founder and president of Parents of Gifted Students Inc., a support and resource group for families of gifted children, and is a SENG Model Parent Group facilitator. Her areas of practice included estate planning, disability, and mediation. Prior to law school, she worked in public health where she gained experience in program development and management.