What I’ve Learned from Parents of Gifted Children

By Arlene DeVries

That bright enthusiastic parent who reaches out to you with a warm, “Hello,” seems to

have everything going for him or her. Who would guess under that façade is one who

may be experiencing feelings of frustration, alienation, and confusion about the world of giftedness?  Like their children, they wear masks to conceal their inner feelings.  Just as their children frequently “dumb down” in the classroom to conceal what they know,

these parents are reluctant to admit they have a gifted child.  In conversations with

neighbors or relatives, they fail to mention their child’s high SAT or ACT score, or that

their child won the spelling bee (again,) or that they are seeking professional help to

address depression experienced by their intense, sensitive gifted child. My experience

working with parents of gifted children for the past 25 years has led me to the following understandings.

Parents desire effective communication with children.

Parents try to understand their child’s needs from infancy through their cries, babblings, or behaviors. As children grow, communication changes as relationships develop. Listening to the child’s words and body messages gives clues to how your child is feeling.  Parents who role model the sharing of feelings enable children to comfortably communicate their inner feelings.  Using emotional temperature readings opens the door to insights about the child.  On a scale of one to ten, with ten being absolute joy and happiness, what is your temperature reading? Effective communication can develop when parents avoid communication blocks such as:  giving commands; using sarcasm; over analyzing the feelings; using diversions to avoid communicating feelings; denying feelings (“You shouldn’t feel that way.”); or saying, “I know exactly how you feel.”  Reflective listening lets the child know you understand how he feels.  You don’t have to say much. Simply listen, paraphrase what the child says, and reflect the feelings behind the words. Some children respond to written messages . . . a sticky note on the pillow or in the lunch box, or maybe a notebook in which the parent and child write back and forth to one another.  Parents who exhibit anger and physical aggression create barriers with their children.  As we say to our children, “Use your words to tell me how you feel,” we adults must also share feelings with words delivered in a calm, consistent manner. Listening to your children and reflecting their feelings models, “It’s okay to have feelings!” A home atmosphere of love and acceptance allows for open communication.

Parents have a social conscience to share with children.

I’ve learned that parents, like their children, have a compelling sense of social justice

and empathy for those less fortunate. Parents strengthen relationships with their

children and pass along value systems when, as a family, they reach out to others in the

community (or the world!)  Many families walk to raise funds for an incurable disease;

prepare meals or collect food for the homeless; gather school supplies for a community

center; or participate in work camp trips.  Maybe it’s visiting the elderly or playing chess with a care center resident. The high ideals of bright children combined with a personal responsibility to address humanitarian issues such as poverty, war and global warming, may lead to depression over the injustices in the world.  Parents who listen and find avenues for their children to become involved in a cause can alleviate the isolation and helplessness experienced by some gifted children.

Parents want an appropriate education for their child.

Some are hesitant to approach schools in requesting accommodations for their gifted

child. They’re not sure what to ask for or how to approach the schools. Their curiosity

and motivation lead parents to seek out information about gifted children and

appropriate programs.  Internet searches assist these parents in locating books,

articles, and conferences about parenting gifted children. Successful parents think

through what they want to say before approaching the teacher; provide documentation

regarding reading, math, or art work; are respectful and diplomatic; avoid “hot button”

words, such as “bored” and “last year.”  They begin with finding something to admire

about the teacher or the classroom, focus on the child’s needs, and ask questions

rather than making demands.  “I’ve noticed Emily gets the spelling words correct on the pretest.  I’m just wondering. Would it be possible for her to have a more adva