Help for Parents of Gifted Children
What would you do if you found that your little one struggles to find their place in the world? This is one of those questions I find myself considering often. With a gifted mind comes unique behaviors and idiosyncrasies that often cause a child to stand out among society as “different.”
You’ve seen it before, a group of children where one is isolated, left alone; and for whatever reason the larger group simply steers clear. I don’t think even they can explain why, just that there is something different about the child, and therefore they leave them alone.
I’ve witnessed it time and again with my own Little Man. It makes me sad. It makes him sad, yet, he hardly ever talks about it. He has a large and forgiving heart and will time and again reach out to those who hurt him because he, like every child, longs to play and be accepted among his peers.
Then I see something different emerging. Since among children of his own age, he doesn’t quite fit, he has turned to play with younger children. He laughs with them, and as all boys do, he begins to rough house.
But, when you have an older child rough housing with a younger child, tears are sure to come. And regardless of how it led to the incident, or who is at fault, the end result is the same.
We try to discourage such behavior, but it’s a part of the nature of a boy. Parents then begin to pull their own children away, and once again the child is left alone. So what’s a mom to do?
Research! And lot’s of it.
This post originally published on May 30, 2013 but has recently been updated.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, Prufrock Press, in exchange for an honest review of the book. All opinions expressed are honest and based solely upon my perceptions of this book. Additionally, There are affiliate links on this post and I may receive payments for purchases made through clicks to other sites.
“On the Social and Emotional Lives of Gifted Children”
My latest read is “On the Social and Emotional Lives of Gifted Children*” by Tracy L. Cross, Ph.D..** Published by Prufrock Press. This is one of those books that seems daunting at first because it is written from a psychological viewpoint.
Being a mom with little experience in the world of clinical psychology I thought I would get lost in the language, but after a bit what I discovered was some wonderful little nuggets of information that can be useful to anyone who seeks to help a gifted child to find their place in this world.
Early on in this book Dr. Cross begins dispelling preconceived ideas regarding exceptional children. He helps to put into perspective what is assumed about these children and what is reality in most cases.
Too often, a society that doesn’t understand the needs of gifted children give caution to parents to not “push” the child ahead or that they won’t be socially mature enough to be among an older population of children.
What those in society fail to recognize though, in my opinion, is that these children don’t “fit– in” with their own peer group based upon age. So how does holding one back help them with their emotional needs?
Often as parents, we want to anticipate where a problem lies with a child, get ahead of it and fix it for them before it even becomes a problem. This author shows that with gifted children, who form opinions and adapt at faster rates than that of the typical learner, we fail to truly acknowledge their perspective when we do this.
“…although the characteristics of the gifted child along with certain environmental factors, might create conditions where needs should exist, unless the individual child perceives or experiences the needs, they do not exist – no matter what a list might include or an expert might say.”
You see we often project our own beliefs upon our children. Society does this as well, as if they know what is best for every child. But with gifted children, they experience life in a different way. They adapt to life in ways that we can not understand. They process their emotions at quicker rates. So, by forcing them to meet our own or a societal standard of childhood expectations we are doing them a disservice.
As you proceed through the book you will find a dispelling of myths regarding the gifted child. It is wrong to assume that because typical children would be lost in an environment filled with children who are several years older, that the gifted child would also be. In fact, throughout the book, Dr. Cross encourages parents, educators and psychologists to encourage a talented child to seek out opportunities for them to be challenged in their thinking. It allows them a chance to be on a better mental level with someone that can understand their way of thinking a little more than someone who doesn’t get them.
He suggests several ways in which can happen.
- Seek class opportunities that are geared toward higher level of work than the physical age of the child.
- Seek out other gifted children and let them work in conjunction on a project or simply communicate with each other at their own level. This may be done through the means of social media, email or other digital communications and that parents, while using caution, should allow this to happen in order to meet the child’s needs.
- Find an adult mentor in a field that interests the child. Let them learn at the feet of those who have gone before.
- Find camps, classes, and opportunities for gifted children to work in a group with other gifted and talented students, especially in the same are of giftedness.
- Gifted children, can and should be offered accelerated learning, in order to challenge their minds.
In a special commentary within the book by Mary Ann Swiateck, she explains,
“…, many people believe that what is accelerated in acceleration is the student—that is, the student is “pushed.” This belief contributes to many fears, including that acceleration will lead to poor academic achievement, burnout, and even social difficulties. In actuality, however acceleration properly implemented is about pushing the curriculum to keep up with the student, not the other way around.” -Tracy L. Cross, Ph.D
What an excellent way to describe what a gifted child truly needs, it is the curriculum that is pushed to meet the child’s needs, not the other way around. If only our world could understand this need. Thankfully as a homeschooler, I have the freedom to do just that.'...acceleration properly implemented is about pushing the curriculum to keep up with the student, not the other way around.” -Tracy L. Cross, Ph.DClick To Tweet
There is a sense in the book, that while we are dealing with children they are capable not only of learning and adapting at a faster rate, but that their level of understanding of how others perceive them is also advanced.
The one chapter that I, at this point in my journey, found to be most helpful is chapter 4. “Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children: Straight Talk.”
This chapter helps to identify some key elements for those dealing with gifted children. Dr. Cross explains the differences between gifted and talented children and those who are typical learners. He also helps to put into perspective some of the emotional and maturation identifiers of these children.
Throughout the book he is sure to caution us to remember that we are dealing first and foremost with children, and as such, to consider their child-like needs. Yet, on page 25 there is a statement that rang entirely true for my own observations of my child. That is, the need for authenticity.
The author states:
“I observed that many intellectually gifted adolescents desired their interactions to be absolutely authentic. When gifted children assess that an adult person is not being authentic, genuine, not only do they devalue that person, but it causes them conflict in trying to make sense out of the importance they ascribe to adults and the authentic behavior. …, they conclude that most people are inauthentic most of the time.” Tracy L. Cross, Ph.D
As I read that statement I was struck with so many memories of my child, and how he from an early age could determine if someone was truly interested in what he was saying, if one was mocking him for his knowledge, or if one was completely disinterested. He therefore, would make a bond or sever an affiliation based upon what he was perceiving. I didn’t understand until reading this statement what has been happening.
There is a very real and scary cautions contained in this book. That of the gifted child who becomes suicidal. It happens. This very learned psychologist warns, that we who have chance to observe people, whether young or old, child or adult, who have exceptional talents, watch diligently for signs of mental distress. Then, even if we aren’t sure, to act on behalf of that person. To seek mental health professionals and to help them on their journey to mental health recovery.
There are a few things I would like to point out about this book.
First, it seems as if perhaps it was written for use in a collegiate classroom setting especially given that there are discussion points at the end of each chapter.
Secondly, the book has been written as a guide for educators, psychologists and parents working as a team toward the overall benefit of the gifted child’s social and emotional needs. The book does not take into consideration the Homeschool parent who is both parent as well as educator.
Lastly, admittedly there is much in the book that I don’t understand.
That being said, there is much to learn from this book in regards to the social and emotional needs of this marvelous child that I have been blessed with. It is sure to become a well worn reference as we continue to seek the best educational and social opportunities for our son.
What I am walking away with is this, there are no quick fix answers regarding helping my child to adapt to the society that he lives in. I will instead have to be diligent to continue to seek opportunity for him to expand his horizons, both on the intellectual front as well as a societal one.
Are you parenting gifted children? Do you find the social and emotional differences to be confusing and difficult to manage? I’d love to hear back from you, share your thoughts in the comments below.
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**Tracy L Cross Ph.D. is a professor of Psychology and Gifted Education and is the executive director for the Center for Gifted Education at The College of William and Mary.