How to Best Support Your Gifted Child
By Becky Parks, JH/HS Gifted and Talented Facilitator
Cheri, my mother-in-law was, and is, a great mom to her children. It is clear from the stories that she has shared that she loved all of the things that she did as a mom. She watched and cheered at every sporting event; always her kid's biggest fan. The door of her home and refrigerator were always open for her sons and all their friends, whenever they needed a place to be. And my personal favorite, she lovingly dressed her three sons in matching Simba track suits for a beautiful family photo that still hangs on the wall.
There are so many other reasons, both funny and sincere, that show Cheri's love for her kids. Today, I want to highlight a unique side of her story, being a parent to three highly gifted sons. As I share her story and the current research, I hope that you are encouraged to recognize, accept and utilize the skills of the gifted children around you.
Over the summer, I had the opportunity to talk to Cheri about how she best supported her three gifted children. Understandably, she said that the most important thing was personally recognizing her sons' giftedness and then helping them individually recognize their own giftedness. She helped them see their skills and feel empowered in the way that God created them to be. This is a great first step in supporting your gifted child. Sure, her boys played their fair share of video games, but they also talked macroeconomics at the dinner table. The National Association for Gifted Children also recognizes the importance of recognizing your student's abilities. In an article debunking the "Myths about Gifted Students", the NAGC argues that one of the most believed myths is that "gifted students don't need help, they can do fine on their own." The article argues that just like you don't send an athlete to the Olympics without a coach, gifted children cannot be sent to school and the world without advocates and guides. Coach and guide your child towards recognizing where they are gifted. Help them to see that their giftedness is not by accident but rather, something that can be used in unique ways for God's kingdom.
Second, accept that your child processes the world differently, but is still a kid. Throughout a typical day, your gifted child might ask some really tough and deep questions about life, show intense curiosity about a certain person or event or spend hours trying to build a tough LEGO||special174|| set. However, in that same typical day, you gifted child might seemingly abandon all their curiosity and not care about their LEGO||special174|| project to instead watch their favorite superhero show on Netflix or chase Pokémon Go characters down the street. Accept that those days are going to happen and encourage their wide variety of curiosity. Too often, giftedness is thought of as being extremely talented or bright in one specific area. The Davidson Institute for Young Scholars encourages the parents of gifted children to accept and love your gifted child unconditionally. In an article about "Gifted-friendly parenting" the institute says: "Unfortunately, because of their exceptional abilities, gifted children often get the message that they are loved and appreciated only for what they can do or what they produce - not just for who they are. Like all children, gifted children need to be nurtured. Seek a balance between recognizing your child's abilities and accepting who they are independent of their abilities." As you interact with your gifted child today, remember to praise and love them for their curiosity and achievements as well as just for who God has created them to be, in every little detail.
Third, utilize your child's giftedness. When I was talking to my mother-in-law, she shared with me that one of the ways that she challenged her three boys was by continually asking them: "How are you going to use your God-given ability?" After helping them recognize their giftedness, she actively looked for opportunities, both in and out of school, for them to use their skills to love and bless others. If you have a child that is extremely gifted in design, contact a local architect or engineer and see if your child could shadow them for the day. Or, maybe your child is extremely interested in working with children - what opportunities at your church or in your community could you get them involved in? Beyond just helping your student utilize their skills at school and in the community, think about how they could use their giftedness in your home. For example, maybe there's a plumbing or electrical issue happening in your home. Before you try to tackle the problem on your own or call a professional, involve your child in the problem-solving process. Get their opinion on what they think the next steps should be and how they see a solution forming. This summer, I saw my mother and father-in-law do this with my husband. This June, my husband and I bought our first home. While away on a youth group mission trip, we lost power to our detached garage. After weeks of tinkering, playing with wires and circuits (making me nervous every time), my husband was able to solve the problem while his dad was here visiting. It was amazing to watch my father-in-law ask my husband just the right questions to keep him going - to keep him chasing after the solution. After several hours of wire and circuit play, the father-son team found the problem wire. As my mother-in-law and I watched the game of "power the garage" come to a close, we both were smiling. I smiled seeing the love shared from my father-in-law to my husband in their hours of tinkering. I'm sure that my mother-in-law was smiling because the scene in front of her wasn't anything new. Utilizing and encouraging her children's giftedness has happened for many years.
As you daily work towards loving and supporting your gifted child, remember to help them recognize their skills, accept not just what they can do, but who they are and utilize their giftedness, in your home and beyond. And please, don't ever feel like you have to dress your children in matching Simba track suits.