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Tips and Resources for Parenting Gifted Kids

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This is Part Two of our interview with Christine Fonseca, author of Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students and 101 Success Secrets for Gifted Kids. Last week, she shared what we need to know about giftedness in children – Giftedness 101: What You Need to Know. Today, we asked Fonseca to share some tips and strategies for parenting gifted kids.

JNJ Parents: What should a parent do if they suspect their child is gifted? When and should a child be assessed, and how?

There is a lot of controversy with regards to when to assess gifted children. If parents suspect their child may be gifted I would begin with enrichment. Teach language and math skills as soon as the child demonstrates interest. But don’t stop there. Teach social skills as well. Focus on developing inter- and intra relationship skills. These are areas of potential challenge for the gifted individual.

Most school districts have some sort of assessment for giftedness in early elementary school. The label really isn’t needed prior to that unless parents suspect a problem that requires labels in order to receive services. Assessments usually consist of some form of cognitive testing. However, much of this testing is unreliable at a young age; another reason to hold off on assessments.

JNJ Parents: What are some tips for parenting gifted kids that can help children be successful throughout their school career?

Fonseca: Parents are in a great position to really help their gifted children. Start by helping your child understand what it means to be gifted. Focus on more than their intellectual abilities. Help children realize that the intense emotions they often feel are a normal part of being gifted. One of the most challenging parts of being a gifted individual is understanding what giftedness means and its impact on you, as well as dealing with the emotional intensity and perfectionism.

Then, focus on developing an emotional vocabulary with your child. This vocabulary can help gifted children communicate. Finally, focus on perfectionism and correcting the typical “do it perfect or not at all” mentality that comes with giftedness. Focusing on these things will give the foundation gifted children need to make the most out of their academic and personal lives.

Some additional tips include:

  • Lay a strong foundation of respect and communication between parent and child.
  • Get to know your child’s unique “brand” of intensity, including his or her triggers and what he or she needs in order to de-escalate.
  • Be proactive – teach your child how to self-sooth and reboot after an escalation
  • Give your child – and you – time to renew. Not every moment needs to be about enrichment or scheduled with activities. Allow for contemplation and down-time.

JNJ Parents: We’ve talked about the challenges a gifted child faces. But what can parents expect?

Fonseca: I think this little excerpt from the introduction to Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students sums it up best:

“Your 10-year-old child is easy to raise—most days. The rest of the time she is a handful. A big handful. A bit of an enigma, she possesses qualities of being both highly intelligent and completely ignorant when it comes to the mundane. She can be funny and make everyone laugh while also being serious to the point of critical. Her empathy runs high, as she cries at commercials about global warming. Yet she criticizes her friends that don’t hold her worldview and often insists to you that her way is always the better way.

Her grades in school are good. But, her teachers complain that she is often sloppy in her work, makes careless errors on the simplest of math problems and misspells basic words. She often chooses the road less traveled in all aspects of her life, wondering why others don’t see that it is—at least to her—the easier way. Often a joy to be around, your child’s moods can swing from one extreme to the other. The unbalanced nature of these mood swings causes you to question her emotional stability—and your own. If you had to summarize her in one word, you would call her intense.

Parenting your child often leaves you frustrated as you vacillate between feeling lucky to have such a great kid and cursed for having to deal with her emotions.

Is she crazy? Are you?

Neither is true. You’ve just stumbled into the emotional world of gifted children and the drama of parenting and teaching them.” (Fonseca, 2010)

Most of the parents I work with indicate that the very attributes that define giftedness for their children – perfectionism, poor peer interactions, and a mismatch between ability and achievement at school – are the root of some of the challenges these children face. Add to this the extreme intensity most gifted children approach life with, and you can see why raising gifted children can be such a challenge.

JNJ Parents: What are some strategies parents can use if their gifted child complains of being bored at school?

Fonseca: Many gifted children complain of boredom in school. The reason is simple enough – they are bored! Very bored. Differentiation is a great cure for boredom—allowing the child to test out of rote activities and experience learning for the sake of learning is key. Other options can include grade skipping for a subject or advancing a full grade or two. These are viable options on a case-by-case basis as not every child will be successful in these scenarios.

Enrichment like participation in open courses with Harvard or similar institutions (see below) can also provide an anecdote to boredom. Start with talking with your child about his or her interests. Then speak with the school and do some independent research on options with your child. Then, jump in!

JNJ Parents: Many schools are cutting back or discontinuing gifted education or enrichment programs. What can parents do to bridge that gap?

Education cut-backs have negatively impacted gifted children perhaps more than any other subgroup in education. Caught up in the misconception that gifted children don’t need additional educational opportunities, administrators have all but abandoned gifted education programs, leaving many gifted children even more disenfranchised from their traditional educational experiences.

In the face of this, many parents are turning to homeschooling and specialized non-public school settings. There are drawbacks to those as well, but at least children are allowed to accelerate and learn at a rate more appropriate to their intellectual capacity.

But what about the parent who cannot homeschool or cannot afford a specialized school? What can that parent do to help their gifted children be successful? I recommend looking for enrichment activities to augment your child’s education.

Most universities have free online classes in a variety of interest areas. Harvard and MIT have “open courses” available to anyone with internet access. Allowing your gifted children to learn through these courses, as well as TED talks and other formats, provides content for their endless need to learn. Additionally, helping your children take action on projects of high interest can enable them to gain enrichment previously offered through schools, but now tailored to your child’s specific interests.

JNJ Parents: Can you point our readers to a few resources that can help parents of gifted children?

Fonseca: There are a couple of amazing resources for parents online and at the local bookstore. First, I recommend both the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) and Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG). Both organizations are dedicated to supporting parents of gifted children and providing advocacy for this population. Parents can find articles on every topic imaginable, conference information, support groups and more.

Next, I recommend the Davidson Institute for Talent Development and the John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth as places where parents can get more information about ways to support the significantly gifted youth.

Finally, I recommend the following books as must-reads:

  • Anything by James T. Webb, including A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children and Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults
  • James Delisle’s books including The Gifted Teen’s Survival Guide
  • My books including Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students and 101 Success Secrets for Gifted Kids

Many thanks to Christine for such an informative and helpful interview.

Critically acclaimed and award-winning nonfiction and YA author Christine Fonseca is an educational psychologist in Temecula School District and a speaker and workshop presenter on topics ranging from behavioral health, giftedness, emotional intensity, resiliency, and giftedness.

Her non-fiction titles include Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students, 101 Success Secrets for Gifted Kids, The Girl Guide, and Quiet Kids. She is also the author of several young adult novels.

Christine lives in San Diego with her husband two tween girls, and is a teacher, speaker, life coach and introvert. Join Christine on her blog, where she discusses issues our children face every day at home, in school and at play: You can follow Christine on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Gigi Ross is a wife and mom of two kids (a 10 year-old boy and an 8 year-old girl) living in San Diego, CA. Gigi works as a content and community manager for Johnson & Johnson. A blogger and writer in her spare time, Gigi’s work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Babble, BlogHer and Mamapedia. She keeps her personal blog at KludgyMom.

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