When you are raising gifted children, naturally the same principles of good parenting apply that would apply for all other children:
- Warmth and stability
- Support and encouragement
- Sensible boundaries
- Supporting their development and learning through realistic and bearable frustration, consequences and responsibility
Additionally, I can give you the following advice:
Confront your own giftedness:
that through their child. Especially women tend to recognize their own giftedness only through dealing with the giftedness of their own children. Some gifted people know of their giftedness, but have not developed a positive relationship with it. In order to be a good example for your children, it is very useful to develop a positive and constructive approach to your own attitudes, experiences and emotions. If finding a solution or confronting giftedness is difficult or painful, it might be necessary to seek professional support. The exchange with other gifted people can help as well. Mensa has got mailing lists where people can exchange experiences and advice, for example for underachievers, or people who found out about their giftedness later in life, etc. (contacts).
Children’s high activity level / need for input:
- A child’s initiative to learning should not be inhibited, but supported, even if they advance past their school level, start reading and writing in kindergarten etc. Stopping or ignoring initiative is a fatal sign for children and can lead to them associating motivation and interest for learning with frustration and rejection. Furthermore, gifted children with an interest in reading and writing won’t take long to learn these in school either, so stopping them from learning it earlier won’t have a big effect anyway. If you like to offer learning material yourself, it would be ideal if this doesn’t anticipate school material. A teenager, for example, might be interested in learning a new language or a computer program that school doesn’t offer, or that she hasn’t selected in school.
Giftedness societies often provide very good and affordable seminars, conferences and vacations/trips for gifted people/ children/ teenagers (contacts).
- The gifted are often so advanced in their language skills and interests that age-appropriate literature does not interest them. However, literature for older children/teens might be too much for them emotionally, or with respect to the subject matter. From a certain point, almost all books include love, sex or violence. Of course, taking reading away from someone who likes to read is not an option. Another possibility would be to negotiate with the child if they like to skip these pages, for example, or seek adults for answers or support.
- Some gifted children “won’t shut up.” Even if you give them, and execute, three exiting offers a day, they still want more. Many need very little sleep. It is important to show the child early how to be with themselves, so that the parents get a time-out (e.g. a longer lunch break and in the evening between 8 and 10 PM).
- If you have difficulties or many concerns, these can become a stress factor for yourself and the relationship between you as parents. In this case, it is particularly important, to create and take breaks in which you relax, distract yourself and organize quality time together.
High sense of justice and intense anger:
It often takes a lot of time to deal with this issue. The following things have proven useful in my practice:
- Always give warmth and stability
- Realize that your child is making an effort and would also like things to be different
- Set adequate boundaries and discuss the consequences of different behaviors in a quiet moment, so that child is able to develop good social skills.
- Develop solutions and agreements together with the child (e.g. using Ben Furman’s “Kid’s Skills“ program).
- Further information and advice can be found under the icons Sense of Justice and High Sensitivity/ Emotionality
Critical thinking/ demystification
It can sometimes be very frustrating if you have put a lot of effort in creating a great offer, or a movie etc., which the child then analyzes very critically and basically “tears it apart.” This is because incongruences will stand out in a particular way to gifted people and cause negative emotions. Hence, you need to endure a lot. If it becomes too much to bear, however, you need to explain this to the child without judgement and set boundaries (e.g. “It’s a pity for me that you didn’t like this, because I feel different/ put a lot of effort into../” “Further criticism is a bit too much for me. Could you please discuss this with someone else or keep it to yourself?”). This is how the child will learn to put themselves in somebody else’s shoes and gauge their effect on their environment.
I also recommend involving the child in the selection of activities and hold them responsible for their success.
The child’s debating skills
Some gifted children will win any debate and gifted teenagers have very differentiated reasons for being against something… The first problem with this is that they pass on responsibilities, which can lead to difficulties in their personal development. The second problem is that if gifted children always get their way, others might experience being with them as frustrating and begin to avoid the gifted.
This is why I recommend you respond to sensible arguments, but set boundaries where need be: Not everything needs to follow their logic and the gifted child needs to learn to accept needs and circumstances.
These are a few examples of setting boundaries:
- “I am more experienced than you.”
- “This discussion is taking a lot of energy / time / effort from me and is too much for me right now.”
- “This feels better/ more coherent to me.”
- “This is not only about logics, but also…” etc.
Don’t reduce anybody to their intelligence
- Avoid statements like “You are usually so intelligent…” “If you were really that smart you would…” etc., even in arguments or moments of frustration. These statements turn intelligence into a reason for rejection or pressure and can lead to very negative dynamics.
- Attributing success to intelligence can only promote the development of a Fixed Mindset and fear of challenges.
- Be sure to explain that people are diverse and that others can have many positive and important traits to appreciate and that intelligence is but one of them.
In some families, it comes to massive and repeated escalations that cause a lot of stress for all family members. I would like to support these families. You are not alone and big difficulties do not mean that you are doing something generally wrong, or that you are bad parents, sons or daughters. I often experience families in which everyone makes an effort, where parents love their children very much, take appropriate parenting measures and yet, the situation escalates over and over again. If some character traits are very pronounced (e.g. high emotionality), or the environment is unfavorable, so that the child continuously suffers from basic, inner tension (e.g. due to the school environment), some difficulties remain unmanageable despite everyone’s effort. If that is the case in your family, try to take breaks from conflict and still create positive experiences together. Seek professional help from somebody who is familiar with these challenges and where you don’t need to fear judgement. I hope that the attached list of therapists will make your search a bit easier.
The book “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children “ by James T. Webb, published by Great Potential Pr., Inc., provides excellent and extensive parenting advice for the parents of gifted children.
© Frauke Niehues