How Parents Can Support Gifted Children
ERIC Identifier: ED352776
Publication Date: 1992-12-00
Author: Silverman, Linda Kreger
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children Reston VA.
Raising and nurturing a gifted child can be an exciting yet daunting challenge.
Unfortunately, these complicated little people do not come with instruction manuals. The
following new definition of giftedness highlights the complexity of raising gifted children.
"Giftedness is 'asynchronous development' in which advanced cognitive abilities and
heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are
qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual
capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires
modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop
optimally." (The Columbus Group, 1991, in Morelock, 1992)
"Asynchrony" means being out of sync, both internally and externally. "Asynchronous
development" means that gifted children develop cognitively at a much faster rate than
they develop physically and emotionally, posing some interesting problems. For
example, ideas forged by 8-year-old minds may be difficult to produce with 5-year-old
hands. Further, advanced cognition often makes gifted children aware of information
that they are not yet emotionally ready to handle. They tend to experience all of life with
greater intensity, rendering them emotionally complex. These children usually do not fit
the developmental norms for their age; they have more advanced play interests and
often are academically far ahead of their age peers. The brighter the child, the greater
the asynchrony and potential vulnerability. Therefore, parents who are aware of the
inherent developmental differences of their children can prepare themselves to act as
Some of the earliest signs of giftedness include:
If a child exhibits a majority of these characteristics, parents may wish to have the child
assessed by an experienced examiner to find out if the child is gifted. Firstborn children
tend to be recognized more often than their siblings. When one child in the family is
gifted, it is quite possible that others may also be gifted. Early identification is
recommended (ages 3 through 8) because it permits early intervention, as important for
gifted as for any other children with special needs.
- unusual alertness in infancy
- less need for sleep in infancy
- long attention span
- high activity level
- smiling or recognizing caretakers early
- intense reactions to noise, pain, frustration
- advanced progression through the developmental milestones
- extraordinary memory
- enjoyment and speed of learning
- early and extensive language development
- fascination with books
- excellent sense of humor
- abstract reasoning and problem-solving skills
- vivid imagination (e.g., imaginary companions)
- sensitivity and compassion
Children learn first from their parents. Parents who spend time with their gifted child are
more able to tune in to their child's interests and respond by offering appropriate
educational enrichment opportunities. It is important that parents read to their children
frequently, even when the children are capable of reading to themselves. In the early
years, parents can help their children discover their personal interests, expose their
children to their own interests, and encourage their children to learn about a wide
variety of subjects such as art, nature, music, museums, and sports. Children who are
attracted to a particular area need opportunities to explore that field in depth. Home
stimulation and support of interests is vital to the development of talents. Following the
lead of the child will help the child flourish.
Gifted children often can exhaust and overwhelm a new mother and father. Gifted
infants often sleep less than other babies and require extra stimulation when they are
awake. It is helpful to have extended family in the home, grandparents who live nearby,
a close community of friends or relatives, or a teenager in the neighborhood who can
spend some time with the child so that the primary caretakers can get some rest to do
other things. For single parents, such support is particularly important. From the time
they can talk, gifted children are constantly asking questions and often challenge
authority. "Do it because I said so" doesn't work with these children. Generally, parents
who take the time to explain requests get more cooperation than do more authoritarian
parents. If these children are spoken to and listened to with consideration and respect,
they tend to respond respectfully.
As children get older, a family meeting can be a good way of sharing responsibility and
learning negotiation skills. Family meetings can provide a forum where children have a
voice as a family member, and provide avenues for avoiding power struggles that
otherwise can occur. It is important for gifted children to feel emotionally supported by
the family--even when there are disagreements.
Gifted children generally benefit by spending at least some time in the classroom with
children of similar abilities. Their educational program should be designed to foster
progress at their own rate of development. Parents who become involved with the
school can help administrators and teachers be responsive to the needs of these
children. Open, flexible environments provide students with opportunities for choices,
and enhance independence and creativity. "In Search of the Perfect Program"
(Silverman & Leviton, 1991) includes a checklist of specific qualities to look for in a
Early entrance or other forms of acceleration may be considered when the school gifted
program is not sufficiently challenging or when there is no opportunity for gifted children
to be grouped with age peers who are intellectually advanced. Early entrance is the
easiest form of acceleration, academically and socially. It may be best to accelerate
girls before third grade or after ninth grade, when they are less bonded to their peer
group. Boys are usually more willing to skip grades at any point in their school program.
Excellent guidelines for acceleration are provided by Feldhusen (1992). When a child
expresses a willingness to be accelerated, the chances are good that an excellent
social adjustment will be made.
In the preschool and primary years, mixed-aged groupings are beneficial, as long as the
gifted child is not the oldest in the group. Gifted, creative boys are often held back in the
primary years because of so-called "immaturity"--the inability to socialize with age peers
who are less developmentally advanced. When a 5-year-old boy with an 8-year-old
mind cannot relate to 5-year-olds, nothing is gained by having him repeat a grade: he is
then a 6-year-old with a 9-year-old mind trying to relate to 5-year-olds! The best solution
is to find him true peers--boys his own age who are intellectually advanced. Retention is
Gifted children need strong, responsible advocates, and parent groups can make a
difference. It takes persistence of large groups of parents to assure that provisions for
gifted children are kept firmly in place. Parents of children who are gifted need
opportunities to share parenting experiences with each other, and parent groups can
provide a place where that can happen.
It is important for parents of any children with special needs to meet with the teachers
early in the school year. When parents and teachers work together, appropriate
programs can be developed and problems can be caught early. It is helpful for parents
to offer to assist their child's teacher by making or locating supplemental materials,
helping in the classroom or library, offering expertise to small groups of students, or
finding others who can provide other enrichment experiences. Effective parents stay
involved in their children's education and informed about gifted education in general.
When a teacher makes a special effort to understand or assist a gifted child, a note to
the teacher or to the principal is generally appreciated.
The key to raising gifted children is respect: respect for their uniqueness, respect for
their opinions and ideas, respect for their dreams. Gifted children need parents who are
responsive and flexible, who will go to bat for them when they are too young to do so for
themselves. It is painful for parents to watch their children feeling out of sync with
others, but it is unwise to emphasize too greatly the importance of fitting in. Children get
enough of that message in the outside world. At home, children need to know that their
uniqueness is cherished and that they are appreciated as persons just for being
The author is the director of the Gifted Child Development Center.
This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and
Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under contract no. RI88062007. The
opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of
OERI or the Department of Education.
An annotated list of books, journals, and other reading material can be obtained from
CEC/ERIC at the address listed below, or from one of the following organizations:
The Association for the Gifted
c/o Ella May Gogel, Parent representative
2216 Main Street
Cedar Falls, IA 50613
Supporting Emotional Needs of Gifted (SENG)
School of Professional Psychology -- Wright State University
Ellis Human Development Institute
9 North Edwin C. Moses Boulevard
Dayton, OH 45407
Feldhusen, J. F. (1992). "Early admission and grade advancement for young gifted
learners." THE GIFTED CHILD TODAY, 15(2), 45-49.
Morelock, M. (1992) "Giftedness: The view from within." UNDERSTANDING OUR
GIFTED, 4(3), 1, 11-15.
Silverman, L. K., & Leviton, L. P. (1991). "Advice to parents in search of the perfect
program." THE GIFTED CHILD TODAY, 14(6), 31-34.
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