Goodness of Fit: The Challenge of Parenting Gifted Children (page 3)
As a counselor and family therapist who has spent more than 20 years working with gifted and talented children and their families, I was excited when asked to discuss the challenge of parenting the gifted. I was reintroduced to how complex and substantial the challenge is of parenting the gifted child. In my practice I provide counsel and support to parents daily. What the parent brings is a host of differentiated needs, issues, and struggles that can’t quite be solved with marginal everyday solutions or a quick fix. Parenting a gifted child requires the same level of differentiation as we can hope to find educating or counseling the gifted.
I have found that defining and understanding the challenge of parenting the gifted is a daunting charge. With such an array of issues, where a parent begins can itself be a challenge. Sometimes parents want to let go and hope for the best, while others may cling to their fears and overmanage their child’s life. Reaching a balance for the parent of the gifted is complex. The parents in this case may benefit from a differentiated model tailored to their child.
The Gifted Identity Formation Model
The Gifted Identity Formation Model (GIFM) was developed with this process in mind. This differentiation model is designed for parents, counselors, and individuals to address the complex needs of the gifted. Presented here are sections of the model to conceptualize and explore the challenge of parenting the gifted and provide practical means to address the challenge. The basis of the model is to provide a framework to assist in meeting the differentiated needs, what I have termed a goodness of fit, a term borrowed from the research literature. The challenge comes into play when a parent has to find the right fit to meet the exceptionality of a gifted child. Goodness of fit results when there is a match between the differentiated needs of an individual and what is provided or available to meet those needs leading to a fulfilled potential and content self.
The four constructs in GIFM are Validation, Affirmation, Affiliation, and Affinity. I refer to these as the underpinnings or processes involved in meeting needs and forming one’s identity. In this case we are exploring gifted identity and creating a goodness of fit.
The first construct, Validation, is the process of corroborating exactly what giftedness is for the child, knowing more specifically how the child is gifted, and what vulnerabilities come along with that giftedness. So, to have a valid self as gifted, whose needs are met, requires knowledge and assessment that is more than just an IQ score or having a label attached. This is a critical piece for parents, to have an appropriate view or complete profile of the child’s giftedness. This may involve extensive testing and assessment and an ongoing process of recognizing your child’s uniqueness. Validation is the first step in meeting needs.
Affirmation is the process that involves the challenge, effort, and enrichment (e.g., acceleration programs, advanced study, supportive frameworks, and mentoring relationships, etc.) of the child’s gift(s). This approach fits with the child’s gifts and takes into account the vulnerabilities associated with that giftedness. This also could be referred to as a matched challenge.
Affiliation involves the need for belonging, how gifted children find others of like mind, nature, or ability. This is a critical struggle for many gifted children. This construct also is relevant to meeting educational needs.
The last construct, Affinity, is the child’s purpose or calling in life. This is not the parents’ desire for what the child should do with his or her gifts or other’s expectations, but the child’s affinity (i.e., also referred to as purpose, calling, or will to meaning). Meeting affinity is about what engages the child to meet needs and fulfill self. Affinity also is important in understanding what motivates a gifted child.
In order to conceptualize this challenge and use the four constructs listed above, I have synthesized some of the critical and more frequent needs of the parent of the gifted in the form of four questions. Each of these questions parallels the constructs. These questions were formulated based on the research literature, my extensive experience working with parents, and from an analysis of hundreds of collected questions from presentations I have delivered to thousands of parents of the gifted (at every parent presentation I ask parents to write down their critical questions that brought them to hear me speak. I have collected these questions over the years and identified issues that are central to parents of the gifted).
Applying the Constructs
How does a parent reconcile having expectations that are appropriate, while at the same time matching the expectations the child does or doesn’t have regarding the process of developing his or her own self as a gifted individual? (Validation)
This reconciliation is a two-part process involving an appropriate validation of how your child is gifted and then understanding your child’s perception of being gifted. In validating your child’s giftedness, you are taking the first and most critical step to meeting their needs. For parents, validation involves reading literature about giftedness, and possibly seeking consultation. For the gifted child, validation includes formal assessment and testing conducted by a trained neuropsychologist or psychologist (with experience testing gifted children), and appropriate educational experiences. These steps are important aspects of validation, which can ease parental anxieties and guide parenting intervention.
Validation is an involved and ongoing process. Gifted children develop differently (asynchrony of development) and often do not follow a normal trajectory. Rigidly fixed perceptions about your child’s giftedness may lead to not meeting his or her complex needs. Many parents will acknowledge giftedness in their child and then never revisit what that means as their child grows. I have repeatedly seen parents of gifted adolescents who have held the exact perception of the child’s abilities since they were preschoolers. This type of fixed view often leads to the conflicts involving expectation.
The second part of the validation process involves a child’s own perception and expectations regarding giftedness. This awareness will vary greatly for each child. When a gifted child does not have an appropriate validation of self as gifted, her expectations will not match her needs. Validation therefore is critical in self-advocacy. It is imperative that the child explores what giftedness is and understands his strengths or vulnerabilities in relation to his giftedness. A reconciliation of expectations comes from a process of validation that is comprehensive and addresses the differentiated nature of your child’s giftedness, along with an awareness of your child’s perceptions of giftedness. Reconciliation now occurs through an appropriate process of validation, providing expectations that fit with the nature of your child’s giftedness.
How does a parent provide the right mix of stimulation, challenge, and effort without feeling as though they are overburdening or accelerating their child too far or not enough? (Affirmation)
In response to this question, I refer back first to the construct of validation. Do you have an accurate and realistic view of your child’s learning and developmental profile? Once this is established, a parent can begin the process of providing the right mix of enrichment, acceleration, and accommodation framework to support that challenge. You also must explore what is available to your child and work toward creating an experience with a goodness of fit. Focus on finding opportunities or offering to help provide support and resources. In many cases there will be struggle; however, the approach taken can make a big difference. First, I ask that you accept the realities of the situation and view them as an opportunity rather than a challenge or a struggle.
The affirmation process involves finding both an appropriately challenging curriculum and enriching activities, and identifying subtleties in your child’s abilities. For example, the gifted child with undiagnosed executive functioning problems or learning disabilities may demonstrate the clear need for acceleration, but once receiving that provision can fail miserably. This typically happens because the appropriate assessments were not provided, so the framework needed for that child to take advantage of the acceleration was thwarted. This also can occur due to the denial that gifted children can be vulnerable, asynchronous in development, or possess learning problems or disabilities.
When communicating with teachers and institutions, the goal should be to create alliances rather than build adversarial relationships that can lead to negative perceptions. I caution parents on a regular basis that society still grapples with gifted education, a discipline that has yet to evolve into a complete discipline and matriculate through the educational system as a whole.
How does a parent assist his or her child with feeling a sense of belonging without trying to make the child fit in? (Affiliation)
The whole idea of fitting in is one that really challenges parents, because there is this desire to have your child feel accepted, have friends and be social, all of which are understandable goals. Unfortunately, the intense need on the part of the parent to have this occur can seriously compromise who your child is and where he or she will actually find affiliations. The norm is to use chronologic age as a guide; for the gifted child this is not, and should not be the case. I have seen many parents hold very ingrained beliefs about their children needing to be with chronological peers. This can be one of the hardest ideas of differentiation to grasp. This also is the area where parents believe the child will suffer the most ridicule and alienation for his or her difference, so the need to fix the problem becomes heightened and intensified. For many gifted children, the solution will not be as simple as being in a gifted program, although that is a crucial piece to meeting affiliation needs, as well as for learning. Some gifted children need their parents to create affiliations for them, connecting through other means such as searching out parents with similar children who also are seeking connection. This takes intention and effort; I remind parents who are working on this that being gifted often brings the necessity to think outside the box to solve problems and get results.
How do parents motivate a child without compromising the child’s innate purpose and desires by projecting their own agendas or those of the external world? (Affinity)
The challenge here involves you as the parent exploring the values you hold about affinity, purpose, and calling in life for your gifted child. In meeting affinity needs, understanding your expectations and values is critical. I ask that parents explore their deep ingrained values about giftedness and what they feel that means for them relative to who their child is and the child’s sense of purpose or calling. Examine for yourself where that value or expectation comes from in your life. Ask yourself, does my belief match my child’s belief about purpose? Be careful not to confuse your own unmet affinity needs with your child’s. I can assure you that if you are asking your child to be someone he is not, he will let you know in his own way. I also ask that parents explore the idea that just because the child has a gift or multiple gifts does not mean that the cultivation of that specific gift(s) is going to fulfill his purpose.
Thus, who your child becomes is about whom they are and the purpose within them, not necessarily who you want or think they should be. This is not to say you should not influence your child or instill values. A crucial method for helping a child develop a sense of purpose lies in how well you as a parent fulfill your own calling(s). Another means is to assess early in your child’s life the interests she pursues and the experiences where motivation is present. I believe that meeting one’s affinity in life is directly linked to motivation. So, when a child appears lazy or unmotivated, it may be a sign that purpose or affinity is being unmet or not cultivated in the goodness of fit.
As you may know, or can imagine, the challenge of parenting the gifted child is an exceptional one. The approach I have presented here is just one way to begin the process in finding a helpful means. Remember, finding that goodness of fit involves looking beyond the norm and differentiating for your child in the ways discussed through Validation, Affirmation, Affiliation, and Affinity. Please take the time to seek out as many of the resources available, tailoring your parenting experience in a manner that fulfills both your parenting experience and your child’s giftedness.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Association for Gifted Children. ©2008 National Association for Gifted Children.
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