Helping Your Highly Gifted Child (page 2)
Most parents greet the discovery that their child is not merely gifted but highly or profoundly gifted with a combination of pride, excitement, and fear. They may set out to find experts or books to help them cope with raising such a child, only to find there are no real experts, only a couple of books, and very little understanding of extreme intellectual potential and how to develop it. This digest deals with some areas of concern and provides a few practical suggestions based on the experience of other parents and the modest amount of research available.
To understand highly gifted children it is essential to realize that, although they are children with the same basic needs as other children, they are very different. Adults cannot ignore or gloss over their differences without doing serious damage to these children, for the differences will not go away or be outgrown. They affect almost every aspect of these children's intellectual and emotional lives.
A microscope analogy is one useful way of understanding extreme intelligence. If we say that all people look at the world through a lens, with some lenses cloudy or distorted, some clear, and some magnified, we might say that gifted individuals view the world through a microscope lens and the highly gifted view it through an electron microscope. They see ordinary things in very different ways and often see what others simply cannot see. Although there are advantages to this heightened perception, there are disadvantages as well.
Since many children eventually become aware of being different, it is important to prepare yourself for your child's reactions. When your child's giftedness has been identified, you might open a discussion using the microscope analogy. If you are concerned that such a discussion will promote arrogance, be sure to let children know that unusual gifts, like hair and eye color, are not earned. It is neither admirable nor contemptible to be highly gifted. It is what one does with one's abilities that is important.
A United Front
As in most other aspects of parenting, it is important for both parents (or the adults who bear primary responsibility for raising the child) to agree on some basic issues regarding the child's potential. Many parents of exceptionally gifted children were themselves gifted or exceptionally gifted children. If they did not learn to accept and understand their own giftedness, they may find it difficult to accept their child's unusual capacities. Raising a highly gifted child may help parents come to terms with many difficult aspects of their own lives, but it helps if they focus first on the needs of the child and come to an agreement about how to meet them.
What the Highly Gifted Need
Exceptionally gifted children have two primary needs. First, they need to feel comfortable with themselves and with the differences that simultaneously open possibilities and create difficulty. Second, they need to develop their astonishing potential. There is a strong internal drive to develop one's abilities. Thwarting that drive may lead to crippling emotional damage. Throughout the parenting years, it is wise to keep in mind that the healthiest long term goal is not necessarily a child who gains fame, fortune, and a Nobel Prize, but one who becomes a comfortable adult and uses gifts productively.
The Early Years
Before your child begins formal schooling, differences can be handled by your willingness to follow the child's lead and meet needs as they arise. It is possible and important to treat an infant's or toddler's precocity with a degree of normalcy. For example, a 2-year-old who prefers and plays appropriately with toys designed for 6-year-olds should be given those toys. The 3-year-old who reads should be given books. The child who speaks very early and with a sophisticated vocabulary should be spoken to in kind.
Even when parents can take precocious achievements in stride, friends, family and strangers may not. Unthinking people will comment (often loudly and in front of the child) that a 2- or 3-year-old who sits in the grocery cart reading packages aloud is a phenomenon. It may be surprisingly difficult to avoid letting parental pride lure you into encouraging your children to "perform" in public. Keep in mind the goal of making the child as comfortable as possible with individual differences. The more casually you accept unusual early accomplishments, the more your children will be able to see those accomplishments as normal. Later, when the gifts are no longer quite as noticeable, the child will not feel that what made him or her valuable has somewhat been lost.
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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