Thursday, June 24, 2010

How do you talk about your gifted kid?

Parents like to talk about their kids. Sometimes (when we are around friends without kids, for instance) we realize that we barely talk about anything else! And part of being a parent is being proud of your kid and wanting to share good news, and share concerns as well.

If you've got highly gifted offspring, though, this can be a problem.

I was thinking of this while reading the "Unwrapping the Gifted" blog over at EdWeek. Tamara Fisher describes a parent weekend in Montana, and the awkwardness of discussing your kid in mixed company, as it were:

"Parenting a gifted child is not usually the cakewalk others assume it to be," she writes. "These kids are intense, they crave (and seek out) challenge and mental stimulation, and their learning needs are typically not well-met by a regular classroom pace and content. These factors can lead to parenting struggles that a parent's friends just don't understand. It's not easy to say, 'My child is four grade levels ahead in his reading abilities and I'm worried he's not getting what he needs in the classroom' when the societal response to that worry is cynicism and sarcasm."

It is also very hard to talk in public about your kid's accomplishments. As the Davidsons and I wrote in Genius Denied, "Bragging about one's child is a birthright of being a parent -- when she took her first step, said her first word, learned how to read. But friendly bragging in the neighborhood and at work involves a quid pro quo. You talk about your kid for a bit, then I'll talk about mine. If you can't talk about the same thing, the bragging stops. Parents who are proud of an A on a test resent hearing about another kid who has just skipped three grades, published an academic paper, and still complains that the work is too easy."

As one parent told us about her daughter, "I feel like it is seen as inappropriate for me to say too much 'good' about her. I worry about this because I want her to hear me say good things about her, but it is so uncomfortable."

So here's the question: how do you talk about your gifted child? How do you participate in those friendly parenting conversations at work or at the park? Or do you just keep quiet and save most of the conversation for parenting gatherings where everyone is dealing with similar issues? I'd love to hear how Gifted Exchange readers handled these situations.


Just Margaret said...

I'm working on's hard. I did write about the challenges of communicating with other parents wrt my kids--"Self Doubt..." toward the end of the post.

I feel isolated--It's hard in my small town of 5k to find others that understand that I'm not a one-upper, my kids are simply intellectually advanced. Their kids are ace soccer players, or whatever. It's funny--I hear a lot of "all kids are gifted" and that it seems OK to brag about gifted athletes or musicians, etc., but when it comes to "book smarts" it's seen differently.

Great post and great question.

Anonymous said...

In our small town, my son became the first child in many years to be allowed to skip a grade. I've tried to downplay that just a bit by explaining that we came from a school system that is well-known for high expectations. This is true. What my son did in fourth grade here was more or less a repeat of third grade there. But when he heard me saying something about it, he said later, "Hey, give me *some* credit! It's not just that I went from a big, suburban system to a small, rural one. I'm smart, too!"

The Princess Mom said...

After awhile, I just didn't talk at park days. It was clear the other mothers didn't want to hear my experiences or my worries.

What saved me was joining the Bright Kids e-list, sponsored by American Mensa. It's a safe place to talk about everything for gifted kids--both good and bad--and get feedback from more than 800 members who have either been there, done that or are also going through the same thing. It's a very active list, but you can join in digest form if you prefer to get fewer messages.

[Full disclosure: I've been a list member for 7 years and a moderator for 5.]

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Another good e-mail group is maintained by the TAG project

There are 3 lists: TAGFAM, TAGPDQ, and TAGMAX, for parents of gifted kids, extremely gifted kids, and home-schooled gifted kids, respectively.

The TAGPDQ list is a particularly useful resources, as the parents of extremely gifted kids are often uncomfortable talking even with parents of other gifted kids.

Cheryl said...

For the most part, I don't talk about his academics, except to say things come naturally to him and he's ahead. I do tend to brag about his art--he's an amazing artist. That's a gift that's easy for others to see, and they are more open to hearing about that.

Maryann said...

This is something I've struggled with.

I first found myself downplaying my daughter's abilities when she was 3 and the mom of a 5-yo commented on my daughter's ability to write her name compared to her daughter's inability. It really bothered me that I did this, without thought I had told my daughter that she hadn't really accomplished something.

At this point I'm trying to just be matter of fact when the situation calls for it, sharing both accomplishments and struggles. Sometimes it's even hard to talk with parents of other GT kids, who often don't want to admit that their child is out of the norm.

Anonymous said...

well, my kids aren't super gifted but my son has the lovely combo of gt and adhd-ld. Try figuring out who you can talk about accommodating giftedness and struggles for an IEP in the same conversation! So, I just don't. Actually it is easier to talk about the LD stuff to other parents than the GT stuff, especially if your child has fallen to the side of underachievement. I belong to a support group for kids who are like my son, but even there the conversation is about how to get IEP/504 help and not about struggles for gt accommodation. I made the mistake of ignoring my son's math skills until he was bored silly and then he thought he was dumb. While I haven't frankly discussed score from CTY testing (and shouldn't) I have metioned the 1 in a 1000 bit but it doesn't help him much. He still thinks he is not smart. But that's the effect of 6 years of 'adhd punishment' from the school. We're still recovering....

Funny, I've found teachers are much more willing to talk about him when he is no longer in their class. Like the admission by his 2nd grade teacher (now my daughter's 2nd grade teacher) that my son's math stood out and was truly GT, not just bright as suits the 'GT' program in our system.

Anonymous said...

PS from anonymous...I work in a world of PhDs and even there you can't talk about GT kids.

Lisa said...

I've caught myself saying negative things about my kids as a way of downplaying their strengths (which are often obvious to other parents, causing them to comment). That's really quite unfair to my poor kids. I need to work on dealing with this issue a bit more elegantly.

hschinske said...

I've found it helps build credibility if you make a point of noticing and praising other people's children first. If you have a reputation as someone who appreciates other children shining in whatever their own way is (and it doesn't have to be about anything competitive, just whatever thing they do that you get a big kick out of), then people are more apt to believe you when you talk about your own child.


Anonymous said...

Adding to what anonymous said about working in a world of Ph.D.s: I find the same thing. Many children of g/t parents aren't g/t, and those are the ones who find it particularly galling to hear about other people's children. I try to keep my mouth shut in those gatherings. When I can't resist and give in to temptation, I usually regret it. I, like a few other people in this forum, try to talk about the negative things about my son; they certainly exist, too!

Missy said...

This is why I started a blog! I didn't have anyone to talk to about it! In my "public" life, I talk to the teachers about it, other parents I KNOW have gifted kids. Otherwise I just keep quiet and compliment other people's kids.

joano4boys said...

I happen to be the Parent Chair for the NJ Assoc. for Gifted Children. It's my job to engage people in these conversations. I feel inclined to stop the parents who sheepishly apologize for their child's giftedness in their tracks and demand that they say it out loud and clear. Climb up on the jungle gym and announce your child is gifted. The people who will still make eye contact are the ones you want to keep.

Anonymous said...

This is a bit of a different perspective since I am actually the child in these situations. I have noticed that my mother either brags too much or completely downplays my accomplishments depending on the company. It also depends on the accomplishment. My grades are not discussed often with others we do not know extreemly well. I am told that I should never say I found a test easy-- and I don't. I wait for the reactions of the other students on my class before voicing an opinion. However, when it is an award from debate or from something that doesn't require intellegence but something else, like leadership skills, it is talked about constantly. Sometimes I feel like my grades are taken for granted by my parents and they do not understand that I do work to earn those grades. I do see a lot of parents and other kids get offended when you talk about academic achievements and this bothers me because they are allowed to talk about thier sports and musical achievements. I also feel like my academic achievements mean I cannot be proud of my other achievements because they are expected of me.

Anonymous said...

I don't emphasize grades much, with my son or anyone else. I have sometimes "allowed" him to skimp on an assignment he doesn't need, telling him to do five problems just so the teacher will know he can, and reminding him that if he takes this short way out, it will probably result in a low grade.

I try to emphasize effort, creativity, and willingness to try things, especially because my son is a perfectionist. I will brag to the heavens about anything he's worked hard on, or any attempts to get beyond his comfort zone. I don't mention actual scores as a rule (and I'm trying to teach him not to mention them either unless with really good friends).

When people comment that my son is really smart, I say, "Yes, he is," and leave it at that.

Anonymous said...

Here is an example on the passion of parents, conflict of opinions on this exact topic. Honestly, I am still confused and have no idea on what I would do if I were the parents, after reading all the conflicting and sometime, insulting comments. Laura, it will be great if you can share some of your opinions here, your insightfulness will be helpful for parents. Thanks for all the great blogs, here is the link:

Math Whiz but no other subjects or friends

J. said...

I read the article. Good piece, thanks for posting it.

Re: the negative comments, I too cringed at Dad's statement of how good he is at advertising his son. But...the part of not making friends? Remember, many extremely PG kids have a very hard time making friends in the first place. The parents might try harder at finding like minded peers but we don't really know how much effort they've put into it. It's hard for a lot of truly gifted kids to reach out to peers. And the more outlier, the harder it is to connect.

As for only teaching math? Yes, that's a big extreme but I'm also a fan of child led learning and unschooling. Still, when we did it, my daughter had a pretty well rounded education. The unschooling meant there was no bell, she could read for hours and hours some days and field trips were all part of our "curriculum." We took more trips in a week than school does in a year.

Anonymous said...

My parents didn't talk about it to anyone. I don't think they knew what to do to me. I was already the youngest and smallest in my class. I was skipped a grade.

It was strange when my teacher told me that in the 2nd grade, I had scored higher on the achievement tests than everyone in the school.

This was back in the late 60s.

Other little girls had dollies for Christmas. I had a microscope and Chemistry set.

We moved to another state and I was so far ahead but the school did nothing. Their idea of gifted meant the kids of wealthy parents.

What happens to us when we grow up? There aren't many places for us in society today. Many of us have difficult times fitting into the corporate world. We annoy our peers and managers.

Brilliance isn't rewarded as much as social skills.

So don't worry about talking about your kids. I don't think there is any reason to mention it too much. What is really the point of mentioning it? Nobody really cares.

My grandson is extremely gifted and had a difficult time in school. They taught to the LCD and let's face it, people are pretty stupid these days. Finally he took tests to get into college and will start at the age of 12.

Just enjoy your kids and don't stress anything.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I have to say I find it difficult to talk with other parents like many of you. I sometimes feel awkward bringing up that my son breezes through hundred page books or aces standardize tests. I wish I didn't but I do. I have fought with many a classroom teacher to give my son harder/more challenging work. In the past two years, I feel like the teachers have taken notice of how smart he is and I finally feel like he is being challenged. I will say to all of you. People DO know that your children are more knowledgable. They won't admit it but they do notice!