Guidelines of Parents of the Gifted - Part I
Updated: Sep 13
By: Dr. Linda Kreger Silverman
Giftedness develops in a stimulating home environment. A rich family life includes shared meals, peppered with lively discussions and salted with humor; times to work and play together; exposure to cultural activities, such as museums, art exhibits, symphonies, theaters, dance recitals; family trips; shared family interests, such as singing, playing musical instruments, sports, computer programming, preparing meals together, storytelling, playing chess and word games, building models, gardening, or redecorating.
In addition to a rich family life, which is good for all children, gifted children need early opportunities to develop special talents. Some abilities need to be fostered well before school age in order for the full potential of the abilities to be actualized. Such talents include world-class skiing, skating, swimming, gymnastics, ballet, and playing musical instruments. If a child shows potential in any of these areas, superior guidance and training is needed, as well as continuous encouragement from family and friends.
It is recommended that parents expose the child to a wide variety of activities. When a child begins to show interest in an area, this is when parents can be influential by providing the next step. This may involve encouragement, materials, professional instruction, good questions, suggestions, ideas to explore to carry the interest further, role models to interact with, or just listening and appreciation so that the child can share the excitement of discovery.
Families, like gifted children, are all unique, and each has something different to offer. Therefore, no set of guidelines for parenting the gifted can be applicable to all families unless it is so general that it could be considered good common sense in rearing any children. This set has been derived in answer to the most common concerns which I have heard expressed by parents of the gifted, and from advice which parents have given to each other.
Talk with your children in an adult manner. Their minds are like sponges, absorbing everything around them: vocabulary, language patterns, attitudes, values, interests, and tastes. But be careful not to "adultize" your children. Do not expect them to feel and act like miniature adults.
Private times are also good to have with each child. Some families have private times each day or provide opportunities for each child to go out to dinner, a movie, or a sports event alone with a parent. This provides a time for sharing personal feelings and experiences.
Gifted children often seem to require more attention than others and they want to be included in most things. It is important for everyone's welfare that boundaries be set for them. They must have bedtimes and be taught to respect adult needs for alone time and privacy. It must be clear who is the adult and who is the child.
Reading to the children every night is a good habit, even after they are able to read to themselves. They should be introduced to the library while still toddlers, and given library cards as soon as they can read. It may be necessary to talk with the librarian to obtain permission for the child to take out books which were written for much older children or adults.
Praise your children for taking risks, even little ones like trying new foods. many gifted children dread failure or looking foolish. They need extra encouragement ad protection of their privacy in the beginning stages of skating or biking or any new activity. They must learn how to fail in order to succeed.
Reasoning with gifted children is better than setting down arbitrary rules; they can be asked to contribute their ideas to decisions that affect them. But some things are negotiable and some are not. Children should be given choices whenever they are capable of making those choices responsibly. A family council is a useful means of shared decision-making as the children get older. Some decisions, however, must be left as the prerogative of the parents.
Discipline should be a private rather than a public matter. Gifted children are highly sensitive to criticism and easily humiliated. Avoid the use of sarcasm, even if it appears humorous to you. Adults have a great deal of psychological power over children and often forget that their teasing can leave lasting scars.
Linda Silverman, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and Director of the Gifted Development Center in Denver, Colorado.