The Knox School of Santa Barbara
Top 10 Pieces of Advice for Parents of Gifted Children
By Jim Webb, Ph.D.
Parenting is the most important factor in the long-term outcome of gifted children, but with an intense, intellectually curious, high-spirited, often strong-willed, gifted child, parenting can be quite challenging. Why are parents so important? They have the longest history and the most interactions; they guide a child’s development from infant to toddler to preschool years, then from elementary school to the pre-teen and teen years. Parents are with their children more years than teachers and are simply more influential in shaping their children’s attitudes, values, motivation, and behaviors in learning, relationships with others, and other important areas. It can be tempting to simply turn these challenging children over to educators, but don’t underestimate your importance! Here are ten pieces of advice that I think are the most important. #1. Educate yourself about characteristics and issues that are common for gifted children. Not every gifted child is like yours. These children vary in degree of ability, areas of aptitude, amount of asynchronous development, and temperament. All of these influence how you approach parenting as well as educational planning. Talk to other parents, read books about parenting and educating gifted children, attend conferences, download Internet articles, and participate in online chat groups. Yes, you will be told that you are a “pushy parent,” but remember that if you are the parent of an exceptional child (of any kind), you will need to knowledgeably advocate for your child. #2. Most children identified as gifted are first borns. If you have more than one child in the family, check to see whether the younger ones are likewise gifted, but overlooked. Too often, when one child in a family is identified as gifted, the other children somehow assume they are not, and they seek out other roles, such as the socialite, athlete, comedian, etc. #3. Sibling relationships can be intense, and rivalry often develops when children compete for attention, recognition, or power. Wise parents address these issues by spending special time with each child, avoiding comparisons, refusing to take sides in arguments, and teaching children appropriate problem solving. Fair means treating each child uniquely based on his or her individual needs, rather than giving identical items or resources to all the children. Just because one child needs braces on her teeth, are you going to put braces on each child’s teeth regardless of the need? Equal treatment is not necessarily fair or appropriate. Families who work together encourage sibling cooperation. #4. Understand that the very characteristics that are strengths for your gifted children are also likely to be behaviors that they are criticized for—both at home and at school. “Why do you ask so many questions?” or “Do you have to be creative with everything?” or “You are far too sensitive and intense!” #5. Just because a child is advanced in one area, such as math or language, he may not be so advanced or even somewhat “behind” in other areas, and in particular, the child’s judgment will lag behind the child’s intellect. Being “out of sync,” not only with others but also within one’s own abilities, can cause difficulties. It may be difficult to find friends, to let teachers know the work is too easy, or to understand why it’s easy to do math but not be as skilled in other subjects.
James T. Webb, Ph.D. has been recognized as one of the most influential psychologists nationally on gifted education. He was President of Great Potential Press, which features books that address the needs of gifted children and adults; he was founder of SENG, (Supporting Emotional Needs of Gifted). Dr. Webb was a frequent keynote and workshop speaker at gifted education and psychology conferences in the U.S. and abroad. The Knox School was fortunate to have Dr. Webb speak on multiple occasions at our in-house symposiums. He was the author or co-author of numerous articles and books, including the best-selling A Parent s Guide to Gifted Children, Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses, and Searching for Meaning, among others. Jim had a passion for furthering the educational and emotional needs of the gifted. The Knox School of Santa Barbara would like to thank Dr. Webb for writing this original article on behalf of the School in 2017. It is republished here as Part I and II.