The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them,
disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.
They push the human race forward.
Maybe they have to be crazy.
How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?
Or sit in silence and hear a song that has never been written?
Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?
We make tools for these kinds of people.
While some see them as the crazy ones,
we see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough
to think they can change the world,
are the ones who do. – Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Apple
Raising a gifted child? You’re so lucky, right? Well, the poem above points out the wonderful things that gifted people can do – but also the wild and crazy ride they can take those around them on. Sometimes it’s extra hard to raise a gifted child. Celi Trepanier, the author of Educating Your Gifted Child, created a checklist of things to know for people parenting or teaching gifted children. I’ve included what I feel are the top five issues that people should be aware of:
Gifted students do not always excel in school. While many gifted children are high achievers and excel in school, many are bored, unchallenged, or dealing with co-existing learning disabilities. This means that even though gifted students are very bright, we cannot always expect them to succeed in school.
Gifted children often have emotional intensities. Along with higher than average intelligence, gifted children often have stronger than average emotions. They are often passionate and intense.
Gifted children can be extremely sensitive. That emotional intensity (#2) works hand-in-hand with extreme sensitivity. Children who are gifted can be very sensitive to sensory issues such as smells and sensations as well as negative comments or criticism.
Gifted children can have learning disabilities. Students who are both gifted and have learning disabilities are often called “twice exceptional.” For example, children can have both above average intelligence and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder to Sensory Processing Disorder.
Gifted children can struggle socially. They are not always interested in the conversations or hobbies of their peers and will therefore stand apart. In addition, sometimes they excessively correct the people around them, leading to resentment and frustration.
How can you help your gifted child overcome the difficulties detailed above? Perhaps the most important thing you can do is simply look at your gifted child as a child! Because gifted children are usually more communicative, sensitive and mature, as parents and teachers, we sometimes forget that they are still children. Their intellectual abilities may be advanced, but they still need help navigating their emotional experiences. Like all children, they need love, responsibility, and creative pursuits. I’ve also put together a short “cheat sheet” of things that parents and teachers of gifted children can do in order to nurture them:
Emphasize that learning is more important than the grade. Talk to your children about their learning experiences. What did they enjoy about what they learning in Chumash class? Would they like to discuss that scientific concept? Help them do more research on a subject that interests them. Even if their grades are not reflecting their intellect, they should still enjoy the educational process.
Facilitate real life reading, writing, math, and science experiences. Take your children to book readings, help them write thank you cards and letters to your government representatives, let them help plan the backyard space by calculating area, and engage them in cooking and baking experiments. When children understand the practical applications of their intellectual abilities, they will be more willing to own them and enjoy them.
Be patient with questions. Gifted children are going to ask a lot of questions – “Why is ‘action’ spelled that way?” “Why do we have to have the same spelling at all?” “Why can’t Binny just memorize how it’s spelled the first time?” As parents and teachers, we have to understand that these questions are an essential part of the learning process, especially for gifted children. We can explain that sometimes things don’t always make sense, and sometimes we have to follow rules simply because they are the rules. But, we should encourage their questions as a way of making sense of the world around them.
Differentiate. I’ve written articles about differentiated instruction in the classroom, and teachers with mixed ability classrooms can tailor the content to different students’ levels. At home, we can also differentiate, using different vocabulary and methodology when speaking to our children.
In the end, like Steve Job’s poem, we want our gifted children to feel that they can “invent, imagine, heal, explore, create, and inspire.” They simply have to learn how to harness their strengths and push the world forward.