Ten Tips for Parents of Gifted Students
By Monique Prevost Lloyd
1. Never go to the school angry. Anger begets more anger. If your child comes home and tells you that his teacher hates him/her, it's very easy for a parent to get angry. It is even easier for a parent of a gifted child to feel this way because it is highly likely that you too are gifted. When you were growing up you may not have been recognized as gifted and you may have many unresolved feelings from your school experience. Try to become aware of this and realize that you may still be carrying around old baggage.
When you are calm, call the school and ask to speak to the teacher. The school system is a bureaucratic system with a hierarchy. If the problem is in the classroom, call the teacher first and listen carefully to what he/she has to say. If you are unsatisfied with the response, call the principal and request a meeting, preferably with both the principal and the teacher involved present. Find out what the hierarchy is and what the procedures are before there is a problem.
2. Be sensitive in sensitive situations. As you become more educated about TAG children and TAG education, you may find yourself in some uncomfortable situations. For example, a teacher may quote research you know is out of date. Many teachers are open and responsive to new information but others are not. You may need to find another way to get what your child needs.
3. Be aware of the words you use and aware of the words others use. If a teacher uses words or terms you don't understand, ask for an explanation. Sometimes misunderstandings happen because people have different definitions for the same words. For example, when one person says "ability grouping" the other thinks "tracking". You can't communicate with someone if you're not speaking the same language.
4. Ask yourself: "Whose problem is it?" You need to be able to determine whose problem it is before you can begin to solve it. If a teacher tells you he/she is uncertain about how to meet your child's needs suggest a meeting with the principal, TAG coordinator, school counselor, or other knowledgeable person in the system who can give the teacher some ideas.
5. Develop a plan. Set short and long term goals about what you want for your child. Develop an action plan and a strategy. Make a timetable. View yourself as a problem solver. To solve a problem you must first define it, brainstorm for possible solutions, choose the most likely solution, and then try it. If it doesn't work, try another idea. Be persistent and organized and keep yourself focused on your goals.
6. Document your activities. If you have more than one child, a job, a household and/or business to manage, do volunteer work, and have a few hobbies just for yourself, it can be very difficult to remember when you last spoke to your child's teacher and what was discussed and agreed upon. Keep track of it in writing. If you and teacher have agreed on some very specific points and you want to make sure that the communication is clear, write a letter summarizing what you believe happened at the meeting and mail it to the teacher, requesting a response if there is a difference of opinion.
7. Thank teachers. If you have a conference send a thank you note the next day. Even if the meeting did not go well write a note thanking the individual for his/her time. Always be sincere. It is important to keep the communication lines open.
8. Be informed. Be informed about your child's classroom, your district, the law, and the needs of gifted children. The time to meet your child's teacher is before there's a problem. Establish a relationship at the beginning of the school year. Attend school board meetings and budget meetings. It's true they're sometimes boring. It's also true that there you can gain information and insight that you cannot get anywhere else. Begin talking to your board and budget committee members and get a sense of where they are regarding gifted education. Nurture those who support it and provide information in a non-threatening way to those who do not.
9. Join with other parents for emotional support. This is essential to your well-being. Being a parent is hard job. Being a parent of a gifted child (or children) is a very, very hard job. Be aware of your children's strengths and that they may view the world in a different way, with a different perspective and have deep passions and intense interests.
If someone should make a subtle negative remark about your child an effective technique is to agree with them but then change it so that it becomes positive. For example, if someone says your child is a loner you could reply "Yes. He's always been quite independent and self-motivated." If someone says your child has real stubborn streak you could say "Yes. She's always been very determined and persistent." If someone describes your child's stories as "bizarre and weird" you might say "Yes. He's quite creative and imaginative. Perhaps he'll give Stephen King a run for his money some day."
There are other parents who have survived having half-finished projects scattered everywhere because their child is more interested in the process than the product. There are other parents who don't have a working flashlight in their home because their child has taken them all apart trying to figure out how they work. Actively look for those parents. Find them and share your experiences. You are not alone.
10. Recognize that how well your child is educated depends primarily on you. The person who is most important in your child's education is the one who is the most important in his/her life. That person is you. Make sure your child has access to a large variety of books. You don't have to hand them books and tell them to read. Just leave them lying around. If you want to be really sneaky, hide them. They'll find them.
Listen to different types of music on the radio. Expose them to different ideas, cultures, and ways of looking at things as much as you can. Make it a priority. Don't let a limited family budget stop you. Be creative and be generous about sharing your ideas with other parents.
Talk to your child. Sometimes the shortest answers are best. To a question like, "Why don't they let just the smart people vote?", an answer like "Just because someone is smart doesn't mean they know what is best for everyone," can cause a gifted child to think for a long time. If he/she asks more questions, direct him/her to resources to get additional information. In this example you could direct your child to the public library and the writings of Thomas Jefferson.
Remember that you always have options. If public school doesn't work, try private school (many offer scholarships or are willing to make financial arrangements). Homeschooling is possible even for single parents. There are others who have done it and can help you do it.
Don't over-schedule your child and don't let an older child over-schedule him/herself. Everyone needs time to think, to plan, and most of all, to dream.
Last updated September 2002