Meeting the Needs of Your Gifted Child

My six year old son is far above the level of his classmates and is now being discouraged from “showing off” his intelligence by answering all the questions presented to the class. His social skills are not what they should be. I really worry that his mental advancement may cause more social damage than good. Any advice? FYI I have a 4 year old daughter who, so far, seems to be perfectly on track with her age group in all areas.

This is a great question that I’ve paraphrased from a comment posted by a reader. I am a strong proponent of the rights and needs of gifted children within the educational system, so instead of simply replying in the comments section, I’ve answered here where the response is more visible. For the entire comment and question, please go to the comment section following, “Is Your Child Gifted?”.

Parents of gifted children have their own special challenges. You have to be an advocate for your child both socially and academically. If your school system doesn’t have a gifted program (or maybe it doesn’t start until after the primary grades) you need to meet with your son’s teacher to make sure his needs are being met. Volunteer to help at school. After having done so for a while and you’ve gained the teacher’s confidence, offer some suggestions, see if the teacher will allow you to present or assist in science lessons. I know many bright and gifted children that love taking apart old cell phones, radios and other types of machines to learn how they work. Just about all the students in my first grade class love it when we do science activities like building simple robots or learning the workings of solar panels. Such lessons can be broad enough to allow a wide range of comprehension and ability.

Socially, it’s important that he has a wide range of interests so that he can meet friends of all different ages that he will find things in common with. You don’t want him to feel isolated from his peers as he reaches middle school, so it’s important to help him make friends through sports and extra curricula activities like after school clubs. Sports aren’t for all kids but you should encourage him to participate as being part of a team widens your circle of friends. If sports aren’t his thing, community drama classes are great for gifted children. Usually there is a wide range of ages participating so he might find the stimulation he needs by becoming friends with older children and you may find that he is a natural at learning lines and interpreting roles. Lego clubs are also becoming increasingly popular as an after school activity. They usually start around second grade, but if you think that he is capable maybe you could volunteer as a leader and set up your own club, or help out at one that is willing to take him. There’s Cub Scouts, the YMCA, JCC, activities at churches, temples and mosques, space clubs, fan clubs, kids playing at playgrounds … in sum, hundreds of “social” activities from which to choose.

As far as comparing your children when one child is gifted and the other is not, here’s my advice. Young children should not hear that they are “gifted” until they are old enough to understand what that means. Especially where your daughter is developing at a different pace, you don’t want her to feel slighted or for him to feel that he has something going that she doesn’t. Gifted children are special needs children because they learn differently and have unique needs to meet. My guess is that your daughter has many talents and will reveal her own “gifts” in time.

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4 Comments + Add Comment

  • Isn’t EVERY child gifted, just in different amounts and in different ways? What may at first glance appear to be a defect or handicap can open up special sensitivities or opportunities. Why not teach children to appreciate the unique gifted-ness in each person (and the accompanying responsibility) rather than saddling them with a label that implies some sort of hierarchy?

  • This is an issue I struggle with. Holly Em makes a valid point and perhaps it makes more sense to refer to these kids as ‘working above grade’. If you are the parent of a child ‘working above grade’ you know that it is a real concern with real issues attached.

    I was a working far above grade child in third grade and was offered the chance to skip fourth and go right to fifth. My parents weighed the pros and cons and decided to let me stay with my grade for social reasons. The age old issue of not wanting me to be with kids one year old because they would all get their periods before me, learn to drive before me and so on. As it turns out, I spent the next several years learning next to nothing and I became the little poop disturber in class. I was bored out of my mind.

    My daughter (who is 7) is far above grade. I am keenly aware of the problems that can arise for her. She is smarter than all of her friends and likely will continue to be. She isn’t learning much on an academic level at school. She’s getting bored and the school she attends does not do much to meet her needs (other than making books at her level available to her). Thankfully, she is socially fine but I’m still very concerned about her education. I think having a child above grade presents very similar problems to that of a child working below grade. Neither is getting what they need.

    This fall I intend to speak with her teachers (unfortunately she has 2 because there is a job share situation) and likely the principal as well. We expect the school to begin providing her with more academically. In kindergarten and grade one there is an attitude of ‘oh just relax mom’ but that’s not going to cut it anymore. She deserves to learn and it’s time they start trying to meet her needs. Obviously, we augment her public school education – I understand that they have to primarily teach to the class average – but they’ve got to each her something or there’s no point sending her there. I know people think parents of kids working above grade should just be happy their kids aren’t struggling and move on but it’s honestly not that simple.

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  • Why is it a problem if your student doesn’t relate well to his peers? We worry that kids can’t relate to people our their own age but what about people who are older? Is your work-place filled with people that are only your age? Why don’t we worry that kids can’t relate well with adults? There are very few students that by the time they are in high school can relate to adults and yet that type of socialization doesn’t seem to be a concern. If your student is gifted, celebrate that and allow him to meet with other kids that are like him no matter the age.

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