Do you have friends or acquaintances with gifted children? Are you never sure what to say? Here’s what to say (and what not to say) when you meet the parents of a gifted child. Let’s build a village, not a greater divide.
Questions that make me uncomfortable:
“How much do you weigh?”
“How old are you, exactly?”
“What’s your opinion on [insert controversial topic continually in the news]?”
“What’s the square root of 5, 075?”
What makes me squirm the most, though, is a seemingly innocuous inquiry: “Where do your children go to school?”
When you ask me that question I will tell you that I homeschool, and chances are you’re going to want to know why.
But I have to steel myself for the responses you might give me.
I am parenting gifted children. The assumptions just make me want to cry.
What to Say (and What Not to Say) When You Meet the Parents of a Gifted Child
Don’t say, “Every child is gifted.”
Every child is a gift. Every child has talents. But not every child is gifted – at least not in the sense used here.
As humans, we are unique and unrepeatable, and each of us has areas in which we excel. The same is true for children: some kiddos fall in love with dance or the arts, channeling the skill of Misty Copeland, Bob Fosse, or Maggie Smith. Others climb hills in search of Mount Everest or pound the sidewalk after Usain Bolt.
When you say every child is gifted, you say every child has the same gift. The truth is, each child is a treasure. We do much better when we acknowledge individual talents instead.
Rather than saying every child is gifted, say, “That’s awesome. What a journey you’re on!”
Raising children is the great equalizer: we all walk a path of challenges and tears. When we show support to our fellow parents, we acknowledge the effort in the call. Let’s build a village and not a lonewolf culture. Parenting’s hard enough as it is.
Don’t say, “Are you sure it isn’t Autism (Asperger’s, ADD, etc.)?”
The truth is, intellectual giftedness and Autism Spectrum Disorders can exist comorbidly. It’s called Twice Exceptionality, and roughly two to five percent of gifted children present this way. There is also a correlation between levels of giftedness and quirks in behavior, primarily the result of sensitivities – heightened intellectual, emotional, physical, and sensory awareness – which can make a child seem awkward or out of place.
But to ask if a child might have ASD or a learning disability is offensive, to families on both sides of the aisle. Questioning a child’s diagnosis draws attention to the label, not the child where emphasis belongs.
Don’t ask if a child is on the spectrum. Rather, say, “That passion (curiosity, precociousness, etc.) will take her far.”
Every child deserves encouragement in her interests, whether she’s typical or not. This statement reveals interest where interest should be placed – away from labels and toward the child’s heart.
Don’t say, “You must work with her at home.”
If by work with her at home you mean pave pathways, then you’re absolutely right – I do. Ninety percent of educating a gifted child is getting out of the way, providing free access (within reason) to the topics she wants to pursue. No child is born knowing everything; gifted kids do benefit from school. But we don’t sit at home with flash cards or practice rote memorization. Their own practice is practice enough.
Rather than assume extra work at home, ask, “What are her interests right now?”
In my house, it vacillates between dinosaurs and mammal behaviors. Other families might be immersed in Greek history or the study of space. Asking this question reveals genuine curiosity, a desire to get to know not only the child, but the family dynamic, as well. When you inquire about a child’s passions, you’re opening doors to commonalities and partnerships, too. All children love hands-on experience. You might be the perfect contact for opportunities in that field.
Don’t say, “My kids are gifted, too, but I don’t want them labeled. Kids just need to be kids.”
Kids do need to be kids, and believe me, we don’t like labels, either. What we do like, though, is giving our children the space to be who they are – to have access to the services they need and the stimulation they crave.
Acknowledging a child’s intellectual giftedness is no different than recognizing a talent in sports. If your five year old’s constantly chasing a soccer ball, isn’t the logical step to seek out a team?
Instead of downplaying a child’s talents, try: “We’d love to hang out sometime.”
Friendship can be hard for gifted families. In some ways, it’s not unlike parenting a child with special needs. Social situations can be dicey because of Twice Exceptionalities or sensitivities; friendships for the child can be few and far between.
What most gifted families would love is companionship – getting to know other families who love us, warts and all. Our children’s characteristics aren’t challenging or threatening. If anything, they can be isolating, and it’s hard to feel alone.
Don’t say, “School must be a breeze!”
School is school, regardless of intellectual abilities. It presents a unique set of triumphs and challenges for every child, dependent upon skill and personality. From finding an appropriate social circle to achieving the right ratio of challenge to success, school for gifted families can be anything but breezy.
Some gifted children thrive in a school environment. Others, frankly, do not.
Rather than assume school is easy, ask, “What educational choices have you made? How are they going for you?”
You’ll find a variety of school choices among gifted families, with many who have pursued more than one. My own children have had a hybrid of traditional and homeschooling, with homeschooling winning out for the foreseeable future. Asking this question opens doors to conversation. It will help you get to know each other and form a bond of mutual respect – the first step to building friendships.
Gifted children are children. Us parents? We’re human, too.
Let’s ask questions that foster conversation, not division.
We’d love to build a village with you.
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