Question: What does “gifted” mean? Why do we use this word? Don’t all children have “gifts”?
Answer: Yes, everyone does have gifts, and this word is not a perfect choice, but it is the best option for now to describe individuals whose intrinsic character and extrinsic experience of the world is profoundly different than those who fall into the “average” or “normal” range on IQ tests.
Question: Why is it important to identify my child as “gifted” and learn about giftedness? Won’t it just make them feel superior? Isn’t this an elitist term? Won’t it isolate them more & add to their sense of being different? I want my child to “fit in” and be more “normal”. I want them to have friends.
Answer: Giftedness is an identity issue and the best analogy is that of a gay person – from very early on, the gifted child experiences being significantly different on the inside than peers. Gifted children choose one of 3 responses to this sense of being unalterably different at their very core, in much the same way a gay child does:
Pretend: To hide the difference, pretend to be someone other than who they truly are, and deny their very identity. To do everything possible to “fit in” to what is considered “normal” behavior and performance. The research* clearly shows that this approach results in much higher rates of anxiety, depression, underachievement, loss of self-worth and satisfaction in life. Yet it’s the approach most parents encourage their child to take.
Isolate: To isolate, to withdraw from a world that doesn’t understand or accept them the way that they are – staying true to themselves but unable to connect and feel part of community or society in a meaningful way. To conclude that everyone else is “wrong” and only they, all alone, are “right”. This choice also leads to higher rates of depression and lower satisfaction or achievement in life – not only due to the lack of community, but also due to stunted intellectual growth. The gifted child requires intellectual peers and the intoxicating stimulus of new ideas and concepts in order to develop fully into who they desire to become, who they were made to be.
Embrace: To find their “tribe”. To seek out and connect with others whose experiences, intensity and passions are similar to their own. To understand what it means to be “gifted” – all the astonishing thrills and the devastating challenges that come along with this identity. To develop an understanding and acceptance of themselves that allows them to come to terms with who they really are in positive ways.
There is plenty of excellent research* supporting the choice to embrace their identity, but a gifted child isn’t able to make that choice without the support, guidance and understanding of informed adults. That is the most compelling reason for you, as the parent of a gifted child, to educate yourself about the complete experience of being “gifted”, not just the academic choices.
*SENG (supporting emotional needs of the gifted) www.sengifted.org/ is the organization that has dedicated itself to doing the research and articulating the social and emotional needs of the gifted. I highly recommend you connect with them and listen to what they have learned as you make critical choices in raising your gifted child.