Shh! Don’t tell your kids!
It’s a secret. You might whisper about it behind closed doors. Maybe you’ll talk – carefully – with parents of other kids with the same condition. Maybe you even have the condition. Maybe their teachers know – but they’ll never say anything to you. You wanted your kids to be normal, to fit in, to not face the same issues you did. You’ve seen these kids before and maybe felt sorry for them. On TV, they are often outcasts. And now you know that your kids have this diagnosis. But do you tell them??? Someone said it would ruin their mindset!
Nerd. Brainiac. Quirky. Unique. Gifted.
So, you’ve discovered your child is gifted. He started reading at three. Your four year old daughter has the vocabulary of a teenager (thankfully without the cursing). Your five year old watches Neil deGrasse Tyson – and understands him. Your first grader’s math worksheets are beyond the end of the year. Your third grader scores higher than 75% of eighth graders on the ACT Explore test. This is great!
Your son sounds like a professor and the other kids don’t like it. Your daughter just … won’t … stop asking questions. The tags on his clothes and any weird smell or flashing light deeply bother him. Her mind is racing all night long and she can’t sleep. He reads a book about cancer and becomes obsessed with it, freaking out that someone he might know is going to die from it. She doesn’t fit in with her classmates. He’s stuck at a reading table all by himself. And those quirks drive you absolutely nuts! This is not great.
You know your child is different. But do you tell her?
Some would say no. They will say that ‘gifted’ is elitist and leads the child to believe they are better than others. Some will say that every child is gifted, so it shouldn’t apply to just a few. Some will say that it creates a Fixed Mindset instead of encouraging a Growth Mindset. Some would say that we shouldn’t categorize kids.
I believe it is important to tell your children.
Your gifted child is not better than others. Having superior skills – in academics, sports, music, or other areas – does not make someone a better person. Despite our society’s shift towards a utilitarian society where people are valued or degraded based on their skills, health, and what they can contribute, it is important to teach our children that every person has worth, deserves respect and good treatment, and is valued for their humanity. Simply because someone is blessed in one area doesn’t make them more deserving. Being gifted is not a reason to be elevated, but an opportunity to help others more. Your child may be accorded honors that often go to those who are very intelligent or creative, but you have an opportunity while they are young to form their views of equality and humility.
Your gifted child is different. Not all children are gifted. All children are unique and special. All children are to be valued. But not all children are gifted, just like not all children have learning disabilities and not all children are tall. I don’t believe anyone would suggest hiding a known learning disability from a student. Who would say to a student with dyslexia, “No, you aren’t dyslexic. You just can’t read well.” Why should we not be as honest with learning abilities? Don’t tell a gifted child, “No, you aren’t gifted. You can just read well.”
A recent trend in education is the Growth Mindset. Some say it is dangerous to tell a child he is smart or gifted and instead we should praise effort. That advice is very damaging for the unchallenged gifted student in today’s classrooms. Many times this student is succeeding on innate intelligence alone and expending very little effort. Praising this child for effort is lying to him. If we are praising the vast amount of effort when little is given, what will this student do when vast effort is required? If everything is accomplished through effort, does this mean his classmates are lazy? Be honest with your child that some things will come easy to her and require little effort, but it is important to work hard anyway. Then ask his teacher to provide a curriculum that will challenge him to expend effort and help him grow. And put your child in music lessons where effort and talent together create success.
Some don’t like categories and see words like ‘gifted’, ‘black’, or ‘low income’ as divisive. However, your children will be categorized. You can explain to them the unique qualities of being gifted or wait until other kids tease them with ‘nerd’ and ‘brainiac’. Provide your children with an understanding of their traits to fall back on. Categories also drive education funding and services. If there is funding available for a classification of students, they will need to be identified for that category to receive services. There are good reasons to eschew categorization, but giftedness will be part of your child’s identity whether you name it or not.
So don’t keep giftedness a secret from your kids. As they – and you – struggle to understand their identity, this little bit of information can be enlightening.
Thank you for reading Rochester SAGE. Together we can make a difference for gifted children!