5 Things Parents of Gifted Kids Wish Every Teacher Understood

Volume 2

1. Our children have a “rage to learn,” not perform.

Gifted children are the stewards of their own learning and we parents are just the chauffeurs and financiers who get dragged along for the ride. Often our kids pick a (seemingly random) subject and attack it with a voracious appetite…learning every little detail there is to know. In our house, we have enjoyed (endured?) hundreds of hours of discussions about the geographic borders of nations, US Presidents, the periodic table of elements, Pokémon (ugh) and, most recently, North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. When one obsession subsides, another one quickly moves in to replace it. Gifted kids aren’t learning so they can perform well on a test or because they want to impress their teachers (ha – I wish). They are learning because it’s who they are. For them, learning is as important as breathing. My son once said to me through tears, “Mommy I’m a terrible person because after I meet someone and suck all of the knowledge out of their heads, I feel like I am done with them and I want to move on to the next person.” Our kids learning machines! If a teacher is having trouble getting a gifted child to perform…to produce output…he or she could try aligning the assignment with the child’s latest obsession.

2. Socializing is critical to our child’s happiness…please keep them with their friends! 

There seems to be an unwritten edict upheld by teachers and administrators dictating that friends should be separated from one another at school. Making a friend is such a monumental achievement for a gifted child that the least a teacher can do is allow the child to spend time with their friend. Our kids need all the social-emotional coaching they can get. Please let them “feel normal” for a change by allowing them to sit with their buddies at lunch or during recess. In elementary school, put gifted kids in classes with other bright children but also with whomever their ‘best’ friend is for that year. In middle school, make sure gifted students have lunch at the same time as their friends and let them sit together, even if it means bending the rules to do so. If you cut off a gifted child socially, he or she will have a much harder time engaging in the entire school day. Know that we parents are working overtime during the non-school hours to cultivate and support these friendships and we appreciate you encouraging the bonds while our child is under your direction at school.

3. Some gifted children do not speak the help language. 

There is a fantastic video on YouTube called “James and Susie; An Allegory” that highlights why gifted children can under-achieve in school. As odd as this may sound, many extremely bright, articulate children do not have the vocabulary to ask for help. I was at a parent teacher conference once with my son and his teacher was utterly dumbfounded about why my son was “refusing” (her word) to do an assignment. She was telling me how he just stared at his paper the entire period and would not start writing. I turned to my son and asked why he hadn’t done the assignment and he said he did not understand what she wanted him to do. Incredulous, I asked him, “Why didn’t you ask for help…ask her to explain it in a different way?!” He said, “I will never ask for help, mom. I just won’t.” It was then that I realized he had NO IDEA how to ask for help in a way that didn’t diminish him or make him feel ashamed that he needed more direction. Our children often don’t have to ask for help – they “get” things intuitively and everything comes easy for them. Until it doesn’t. Then our kids do not have the words…the vocabulary…to ask for help in a way that doesn’t make them feel extremely uncomfortable or somehow ‘less than’ in their minds. Often, their entire identity is wrapped up in being smart so if they are having to ask for help…what does that mean? They suffer a mini existential crisis that leaves them staring at a blank piece of paper or getting an F on an assignment. Teachers might assume the child is being difficult when the problem is actually a language issue.

4. Classes like P.E. and Art can be as challenging to the gifted child as Math or Science is for other students.

Some intellectually-advanced children are also gifted athletes and artists but most are not. For kids who tend to be not-very-athletic, physical education class can be the “hardest” class of the day. Not only do these children suffer the humiliation of being picked last for teams or dropping the ball on a big play but they are often teased by the very people who are supposed to protect them from bullies – their teachers! Some PE teachers punish children for their asynchronous development by making them do pushups or run laps when they are not as athletically competent as their neuro typical classmates. Others delight in poking fun of very intelligent kids to show the other children that, “smart kids have weaknesses too.”

 In art class, gifted children can be paralyzed with fear when asked to produce an original work since there is no “right” answer. Research shows gifted children have trouble seeing shades of gray (figuratively, not literally) so they struggle when asked to comment on why they do or do not like a work of art or how it makes them feel. Most of all, many gifted children struggle to understand why they must sit through ‘boring’ Art and PE when they could be reading a novel or learning something that interests them. Electives like PE and Art are the “school” part of the school day for many gifted children.

5. Our kids aren’t showing off when they raise their hands in class, they are desperately trying to stay engaged. 

I once had a teacher tell me at a parent teacher conference that she won’t call on my son because, “He always has his hand up and gets the right answer and it makes the other kids feel bad.” Uh…my son is raising his hand because otherwise he would have nothing to do since he already learned what you are teaching and, by the way, maybe he can add new information to the discussion IF YOU WOULD CALL ON HIM. Rant over. It’s so hard for our kids to stay engaged in lessons they already know or to be enthused about another round of review. If they raise their hand, please acknowledge that they are sincerely trying to participate. Yes, they can be distracting when they bring in ancillary details and, yes, there are 34 other students in the class who also want to participate, but please don’t penalize gifted children for knowing the answers and wanting to stay engaged in the lesson.

 What are some of the things you wish your child’s teachers understood about gifted children? Join the discussion on the @Raising Children with Intelligence Facebook page.