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If you have a child identified as gifted and talented, should you share this information with your child? What do I say to my daughter?
While this seems like an easy question, it can feel complex for a parent to answer and a child to understand. Gifted and talented education is a specific category of special education in most states. While the federal definition includes five categories (general intellectual ability, specific academic aptitude, creative thinking, leadership, and the visual and performing arts), school programs generally target children who are gifted in general intellectual ability or specific academic aptitude, and who are in need of different curriculum. In other words, these students already know much of what is being taught in the grade, or the pace and depth of instruction are not challenging enough for them.
If you don’t explain what this identification means, children can jump to some really wrong conclusions. They are also likely to hear you talking to their grandparents or others about their identification and will be suitably puzzled. Furthermore, if and when more difficult work comes with the gifted programming, they may indeed decide that they wish they were just regular kids. So the real question is: How do you share this information with children without making them think they are superior to other children or that other children aren’t as smart as they are? Also, how do you tell children about this identification without causing them to have expectations of themselves that are too high and which may cause them to feel pressured?
A safe and realistic way of explaining gifted and talented identification and programming to children is in terms of skill differences. You can tell them that everyone has both strong and weak areas in school learning. If teachers gave all students the same curriculum, most would be getting just about the right amount of challenge. But there are those who would find some things far too difficult and others who might find the same things far too easy. Then there are those children with two exceptionalities — who are both gifted and learning disabled. For each of these groups of children, there must be special programs to enable them to learn at the appropriate pace.
If your daughter was identified for math or reading, you can simply explain that the program will be harder and perhaps more in depth so that she can experience some challenge and learn as much as possible in school. If her identification was more general, you can say that the program will give her more opportunities for in-depth and creative experiences. You can explain that both the school and her parents want her to learn to her abilities and that some careers and jobs in the world require a longer and more complex education, so taking part in this program will prepare her better for those opportunities.
Be sure to let your daughter know that you’re happy about the identification because it means the school really wants to provide a good education for her. Also tell her to keep you informed about how she likes her new program and whether she has any questions about it. Explain to her that you can always get further information from the school to share with her as she continues in the program.
Providing an explanation to your daughter may not be as easy as it seems in the event that she tells you her best friend isn’t in the program and should be with her, for example, or that she’s only earning a B in the gifted program instead of her usual A, or that she has more homework than other kids. In situations like these, try to convince her that, in the long run, she’ll probably be glad she had this opportunity to work harder and learn more and that, despite what may at first seem like drawbacks, the program is likely to be extremely interesting.
Dr. Sylvia Rimm is a child psychologist and clinical professor at Case University School of Medicine, author, newspaper and magazine columnist, and radio/TV personality. For free newsletters entitled So Your Child is Gifted!, Learning Disabilities, and/or The Arts Are Important for Your Children, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for each newsletter and a note with your topic request to P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI, 53094. Read Dr. Rimm’s articles on this topic and submit family questions online at www.sylviarimm.com. All questions are answered.