Success Strategies for Parenting Gifted Kids

A new resource: Expert advice from the National Association for Gifted Children.

Posted Feb 28, 2020

Prufrock Press Inc
Source: Prufrock Press Inc

If you are wondering how to support your child's gifted learning needs, Success Strategies for Parenting Gifted Kids is the right book at the right time. Kathleen Nilles, Jennifer Jolly, Tracy Ford Inman, and Joan Franklin Smutny have managed to take 54 disparate topics, sort them into eight theme-based sections, and address most of the questions parents have about giftedness. The writing is smooth and parent-friendly; the chapters provide practical and useful advice; and the book flows from one idea to the next with ease and grace.

The first section deals with characteristics, identification, and talent development. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that the first chapter is one I wrote with Joanne Foster, in which we discuss intelligence, IQ tests, and assessments in response to the question “What do parents need to know?”

The next chapter, by Melissa Hasan, deals with her experience helping an academically gifted daughter with behavior challenges through her schooling. Entitled “Bend or Break: Your IQ Is Not Your Identity,” it deals with some of the thorny challenges encountered by so many parents who are dealing with giftedness. The next two articles in this section concern different aspects of talent development and provide thoughtful, practical advice that parents can use.

In Part II, the authors consider giftedness in early childhood. In the introduction to this section, Joan Franklin Smutny writes, “Learning… should elicit the deep joy of discovery and wide-open curiosity that characterizes children’s first years of life.” There are chapters here on parents’ roles in expanding their children’s worlds, parent intuition, mathematical development, social-emotional development, nurturing giftedness, and developmentally appropriate practice with young children. As with the first section, the diversity across authors, topics, and perspectives encourages the reader to consider the topics from a variety of perspectives.

Social-emotional learning is addressed in Part III. This section covers misconceptions about giftedness, making happiness and health a priority, teaching your child to fail, finding a therapist, motivation, anxiety, perfectionism, and psychosocial skills. I particularly enjoyed Paula Olszewski-Kubilius’ chapter, entitled “The Top Ten Psychosocial Skills to Cultivate in Your Child.” She pulled together the research literature on gifted development (to which she has been a significant contributor), her own years as an administrator of one of the top gifted programs in the United States, and her experience as a parent. The result is a warm, thoughtful discussion of the importance of grit, self-control, meaningfulness, attitudes toward work and ability, enjoyment of solitude, resiliency, optimism, autonomous learning, and working on the edge of one’s competency.

Part IV focuses on creativity. There are two chapters on creative thinking processes and skills, one about uncovering creative genius, one on creative underachievers, one advocating for creativity in schools, one on nurturing a lifelong love of the arts, and one that pulls together ideas from the NAGC Arts Network. There was also a chapter called “Full STEAM Ahead,” in which Carol Fisher argues for incorporating the Arts into STEM courses. She talks about simple ways parents can expose their kids to STEAM principles at home and through outside enrichment activities.

In her introduction to Part V, Tracy Ford Inman writes about the importance of parents becoming informed advocates for their children by understanding the various educational programming options and strategies that are available. There are chapters on acceleration, common core curriculum, choosing a middle school, talent development centers and talent searches, high-quality curriculum, and homeschooling. The final chapter, “Navigating Educational Choices: Finding the Best Fit for Your Gifted Child,” by Ellen Honeck, Anne Johnson, and Megan O’Reilly Palevich, reviews the importance of tying programming decisions to the unique needs of the whole child and the family.

Nurturing gifted learners at home is the focus of Part VI. In the introduction, Kathleen Nilles reminds the reader that parents and caregivers are the most influential people in children’s lives. She reminds us, too, that each child has a unique profile of abilities, interests, and personality characteristics, so a parent’s job is to try for the best fit of activities for their child. This section includes chapters on widening kids’ horizons, nurturing their math talent, summer programs, sports, outdoor play, maximizing STEM learning, discussing books with kids, and using the internet to make global connections.

Part VII deals with advocacy. This section opens with a chapter by Ashley Carpenter and Stacy Hayden on the players in gifted education—teachers, resource teachers, coordinators, support staff, administrators, and more. It includes a reference chart that groups together on one page many of the prevalent gifted education strategies (pretesting, curriculum compacting, acceleration, etc.), along with examples of each. The other chapters in this section address advocacy from a number of angles: effective communication, starting the school year on a positive note, parent support groups, academic competitions, self-advocacy, and including kids in parent-teacher conferences.

The final section addresses the diversity of special populations within gifted education. In her introduction to Part VIII, Jennifer Jolly reminds us that giftedness is not homogeneous, a point that has been made clear in many of the sections and chapters of this book and that comes home strongly here. There are chapters on parenting African American children with gifted learning needs; advocating for those who qualify both as gifted and as learning disabled, and those with issues of ADHD; bully proofing kids with dual exceptionalities; and supporting kids’ heightened empathy and moral sensitivity on issues of gay rights.

If there’s one problem I have with this book, it’s that it fails to recognize the need to move beyond labeling some children as gifted. With other cognitive and psychological exceptionalities, experts have learned to describe people as having exceptional abilities or needs, rather than as being exceptional. Carol Dweck and many of our colleagues in gifted education have demonstrated conclusively the damage done by applying the gifted label to the child. Surely it is time to move on.

Overall, however, the editors have done a great job weaving these 54 topics together, and creating a book parents and teachers will find useful, practical, and inspiring for years to come.