Parenting Gifted Kids: Keep Them Challenged and Humble

In her weekly column, Annie Fox offers advice for parents on how to encourage and support gifted children.

Keeping gifted kids engaged in school can often be a difficult task. (Photo: Westend61)

Each week parenting expert Annie Fox will share her wit and wisdom for teaching kids to be good people and strong learners.


When our daughter qualified for the district’s new Gifted and Talented Education program (aka GATE), I imagined wonderful opportunities to nurture our girl’s obvious talent for writing, drawing, and theater arts. Instead, what she got was a single 50-minute period once a week to do…what? Beats me.

All she ever said was that she liked GATE because it made her miss math. At the end of the term, we parents were shown a fairly chaotic ten-minute student-made video. Something about an out-of-control robot.

When our son qualified for what was billed as an “enriched” GATE program, I was cautiously optimistic. The district received a nice chunk of GATE funding and everyone was set to go. Everyone except a few parents whose kids’ test scores didn’t qualify them for GATE. Those folks protested the very existence of a “gifted” program saying it was “unfair” and that “feelings would be hurt.” So our school district unfortunately disbanded GATE and returned all the money, thus preventing any students from benefiting.

More: Gifted Kids: Are the Best Minds Being Left Behind?

What is giftedness anyway? Turns out, there isn’t yet a single agreed-upon definition. There are several on The National Association for Gifted Children site. I like this definition, taken from the Javits Act:

The term gifted and talented student means children and youths who give evidence of higher performance capability in such areas as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the schools in order to develop such capabilities fully.

Whether your child has passed a specific test or not, every kid has gifts and talents. Parents should be on the lookout for these special abilities and do whatever possible to encourage and support their development. If your child has been officially identified as “gifted,” here are some specific ways you can be the kind of parent who nurtures his/her gifts:

1.   Keep your child challenged. Kids who aren’t challenged intellectually or creatively may act out in school or become turned off to education. To prevent wasted gifts, talk with your child’s teacher in a spirit of cooperation. Many teachers delight in their gifted students and are eager to go the extra mile to keep them engaged. With encouragement from you and a show of initiative from your child, teachers often dream up challenging special assignments as well as opportunities for students with exceptional talents to take leadership roles in classroom projects.

2.   Advocate for your child. If the teacher/school is unwilling to accommodate your child’s needs, then advocate for gifted education on the local or state level while also doing your best to provide extras at home. Check out these education resources.

3.   Let your child lead. Parenting a gifted child requires providing a stimulating environment. Tune into your child’s interests and do your best to provide him/her with what’s needed to continue developing the gifts through hands-on experiences and intellectual pursuits.

4.   Open windows to the world. Bring your child to places that will stimulate the imagination and provide new ideas for the use of his/her talents. “Windows” include books, films, exhibits, lectures, special classes, concerts, museums, outings, trips, etc. Plenty of opportunities for enhanced learning exist in all communities and many are available at little or no cost. Check your local newspaper and online for scheduled events that match your child's interests.

5.   Be on the lookout for mentors. Unless your own gifts and talents precisely match your child’s, you will not be able to provide everything s/he needs to reach full potential. Following your child’s lead, work together to connect with mentors who are engaged in the kind of work and/or creative pursuits your child is interested in.

A final gentle reminder: Resist the temptation to continuously brag about your kid’s accomplishments. This kind of talk alienates other parents and can encourage your child to use “giftedness” as a reason to condescend. If you see that attitude, give it a needed course correction. Your role as parent to a gifted child includes all of the above, plus helping him/her feel a part of the community. When we do that, we teach our kids that the best use of any gift or talent is in service to the greater good.

These are solely the author's opinions and do not represent those of TakePart, LLC or its affiliates.

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