Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Parenting Your Gifted Child

Guiding Your Gifted Child
 by Marty Nemko
(Originally appeared in the Mensa publication, The Intelligencer)

The government incentivizes schools and teachers to improve low-performing students' achievement. As a result, too often, bright and gifted kids' needs shortchanged.
What's the parent or other caring relative of a gifted child to do?

Choosing a School
One option is to try to get your child admitted to a school with a large percentage of high-ability and/or high achieving kids: a school in your district or an inter-district transfer.

Whether or not such options are available to you, as the new school year or semester approaches, find out if there's a teacher of your child's grade who would be much better with kids like yours than would the other teachers. If so, ask the principal or counselor if your child might be placed in that class. You'll be on safer ground if you couch it as, "I visited the classes my child might be in next year and it really seems that Ms. X would be the best fit for his needs. Might you be willing to place him there?" You can't request that too often but do it once or twice during your child's stint at that school and you can make a big difference in her education without undue effort.

Skip a Grade or Four?
Consider acceleration, grade-skipping. Especially with today's focus on low-achieving students, acceleration works better for many kids than does badgering the on-grade teacher to accommodate to your child's needs. Often, despite incessant tactful requests from the parent, above-average kids sit stultified in today's mixed-ability classes. And if a kid is active, s/he gets in trouble and too often put on a Ritalin a ratio of eight boys for every one girl.

Many parents worry that the academic benefits of grade-skipping will be outweighed by social mismatch but generally, if the receiving teacher is enthusiastic and has the child sit next to a supportive, respected student, the result is superior to the aforementioned badgering.

If the idea of grade-skipping appeals, schedule a meeting with the principal in which you don't blame teacher or the school. Couch your request as simply trying to get an appropriate-level education for your child. Support your case by showing a portfolio of the child's work in and out of school, test scores, and a supporting letter(s) from the child's teacher, head of the district's gifted program, and/or a private educational consultant.  

After School
While we parents like to think we're most important to our child's development, recent research suggests that peers may have more influence. That means that one of our most potent interventions is to facilitate good friendships. If you don't know which kids to invite to your home or on trips, etc., visit your child's class and watch the kids not only in the classroom but at recess. Of course, ask your child who s/he'd like to befriend.

Parents of gifted kids tend to overschedule their kids after school. Be selective. Not every kid needs exposure to soccer,  flute lessons, religious school, and community service. Gifted kids are still kids, and they, like all of us, can use down time. Some of my happiest childhood memories are simply of watching clouds, or snowflakes land on the window. That all said, some supplementation of course is wise. Hoagie's Gifted ( is a portal to an amazing range of options for gifted kids and their parents and teachers, from ten-minute activities to summer programs.

Even some well-adjusted gifted kids suffer emotionally. Especially if they're in a school with few intellectual peers, they may suffer from the Hobson's choice of being disliked or dumbing themselves down, for example, by not raising their hand often. Even though it's contrary to today's egalitarian ethos, I think it's wise to often remind your child that s/he is intellectually superior. Of course, that doesn't justify their being obnoxious to others, but quietly recognizing their superiority can balm against the slings and arrows.

Don't assume that because a child is intellectually advanced, s/he's not below average in some emotional or social area. Despite having a Ph.D. in educational psychology and a school psychology credential, except in severe cases, I'm not a big fan of therapy. If my child were mildly depressed, socially anxious, or simply socially clueless, I'd focus on simple behavioral strategies: giving gentle feedback on their behavior, modeling the desired behavior, encouraging them to work to their strengths rather than focusing much on weaknesses, and encouraging some non-academic area that feeds them: in the arts, sports, helping others, whatever.  

Of course, significant dyslexia, spectrum disorder, bipolar, etc usually require professional assistance. Severe hyperactive (ADHD) kids may benefit from Ritalin, Adderal, etc. 

I know I'm preaching to the choir here but I believe that a high-ability child is one of society's greatest treasures. I wish they were more valued by today's schools but they're not. That leaves it to us. It may be some of our most important work.

Dr. Nemko is an education and career adviser to people young and old. His seven books include How to Get Your Child a Private School Education in a Public School and How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School. Reach him at


Anonymous said...

Marty, one of the many things I'm thankful for is your site and your sage advice!

It's our gifted kids who are most likely to solve our big problems, and it makes me mad and sad that they don't get the attention they need.

What are your thoughts on homeschooling for not only gifted kids, but kids in general?

-Your Reader in Pennsylvania

Maria Lopez said...

In Po Bronson's Nutureshock I read that praising kids for intelligence doesn't work as well as praising them for hard work.

I'm not sure that IQ tests should be used to sort kids. My ideal, probably, an overly expensive one, is that I wide variety of basic learning experiences should be available to everyone and that advanced learning should be provided to those who do well at the basic stuff.

If online education options make it cheap enough the advanced classes could be made available to those who didn't do well. I agree that people differ in intelligence and that IQ tests can measure these differences to an extent, but I think that performance in less artificial circumstances is probably the best way to measure performance.

K-Man said...

Good luck getting schools to go along with doing anything to benefit gifted and bright children. Most will resist to the fiber of their core.

My parents remembered that despite my abilities upon entering first grade and a genius-level IQ score, the local elementary school decided against grade-skipping me to third grade—and this was over 40 years ago.

For decades education schools at universities have preached egalitarianism, and since education majors as a group have the worst academic performance and lowest SAT scores going in and worst GPAs coming out of university, the nitwits who want to be teachers are a ready audience for the idea of screwing over the gifted in any way possible.

Private schools are generally little better, contrary to popular belief.

Despite my general dislike of homeschooling, I think that for the gifted student this may be the best option.

Marty Nemko said...

Thanks, Anonymous.

With the right kid and the right parent willing to do all the work of homeschooling, it's may be the best option, including for socialization. But it does require the right parent, kid, and relationship between them.

Marty Nemko said...


Much as I like Po, he's not an expert in this area. Nuance is required here. If a gifted kid tends to not work hard, yes, praising him when he does work hard makes sense. But if a gifted kid is suffering from low-self esteem because less intelligent kids are ostracizing him, than helping him to feel good about himself by praising his intelligence is more appropriate.

IQ tests (and their proxies, the SAT, LSAT etc) are by far the most conatruct- and predictively valid pencil-and-paper index of intellectual functioning: reasoning, memory, which are foundational to success. Of course, no pencil and paper test is perfectly correlated with real-life functioning. For example, one also needs drive and emotional adjustment. And there are specific intelligences such as musical, which may not correlate highly with IQ, but dismissing the value of IQ is to fall prey to political rather than substantive argument.

Maria Lopez said...

I'm not saying they aren't valid, in fact I recommended to someone recently that he take one. However, they can be thrown off in certain ways. For instance if you want your child in a gifted program making him practice an IQ test could get him in because the tests are not designed to control for the effect of practice.

A more important limitation is that they test working memory which might be a ceiling to achievement but is not a floor. Autistic and brain damaged people will often perform under their IQ because of good working memory coupled with lousy executive function.

Intuitive recognition of this might be why fat or sloppy people are discriminated against even if they have good achievements and references.

Of course, your original article said nothing about GATE program admission through IQ. I was sorted into GATE with the use of the WISC, my daughter, probably for PC reasons didn't take it.

However, looking at her STAR test scores, her achievements in spelling bees, her writing and the unfortunately fact that other kids have employed her
to do their work for them all lead to the conclusion that she is gifted, though maybe not with integrity.

In summary the IQ test as well as the SAT, while valid, are quick way of evaluating masses of people you don't know. If you know someone you can probably come to a better idea of their suitability for a position than you can just with an IQ test.

Marty Nemko said...

Practicing will not appreciably improve your IQ test score---even if you could practice--only psychologists have access to them.

Re your criticism that IQ tests are a ceiling, so what? You wouldn't, for example, tell doctors not to use an MRI to rule out a brain tumor just because it doesn't rule out other problems.

You point to another advantage of IQ tests--Because they're individually administered by a psychologist, they can't be cheated on.

Especially standard IQ tests like the WISC, WAIS, and Stanford-Binet, are not quick mass-screening tools. They are more predictive accurate than much subjective teacher judgment, and ironically, are far less likely to be biased against minorities than, for example, teacher judgment.

Maria Lopez said...

I'm not talking about teacher judgement. I'm talking about a history of objective achievement. Though I realize I was unclear about this.

As to IQ tests only being available to psychologists, if I felt the need to get one, I probably could.

Psychologists are unlikely to be jailed or fined or even fired if they give them to me. One can get addictive prescription drugs and there are far stronger incentives not give them out.

Also I think practicing would also assuredly increase your score on the spatial component of the WAIS, the last test I took. The factual knowledge questions could be better answered if you read more. All this doesn't meaning that IQ tests aren't good they are just hackable to an extent.

I'm not saying IQ tests are worthless, just that a consistent record of achievement is better.

In fact my achievements are less, not greater, than my IQ would suggest.