Is my child gifted? What do I do if they are? What do I do if they’re not?
The gifted conversation can be complicated and emotionally loaded for parents. We all want our kids to thrive and to set them up for success.
Unfortunately, gifted programs aren't always available to all children. Race, income level, plummeting school budgets, neuro-diversity, and learning differences, are all factors.
According to a report published by Purdue University’s Gifted Education Research and Resource Institute, almost 7 million US children could be labeled as gifted. This report argues that as many as three-quarters of gifted black students and a significant number of Latinx/Latino kids aren’t being identified.
Clearly, the gifted system is not fair or inclusive.
But just because your child is underserved or doesn’t test well doesn’t mean they aren’t exceptional or don’t deserve access to advanced classes.
So, what does "gifted" mean for your kid? How is an exceptional child identified? How do you ensure your child is involved if a gifted program is available? Most importantly, how do you support your kids with and without the gifted program?
Here’s a quick overview of what you can do to help your gifted child succeed.
How do I know if my child is gifted? What does gifted mean?
Being “gifted” may not mean what you think.
It doesn’t mean your child gets all A’s or high test scores. Gifted intelligence has several expressions, including rebellion and anger. Check out this helpful, printable comparison for the specific "gifted" characteristics and how they differ from "bright" traits.
Because all kids are so unique, your child will not be exactly like any other gifted kid. So identifying a gifted child can be tricky. Assessment is part of the process, but it should not be the only factor determining giftedness.
When a child is officially labeled as “gifted,” a few things can happen.
They will likely receive extra academic benefits. The NAGC states that a gifted program allows high-achieving children additional challenges and support to thrive in their studies. The child may feel they’re finally getting the engagement they needed all along.
That’s all fantastic news, or it should be. Unfortunately, giftedness can carry an array of stigmas and negative connotations. It can be a barrier to socialization, making it difficult for your child to connect with friends and peers. The high expectations could also lead to burnout, fear of failure, or other emotional distress issues.
For example, gifted children usually have powerful inner worlds and set extremely high bars. As Lisa Dion, a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and Play Therapist, described it:
Gifted children are unquestionably bright, but the gifted child isn’t the same as the intelligent child. Often the difference lies not only in intellectual needs but also in the ability to regulate.
Giftedness typically comes packaged with self-imposed standards that are impossibly hard to meet, leaving the child bored, angry, or anxious.
Understanding all that comes with being gifted will make you wiser as you parent your kids, especially when it comes to tempering your expectations and avoiding pitfalls.
What is a gifted program? Can it be called something else?
The Gifted Program may go by many names: Advanced Placement, Specials, Advanced Prep, GATE (gifted and talented education), honors class, or even an International Baccalaureate program. There are even curricula and programs created for gifted homeschooled students.
The services of these classes and programs can vary depending on your location, not to mention the budget and capabilities of the teacher(s) and staff involved.
How to get your child into a gifted program
While the process may vary slightly for different school districts, here's the basic process for identifying a child for possible inclusion in a Gifted Program:
- The child is nominated or identified by a teacher, parent, or administrator.
- The child undergoes a selection or screening process, often relying on intelligence and achievement testing. The review process may also consider classroom performance and portfolios of completed work.
- The child joins a gifted program.
Of course, the process may differ marginally across locations and districts. The assessment might also consider observations and a demonstration of growth and gifts. Homeschool families can access resources online, including the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children and the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test, to assess a child's intelligence and academic abilities.
What if my child isn’t gifted?
So what happens if your child isn’t accepted into a gifted program?
The teachers, administration, or other support staff don't always get it right. Your kid may have superior abilities in one area, but their talents may not shine through in the type of testing and assessment for your local Gifted Program. Maybe your school doesn't even offer such a program.
National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) reports that 6% of the kids who receive special education services are also exceptional or gifted, even if the school hasn't labeled them that way.
Arbitrary qualifications or assessments don't always account for unique learning challenges, ways of learning, or special needs. In the mad dash toward "good enough," your child's exceptional talents may not stand out.
Or they may be misdiagnosed or overlooked because of asynchronous learning development (they may demonstrate advanced skills in math but struggle with reading). Or because they have executive functioning challenges or learn differently.
The good news is that gifted programs are not the only way you can support your child's unique talents and abilities. Here are some easy ideas to get you started.
- First, reach out to your school district or local gifted program and find out what is being taught. Try enrolling your child in online enrichment classes that focus on those topics, or study them together at home.
- Read! Find books that match your child's passion and read together. Make it challenging by choosing books that are above their expected reading level. You can follow a recommended reading list, Newbery award winners, or use a reading subscription box – we love ones that feature diversity-focused books.
- Practice. Most STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) subjects require practice to truly get better at them. Trying a service like KiwiCo or Green Kid Crafts is a great way to dig into STEAM in age-appropriate ways.
Even if your kid’s school never labels them as "gifted,” there are plenty of ways you can support your children's education and success.
How to support your exceptionally gifted child
Your support is essential to your child's growth, success, and health. As you may know, just because your child can handle the workload, the expectations, and academic demands doesn’t mean they're ready. They might not have the work habits to accomplish everything suddenly piled onto them.
So, how can you support your child? Here are a few tips. Note that these focus on "gifted" kids, but they apply across the board.
Help your gifted kid learn how to embrace failure and mediocrity
Gifted children tend to be good at a lot of things. They're usually highly sensitive and perfectionistic. They're used to succeeding. A sense of competence is likely a core part of their identity. But what happens when they don’t excel?
Failure can be jarring for anyone, but even mediocrity can be difficult for a gifted child. As a Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Post put it,
Many gifted children are used to excelling and this expectation may define their sense of self. They expect to succeed, and any possibility of failure or mediocrity can be devastating. Trying something new and difficult creates an opportunity to upend these expectations and build resilience.
So one of the best things you can do for your gifted child is to help them try something they’ll find hard. Doing it alongside them will give them a safe place to unpack these challenging emotions. It’s an excellent way to help them process and thrive.
Empower them to learn – on their terms
Gifted children are hungry to learn. These kids ask lots of questions and want to understand how things work.
Families frequently say they come to Outschool because their child is bored. Many have gifted kids who aren’t getting what they need from traditional school systems. Some research shows that “the brightest children in the classroom may become competent but unimaginative adults who do not fully develop their gifts and talents.”
Why? Because they need to be challenged. Understanding how to motivate gifted kids and let them learn on their terms is vital.
Some families seek out supplemental learning experiences because they want to explore topics not offered in their schools, go deeper in a subject, or go faster than their peers.
Simply put, families come to Outschool because their kids can learn on their terms. Educators on Outschool create their curriculum and design their classes. So kids can learn in new, creative ways beyond traditional education, exploring topics like:
- How to make a video game
- Anime art club
- Chess Masters Club
- Escape the zombies
- Summer Roblox camp
- Natural wonders of the world
- Creative writing camp
- How to make electrical circuits
- How to be a Dungeons and Dragons master
- How math works in nature
- Shakespear acting club
- And more
Here are some broad categories to get you started on your search so you can find the perfect class for your learner.
Outschool’s online classes are convenient and affordable, costing an average of $15. It’s the perfect way for your hungry kid to test out something new, connect with peers who share their passion, or even try something they might not be “good” at.
Support your gifted child with advanced tutoring
You might associate tutoring with struggle – students who are “behind” or who find a particular subject difficult.
But advanced tutoring is also a fantastic way to support your gifted child’s accelerated learning and growth. If you’ve maxed out what they can get from their class or your expertise, it’s time for some tutoring. Or, if your child loves a particular subject but is bored in class, one-on-one tutoring can help them reengage.
“Gifted” also doesn’t guarantee academic success. There is no shame in your child needing help. Period.
In terms of managing tutoring costs, try online tutoring. It’s usually more affordable and varied than what you can get locally. Check out Outschool’s virtual English tutoring, math tutoring, and more.
Give your kids ‘gifted’ role models
Being different, even in positive ways, can be challenging. It’s so much easier when we know we’re not alone. Connecting your child with peers and mentors who are also ‘gifted’ can help them learn how to navigate their unique challenges.
Connecting with folks in gifted programs is a great place to start, but there are also fabulous books and novels. Role models are always helpful for kids, whether they live in your town or on the page. We recommend reads like these, The Survival Guide for Gifted Kids and The Gifted Kids Teen handbook.
It’s easy to get caught up in test scores and grades, but what if our goal was to help our kids love learning? Whether or not your child is ‘officially’ gifted or recognized by a particular program doesn’t have to dictate their opportunities.
Interest-based enrichment classes are a great place to start because they focus on exploring what your kid is already passionate about. As Lisa Dion said, “every child is a genius when we get them involved in the areas that are most meaningful to them.”
How can you help spark your kid’s curiosity?