Each year I work with many gifted children and their parents. For many, school is a very positive experience but for others, things don’t go as well. There is only one response I have to the question “When should I ask for help?” Anytime you have concerns about your child’s learning and wellbeing.
“But I don’t want to be THAT parent!” You know your child best so if there has been a change in their behaviour, their attitude toward learning or their general happiness that is worrisome and that you are not able to explain, it is important to ask questions. Be prepared that the reason may not be as simple as “They’re bored and unchallenged.” And don’t necessarily accept, “All kids are like this at this age.” Children are complex and the source of their stress can be hard to find. Begin with strengthening the relationship with their teacher and letting them in on your worries.
“I am concerned, can you help me?” How you approach the situation is important. If you go into any meeting believing you have the “solution” to the problem, you are likely to meet with resistance. If you subscribe to the adage “if you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” then you know how important it is to empower everyone to be part of the solution. The teachers/school (and vice versa) must be empowered to be equal partners in seeking out the source of your worry as both parties will need to engage in carrying out potential solutions. If they aren’t certain what they can do to help, ask them if there is someone else they can recommend or refer you to whether it be a principal and, if available, a gifted specialist. Most importantly, choose your time to ask the question carefully. None of us are good at applying perspective to a problem when we are in a state of stress.
Be prepared: no system is perfect. I think the biggest source of frustration for many gifted students, their parents and educators of the gifted is that sometimes the system has a lot of difficulty delivering what each of us believe would be the “suitable and successful” learning environment for the gifted. The first problem is the differences in definitions of what constitutes suitable and successful. The second problem is that 2.1% of a population is a relatively small group and there are many concerns and budgets that need to be balanced. Don’t let that stop you. In my experience, most teachers are committed to supporting the needs of the children in their class. But remember, even if you do manage to find a solution with one educator/school, often educators and administrators don’t always stay in the same place for long periods of time and so you might find yourself revisiting the needs of your child with new people each year.
If need be, look for options. Sometimes you may find the support you are looking for isn’t available in the way you feel would best meet your child’s needs. There are opportunities and organizations outside of the school that do allow your child to work to their potential in areas of specialization. Many of the students I work with are involved in extra-curricular programming that caters to their excellence. Do not under-estimate the value of these in fostering confidence and a love of learning. Sometimes switching schools and/or school districts can be an option so it might be worthwhile exploring how another school/district might approach supporting gifted students. I have had many students whose “change of scenery” has made a big difference. Some parents have chosen to home school and there is a wealth of information available online and within individual communities for parents who pursue this route. This is a HUGE commitment but what you can learn about yourself and your child if you choose this route is invaluable.
Embrace the journey. The process of asking for help, advocating for those in need, empowering those who are positioned to be part of the solution and forgiving those who aren’t always able to understand is a powerful learning experience. Modelling this process is one of the biggest gifts you can give your child. We must learn to live and ask questions in an imperfect world so that where and when possible, we can make a difference.