Most parents greet the discovery that their child is gifted with a mixture of pride, excitement, and apprehension. Then, they may well seek expert help on how to cope with bringing up the child, only to find that the help they can get is very limited.
We should begin by realizing that giftedness is a particular degree or concentration of innate qualities such as arc given to every child by his or her Creator, a fact emphasized in several verses of the Qur’an, for example:
It is He who brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers when you knew nothing; and He gave you hearing and sight and intelligence and affections: that you may give thanks (al-Nahl, 16.78).
It is He who has created for you hearing, sight, feeling and understanding: little thanks you give (al Mu’minun, 23.78).
The counterpart to recognizing the special giftedness of a particular child is to recognize our special debt of gratitude for that giftedness, together with an understanding of the challenges and responsibilities which that debt brings with it.
It is important for parents to be fully aware of the ways in which giftedness can be manifested. There are a number of typical characteristics listed by authorities on the subject. No individual child is likely to be outstanding in all the ways indicated on the list.
It should be kept in mind that it is neither admirable nor contemptible to be gifted. It is what one does with one’s abilities that is important. Throughout the parenting years, it is wise to accept that the healthiest long-term goal is not necessarily a child who gains fame, fortune and a Nobel Prize, but one who becomes a contented adult able to use his or her gifts productively.
Throughout childhood and early adolescence, we must provide the environment in which gifted children can flourish. We can do this by trying to:
be responsive to the unusual questions the children ask;
be respectful of the children’s unusual ideas or solutions by listening to them without bias, as the children will see many relationships that their parents and teachers miss;
encourage the children to test their ideas by using them and communicating them to others;
ensure that the children can learn, think and discover without the threat of immediate evaluation or prejudgement.
Effective nurturing of giftedness in children and adolescents requires a co-operative partnership between home and school, one that is characterized by mutual respect and an ongoing sharing of ideas and observations about the children involved.
Because gifted children may begin school already knowing much of the material covered in early grades and because they learn quickly, some type of acceleration is necessary. For some children and in some situations, grade skipping is the best choice. Placing a child with older children with similar interests may be socially and intellectually beneficial and result in a more appropriate curriculum.
The following strategies, suggested in a Gifted Leadership Conference in Washington. illustrate how bridges in thinking can be built between giftedness and education.
Although parents and teachers may be concerned about academic planning for gifted children, they often assume that career planning will take care of itself. The student is simply expected to make a career choice around the last year of college and then follow through on the steps necessary to attain that goal.
Unfortunately, there is growing evidence that youthful brilliance in one or more areas does not always translate into adult satisfaction and accomplishment in working life. Studies have shown that the path from education to career is not always smooth, and it may be complicated by the fact that the social-emotional problems and needs of gifted students differ from those of more typical students.
Young gifted people between the ages of II and 15 frequently report a range of problems as a result of their abundant gifts: perfectionism, competitiveness, unrealistic appraisal of their gifts, rejection from peers, confusion due to mixed messages about their talents, and parental and social pressures to achieve, as well as problems with unchallenging school programmes or increased expectations. Some encounter difficulties in finding and choosing friends and, eventually, a career. The developmental issues that all adolescents encounter exist also for gifted students, yet they are further complicated by the special needs and characteristics of being gifted. Once counselors and parents are aware of these obstacles, they seem better able to understand and support gifted adolescents. Caring adults can assists these young people to ‘own’ and develop their talents by understanding, responding to adjustments and challenges and coping with strategies.
Bringing up a gifted child may be ecstasy, agony and everything in between. Adults must perform almost impossible feats of balance - supporting a child’s gifts without pushing, valuing without over-investing, championing without taking over. It is costly, physically and emotionally draining, and intellectually demanding. In the first flush of pride, few parents realize that their task is in many ways similar to the task faced by parents of a child with severe handicaps. Our world does not accommodate differences easily, and it matters little whether the difference is perceived to be a deficit or an overabundance.
The most important help you can give your gifted child or children can be expressed in a single sentence: give them a safe home, a refuge where they feel loved, and genuine acceptance, particular of their differences. As adults who enjoyed such a safe home background, they should be able to put together lives of productivity and fulfilment.