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"Help - my child is gifted!"

Yesterday I had a meeting with a teacher from a local school* about the possibility of us doing some skills courses for pupils there - presentation skills, leadership, teambuilding, interview skills, making an impact - that sort of thing.

One of the ideas he threw at me at the end of the meeting (I think he thought of it there and then) was courses for parents, specifically parents of 'G&Ts'. In education-speak, G&Ts are Gifted & Talented children - gifted academically or talented musically, artistically or athletically. This teacher is Head of G&T at his school and he wondered if parents of G&T children would benefit from some advice on how to be the best parents they could to a G&T child.

There's plenty of this sort of advice on the internet. But since many of the people reading this were probably G&T children, I would be interested in hearing what did or didn't work for you. What did your parents do to help you? Did it work? Or was it counter-productive? I would be especially interested if, like me, you were G&T (I was G, I'm definitely not remotely T) but your parents weren't (mine have two O-levels between them). I'd also be interested in hearing from teachers and academics dealing with G&T students. And finally, I'd be interested in hearing the experiences of any parents who have G&T children.

* Non-selective state secondary. This one in fact.


( 42 comments — Leave a comment )
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Aug. 16th, 2013 12:08 pm (UTC)
At my school the entire purpose of the "gifted and talented" program seemed to be to make sure that middle class white kids didn't have to take any classes with black kids.

The real downside is that by isolating us they created this weird culture of competition where learning didn't seem anywhere near as important as sucking up to the teachers and getting grades and recommendations for IVY league schools.

It taught me that the type of people who at age 15 are already thinking about law school or medical school were not people I really wanted to be around, which is why I went to Bard instead of even trying for an Ivy.

(My teachers gave me great reccomendations for Bard because I was the only kid in those classes who wore metallica T-shirts instead of fucking sports jackets and dress pants to class.)
Aug. 16th, 2013 12:12 pm (UTC)
What would have been more helpful is if they tracked the gifted and talented program to what people were actually gifted and talented at. Instead once you were in the program all your courses were gifted and talented courses.

So, simply because I was good at writing and literary intpretation I also had to take advanced math and science clssess t hat I had no aptitude for at all. This really fucked with my GPA because there was pretty much nothing I could do to make my brain understand college level calculus or physics.

It also hurt people who were great at math and science but couldn't deal with the advanced literature classes, because the nuance and etheral nature of literary interpretation went against their logical brains.
Aug. 16th, 2013 01:15 pm (UTC)
Based on observations of parents in the library, my main recommendation to parents would be make sure that support and encouragement doesn't turn into undo pressure. I've seen children desperate to borrow a book in a series they're crazy about, only to told sternly to put it back because it's "too easy," and doesn't stretch them enough. ("He's gifted, you know," they tell me proudly.)

Yes, they're gifted and talented children, but they're still children. They can't be busy achieving all the time. Let them relax with "easy" books, or run round madly, or play games. Keep it fun. Allow them to pursue their enthusiasms, however bizarre or unfashionable these are. My parents obligingly took me to endless castles and let me run round the garden dressed up in historical costume and endured neverending games of Kingmaker, all of which probably did far more to lead to my studying history at Oxford than any amount of pressure to study and achieve.
Aug. 16th, 2013 01:28 pm (UTC)
ditto. I remember a poor Korean child who I tutored for her history A level. She had only been in the UK a year, and her understanding of the British history syllabus was rudimentary at best, but she was terrified of disappointing her (utterly terrifying) parents and had got through the last year of school by cheating in every way available to her.

She was a bright kid, and if we'd had a year of one to one carefully watching for all the stuff that she found incomprehensible due to cultural dissonance and lack of basic background and explaining it, she might even have passed the exam but what they were asking of her was ridiculous. We had two weeks. I wanted to predict her to get a 'D' but she begged the owner of the crammer to change my prediction to a 'B' because she was so afraid of her parents.

She got an E, if I remember rightly. :-/
(no subject) - ckd - Aug. 20th, 2013 03:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 16th, 2013 01:41 pm (UTC)
Hard to assess? My parents provided a private school. No doubt the school would point to my university and degree, and argue that this was very effective. I feel it was a pointless waste of money, but short of an alternative universe and a time machine, that's rather hard to make a final call on. They also supplied a lot of books and a level of isolated rural boredom probably now unattainable in any home with internet.

The end result has been pretty unremarkable by any external standards, although I'm quite happy with it.
Aug. 16th, 2013 03:53 pm (UTC)
Hmm ... are you sure that your parents aren't actually my parents?
Aug. 16th, 2013 02:00 pm (UTC)
I agree with both Bunn and LadyOfAstolat. My parents (neither of whom went to university) provided a private primary school when I was bored/bullied at my state primary and had decided that I hated school. I repaid them by winning a full scholarship to a private secondary school (otherwise things would have been very difficult financially). Perhaps unlike Bunn, I have no doubt that this was a Good Thing as I thrived there and had a brilliant experience (which might have been harder at the local state schools, which offered far fewer subjects and were even keener on sports).

Beyond that, when I was small they provided lots of trips to the library/castles/zoo on request. When I was bigger they provided pocket money for me to buy RPG books, cassettes of baroque music, and VHS tapes of The Prisoner, hosted endless sessions of boardgaming and roleplaying, and generally indulged my self-chosen enthusiasms.

Now, as parents, we're trying to walk that line between encouraging our kids to try activities, and letting them decide whether, and to what extent, to pursue them. Katy has, in her short life, been to dozens of different clubs etc; and though we're happy that one has stuck (riding), we would have been equally happy if she had decided to spend all her time reading and playing games (my childhood!) Danny is a more natural joiner-in, but his main hobby (dance) seems to have appeared from nowhere, and now we're supporting him as much as we can. Moral of the story? No idea!

As a teacher at an academically selective school, I see very little link (either way!!) between happiness/success (by any criteria) of child and pushiness of parent. I think it's down to personality; there's no "one size fits all" answer, alas.
Aug. 16th, 2013 05:53 pm (UTC)
I should perhaps add that, as parents, we're also sending both of our kids to a private primary school. We're very fortunate to be able to afford this. (If either or both of them eventually study at the school where I teach, it would be a financial relief! But I wouldn't want that if it was the wrong place for them.)
Aug. 16th, 2013 03:20 pm (UTC)
Bunn and Kargicq have reminded me of the rather enormous thing that my parents did, which was move from a house they loved in order to stay in the catchment area of the nearby state grammar school when the boundaries changed. The school I would otherwise have had to go to had an egalitarian Head who refused to let anyone study a subject unless everyone could do it. I expect my enthusiasms and academic inclinations would have survived it, but the grammar school was definitely right for me. However, I doubt this school wants you to say to its parents "consider moving house to get your child into a better school." :-)
Aug. 16th, 2013 03:25 pm (UTC)
This is a non-selective comprehensive that is literally across the river from a city (Plymouth) that has three selective grammars and an independent that throws scholarships at anyone who can swim or dive quite well or whose parents are in the military.

So yes, that probably isn't what they want to hear! (Not that you have to move house to Plymouth to get your kids into the grammar schools; quite a few pupils there live in Cornwall, South Hams or West Devon.)
Aug. 16th, 2013 03:36 pm (UTC)
Really interesting question for me as a former child and current parent. I'm in the category you refer to: my parents have no A-levels.

The number one thing I would have liked as a child would have been gifted classmates / friends / peers. My parents decided to move me from state to private at the age of 8, which was very generous of them, but I think it was probably counterproductive. The private school was tiny - fewer than 30 in an entire year group - so I was effortlessly top in everything, whereas in a large state school I probably would have had some equals just on statistical grounds. I would have loved for my intelligence to be a source of fun and challenge with a group of like-minded people, rather than a source of social isolation, and I would have liked some incentive to try hard in class rather than coasting. (This did all mean that when I got to Cambridge and got all those things it was wonderful).

I would also have liked regular access to a library (OK, there was the school library, but it was tiny and mostly stocked with early 20th century school stories). I was very lacking in new reading material. I had about a hundred books at home which I re-read far too often and knew far too well.

One thing they did which was very good was to get me a computer, and my dad taught me what he knew of programming. I had fun and learned a lot. I floundered a bit, because this was before we had the internet (with its tutorials and reference guides and Q&A forums) and I had no one to teach me where my dad was too busy or his knowledge left off; but it was still definitely a Good Thing.

Another good thing was just having people around who sometimes shared interesting things with me. My nan taught me Pig Latin and those logic puzzles with the grids, my mum taught me cryptic crosswords, and I think my grandpa taught me chess.

I now have a 3-year-old who's looking to turn out very bright as well. I think things will go better for her just because she's in Cambridge and will go to school with the children of other Cambridge people, and because we and so many of our friends and their kids are geeks of one sort or another, and can teach her things and help/encourage her with her own hobbies.

Summary: 1) Other clever people, 2) Books.
Aug. 16th, 2013 05:55 pm (UTC)
Completely agree with the summary. Parents can provide (2) but schools are there for (1), and large schools are probably better than small ones for that reason. Location is definitely important!
(no subject) - resonant - Aug. 19th, 2013 11:37 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - f4f3 - Aug. 19th, 2013 01:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - woodpijn - Aug. 19th, 2013 05:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 16th, 2013 04:31 pm (UTC)
i@d love to - when I get back home. Please would you say 'yo' to this so i get emailed a bookmark. Thanks.
Aug. 16th, 2013 07:52 pm (UTC)
Aug. 16th, 2013 05:45 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure what my parents did for me apart from somehow making me hugely interested in anything and everything. I've never had a work ethic (unless I'm fascinated by something), that would have been handy. I believe that encouragement to work, by praise, reward, whatever is key to success, but not to the exclusion of fun, as that's also very important.

They also need to be aware that it'll cause them some social problems with some types of people (to some extent depending on many factors), and they need to be prepared for that, or at least supported through it. Close friends may also help.
Aug. 16th, 2013 10:28 pm (UTC)
What didn't work for either of us was having one parent tell a friend "Pellegrina's got the brains and Curmudjen's got the looks", so that I felt I was a failure if I didn't get good marks at the first try, and she felt she might as well not bother. Now she is way more successful than me, and still better looking. (My neuroses, let me show you them.) I have never had a work ethic either.

Also, greeting your children's achievements with a reflection on the quality of their genetic material? Not classy.
Aug. 17th, 2013 04:55 am (UTC)
This was very interesting. I'm from a different country and none of this seems to apply. What exactly is considered a G &/or T child?

As a parent I'm exposing my children to different activities, different books about different things, same with dvds and provide them with activities they seem to be interested in. They won't be going to private schools because we can't afford them.
I think they are both very clever, but I don't know if they are GT children. And what I want for them is to be happy and do the best they can. The best can translate into very different marks in different areas, but I'm perfectly all right with that. I also hope they will love learning and be interested in things around them.

My husband is definitely G - as I've been told my MiL on my first visit, and my brother in law is definitely T (he may be G too, but I don't know). What I liked about their approach is that they seemed equally proud and supportive of both their children and their choices, even at this stage and even when they don't fully agree with their choices. That kind of support I hope to give to my children too.
Aug. 17th, 2013 07:42 am (UTC)
Another thing that occurs to me is that the parents need to realise that just because their child counts as Gifted in the context of their small school, they're still very unlikely to end up ruling the country/winning a Nobel prize/earning a million a year. Many of them won't want to, and will be perfectly content with a non glamorous job. Many of these children will go on to university to find that everyone they meet was classed a Gifted at school, and that many of them are actually far more "gifted" than they are.

I don't mean that the parents should keep telling their child that their gifts aren't all that impressive, and keep on undermining their confidence. But I've read memoirs by people who were effortlessly top of their class in a tiny school, and were therefore encouraged to think that the world was theirs was their taking. Then they went to university and found that they ranked as pretty average, really, and it was such a terrible crushing blow to realise that they weren't actually the number 1 brain in the world that they never quite recovered.
Aug. 17th, 2013 09:36 am (UTC)
Other side of the coin; I found it a huge relief not to be Number 1 Brain any more! Very hard to generalise. :)
(no subject) - woodpijn - Aug. 19th, 2013 05:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 17th, 2013 11:48 am (UTC)
What is the definition of 'gifted'? Is it getting straight As when you sit your O levels at the normal age for sitting them? Or is it sitting your O levels aged 10?

I went to a state primary school that was being gradually closed down, so that the space could be grabbed by a secondary school. Thus we were always the youngest kids in the school - as we moved from primary one to primary two, there was no intake of new kids behind us. I have no idea what psychological effect always being the youngest had on me. (My brothers went to another primary, as they were younger than me).

My secondary school lumped people together at random in 1st Year, then streamed them thereafter by academic ability. However the streaming had some flexibility - if you were good at French and rubbish at Maths, you'd be in the top set for French, but a lower set for Maths. But I don't know anyone who was in the top set for one subject and the bottom set for another - I suspect they just dropped you from top to middle. The school also had a prize giving every year, where the academic people as well as the sporty people got prizes (books - yaaaay!).

They worked out who got the academic prizes because we sat exams twice a year, every year, from age 12 onwards. So exams were 'normal' rather than unusual and stressful. In O grade/Higher years the only difference was you sat three exams that year, not two!

The school also streamed the ability to do certain subjects - you couldn't do Latin unless you'd scored 60% or more in French in your 1st Year. (Doing Latin had the added bonus of getting you out of doing Home Economics).
Aug. 18th, 2013 04:33 pm (UTC)
My parents didn't need to do anything to encourage me to work. I gobbled up information, music, science, maths. I hated English though and didn't like to read fiction mostly because everything I'd been offered was boring. My school library didn't have much in the way of science fiction and my English teacher started me with "Feersum Endjinn" which, given how it was written, I could barely understand so I never made it past the first chapter. I got an A in English by the skin of my teeth and only because my Mum found a tutor who I really liked and made things fun. She managed to turn Romeo and Juliet into something hilarious and I finally understood it. I didn't need any help with Philip Larkin's poetry - that I loved!

My school didn't have any sort of gifted programme. It was second bottom in the league tables. The bright kids or kids whose parents had money usually went to private school in the city. I refused.

What I wish my Mum hadn't done was force me into studying Medicine just because I was expected to get straight As and that's what a straight A student who prefers science to English should study. I also wish my Dad had stood up to her and helped me study Physics like I wanted to. My Mum wanted me to have a guaranteed job at the end of my degree and in 2002 that was the case. You may wonder how she managed to force me. My Mum is a travel agent in guilt trips and has a degree in emotional abuse and threatened to withdraw all financial support if I didn't do what she wanted me to do. She also managed to convince me that Medicine was what I wanted to do. I have major self-esteem issues. Anyway, I had a breakdown in my third year, dropped out at the beginning of my fifth year and haven't done anything useful since due to mental health issues. Would these have occurred or been as severe if I'd studied physics instead? I don't know the answer to that but I wish I did.
Aug. 18th, 2013 05:20 pm (UTC)
From a small-town Yank perspective, I can echo what several others have said: encouragement, not pushiness; allow play/easy texts as much as the "appropriate" ones; let G&T kids know that while they may be "top brain" in their small pond, they may not be in a larger pond.

And, for deity's sake, if your kid is smart enough to skip a grade & not doing all that well socially among the same-age-set, then let the kid skip a grade. It will likely help socially. I so wish my parents had let me skip one or more grades. I honestly had more friends (as opposed to acquaintances with whom I was forced to spend large amounts of time) in the two grades/years ahead of mine. Plus, I would have been more challenged (at least initially) and might have even learned to study before I got to college and just sort of had to wing it.

My school's G&T program was.... Well. It varied depending on which teacher was in charge of it. (To give you an idea of size, my graduating class was all of 85 people. This year's class was about 50-ish, I think, maybe less.) When I started G&T (8 years old), it was mostly arts & crafts. Roughly two years later, we got a new teacher, and the class became a place to play board games & logic puzzles (those were actually somewhat useful). In middle school/jr high (12/13 years old), we got another new teacher (new campus) who stuck with the logic puzzles, added more art (some crafts: I learned smocking), and all sorts of oddments. I remember learning etiquette, how to make peanut butter, acting/improv (didn't go very well since some of my classmates were not talented in that direction), computers (this would have been around 1983), etc. Sadly, the G&T program in high school had been dropped before I got there, due to some bad behavior on the part of certain students.
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