Over the last few weeks my email box has been filled with questions from parents. All deal with the same issue: “Is my child gifted?”
What exactly makes a “gifted” child? The definition of gifted continues to be hotly debated. To date, there is no single agreed-upon definition. What is agreed is that high intelligence exists and it may be expressed in many different ways. Gifted children include persons from all ethnic groups and lifestyles and not merely “privileged environments.” Parents are usually the first to recognize a child’s giftedness quite early. Truly gifted kids are different. Their driving force is their brain—and it is fundamental to everything about them. Typically, to be identified as “gifted” by a school district, the child must be given an individual IQ test by a certified psychologist. The child may be gifted in only certain areas (language or verbal abilities or music), or exceptional in math but not in language.
* IQ tests generally have the following criteria:
* An IQ test measures potential broadly and some ability areas specifically
* An achievement test that measures what the child expresses he has learned so far
* Teacher recommendation
An IQ score of 130 is usually used as a cut-off score for gifted. A gifted child typically has mental abilities in the upper 2.5 to 3 percent of the population
One principle is true for all kids regardless of IQ: Children thrive best in educational environments that are tailored to their needs. Gifted kids are gifted for life, so they will have similar academic needs throughout their schooling. It seems to makes no difference if the school is private or public as long as it has these key elements suggested by Carol Bainbridge:
* Gifted philosophy. The staff understands gifted children and their needs, is regularly trained in gifted education and has a clear plan to help each child reach his potential.
* Acceleration & enrichment. A challenging curriculum that stretches the child’s mind (and is still based on realistic expectations).
* Multiple options & flexibility. The curriculum should be flexible to fit the child’s academic needs and provide the opportunity for the child to study a topic in depth.
* Sound identification process. How does the school identify gifted children? Ideally the process should not be based on just one test score but also take into consideration teacher recommendations and clearly talented and exceptional children.
* Matches your child’s needs. Can you see your child in this setting? Would he be comfortable and get along with the other kids and this teacher? Is there a guidance component to help your child “fit” in or handle his perfectionist tendencies and highly sensitive traits?
A common myth is that gifted kids are not aware of being different unless someone tells them they are. Wrong! Gifted kids pick up early on that they “get things” much quicker and even “think” differently than other children by the age of three of four. By the time your child enters school she will need an explanation of some kind as to why she is different. Here are things to consider:
* Watch out for “Trophy” status. A feeling of entitlement (I’m better or smarter) or an attitude of arrogance are huge turn-offs. Better to point out: “Every child has special talents that are different but no less valuable.”
* Don’t use the “G” word. Most gifted kids hate the term “gifted” because it makes them “stand apart” when they want to fit in. They also hate to serve as “examples” for other kids. It’s better to downplay “You’re gifted” and stress the specific trait your child excels: “You’re a quick learner” or “You’re talented in math.”
* Stress effort, not IQ. A famous Columbia University study followed dozens of middle school math students for two years and found that, regardless of their IQ, regardless of their IQ found that those labeled “smart” received lower grades than those kids praised more for their effort. When kids think intelligence is FIXED (and can’t be improved) they give up quicker. So, regardless of your child’s IQ, switch your praise from “smart” to “effort.”
If you do believe that your child is gifted, don’t be so near-sighted that you only see the IQ score. Remember to educate the whole child—for heart as well as mind. A gifted child’s intellectual development and emotional maturity seldom keep pace with each other. IQ score is only a single statement of a child’s overall potential.
Bottom line: Love your child for who he is—not for what you hope he will become. Basic good parenting is the same regardless of your child’s IQ.