Gifted children pose a unique challenge for foster parents. By definition, they have suffered the trauma of losing their biological family, and that trauma may have led to other emotional or developmental problems. Add giftedness to that mix, and we have to learn how to parent a “twice-exceptional child.”
That phrase designates a gifted child who also suffers from a physical, learning, or emotional disability. Unfortunately, the disability often can overshadow the giftedness. School systems are set up to provide a lot of resources for disabilities. Giftedness, not so much. Yet, giftedness comes with its own set of problems that can exacerbate the disabilities. If we don’t address a child’s exceptional gifts, our techniques to address the disabilities simply will not work.
The first step in parenting a gifted child is to learn about their challenges. Organizations such as NAGC and SENG are a great place to start. Giftedness, for example, can mimic ADHD, autism, or oppositional defiant disorder. We may need to insist on neuropsychological testing to help determine whether a disability diagnosis is accurate or simply hiding a gifted, creative, and impatient mind.
The next thing we need to do is advocate for our children with the school systems. Schools have limited dollars, and they tend to not spend much on gifted programs. School boards (and the public that elects them) may have a misguided belief that gifted programs are elitist or that gifted children can do just fine without any help. We have to marshal the information to combat those myths and consistently advocate for our children. This blog post from the Davidson Institute has some great tips for that challenge.
At home, we should look for ways to engage our children and supplement the school curriculum. Those of us who live near a city can look for museums and historic sites. In rural areas, the Internet is our friend. We can help our children explore the things that interest them and feed their never-ending curiosity.
We also need to provide emotional support. This can be tricky, because we don’t want our well-meaning attempts to encourage them to inadvertently add to the problem. For example, one problem for gifted children is that they live under a burden of never living up to their potential. If we try to encourage them by citing the things that we know they can do, they may hear that they are failures. They also may learn not to succeed again, in order to avoid setting a high bar for themselves.
One way to provide emotional support is to help our children identify the source of their emotions. Gifted children frequently are frustrated when their peers cannot follow their train of thought. Social isolation, common among gifted children, can lead to low self-esteem and depression. When we help our children understand that the problem is not them, but the mismatch between how their brain works and what society expects, we may be able to help them form better coping strategies.
Unfortunately, there is no simple formula for parenting gifted children. An accurate diagnosis is essential, but after that we just have to search for advice, resources, and ways to talk to our kids. They need to know that we care about them, have their back, and will help them find a way through the challenges.