Giftedness is a double-edged sword. Going one direction, you generally have a relative ease in learning. But going the other direction, you have struggles with certain subjects, sometimes learning disabilities, a greater propensity for mental health issues, and often behavior problems. This means that all subjects don’t come easily (or perhaps none do), which is confusing for outsiders (and also for the child and parents!). Society at large has no real clue about this, which can lead to confusing feelings for your child.
Gifted children seem to learn differently from others. That’s partially by default due to the high intelligence, but also because of their personality traits. I’m not saying all gifted children have the same personality or even the same personality type, but there are some commonalities I’ve noticed almost across the board. I truly feel that homeschooling is best for these kids (and for all kids, if I’m honest), but I realize it poses a different set of challenges for the parent.
This article originally appeared on my old blog, Townsley Times. If you came here looking for this particular article but thought you were going to a different site, never fear, you’re actually in the right place. 🙂
Now, as a disclaimer, I only have one child so far whom I recognize as gifted. However, I myself am gifted and so is my brother, so I have some experience in this area. Very quickly, my story: I was put into first grade when I was five after I was able to do all the work they were assigning to kindergarteners. My teacher actually said some mean things to me (including on picture day!) so I was removed from her class and put with the first graders. Looking back, I see that she probably just didn’t know what to do with me. I still needed to be in gifted programs (which went by different names depending on the school) so I was more or less surrounded by gifted folks at home or at school for my whole public school career. I was also an overachiever, which should be distinguished from giftedness, since they do not always go hand-in-hand. I didn’t have any learning or behavior issues or idiosyncrasies really, aside from being shy and also being horrible at chemistry, but I saw these downsides in various forms in my peers.
Anyway, now that you have that bit of backstory, let’s move on to how you can help your gifted child succeed in your homeschool.
Challenge Your Gifted Kids
Challenging your gifted child means more than just giving them more work or letting them work through assignments faster, although those might also be effective strategies. It’s about rising to their level so they still feel intellectually stimulated. I mentioned above these kids often come with personality difficulties. These tend to show up most when they are bored. Please do not simply give your child busywork! That is the quickest way to boredom and off-task behavior. I think most homeschooling parents are attentive and desire to accommodate their child’s pace and skill level, so this is less of an issue than it would be in a school. It can take some trial and error, so let your child lead as much as she is able.
Deal With Learning Difficulties
“Twice exceptional” is when a gifted child has another exceptionality; you may have seen it referred to as “2e.” These include dyslexia, ADHD, autism, anxiety…any disorder that impedes living up to their intellectual potential. This can be incredibly frustrating to a child who is aware of their disorder, and also frustrating in and of itself.
In this era of the World Wide Web being so accessible to the majority, there are tons of resources for figuring out if your child has another exceptionality. Moreover, you can find help for your situation through resources put out by non-profits, doctors, even bloggers who are in the trenches along with you. Figuring out what the problem is, or even just having a suspicion of what might be causing your child to not learn as easily as you think they could can give you a jump start on tackling it with your child.
Teach Them How to Express Opinions in a Productive Manner
Gifted kids often see things from a different perspective than their peers. But their unconventional ways of thinking might not come across well or be presented in a clear or productive way, especially when they are younger. This might even cause the child to become upset, which can lead to him being labeled as having behavior problems when in a co-op setting or doing group-based extracurriculars where everyone is expected to stay on track and not really think outside the box. It’s the same problem kids run into in the school system. You might want to reconsider which groups you participate in if you notice that it’s not a good fit for your child. You might consider starting your own co-op if there’s nothing else in your area that appeals to you; chances are, other parents are in your same boat.
Be Aware of Idiosyncrasies
Just because a child is excelling in one area doesn’t mean he will excel in all areas. Intelligence refers to the way the brain works, not to knowledge or memory capabilities. But even the intelligent brain varies from person to person just like it does for those of average intelligence, but it manifests in a more extreme way. There will be some things your child is AWESOME at! And there may be some things that aren’t clicking for them (and many other things that they’ll be average on). First you’ll need to rule out any additional exceptionalities but after that, you’ll need to accept that they do have some struggles.
For us, my gifted girl is very good at math and spatial tasks – think engineering types of things. But she struggled to learn to read! It was distressing to her so we put it off for a long time, with me checking in every week or two to gauge her interest and willingness to put in the work it would take for her to learn.
If you haven’t read the book Better Late Than Early, please grab it from your library or perhaps the Kindle version on Amazon. It talks about how kids do better and more quickly master schoolwork (such as reading) when they start later because their brains are more ready for it. This is especially true of gifted kids with some idiosyncrasies. They just can’t get their brains around that information yet. And that’s totally fine and normal and you should try to encourage them about it and not be hard on them. They are probably being hard enough on themselves.
Effectively Manage Behavior Problems
Be it due to mental health issues or temperament, gifted children can be hard to parent and hard to teach. This is somehow not a very well known fact. I talked about this little in regard to when they are bored and not being challenged. But it can happen when they are being challenged but they’re not getting it. This is actually a good thing because ultimately it will lead to them developing coping mechanisms. When everything comes easily in life, they may become complacent. You don’t want that; you want them to have hard days and learn to deal with that frustration. Oftentimes the educational outcomes are even better as they learn to manage this; that frustration can solidify the material in their minds. Pay close attention next time this happens! They may not be happy about it but it’s necessary that they learn this as early in life as possible: to work hard toward overcoming obstacles.
Now, that is not to say that their negative behaviors are acceptable. Just that you, as the parent and teacher, need to figure out how to help them channel it when you see these feelings churning beneath the surface. Your gifted child needs your attention still for this very reason! It may be tempting to assign work and let them go at it, but in subjects for which they have a track record of having outbursts over…you need to stay close and keep a good eye on them.
How to do that? It varies by child of course. But here are some ideas:
- redirect their attention to something positive about that particular thing
- point out how they overcame the same problem previously
- let them take a break when you see the frustration brewing
- switch subjects and come back to that one later
PIN IT FOR LATER! Continued below….
There will come a point in time where you’ll have to draw a line in the sand about what is acceptable and what is not. Expressing anger is necessary but outbursts are not okay. How this looks in your house will depend on what types of consequences work best. You maybe be able to simply send the child to play outside for a bit. Or you may have to remove privileges. We are fans of natural consequences. And I try very hard not to make school time into a fight. But a natural consequence to refusal to work might be going to her room, since they aren’t allowed to have free time till the work is done. We are relaxed homeschoolers so that’s really a watered down description because they’re not forced to sit and do work for hours on end in the first place. But when I give an assignment, she will work until she is done and if she starts hemming and hawing when she’s close to being done anyway, she is not allowed to just give up and go play. They have to finish what they start unless there is a true need for a break or for them to not finish their assignment. If she’s simply getting frustrated because she is ready to play and wants to then be defiant about finishing her work – no deal. That’s a good strategy for all kids, actually. But gifted kids tend to work hard and sometimes that is tiring for them so they need to learn to push through and finish up.
Homeschooling your gifted children can be such a challenge but it’s worth the work on your part to help them learn coping skills so they can harness the best parts of having high intelligence while minimizing the more negative aspects. Keep in mind that others aren’t going to understand your struggles. The overarching assumption of society is that high intelligence is awesome and makes life easy. This not simply not the truth and these children still have to work hard to get where they want to go and to be satisfied intellectually. You just focus on your kid and don’t worry about what others have to say about it. Nobody can understand it unless they’ve been there.