Midwest City mom Stephanie Bond is proud to have three gifted and talented children, including identical 13-year-old twin daughters, Rebecca and Rachael.
When the twins were in kindergarten, Stephanie learned that Rachael was the leader twin and Rebecca was the follower—to the extent that when Rebecca was asked questions in the classroom, Rachael would step in and answer on her sister’s behalf.
Separated into different classrooms for first grade, Rebecca had to work hard to catch up academically. Stephanie explains that Rebecca’s teacher soon singled her out as gifted and talented not because of her academic efforts, but because of her very detailed drawings.
“Both girls just think differently, which is a hallmark of gifted and talented students,” Stephanie said. “In fourth grade, the twins were tested for the gifted and talented program. They were measured for a number of things, including their level of maturity, emotional level and how they get along with other students. They were both accepted.”
The differences that Bond witnessed in her own children represents the spectrum of abilities that fall under the umbrella of gifted and talented in Oklahoma’s public school system. Melodie Fulmer, Executive Director of Parent and Community Engagement at the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE), explains that the strengths of gifted and talented students range from academics to areas of leadership, the visual and performing arts, creativity, sports and more.
“Gifted children are often sensitive,” Fulmer notes. “For example, if you talk about the homeless, and later there may be a luncheon with food left over, the child may mention it would be good to share it with people who are not as blessed. They also are often three-dimensional thinkers and are not satisfied with displaying their art in a two-dimensional format.”
“Sometimes, [gifted] children are referred to as old souls,” Sara Smith, OSDE’s Executive Director of Gifted and Talented Education. “They seem to catch on to things quickly and don’t need repetition. Often, they are gifted in math and in memory.”
Especially for parents of younger children, there are certain traits that can indicate an increased capacity in the child. “In looking for signs of a gifted child, parents can identify traits such as a sense of humor, a large vocabulary, kids that are extraordinarily observant or in tune to the world around them,” explains Susan Allgood, M.Ed., a Gifted Resource Coordinator and Math Specialist in the Norman Public School district. “These children are good at remembering vast quantities of facts about a particular subject, and are quick at taking things apart and putting them back together correctly.”
Regardless of the nature of their abilities, raising a gifted child is not without its own unique set of challenges. We asked our experts to weigh in with advice and tips for making the most of your child’s potential.
Not all children with high academic ability perform well in a school environment. When a gifted student feels unchallenged or lacks motivation, it can lead to poor classroom performance, lower grades or a lack of interest in schoolwork.
“If your extremely bright child is getting frustrated and acting out because of boredom, it’s important to talk with teachers and guidance counselors to see if there’s anything they can do to create a more stimulating environment for them,” explains Dr. Jennifer Bernstein, Director of Get Yourself Into College, an organization that provides high-quality mentoring and guides students through the college application process. “However, it might also be useful to have your children talk with a counselor or therapist to learn how to deal with these types of situations because they’re likely to encounter them repeatedly throughout their education. They need to be able to process their feelings, cultivate patience and figure out the right way to do their part in creating intellectual challenges for themselves.”
If your child is reading a book that seems too easy for them, Bernstein suggests that teachers and parents encourage them to come up with their own interpretation of the story, or work with their teacher of librarian to continue reading other, more advanced books on the same subject.
“Encourage your child to be proactive with the teacher. Once the child has proven mastery of the concepts, he might ask the teacher for an independent project or a replacement assignment,” Allgood urges. “Some districts even allow students to test out of individual classes beginning in middle school.”
When your student shows a notable ability in academics, sports, the arts or other area, your initial instincts may be to push them to continue to excel in that arena. But Allgood recommends a different approach. “Don’t push them. Most will be inspired and motivated on their own,” she explains. “Do facilitate opportunities to explore subjects of interest to them. Museums, nature, libraries and vacations all make great family activities.”
For parents, the role is more about nurturing interests and helping students find ways to pursue their passions. “I want to emphasize how important it is for parents to cultivate their children’s ability to take the initiative in acting on what excites and intrigues them,” Bernstein says. “Obviously, younger kids will need more parental assistance. However, I’ve found that many extremely bright high school students still need a helping hand in figuring out all the opportunities available to them.”
For older children who show a fascination in science, Bernstein recommends having them shadow a local scientist for a day to gain an actual, hands-on perspective. If your child is adept in photography but there’s no photography club at his school, encourage them to take steps to form a group within the school or apprentice with a professional photographer.
Keeping It in Perspective
To help her gifted children thrive, Bond continues to provide artistic enrichment opportunities, as well as sports activities. The twins are now taking pre advanced-placement (AP) classes. Her son Colin, now a senior in high school, is taking two AP classes, plays the flute and is a talented athlete.
For parents raising a gifted child, Allgood shares one important caution. “Your child is not you. Do not live through or for your child’s accomplishments. Do not pin your happiness on your child’s GPA or academic success. Think of the pressure it puts on a child when the whole family focuses on their performance,” Allgood reminds. “And, do not tell your child how smart he is. Praise and encourage effort and persistence, rather than good grades. [This] results in a healthier emotional well-being. Children are more likely to try harder problems and classes when they are not afraid to fail.”
“I’ve never considered any of the kids ‘gifted’ necessarily,” Bond reflects. “They have messy rooms, fight with each other and forget to feed the dog. They, though, have interests that I’ve always tried to help them pursue. We have encouraged them to do their best in school—and their best, as a result, has placed them in the gifted category. Equally as important, though, is we also have encouraged them to be kind, open minded, adventurous, compassionate and thoughtful, all of which they have also excelled.”
Bernstein agrees. “The point, is not just to create [enrichment] situations for your children, but to show them how they can reach out and make things happen for themselves,” Bernstein cautions. “This underlying lesson is transformative and can make a huge difference in their lives.”
Brooke Barnett is the Assistant Editor of MetroFamily Magazine. With additional reporting by Kevan Goff Parker.