Of course! No doubt about it! You—the parent—have been an enormously wonderful influence in your child’s life. That’s why one of the most common questions I’ve gotten over the years from parents is, “How can I support my gifted child?” Of course you want to continue to be a positive influence in your child’s journey.
I’ve given the same answer to that question for years and years—can’t think of any response that gets at the heart of if better … How can I support my gifted child?
SUPPORT their passions but don’t make the passions YOUR passions.
Haven’t we all been the overzealous parent at some point? And I think we deserve a free pass on this. We love our kids. We want to support them. We want our children to have opportunities. We want them to be successful. And . . . sometimes . . . we can get overly involved. I’m not here to slap you on the wrist, and as they say, “When you point a finger at someone there are three others pointing right back at you.” We just need to talk.
Each year, I invite parents to an individual advanced learning plan meeting with myself and their son or daughter. I love to get to know the parents. Students typically love to take center state as they explain their choices for their yearly gifted plan, talk about strengths, look forward to possibilities, and share their social-emotional self-evaluations.
In one of these sessions—a very typical one--sitting before me is a brilliant third grader, and across from her sits her equally brilliant mother. Not uncommon. After all, this giftedness stuff tends to run in the family. The third grader is sharing with us her idea for an independent study project she will complete in order to meet one of her academic goals for the year. She beams. Her eyes are lit with passion. She laughs as she explains her interactive product idea. She practically levitates from her chair. Mom nods enthusiastically, praises her child’s passion . . . and then begins to offer suggestions. “You could do this!” becomes “and then WE could do this . . .” The third grader’s eyes turn down. Her light fades to grey. She slumps and courteously offers, “Yes, I guess so . . .”
As a teacher of gifted students, it’s easy for me to identify with a student’s thoughts and feelings. As a parent of gifted kids, I’ve been the one too enthusiastic about a passion that was never mine in the first place. (And I still do this sometimes even though my youngest is in college.)
Who better for a parent than a child to teach us some of the most important of life’s lessons? Me to 5 year old daughter: “Do you want to play T-ball this year?!” (Oh, how I love baseball!) Daughter gives no answer. Me: “Emily is going to play T-ball. It will be really fun!” 5 year old daughter: “Dad, I have better things to do.” And she did! Better things because they were HER things, not her dad’s! She needed to paint and draw and explore and catch bugs and build elaborate games with stuffed animals. Baseball was not her passion.
An excellent article for all of us from the Washington Post (Former Stanford dean explains why helicopter parenting is ruining a generation of children) warns us against being a generation of helicopter parents, and taking on a child’s passion as your own is not much of a leap from helicopter parenting. A favorite line from the article offers, “If you say ‘we’ when you mean your son or your daughter — as in, ‘We’re on the travel soccer team’ — it’s a hint to yourself that you are intertwined in a way that is unhealthy.”
Let’s support those passions. Let’s cheer them on. Let’s help our children locate opportunities. Let’s be a resource and a chauffeur. But let’s be careful to keep out feet on the ground and not fly up into that helicopter. Let’s scedaddle them out toward their joy and then step back and watch the show.