Many parents become aware at a very early stage of their child’s life that their child’s behaviour is different from that of other children. As a consequence parents feel they need to explain to others why their own child is behaving differently. Many will also say they hesitate to suggest the origin of the behaviour is because of giftedness, because they don’t want to appear to be bragging. This can cause parents to feel they can’t talk to other parents about their own child’s behaviour – both to discuss behavioural issues and to share those everyday celebrations of a child’s accomplishments. As a consequence some parents can feel lonely in their parenting role and may express a lack of confidence in how best to meet their child’s learning and development requirements.
Just as each child is an individual, so are families. While this section reflects on some of the common situations, issues and emotional responses typical of families who have a child who is gifted, early childhood professionals should approach each family as they approach each child, with respectful consideration to their individual circumstances, strengths and abilities.
Early childhood professionals can assist families in this situation through their professional understanding of young gifted children. For instance, encouraging families to find and join a support group for families who have a gifted child. For more information, see: Organisations and support groups
Understanding families with gifted children
A family may find they have one child noticeably gifted while the other children may be developing in a typical way. In this case parents may feel uncertain about openly acknowledging this child’s strengths in case their other children feel less valued. However it is important that parents become aware of separating the value of each child from their individual characteristics and freely discuss each child’s unique strengths.
For example, in Xavier’s family, his older sister had a learning disability. Regardless of her delayed development Xavier’s parents talked admiringly about their daughter’s persistence in approaching learning tasks she found difficult. They also commented she was lucky because she found it easy to make friends with other people. Whereas, they told Xavier he was lucky because he found learning easy but it was necessary for him to persist in trying to overcome his shyness in talking to people outside the family.
In some families all the children may be gifted but may be in different domains. For example, one child may be intellectually gifted and another will be musical, artistically talented, or show early sporting ability. This situation can create demands on the family to provide opportunities for each child to develop their special abilities, and may be difficult economically and to manage family activity. For healthy development, whether or not families can provide such extra opportunities, there should be family acknowledgement of individual strengths and planning for how each individual child’s strengths can be developed.
Family approaches to learning
Professionals should be aware that in families where one or more children are gifted the family approach to experiences and learning usually has distinctive features. Home life is enriched by high, but appropriate levels of intellectual stimulation. Family responses include acceptance and support of a child’s individual approach to learning, as well as a gifted child’s characteristic tendency to focus intensely on topics of interest. The parents of such children also report, while they enjoy their young gifted children’s alertness and curiosity they also find responding to their need for high levels of intellectual stimulation can be somewhat exhausting.
When the particular characteristics of a family’s approach to learning are highly developed a young gifted child can understand these as the ‘usual way’ to learn. When the gifted child enters an early childhood setting or school the educational curriculum and approach to learning may be very different to the home learning approach. The gifted child can find this difference in approaches confusing, and may require extra support to make the transition. The important role for the early childhood or school educator and family is to help the child understand the varied contexts and to bridge the difference.