10 most frequently asked questions by parents and carers of gifted young people aged 13+ years
IGGY is an educational social network for gifted students aged 13 to 18. Therefore, our primary focus is on supporting IGGY members rather than schools and families. However, we work in partnership with Potential Plus UK and Potential Plus UK, who do provide support for schools and families respectively.
Potential Plus UK (formerly NAGC, the National Association for Gifted Children) specialise in supporting the families of gifted children. In conjunction with IGGY, Potential Plus UK have compiled a list of the top ten questions that they are asked by parents along with detailed responses, read these below.
Should you want to seek further advice on supporting your gifted child, you may wish to visit the Potential Plus UK website www.potentialplusuk.org or contact them directly on 0044(0)1908 646433 or firstname.lastname@example.org
1. What type of characteristics are ‘normal’ for gifted teenagers?
The first thing to remember when discussing the characteristics of ‘normal’ or ‘average’ gifted teenagers is that there is no such thing! Every gifted teenager is unique and brings with him or her a combination of characteristics, which are different from those of others.
That said, there are number of common characteristics, which many gifted teenagers share. These include that they frequently:
• soak up learning like a sponge
• have quick minds, which love to absorb ideas and facts
• have a quirky sense of humour
• learn rapidly
• have an extensive vocabulary
• have an excellent memory
• reason well
• have strong curiosity
• are very mature for their age
• have keen powers of observation
• have compassion for others
• have a vivid imagination
• have a long attention span with topics of interest
• have a good ability with numbers
• are concerned with justice and fairness
• are extremely sensitive
• have a wide range of interests
• can be extremely good with puzzles
• have a high energy level
• are a perfectionist
• persevere in their interests
• question authority
• are an avid reader
• prefer older companions, who think on the same wavelength
In different parts of the world there are many ways of defining how these characteristics come together, from countries that look at an intelligence quota (IQ) on a 130+ based system of identification, to those which take a broader view of intelligence to include young people displaying, for example, excellent interpersonal skills, abilities in the area of logistics or mathematics, or musical or linguistic skills. This broader definition comes from Howard Gardner and his theory of Multiple Intelligences. However there are many other theories defining ‘gifted and talented’ and no one theory is right or wrong. The simple answer is that nobody has one simple definition.
It would be useful to understand how your own school or country identifies a gifted teenager. However, to qualify for IGGY membership your child must have the potential to perform academically in the top 5% of their peers.
2. How can I help my gifted teen to be motivated to learn?
As parents, we may find that there comes a time in our lives when it becomes increasingly hard to motivate our children. For some, this may come when our child is studying for exams. For others, it may come at different times, for example when a teenager needs to do their homework or even when they need to go to school. When this happens, what can you do as a parent to motivate your child?
First of all, it is perfectly normal for any of us to lack the motivation to do something at some stage in our lives and gifted teenagers are no exception. However, gifted teenagers can have the added issues of low boredom thresholds and lack of interest in the mundane (such as doing work they understood a long time ago), along with peer pressure linked to a fear of standing out from the crowd, being bullied and isolated.
Once you have identified what you think could be happening in your child’s life, you can start to address the issues, which may include going into your teenager’s school to discuss his or her needs if this is relevant.
However, it is important to remember that the only person who can really motivate your gifted teenager is… your gifted teenager! You are responsible for changing the environment within which your teenager becomes motivated. If you can do this, then you can affect your child’s motivation so they will want to do whatever they need to. This can be applied to anything, homework, housework, walking the dog…
Follow the 50/50 rule: 50% of motivation comes directly from your child, 50% from his or her environment. Concentrate on changing the environment and hopefully your child will respond.
To begin to do this, it may be useful to answer the following questions:
*Is there a mismatch between mine and my teenager’s motivation? Where they are the same (where you have a congruence of motivation) you may find it easier to get your child back on track. But can you be sure? You may think that your teenager’s motivation is to get ten good grades in their exams or do their homework to the best of their ability. However, their motivation could be speed or to do the least amount of work they can get away with because they want to do other things. Here you have a contrast or even an opposition of motivation which will need to be addressed.
*Just what does motivate my child? Money? Kudos? Respect? Some teenagers positively glow in praise and some cringe with embarrassment at this age. Therefore, raising your voice to them in an attempt to get them to work may have the opposite effect; they might ‘down tools’. But by being positive and telling them how well they are doing, the effect on their motivation can be amazing. Finding out what motivates them is a good place to start.
Once you have done this initial analysis, you might want to consider the following suggestions:
*Model the behaviour Show your teenager the behaviour you want them to copy. There is little point telling them to do one thing, whilst doing something different yourself! Comment on all the good things they do (no matter how small or seemingly insignificant they are). As long as it is genuine it should begin to bring results.
* Think about what you want to achieve Think carefully about what you are trying to achieve in the area(s) where you want your teenager to be motivated and what the parameters are for what you want them to do. Let’s look at an example to illustrate this. You want your son or daughter to do their homework without having an argument. What are the parameters for this?
- Do you mind when they do it? If not, could they do it last thing on a Sunday night or do you want them to do it on Friday night, so that the weekend is free?
- Do you mind about the quality of the homework; do you (or the teachers for that matter) set a standard they expect? Are the expectations too high, or do you not mind as long as the work is done?
- Have you agreed a family rule, which then needs to be implemented e.g. all homework is done on the day it is set? If you have a rule like this, it needs to be implemented consistently with no exceptions.
*Discuss (negotiate!) and agree the issue with your child Many gifted teenagers are extremely good at negotiating what they want and as a parent you are almost always on the losing team! Remember, the only person who can motivate your child is your child. Sometimes we have to be honest with ourselves - would we want to do some of the things we are trying to motivate them to do? Clean and tidy their bedroom; do their homework; wash up; and get ready early to go to school? All within a limited time frame! The best kind of outcome in your negotiations would be a win/win situation; one where everyone feels they have gained and nobody loses. Depending on what you want to achieve, your child and the parameters for the discussion, can you come up with an agreed plan?
Remember! Gifted teenagers often respond better when you explain why something has to take place or when you give them the ‘bigger picture’. In a perfect world, you will be able to agree an action plan that you are both happy with. However, you may both need to compromise! You may not be able to do this with all the issues which concern you, but make a start. It is better to have one success, which you can then build on in the future.
* Set boundaries and rewards (penalties?) – Despite what our children may say, boundaries for behaviour are extremely important, if only to have the teenager push up against them! With boundaries, everyone knows where they stand and what is acceptable and what will not be tolerated. Once firm boundaries have been set both parents need to know what they are and to be in agreement that they will be implemented. Once these boundaries are understood and followed, it may be useful to consider whether you want to implement a reward or penalty system for when your child achieves (or not) the action expected of them. In psychological terms, a reward is always preferable. However, if you have to move to penalties, make sure you implement them consistently. In either case they should be relevant to the task at hand.
*Give genuine praise where it is due (no matter how small the achievement) There is nothing like praise to motivate your child and in the first instance this means noticing the good things that he or she does and ignoring the not so good. Try the two week test, saying nothing negative and only positive things to your child.
*Monitor and review your progress and build on your success A final word; helping to motivate your child is one of the hardest jobs a parent has. That is true of any teenager; but a gifted young person seems to experience more highs and lows in all aspects of their behaviour. It is this, coupled with their other attributes, such as ability to negotiate, having their head in the clouds, poor organisational skills, low boredom threshold, and extreme sensitivity, which often make it so difficult for parents to succeed.
3. How can I help my gifted teen with friendships?
The teenage years can be a difficult time for many teenagers. However, they can often be particularly anxious for parents of gifted teenagers, especially when their child does not seem to have any friends and looks isolated at school and home.
When this is the case, why could this be happening and what can you do as a parent to help rectify the situation?
Although concerns about friendship are not unique to gifted teenagers, these young people can sometimes face additional issues as they grown up and develop. First of all, their brains can function on an entirely different wavelength and level to many teenagers of a similar age; their sense of humour can be different; what interests them can be different, and they can often find it difficult, even as a teenager, to relate to the activities of others their own age. One of the reasons why organisations like NAGC and IGGY have been established is to help to create a community of like-minded peers and their families, and this is an important benefit of both organisations.
Secondly, many gifted teenagers go ‘underground’ and become fearful of showing their true potential or gifts in case they are bullied or ostracised. In other words, they shape their behaviour to be accepted. However, if they are naturally not like this, keeping up the pretence can be draining and they prefer to be on their own in certain situations, such as when they are at home.
Thirdly, gifted teenagers may not have learnt (or be bothered about) the essential social skills that are needed to form friendships. For example, many gifted children may not want to work with others. They may have poor team working skills or may not understand the need for ‘give and take’, believing they are right and they have the best ideas, which should always be implemented. Although such skills may come with greater maturity, their absence during the teenage years can often make it difficult to develop meaningful friendships.
However, we all have many different types of friendship throughout life; best friends, acquaintances, family, colleagues or classmates, and gifted teenagers are usually no exception to having a range of people they interact with like this. Just because your gifted teenager does not have one or more ‘best friends’ it does not mean to say that they are not thriving and fulfilled.
Before worrying too much, it may be worth talking to your teenager or getting some understanding of the many and varied kind of friendships that he or she has. Depending on their age, typical examples include ‘friends’ they know through:
- social networks such as Facebook
- membership of clubs or networks such as NAGC or IGGY
- their activities at home
- their activities at school
- their class
- other sources
Quite often when parents do this kind of exercise with their teenager, they discover the rich friendship networks to which their child belongs. Just because their child does not come home with their ‘one best friend’, do not assume there is a problem to address. They may just prefer to form and develop their friendships in a different way and prefer not to be distracted when they are trying to work at school.
However, some gifted children find their lack of friendship networks can be a significant barrier to them thriving. Quite often this is when they are shy as well and they find it difficult to know how to make friends. There are some gifted teenagers, who spend much of their lives isolated and lonely, unable to make that vital connection. These children will tend to avoid events like school trips and meetings in town, feeling out of place. Intellectually they may be high flyers, possibly achieving high grades and accolades in most areas of the school curriculum, but socially and emotionally they often struggle to have positive and fulfilling relationships with their peers.
As soon as you identify that there is an issue with friendships, then parents, carers and other professionals need to teach, role model and nurture their social and emotional development to help them to overcome some of the difficulties they may face.
Although this can be difficult, as parents and carers are busy people, it is important to find time to support the very important social and emotional development of your gifted teenager. However, by passing on these invaluable life skills to our children we are endeavouring to ensure that many of the young gifted children of tomorrow have the skills and coping mechanisms to find a place in society and hopefully live happy and fulfilled lives.
Ways in which this can be done include:
- taking up a new hobby with your teenager and then taking a back seat when they look more able to cope with meeting strangers
- asking the school or youth group to carefully ensure that teenagers work together so that they can make friends
- finding activities where your child can meet like-minded peers (e.g. IGGY)
- helping them to use social networks including teaching safety guidelines for use of social networking sites
- finding a pen pal from your own country or overseas for your teenager
4. My gifted teen won’t talk to me about sensitive issues; how can I improve communication?
Being a teenager can be hard for any young person. At the onset of puberty your child begins their journey to adulthood with everything that goes with it; mood swings, the discovery of relationships with the opposite sex, body changes and pushing against the boundaries and rules, to name but a few.
Every teenager goes through this, but it is not uncommon for parents to report feeling that they are the only ones experiencing these great upheavals in their family life. However, as with other issues, many parents of gifted children also say that what they experience is often more extreme and can begin at a much earlier age than with other non-gifted children.
Of course, every teenager is different. However, one of the key things that many parents with gifted teenagers want to know is how to improve the way they communicate with their gifted teenagers and in particular how they can improve their communication around sensitive issues. Examples of this can include anything from personal hygiene and sexual relationships to drugs, alcohol and related issues to homework or revision.
Many gifted teenagers have issues with these more sensitive topics at exactly the time you want to discuss them. They can come across as ‘arrogant’ and feel that they ‘know best’ and, as importantly, that your real life knowledge is a poor substitute. They can also be particularly skilful at pushing against the boundaries you have set and arguing why you should move the goalposts to staying out late, having a girlfriend, going onto Facebook or the like.
As with any teenager, as a parent you need to have clear boundaries and to stick to these on a consistent basis. In addition, you need to ensure that there are rewards or consequences for each action that both parents adhere to.
Now that you have your boundaries established, how do you go about talking about these sensitive issues? Here are just a few useful suggestions:
*Agree who will broach the issue. Sometimes one parent or even another relative (eg older brother or sister) may have a better relationship with your teenager than others. Could you ask them to talk about the issue with your child? Sometimes an older brother or sister can approach the issue with more credibility (so long as they know what to say!) than someone older and ‘wiser’.
*Pick your time and place. It is important for both people to be relaxed before a sensitive issue is raised. Poor moments could include when the teenager has just come home from school, or before or after an exam, or when it is too late, or after the incident has just happened. In addition, many parents report finding it easier to discuss something sensitive when they are away from the house or when they are doing something else. Examples given by parents include driving a car with just the two of you, going shopping, or out for lunch. At these moments the sensitive issue becomes almost an afterthought, taking the pressure away from both of you.
*Don’t say a word! Depending on the issue to be discussed, some parents or carers find it more useful not to say anything, but to put the message across in different ways, which achieve the same ends. Examples of ways in which you could do this include:
- humour. Some parents find that humour, particularly visual humour appeals to gifted children more than lectures ever will and gets the message across more quickly. Examples of this include putting a message (or picture) on the toilet seat to encourage your teenage son to put the lid down or reminding your teenage daughter to have a shower by putting a message on the door saying that it is thirsty.
- leaving information leaflets in the house. Sometimes an information leaflet left in the house to be read can have the same effect as hours of lecturing on an issue. Do not say anything when the leaflet disappears but hope that it has been read and acted upon
*Model the behaviour – If we do not want our child to shout or show anger, we should not shout at them or others; if we want them to tidy their room, we should not keep our room untidy. It is the same with the more sensitive issues, as they will pick up from you how you act and what you do and use this as their role model for future action.
Talking about sensitive issues is difficult at any time and almost impossible for many teenagers with their parents. Do you remember what it was like when you were a teenager? Developing an open relationship with your child as soon as possible, where there are clear boundaries and structures will help you to be able to discuss such sensitive issues when they arise, so that your teenager can become a confident, thriving adult in the future.
5. How can I help improve my gifted teenager’s self esteem?
The emotional well-being of teenagers is important, as it can affect the way they behave and influence their learning. Increasing their self-confidence is vital to help them to thrive and achieve future personal success. Yet, whilst confidence can be an issue for many teenagers, surprisingly, many gifted teenagers can have low self-esteem and, without the right support, can quickly become demotivated and fail to maximise their potential.
Before we look at how to improve your gifted teenager’s self esteem, let’s look briefly at some of the reasons for low self esteem.
First of all, many gifted teenagers experience high intensity of emotions; things can be ‘black or white’ and they can be hypersensitive about their own and others’ perceptions of them. Where these teenagers are perfectionists who fear failure, they can often have low resilience and, when they do something which does not meet their high standards, their self-confidence is seriously affected.
With gifted teenagers in particular, it is essential that you give genuine praise for effort as well as achievement, no matter how small. This also needs to be reinforced time and time again as they may not easily believe you. Think about a 4:1 ratio, four positive comments to one negative one. In addition, don’t take the positive things your gifted teenager does for granted, as these young people can often need constant reinforcement so that they thrive.
Avoid negative labels
Don’t give your teenager a label. It is so much better to focus on the behaviour and not the person. So instead of saying ‘you are untidy’ you could instead say: “your room is untidy”.
Try not to compare your teenager to others, especially brothers and sisters. They often do this themselves and it can seriously undermine their self-confidence! We are all unique, so focus on your child doing his/her personal best.
Assist with understanding
Teach your child that making mistakes is an essential part of the learning process and that we all make mistakes, even adults. There is an argument that if we aren’t making mistakes, then we can do everything and are not being challenged or learning anything new. Try and think of some practical examples where you have made mistakes and learnt from them; then applied that understanding to do it better next time.
Divide tasks into chunks
Help your child to break down tasks and learning into smaller and more manageable chunks – this can make learning much less daunting. If possible, give practical examples of how you do this e.g. doing a bit of ironing once or twice a week rather than leaving it all to pile up for a month and become outfacing. If starting a piece of work is an issue, for example, it can help to tell them to skip the introduction, get on with the main body of the work and then come back to the introduction later. Mind mapping and essay plans all help to structure thoughts. Learn from experience; collect examples of what works and what doesn’t work with your teenager and encourage them to apply them in future.
At every opportunity remind your teenager of all the things they can do and what they have achieved, both academically and practically.
There is some evidence that if you only praise achievement you can make a gifted child complacent. This is particularly the case with gifted teenagers who can find it easy to achieve high marks or success in their work. They can quickly learn that the work they produce without trying is still good enough and they can begin to coast through it without putting in much effort. Praising the success of hard work, as well as ability, will help to motivate your teenager and have a positive impact on their self-esteem in the long run and so should also be part of your strategy to build their self-confidence.
There is some evidence to suggest that gifted teenagers face a range of problems because of low self-esteem, including mental health issues. To counterbalance this, you need to help your child to think positively and have a positive attitude towards their learning. It is important to teach your child to turn “I can’t” thoughts into “I can” by building their self-esteem, acknowledging what they have already achieved and how they can learn from any mistakes they have made in the past.
6. My gifted teenager seems overly sensitive, how can I help?
Many gifted teenagers seem overly sensitive and lots of parents report issues from extreme anxiety to highly sensitivity about how others treat them, or about noise or even the feeling of clothes against their skin, or extreme emotions about issues in the news. Such sensitivity can be made worse by the onset of puberty.
As a parent, what can you do to support your highly sensitive teenager?
*Understand and accept your child Your teenager is made up of a combination of natural traits and learned behaviours and you need to understand which is which. If they are naturally sensitive, as many gifted children are, you need to understand how, why and what the triggers are and then put in place an action plan to support them. For example, many hypersensitive gifted children are extremely sensitive to the material they wear against the skin and will come out in a rash or have to have the labels cut out of garments. If you recognise this as a trait they were born with you will need to accept it and work round the issue.
Where behaviour is learnt, you need to see why and how the pattern has developed and then do something to change it, if needed. Sometimes, for example, behaviour is learnt from parents by how they cope in certain situations and their actions. An example of this is a parent shouting at a child to tell them not to shout. Sometimes it has been learnt by the child him or herself, as a result of their response to actions. An example of this is a child crying when they are told they cannot have sweets and then being bought sweets to stop them crying. By the teenage years, that pattern of learnt behaviour can be embedded and the parents need to work hard to identify how to change it.
*Show your child you support them Many gifted teenagers in particular do not understand the reasons why they may be overly sensitive, especially if it is not something they can change. You need to show him or her that you support them and work together to minimise any negative impact this hypersensitivity has on their life.
*Model behaviour and responses to situations We are mirrors for our teenagers and we need to model the behaviour that we want to see in them. Tell your teenager how you coped in certain situations so that they have ideas about things to try; tell them you understand what they are going through and explain what you did in the past when you dealt with the similar issues and help them seek out and discuss alternative solutions.
*Advocate on behalf of your teenager Even if you understand and accept your hypersensitive teenager for who they are, you need to be prepared to stand up for or advocate for them with family, friends and professionals. Working together to understand and explore what is going on and looking at the positives and negatives of the issues will help, and then apply what you have learnt with others. For example, if your teenager is extremely sensitive to noise you might discover that he or she learns best at the front of the class with the noise behind them. You can then work with their school to ensure that this happens.
*Get additional support if needed If their sensitivity begins to overpower them or if you feel that your teenager is finding it difficult to cope, as a parent you might want to look for additional help. This could take many forms from a buddy or mentor for your teenager to talk to who is dealing with similar issues to specialist advice or counselling.
7. How can I help my gifted teenager with stress and anxiety?
Being a teenager can be an anxious time and many parents want to know how to support their child best, especially if they experience high levels of stress or anxiety.
There are several reasons why a teenager could experience high levels of stress or anxiety at home or at school. Perhaps the most common include that some gifted teenagers:
- Have an anxious personality. For example, many gifted teenagers are extremely sensitive about any issues that arise, failing to brush them under the carpet as many other children might. Some are perfectionists and may fear failure. This may make then work far harder than other teenagers, because they don’t feel their best is good enough. Many worry about the tests or exams they are going to take and so overcompensate by revising for hours and still feel they will fail
- Are sensitive or anxious about what others think of them, particularly at school. Many teenagers have this vision of what a ‘perfect’ teenager should look like and feel that they do not match up to this vision. They may feel that they are different or on the ‘outside’ and are anxious because they do not feel accepted
- Do not like new situations or situations in which they are not in control. This can extend to things like team working or working in groups where the teenager worries about what they will be required to do and so has feelings that he or she cannot cope
- Become anxious about issues in the wider world, over which they could not possibly have any control. Examples include war or natural disasters, such as famines or floods. Because of the way that their brains work issues such as this can cause a gifted teenager to worry, as they feel powerless and they imagine how they would feel if they or their family were affected directly by them
- Do not have high levels of resilience so if someone criticises them or they get something wrong they become extremely sensitive and stressed
- Experience difficulty in organising themselves, for example for tests or exams or even homework. They may feel that they have left enough time to revise or get their work done or may even feel that they don’t need to do it until the last moment and then panic or get stressed when they realise that the time isn’t sufficient to complete the work
Whatever the reason, what can a parent or carer do to support a stressed or anxious teenager?
First of all, it is useful for you to understand what is causing your teenager to be anxious. Once you understand this, you can start to do something about it. Look at what happens in different situations and what works best to help them overcome their stress. It can help for your teenager to talk to you or someone else about what is making them anxious, and for you to problem solve solutions between you and experiment with different ones. Sometimes just knowing that someone else is there if needed is a real help.
Active problem solving with your teenager can take a variety of different forms, from writing ideas down in a book, or keeping a diary about what triggers stress, to sitting together and coming up with alternative answers to an issue.
Your teenager will learn from your behaviour. If he or she sees you stressed or worried then they will replicate this. So, try to model the behaviour you think would help your teenager; try not to get stressed, or show how you develop your own solutions to a stressful situation. Once they see how you react it will help to shape their behaviours in the future.
Schools can help by running a buddy system, where an older child is paired with a younger one to support them at various times in the school day. It is beneficial for the older child, as it is a position of responsibility, and for the younger as they have someone other than an adult to turn to for help. It is worth coaching the older buddies on what to do if they hear something worrying and to designate an adult supervisor for the scheme.
An adult other than a teacher or the child’s teacher can be designated as a mentor in school. Time can be set aside for meetings where worries can be shared confidentially. At home a mentor can also help for older children – someone trusted but outside the immediate family, such as an uncle or aunt, a family friend.
Sometimes worries can grow to a point where they are unmanageable. Before this happens you can seek counselling. Go through your Health Service or insurance company for a referral to a specialist counsellor. Remember to always check the counsellor’s qualifications and recent training.
There are different methods of counselling, look into each one before deciding which is the most relevant to your child’s needs and discuss this with your appropriate person.
8. How can I help my gifted teenager keep on track?
Every family is complex; it is made up of different individuals with different personalities, different ways of looking at the world and different ways of acting. Children and parents have been thrown together through birth rather than choice and yet they are expected to get on with each other under the same roof all the time. Add into this the physical and emotional changes that are taking place within your gifted teenager as they become an adult and parents often report situations where they feel they need to get their child back on track.
Potential reasons for a gifted teenager going ‘off track’:
Our children are a complex mix of genetic, cultural and learnt characteristics, which sometimes mirror one or other of their parents and which sometimes are at odds with them. This can lead to set of family behaviours, which determine whether we are naturally in harmony or at loggerheads with each other.
Simply put, within any family, if we are honest, there are some members who we naturally get on better with than others. One member of the family may have a naturally sunny disposition, which we might find easier to respond to; we may understand them better or we can adapt our behaviour more easily to theirs. Other members we may find harder to understand. Our personalities may be too similar or so opposite that we can sense a disagreement with them before we even speak to them.
Common issues related to giftedness
On top of this there may be behavioural issues related to giftedness, which can sometimes knock a gifted teenager off course. The most common ones are probably the endless questioning, high energy levels, stubbornness and always ‘knowing best’.
Linked to this is the asynchronous behaviour, which many gifted children can exhibit. This is where a child with an intellectual ability beyond their years has other areas that develop at different rates, for example their social and emotional maturity may be the same as their birth age or even below. Although this is starting to get into balance by the teenage years, the gifted child may still have anger tantrums or exhibit other negative behaviour when they cannot verbalise what is in their mind or when their written homework is not as perfect as they want it to be.
Thirdly, some gifted teenagers are hypersensitive in a way, which many parents find difficult to understand, with some families reporting teenagers who find it difficult to cope with sounds that are too loud, tastes that are new or different, labels in the back of clothes and a variety of other stimuli.
Fourthly, some children may be dual or multiple exceptional (or twice exceptional or 2e) where they have both gifted characteristics and also a special need, such as autism or dyspraxia, with some of the behavioural traits associated with this special need. This can be particularly difficult if one or both of the parents are also dual or multiple exceptional or have the same learning difficulties.
A fifth issue that parents commonly encounter is the tension caused by teenage-hood, both as the hormones rage around the system and as the child begins to exert their independence, which is an essential part of growing up. A gifted teenager can be skilled at pushing against the boundaries set by parents and rail against this when their wishes are not met.
Finally, the self-made stresses of daily life can cause a gifted teenager to go ‘off track’. Many gifted teenagers have a thirst for learning or knowledge along with the energy to jump from one activity to the other. As well as school or formal learning they may have extra-curricular clubs, distance learning, and weekend events. Whilst many cope easily, some can become overloaded and stressed to the point where it can seriously affect them. There can be a particular risk of this happening where the whole family lives under high stress conditions and where there is no release from this way of life.
What then can you as a parent do to keep your child on track? Here are some simple suggestions for you to implement:
*Understand your teenager What are their strengths and weaknesses, how do they react to certain situations, what causes them to go ‘off track’ and what works to get them back on course? This will be different for different teenage personalities and situations. Some teenagers respond well to spur of the moment decisions or activities; some require more time to reflect before decisions are made; some flare up when they are hungry; others when exams are imminent. Keep a diary for a month or so of what happens to your child and when and how they act and use this to help support them.
*Understand everyone else in the family Sometimes the interaction between your teenager and other family members (whether that is their parents or, for example, other children in their dormitory at boarding school) is what causes your teenager to go off track. Therefore, it would be useful to carry out a similar exercise with the other people he or she lives with, so that you can identify the crisis points; who makes matters worse and who makes the situation better? Build them into your strategy. For example, if you sense your teenager has a situation coming up that is likely to be stressful, make sure the family member, who might make the situation worse, is out of the way or diplomatically negotiate any interactions between them.
*Work out the ‘rules’ of your family life and implement these so that everyone knows what they are. Having clear boundaries, even if they push against them from time to time, will give your gifted teenager the security of knowing where they stand. This is particularly important where parents do not live with each other and there is a danger that a child will play one off against the other, giving rise to increased tension.
*Keep talking to your teenager Try and solve your problems practically and logically without raising your voices. Try a weekly meeting where you can all air your feelings and iron out problems together. If you start this as soon as you can and hold it regularly, even before you have any particular negative issues to discuss, it will become a family habit. As they get older, you might do this away from the home or anywhere your teenager feels comfortable talking.
*If you feel your child’s tension levels rising and you are about to argue with them, have a ‘time out’ rule Both count to ten and calm down. If you can’t do this, both walk away, make yourself a drink or read a book and discuss the issues when you both feel more relaxed. As a parent, you are a mirror to your child’s behaviour and if they see that you are responding well to tension, it will have a positive effect on their behaviour.
*Get the right balance in your teenager’s (and your own!) stress levels This one is easier said than done, as many stressors are outside your control. Think about the ones that you can influence and work with your teenager to change those. Help them develop coping mechanisms for their stress, so it doesn’t impact on them or family life.
*Make sure they have fun and relax Is your child intense and serious minded? Some gifted teenagers, especially the perfectionists, believe that they must spend hours on their homework or revision. Whilst these things are extremely important, building in some time for fun activities with their friends or the family may stop them becoming too stressed and help to keep them on track. You could try a rule in your family that there is no work on a Friday or Saturday night. Whilst this may be difficult for children or parents with complicated schedules, you could all make a regular date to do something together and keep to it. Of course, it should be something you all enjoy! Even if parents have to learn something new!
*Encourage them to be positive about all the good things they have done Make sure you praise the good things, no matter how small, and don’t worry about every small thing that your teenager might do wrong. Criticism and a negative attitude will not get your child back on track.
*Respect your teenager, their differences and the contribution they can make to family life Families who start from a position of mutual respect find it much easier to work together as a team, especially when the going gets tough.
Why not take some pieces of card or paper and ask every family member to fill one in for everybody else about what they like most about that person or what they feel is their greatest strength? You can put each family member’s cards in a separate envelope and give it to them. The results may surprise you!
9. My gifted teenager has exams coming up; what are the common issues he or she may face?
Many gifted teenagers are extremely good at exams; they are organised and enthusiastic about revision and love exams and the challenges they bring. However, there are some issues which are common to gifted teenagers and which can prevent their potential from being maximised. Some of those most often mentioned by parents include:
Lack of organisational ability
Many gifted children and young people have poor organisational skills. For some this might be because they just don’t focus on the need to be organised, their mind is elsewhere and they forget about everything else. For others it may be that they do have poor organisational skills or they don’t know how to go about organising their time or they think it is not important to do this.
- Encourage them to do their revision in the same place in the house and encourage them to start revising when they forget
- Try a reward system, for example, 8 hours of revision a week is worth a trip to the cinema
- Put together two sets of the pens, pencils and other instruments that they need for their exams. Keep them both in the same place and have one for revision at home and one to take to their exam
- Use a revision timetable so that they know what they should be doing and when and where their exams are
- Make sure they are organised on the day of their exam, with everything they need out the night before
Poor planning skills
Linked to organisational skills, many gifted teenagers just do not find it easy to plan ahead. They find going over work they have done before extremely boring and put it off for as long as they can, often cramming the night before when they realise that something finally has to be done. When the exams are easy this may be okay, but as the exams get harder and harder even the gifted child may struggle and fail to achieve their true potential.
- Buy, make or download a revision planner. Encourage your teenager to fill in his or her exams and important dates
- Put it on the wall, ideally where you can see it as well. Encourage your teenager to work towards it, amending it if he or she needs to
Boredom with the work/can’t see the point
Gifted children are often capable of work at a significantly higher level than the exams they are taking and do not see the point of revision at all. Whatever their planning skills, they may not be motivated to revise and may fail to achieve their best.
- Depending on the level of the exams your teenager is doing, explain to them the point of what they are doing. For example, show them the qualification level they need to get into university and work backwards to the exams they are taking now, so they can see the point of what they are aiming for
Poor revision skills
Revision skills do not come naturally to everyone and have to be taught just like any other skill and gifted children are no exception to this. These days many teenagers also want to revise using multi media and parents will want to make sure this approach works. However, do not write off other approaches to revision if you have a different style, as long as it yields results.
- Get a book on revision skills and look at different approaches with your teenager. Alternatively, find out what more the school could do to help improve these skills
- Find out the best way your teenager revises. Try a test; ask them to learn something using their method and then one using the one you prefer. See which they get better marks in; if there is little or no difference let them choose their own method
- Alternatively, provide a quiet area with no distractions where they can work without being disturbed and let them use this area all the time whilst revising
Different learning styles
In addition, the way a child revises must fit in with the way the child learns best. For example, lots of revision requires reading and digesting material and writing down. However, if a child is an auditory learner they will learn best when they listen to material; if they are a visual learner they may learn through flow charts or diagrams; or if they are a kinaesthetic learner they may learn best through doing. Whatever your teenager’s learning style, you will need to find a way to support them. Try different approaches and see which work best.
Find out what your child’s preferred learning style is and encourage him or her to use that style when revising. For example:
- Visual – encourage use of flowcharts and diagrams when putting together what they have to learn
- Auditory – encourage them to record what they have to learn on to a devise they can play back to themselves
- Reading/writing – encourage your child to read their course work and make notes. Use of coloured pens or highlighters is useful
- Kinaesthetic – encourage your teenager to translate learning into doing, for example try out science experiments, move about whilst revising
Fear of failure
Many gifted teenagers are perfectionists. As a trait this is fine; it means they will try hard and not be satisfied with average work. However, it can become a problem when perfectionism is linked to a fear of failure. These teenagers put hours into their revision and can worry incessantly that they will fail, sometimes going into ‘meltdown’ and becoming extremely vulnerable as the exams approach. At its most extreme, this can be one of the most worrying aspects of giftedness and needs to be handled carefully by both parents and teachers.
- You need to increase your child’s resilience, encouraging them to look at failure as a learning opportunity
- Don’t let them bottle up their stress, talk to them or do something you both enjoy as a regular break from work, for example walking the dog
- Show your teenager how you cope with stress; model the behaviour you want them to see and talk about how you coped with situations like this and what you did
- Try to encourage them to consider what they would do ‘if the worst happens’. Sometimes once these perfectionist children have faced the worst, they are ready to cope with it
- Reward their effort rather than their achievement
- Do not place an impossibly high expectation on them about what they should achieve; and encourage teachers not to do this either. This will make the situation worse.
Fear about inability to answer the questions in the exam
An inability to perform well in the exam is often mentioned by gifted children; not because they don’t know the answer but because they, in fact, know too much. Issues reported by parents include, amongst other things, children unable to start writing anything because they cannot get everything in their head down on paper or failing to answer the question or timing their answers.
- Ensure they are being taught good exam techniques
- Ensure they have lots of practice on timed exam questions so that they know what to expect
- Help them develop mind maps for their answers, which can be drawn quickly and give them a framework for their answers
- If they cannot write the opening sentence or paragraph get them to write this last
Other issues commonly reported by parents relating to revision and exams include poor handwriting, failing to include working out to show the examiner how the child arrived at the answer and failing to check work for accuracy.
With support from you as their parent and an understanding of some of these common issues and potential solutions, you will be able to support your gifted teenager so that they go into the exam calm, confident and able to achieve their best.
10. How can I help my gifted teenager prepare for interview?
Whether it is for a course at college, a place at university or a job, at some stage in the next few years your gifted teenager will need to prepare for and attend one or more interviews.
As a parent, you will want to ensure that he or she does their best and following these simple suggestions can help you to help them achieve their goals.
*Preparation, preparation, preparation Whatever your gifted teenager has an interview for, good preparation is important.
*Research Help your teenager to find out what they can about the company, course, college or other organisation, so they can show in interview that they know what they are talking about. Most organisations have their own website and these can be an invaluable source of information about what they are doing, their plans for the future and their specialisms. Help your teenager anticipate what type of questions they may be asked and help them to prepare some answers.
*Help your gifted teenager build on their strengths When they applied to the organisation, your child may have submitted an application form detailing their skills and experience. If not, you might need to help them with it now, so that they can use this information in the interview. Listing their strengths will also help to give them confidence and remind them about why they could be a suitable candidate for the job or course.
Common questions in interviews include:
- Have you got any relevant experience to the business or course? Using their list of relevant experience, encourage your teenager to think about how they would answer this question in an interview. Don’t forget, this experience could be gained in a variety of different settings including voluntary work and may be relevant even if they have not done this job or type of study before.
- Outline your strengths. Encourage them to think about how their strengths could be useful on the course, for example, doing a distance learning course (or getting involved with IGGY!) could be seen as evidence of being an independent learner; being involved in a Scout Group or sports team may be evidence of being a team player.
- What are your weaknesses and how do you address these? This is a difficult one and can be hard to answer. Encourage your child to have a good negative prepared. Interviewers these days often ask for a weakness. It would be unrealistic if they said they did not have one, but at the same time they don’t want to say something that will put the interviewers off from choosing them, for example “My mum says I am lazy” is not a good one to give! An example of a good negative that some people give is that they have the tendency to take on too much work, so it is something they are careful about.
- If we gave you the job/place what would you be looking to achieve? This is where your teenager could relate their passion or interest to what they know is on offer or is being developed in the future (according to the information they have researched). This will help to show that they are serious about the job. However, try and make sure it is within the parameters of the job or course for which they have applied. Applying for a summer job as a waiter but telling them they want to be Managing Director next year may not get them the job!
Some gifted teenagers may give answers at a much higher level than is expected and may fail to answer the question asked. If your child has a tendency to do this, work with them to give answers that are shorter and to the point.
Some gifted teenagers write brilliant application forms but can clam up in interview, or have concentrated on academic achievements rather than out of school or college activities. If your child falls into this category, what else can they talk about? They may be asked for other hobbies or interests in the interview (membership of IGGY is a good start!).
*Help them get organised Ensure your child leaves enough time to find and get to their interview. If they do not know where they are going, it may be worth having a practice run beforehand if possible so that they do not worry on the day that they do not know where they are going. This will help to eliminate some of their stress.
*Make sure they arrive in plenty of time Your child doesn’t want to be too early or too late for their interview. Although it is better to turn up too early than too late! If they are more than fifteen minutes early, tell them to spend the spare time walking round the block. Ten to fifteen minutes before the time, tell them to go to where the interview is being held and register that they have arrived.
*Help them to problem solve What if they face a problem? The bus is late or their car breaks down. If possible ensure that your child has got the telephone number of the interview location and encourage them to phone to explain the situation; they may be able to reschedule the interview for another day and it is at least more courteous than turning up late or not at all.
Many gifted teenagers have difficulties organising their time and this is why a ‘dry run’ before the day is preferable to being late on the day. If your teenager is likely to go to pieces when they face unexpected problems, work with them on their ‘Plan B’ for different scenarios, so they can feel confident that they can face any eventuality. It is also far better for them to find out where to go or the time it takes before the event, rather than discovering for themselves on the day itself.
*Make sure they dress appropriately for the interview If it is a formal interview your teenager needs to make sure that he or she dresses smartly and looks as if they could step into the job or university. Interviewers realise that if this is their first interview they may not have a suit or similar. However, they will need to make an effort to ensure that their dress is appropriate for the environment in which they would be working. Decisions about people are often made in the first few minutes of an interview.
*During the interview Whilst you can’t be with them, make sure they have practiced the answers to as many different types of interview questions as they can.
Tips to help your teenager during the interview:
Prime them about their body language. You may have told them many times not to slouch – well now it matters even more! They need to sit up straight, look interested and keep eye contact with the interviewer. If a panel is interviewing them, then it is good practice to look at all of the interviewers whilst talking, rather than at just one person. Remember they will all be part of the decision. They want to feel that your teenager has communicated with them.
You could also suggest the following things to your child and help them prepare and maybe even give them a practice interview with yourself and/or someone else:
- Don’t give short one or two word answers but do keep them short and to the point
- Appear keen and enthusiastic, but not desperate
- Talk about things where the opportunity is given
- Remember the interview is a two way process, you are interviewing the company or college as well
- Be prepared for difficult questions and have a strategy for dealing with them e.g. ask for a moment to think about the answer, take a sip of water while you think of an answer, ask if you can come back to that one
- Focus on the job and how you can do it, avoid bringing up irrelevant things
- Don’t volunteer any negative information that may reduce your chances of getting the job/place on the course
- Don’t get into negotiations about money or grades at the interview. Wait until you are offered the job or the place, then you can discuss such things with the employers or college
- Use the interview as an opportunity to sell yourself and make the interviewers want to choose you because you are well qualified, suited to the post, knowledgeable, interesting and a nice person to work with. You are not there to retell them what you already told them in the application, you are there to show them how good you will be on their team or course, compared to the other candidates they will be interviewing.
At the end of the interview
It is always good practice to ask one or two questions at the end of an interview, so help your child to practise what these could be beforehand. As far as possible, relate these to the course or job for which he or she has applied. However, it is also important to ensure that your gifted teenager:
- Does not try to be too clever
- Listens to the answer
- Does not ask a question about something that has already been covered
It is often useful for your teenager to ask when he or she will hear whether they have got the place/job; if only to stop them feeling so anxious that they have not heard.
Finally, thank the interviewers for their time and say that you look forward to hearing from them.
When they hear whether they have been successful or not
Once they have heard about whether they have been successful or not, you will know what to do to support your child. Even if they have been successful, it is useful to ask what they would do differently if they went for interview again. This will help them to develop their skills and improve their performance for the future. If you get the chance, why not write these suggestions down and keep them safely for next time?
If they are not successful, it is even more important to evaluate what they could have done differently. Sometimes there will be the opportunity for your child to receive feedback from the interviewer themselves and if possible your child should take up this offer; this will be invaluable feedback for future interviews and they can include what has been said into their own evaluation.
It is important to remember that many gifted teenagers are particularly sensitive to criticism and can easily give up if they perceive that they have failed, because they are not as perfect as they want to be. Therefore, you need to make sure that you cover the good points of the process, as well as the things that could be improved. A good structure for this could be:
- What three things did you do well in the interview process?
- What three things did you not do as well?
- What would you do differently next time?
Although you need to stress the positive, you need to encourage a learning mentality in your teenager. The reason they did not get the place, job or whatever they applied for, is that someone else was better suited than they were. Do not try to soften the blow by, for example, blaming the interviewers. This will not encourage a learning mentality or belief that they might need to do something differently next time. Honest feedback along with an action plan for next time will be more productive and will help your child in the long term.
Helping them to develop an alternative action plan
When some gifted children fail, if we have not helped them to build resilience, they may simply abandon their plans and ambitions. As a parent or carer, your role is to help them develop alternative strategies for when things don’t go to plan.
You can start encouraging this approach from an early age, before they ever sit an exam or attend an interview. A simple way of getting in the right frame of mind is for them to consider an alternative action plan before any event about they would do if things don’t go to plan.
‘Making a presentation? What happens if your presentation doesn’t load on to the other computer; what will you do?’
‘Going to meet friends? What can you do if you miss the bus?’
Once they start using this approach, you can help them with the bigger things:
‘If you don’t get a place at this university, what are your alternatives?’
‘If the interview doesn’t go to plan, what else could you consider?’
Gifted children need to see ‘failure’ as a learning opportunity and to grow and develop as a result, and as parents we can help them with that.