Question: Your son’s elementary school has labeled him “gifted.” Should you tell him?
• You can tell your child he has been given the label “gifted” as long as he also knows that it doesn’t mean he is smarter or better than anyone, just that he performs well on a certain kind of test. — Sharon Brinkman
• I would not. At least not yet. We all live up to, or down to, labels given to us. Your child should just think about himself as a person with certain skills and not worry about being “gifted.” When the time comes, you can explain what being “gifted” means and will mean to him. — Marie Grass Amenta
• You’ll need to tell him or explain any special services he might receive, but as far as the label of “gifted,” don’t burden him. Let him know that you’re proud of his schoolwork but that every one of us has gifts and talents. — Dawn Lantero
“There’s gifted and there’s gifted,” says Liz Perelstein, founder and president of School Choice International, a consulting service that helps families find appropriate schools for their gifted children.
Children who score well on a standardized test, therefore gaining entry into an accelerated program at school, are no doubt bright, Perelstein says. But they are not, most likely, gifted.
Still, they might wonder why they’re suddenly attending a special program at school — or an altogether new school, in some cases.
“I don’t see any need for labeling them,” she says. “Let them know all kids have strengths and weaknesses. They have academic strengths, and their parents and the school want to make sure they get to do things that challenge them and are interesting to them. This is an opportunity for them to stretch their minds and be with other kids who have the same interests — the school’s way of catering to their needs and curiosity, just like schools do for athletes or musicians.”
Truly gifted children, just 2 percent of the general population, Perelstein says, typically struggle through much of childhood and may actually benefit from having a name for their “plight.”
“They tend to feel different from their peers,” she says. “They don’t have the same interests, they have little to talk about with their peers, they often have difficulty in social relationships. I think it’s a good thing for parents to tell kids like that the reason they feel different is because they’re gifted, not because something is wrong with them.”
The conversation could go something like this:
“Yes, you’re struggling and you’re suffering and it’s hard to be you. But the flip side that’s really exciting is that kids like you tend to have a better time as you get older in school and in adulthood than you have in childhood. People like you have invented great things.”
Perelstein suggests giving them books about Einstein and other famous intellectuals.
“It’s not so much about giving them a label, because what are they going to do with that?” she says. “It’s about easing their pain, because kids measure themselves so much against their peers. School is often very hard for them because they have nothing to talk to other kids about and teachers often treat them like they’re annoying.”
Chances are, this will be welcome, if not surprising, news to your child.
“Gifted kids know they’re different from a very, very early age,” Perelstein says. “Gifted children ask questions, where smart children are often more focused on answering questions. Gifted children have an insatiable quest for knowledge. They have passions for things really early and want to know everything about them. Sometimes parents don’t recognize the signs of giftedness, but they do emerge quite early.”
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