The Secrets of Gifted Parents

Photography: Loren Stow

 When we hear the word ‘gifted’, it usually applies to a child, a prodigy… We do not normally associate this word with being a parent. Our children are the gifts… not us…

Nevertheless, a well-known psychologist Dr David Lewis, wrote a book called “How to be a Gifted Parent”, in which he detailed the findings of years of researching gifted children. Basically, he started to see a trend, a ‘way of parenting’, that was present whenever a child was developing exceptionally well in all areas.

We have summarised the findings here for you, and want to share this because we feel that in learning how others are doing it, we can learn do certain things differently. It is not about comparison and feeling ‘less than’… it is about learning something you maybe didn’t know before today… it is about maybe trying something new… it may even be about saying ‘well done… I think I’m doing a really good job’…

Also, considering that we have just started a brand new year – 2011 – this might become a valuable tool in making the best parenting decisions you can this coming year.

Gifted parents find their own way

The first thing that many new parents do is to look to others for advice, including friends and their own parents… Raising a child is a hugely daunting task that I think few parents take lightly.  Sometimes we can become overly attached to a certain idea, not willing to move or try something new, believing that if it worked for someone else or for our parents, well then it must be the ‘right way’. Equally, some parents will believe that what worked for their first child simply will work for their other children.

The fact is, Dr Lewis found that Gifted Parents always find their own way. They have enough confidence in their abilities to not fall back blindly on the advice of others. They ask and learn and share, but will ultimately make a parenting decision based on their own instinct. They are open to all kinds of ideas, and don’t judge any methods with extreme acceptance or indifference, rather they make judgements based on the effect it is having on their child. They ultimately understand that what works for one child will not necessarily work for another.

Gifted parents are comfortable with diversity

Sometimes, as adults, we identify so strongly with particular cultures or beliefs that we truly believe that these are superior to all others, and the mere thought that our children might stray outside of these boundaries is terrifying.  In an effort to steer our children ‘the right way’, we may want to put blinkers on them or express disdain for those that are different.

Gifted Parents, on the other hand, focus on developing their child’s character and personality, with the knowledge – and in the hope – that they will one day formulate their own convictions, opinions, likes and dislikes. They intently expose their children to the widest view points from an early age, while at the same time openly expressing their own honestly held beliefs and values. Their culture and beliefs are held with dignity, but not to the exclusion of all others.

Gifted parents don’t favour one child

It is tough to admit, but research does indicate that it is quite common for parents to get along better with certain of their children over others. That is to say, parents can sometimes feel an affinity towards one of their children that they do not necessarily feel towards their other children – and then they can unintentionally favour this child, believing that he or she is capable of more, and is better equipped to succeed.

Gifted Parents however, understand that their children are to a certain extent shaped by the expectations that their parents have of them, so each of their children is given their fair share of attention, opportunities and encouragement. They refuse to believe that one child is better able to succeed because they’re better looking, the right sex or particularly talented. They know that some children are late bloomers, and that ‘success’ means different things to different people.

Gifted parents are comfortable with excellence

We all went to school with that exceptionally ‘nerdy’ type. I remember a boy in my class who could speak 10 different languages fluently at the age of 12. He was pretty much an outcast.  So, sometimes parents baulk at the idea of their children having certain gifts, or being exceptionally intelligent. They don’t want their children to become ‘nerds’ or ‘outcasts’ in school – they want them to have a normal childhood.

Gifted Parents understand that children with fully developed mental abilities are not less stable than others, but often cases more stable. That boy from my class is probably the CEO of some company today, leading a fulfilling and motivating life! In fact, since most children who develop exceptionally well are just as well equipped to sum up a social situation as they are at summing up a maths problem, many of these children don’t ever become the ‘nerdy’ type. Instead they feel confident, are happier, more sociable, and more aware of their judgements. In other words, they often times set the pace and lead the pack.

Gifted parents encourage independence

As new parents, we often feel value and pride in what we do for our babies. They are wholly dependent on us and we show our love for them by ensuring that we meet all their needs. From birth, however, a baby starts the journey towards becoming an independent individual, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Parents can often feel that they want to do things for their children even when their children are perfectly capable of doing these things for themselves. It’s easy to feel as if we will automatically become less important in our children’s lives as we become less needed. So we might find ourselves holding on, trying to stop our little ones from growing up too quickly.

Gifted Parents encourage their children to grow up and act as intelligently and competently as possible. They encourage their children to make age-appropriate choices wherever possible and don’t do things for their children that they are capable of doing for themselves. When their child asks for something or expresses an opinion, instead of viewing him as arrogant or demanding, they rather see him as assertive and experimenting with different options.  They’re not threatened by the situation, and instead think of it as an opportunity for teaching. 

Gifted parents don’t rely on what they can buy

The reality of today is that in order for many families to survive, both parents need to work. In addition, women are part of the work force and are enjoying more opportunities to be successful in business. All this contributes to families having more disposable income than their parents had. The attitude of, ‘I want to give my children everything I didn’t have as a child’, or ‘I know that I don’t spend as much time with my children as I would like, but I will give them the best of everything’ is common and understandable. 
Gifted Parents understand that an environment rich in opportunities provides many stimulating possibilities for their children, however, access to wonderful toys and the best schooling is not nearly as important as one-on-one parenting every single day. 
It is scientifically researched that effective learning takes place by doing, and not merely by owning educational and stimulating toys. People, loving interaction and shared interest make toys ‘come alive’. A young child struggles to learn by passive absorption, and needs a loving parent to interact with him one-on-one, answering his questions and interpreting his experiences for him. A child who hasn’t been taught by a loving adult how to apply his mind is like a beggar who doesn’t know how to use a tin opener – he starves although he has a tin of food in one hand, and a tin opener in the other…
So what does this all mean?
These concepts are not new, and for every ‘common’ trait that parents of gifted children share, there is naturally a flip-side of the coin. This does not mean that parents who find themselves on the ‘flip side’ of one or more of the above traits are bad. We might find ourselves on the flip-side for a number of reasons, one of which is fear – whether it be fear that we won’t do it ‘right’, fear that our children will stray from belief systems that we hold, fear of loosing our ‘little’ ones too fast, or fear that we won’t be able to give our children everything we didn’t have growing up. Another reason might be that we’ve never actually sat down and thought about this stuff… and how our viewpoints affect our child’s world and how they develop.
When we do things out of fear, or without making conscious decisions, the result is often negative. When we choose to acknowledge our fears and open our minds, we are more free to make better parenting choices. 

Parenting is not easy, but it is a journey that we walk with our children, a journey that will shape them and us forever. This is daunting at times, but if we share with other parents, and if we look outside of ourselves to see how others are approaching this journey, it is amazing what we can learn and apply to our own lives.

Words: Loren Stow
when we know better… we do better

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