As we prepare for the start of another school year, we wanted to take some time to touch on a question many parents will be asking their teachers and administration this coming school year. Is My Child “Gifted”? At Rock Solid Families, we believe that’s a really loaded question to ask that first needs some clarification. The term “gifted” has created so much confusion and sparked so many conversations within our families and schools today. As with many ideas in education, the same condition we’ve seen in kids for years often gets assigned a new name or terminology. A term that was used to describe a particular behavior or trait 40 years ago may now seem insensitive or even ignorant today. Initially, it may have been fine, but overuse and misuse of certain terms start to create a negative connotation. Eventually, people want to distance themselves from certain titles or labels and eventually it gets replaced with a new term.
In my 20 years as an elementary school counselor, I saw the word “gifted” as one of those terms. The difficulty with the term “gifted” is that it is not a “one-size-fits-all” label. There is not a single test or screener that automatically determines a child to be gifted. This is why things can get really messy. A child could be gifted at math, science, reading, art, athletics, social interaction, speaking, etc.. What’s even more confusing is that a child may appear to be performing significantly high in one area but is nearly non-functional in another. I’m sure we’ve all seen a person that is amazing at math or science but is nearly paralyzed when it comes to social interaction. Or how about the person that is musically head and shoulders above the crowd, but has a difficult time balancing their checkbook? This imbalance creates lots of confusion to the people they interact with as well as the person identified as “gifted”.
Because identifying gifted and talented students is a touchy subject with many parents and school officials, I want to be very careful about sharing what I have learned from my 32 years of experience in the school setting. My experience with this “gifted” label also hits close to home, which is why I’d like to share a little bit of our own family’s story.
When our oldest son was in second grade, our school began a process of testing, screening, and interviewing students for qualification into the school’s gifted and talented program. As the new counselor in the school building, I was just learning about what this process looked like. After several months of collecting data, our school’s gifted and talented coordinator came to me and said she had information about our oldest son that we needed to discuss. Her data indicated that our oldest son was scoring in the top 98 percentile in almost every test, screener, or interview she had given him. His scores opened the door for the school’s gifted and talented program, and she wanted to know if that was something we were interested in pursuing.
My wife and I began to discuss what this meant to us and our son. You see, we never really thought of our son as gifted. We just always thought of him as an “all boy” kind of kid. Yes, he excelled in some areas, but we also saw that he was average in many others. We began to discuss what would be best for our son in the long run. More than anything in this world, we wanted our son to grow up to be a well-adjusted and healthy adult mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We wanted our son to be a problem-solver and to be able to handle social interactions successfully. We wanted him to care about his family and others and know the importance of servanthood and hard work. We wanted our son to experience failure and understand that he could grow through it. We wanted him to understand that all people have gifts and talents and that he would someday have to rely on the strength of others to succeed. We wanted our son to understand that he was and still is a great young man with lots of potential to do amazing things as well as capable of making mistakes like everyone else. We wanted him to be humble and to know that he was created for a purpose to serve God and others.
Here’s what we knew we did not want. We did not want our son to feel above or better than anyone else. We did not want him to feel any extra burden to live up to a certain label. We did not want to create an environment that incubated an elitist or arrogant mindset. We did not want him to carry undue stress for being something he struggled to live up to.
So, when our conversation was finished, my wife and I made a decision. We decided that we did not want our son identified as gifted. We didn’t want him misled into thinking he was any more or less gifted than any other child. Instead, we allowed him to take the path that his peers took and when he excelled we encouraged and celebrated his success. When he fell short or struggled, we stressed the importance of overcoming and teaching empowerment and skills to succeed. We also quickly noticed that our son naturally tracked himself into many of the opportunities and experiences that the “gifted” kids were experiencing. Life often has a natural way of doing that.
Here’s the bottom line; I’m not saying that your child being labeled as “gifted” is a bad thing. In fact, this label may very well open the door to experiences that will serve them well. What I am saying is that your child may not necessarily be better off because of the label. What’s the motivation behind the label? Weigh the pros and cons before making a decision. Think about how this label may impact your child socially, academically, spiritually, etc… As in most things in life, there is usually more than one way to the same goal. Being labeled “gifted” may be what opens new and exciting doors for them, but remember, your child is far more than a single label. Your child is a beautiful but often messy combination of different traits, skills, behaviors, and gifts. Some will be seen as blessings, but some will be seen as shortcomings. Praise and encourage where they are strong and help them learn and grow where they are weak. This balanced approach will not only help your child succeed in school but more importantly life as well.