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11 steps to guiding difficult gifted kids

This is Part 7 of a guest series I wrote in 2012 for Great Potential Press, which published my book, From School to Homeschool. A change on their website made it inaccessible, so I’m republishing here in celebration of National Parenting Gifted Children Week. To read the complete series, click here to start with post #1, “The Role of Parents in Identifying Gifted Children.”

Parenting a gifted child presents unusual challenges. Parenting a gifted child with behavioral differences places new burdens on top of those challenges. Although no one has the one magic ticket to make your life easier, experienced parents of gifted children offer variations on the following advice to help you negotiate the process of raising your wonderful, difficult child.

1. Don’t depend on one theory of parenting.

It’s unusual for a well-loved parenting theory to work without alteration for kids with behavioral differences. Take the parts that work, get rid of the parts that don’t.

2. Keep records.

A parent’s point of view about her child’s behavior can vary widely over only a matter of months. Children tend to coast along for a while then go through rapid periods of change. Parents often find themselves saying, When is this EVER going to end? Then some months later they realize that whatever it was had ended and they hadn’t noticed.

3. Expect regression.

This is totally normal, even for neurotypical kids. It happens in every area of life: potty training, academic learning, sleep habits… Parents of unusual children should try not to be disconcerted by normal regression.

4. Get the help of a good occupational therapist.

The best ones will have some background in issues of giftedness, though the very best will be eager to learn whether or not they have the background. A good occupational therapist will be interested in the whole child.

5. Find a general Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) whose approach works well with your family.

Your LMFT will be able to help you work through ideas and also give you a sense of how unusual your child’s behavior really is. Once parents become sensitized to having an unusual child, they tend to lose perspective. In other words, “usual” kids aren’t perfect, either.

6. Don’t jump on every new theory you see, but then again, don’t discount everything as out of the question.

There is so much more information available to us now than to parents in previous generations. In one way, this is blessing. Parents today have access to advice from a wide variety of sources. But on the other hand, parents can go crazy trying to follow every piece of advice. Your child, and your family, will stay more sane if you take each piece of advice under consideration, but don’t jump on every train that passes.

7. Some simple nutritional changes can make a big difference.

Fish pillsThere are a few dietary changes that every parent of a difficult child should try. These changes have been shown to work well with a large number of gifted children, and they are not difficult ones to implement:

– Supplement with Omega-3 oils. They influence brain function, and parents often see an immediate difference in their kids, especially in their ability to maintain stable moods.

– Try to up the protein intake and lower the simple carbohydrate intake. Simple carbs are really bad for kids whose brains are on overdrive. Protein, especially early in the day, gives them something to work on.

– Try to avoid artificial colors and preservatives, especially sodium benzoate. These have been shown to exacerbate problems with kids who tend toward hyperactive behavior.

– Have “hyperactive” children’s ferritin levels checked. Recent studies are showing that kids who have normal general iron levels but very low ferritin (stored iron) levels show ADHD-like behaviors. (See ‘Relationship of Ferritin to Symptom Ratings Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder’, Oner, 2007) Iron supplementation is easy and may show large benefits.

8. Be willing to give your child the support he needs to succeed.

Some parents fall into the trip of letting their children fail because they assume that kids “should” be able to handle what other kids handle. But a gifted child who fails repeatedly because of inadequate support will never learn the joy of succeeding. When possible, set up enough “successful” activities to balance the challenging activities. If the child is in school, work with the teacher to provide positive feedback on progress, no matter how small.

9. When possible, make reasonable accommodations for your child’s differences.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASometimes parents expect gifted kids to be more resilient than neurotypical kids. But simple accommodations for common problems can help gifted children thrive. For example, many twice-exceptional children have difficulty with handwriting. This translates into the child being unable to express herself in writing. In this case, a reasonable accommodation would be for the child to learn keyboarding or dictate homework to a parent. Handwriting itself can be worked on separately, when it is not interfering with the creative process.

10. Be willing to call him a child with special needs.

This is a big step for many parents of twice-exceptional children to take. Your child does have special needs, even though he also has special talents. And all children deserve to have their needs met so that they can reach their potential.

11. Put on your mask first

Finally, don’t forget that the parents of gifted children need help, too. Find a support group, in person or online. Getting input from other parents who have similar challenges will help you be the best parent you can be.

Posted in Parenting, Psychology.

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