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Balance Challenge and Burnout for a Gifted Child

Do gifted kids need a special gifted program, or can they be suitably challenged with enrichment at home and at school?

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Q: My son, age 7½, is doing very well in school. He enjoys 2nd grade. Last year he scored extremely high on achievement tests and it was recommended that enrichment be provided for him in both language arts and mathematics. We were also told about a number of gifted and talented programs for which he would qualify.

But I am concerned about burnout. We provide him with challenging books to read at home and computer math games that are slightly more challenging than the math he is doing in school. Is that enough? I am torn between not wanting to push him (especially since he likes his school program and is successful with it) and concern about not challenging him enough. The question is whether to keep him where he is or apply to one of the gifted programs. What are your thoughts?

A: It's a wonderful question and a wonderful kind of problem to have. I think you should trust your feeling that there is no compelling reason to move your son to another program at this time. He is getting the best kind of education — learning to feel good about himself and his mastery of the school material. Sometimes I think we have a quirky worldview about education in this country: worrying if our kids are not succeeding, but worrying too if they are succeeding, that maybe we're not challenging them enough.

I would suggest that the further enrichment you might offer your son should be activities shared with you, his parents, such as trips to interesting places and lots of discussion about them. That might include museums with collections that would interest him, or any day trips to interesting places. Take a tour bus ride, geared to children's interests, a walking tour, reading signs, even trips to a zoo that would allow you to do more than just identify the animals, but to talk also about their habits, the habitats they thrive in and why, etc. Such activities and more allow opportunities for enrichment in science and social science.

After reading a book together, expand his thinking with a discussion of the story or information gleaned, what it meant to him, what he thought of the characters, etc. will also. There are lots of opportunities in everyday activities, such as shopping, for applied mathematics, but only if that's fun for him. Give him chances to observe you and other intelligent adults reasoning about almost anything; and turn to him for his views with appropriate and respectful questions about his ideas.

In short, it will be enriching to have your family life full of sharing, observing, and enjoying the world around you, and also thinking out loud, discussing, even debating at times. And it is just as important to offer your son a rich social life with kids his age, some, but not necessarily all of whom may also be gifted. He needs to learn to engage others of all levels of ability and to make friends based on their character and shared interests, which will not necessarily be scholarly.

As he grows older, if the gap between his abilities and the school program widens, you might consider entering him in a more challenging school. That will depend a lot on how he feels and how you feel. Trust your judgment then as you should now. The bottom line is, you need not worry about not providing the most demanding formal education to your gifted boy. Having learned to inquire, to think, reason and get along with others is what will count most in his adult life.

About the Author

Adele M. Brodkin, Ph.D., is a psychologist, consultant, and author of many books, including Fresh Approaches to Working With Problematic Behavior and Raising Happy and Successful Kids: A Guide for Parents. In addition, she has written and produced award-winning educational videos.

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