Whether it’s Baby Einstein for infants to violin lessons in kindergarten, many parents are eager to give their kids a head start with a lifestyle that equates with success. Sure, as parents of high achieving kids we might place too much pressure, overschedule with extracurricular activities, and demand high scores on standardized tests. But, why can't kids just be kids anymore? Some of us are immune to the competitiveness that seems to have gripped every playground. Today, foreign languages are the new ABC's, kindergarten is the new second grade. Somehow, despite the “my kid is a genius” craze, U.S. students are struggling to keep up with their international peers. American students lag behind while countries like Finland, Singapore and South Korea raise the next generation of math and science whizzes, the very skills our digitally driven culture boasts about. So, as parents, what can we do to support our gifted kids?
Talk, talk, talk
Ask your kid open-ended questions, like “What would happen if all the animals on Earth disappeared?” Such questions help a child reflect on what they think and are reassured their opinion matters. Don't worry if your child is too young to understand. Likewise, don't be afraid to use relatively sophisticated words. They may not understand them, but have the ability to figure it out if the words are used multiple times in different contexts. As an elementary teacher and mom of a high-achieving middle schooler, I have always conversed with my daughter about every topic you can imagine. Since she was 2 years old, I would talk about lessons I was planning for my students. Whether it was on the solar system, the water cycle, civil rights movement, or Hispanic heritage month—I made it a priority to expose her with a variety of topics in many domains. Today, she is a well-rounded conversationalist.
Read, read, read
Researchers agree that access to books and one-on-one reading time is a predictor of school success. Why? Reading stimulates the brain to make connections and builds background knowledge about the world. Reading is the foundation of all learning and will enable a child to absorb and apply content from all areas, including math and science. What’s more, modeling good reading habits at home may give your child an advantage. If your child observes the family reading for enjoyment that attitude will more likely be adopted. At home, invite your child to cozy up and read anything together. Put books out everywhere—on coffee tables in the living room, on bookshelves in the bedroom, and sure, even in baskets in the bathroom. Lastly, share what you're reading with your child, and ask them what new book they checked out at the school library. This will not only spark conversation, but build vocabulary and comprehension.
Give specific praise
As teachers and parents, we are preoccupied in making kids feel good that we pay less attention to the time it takes for kids to actually become great. It's hard to accept failure if you're constantly told you're the best. When gifted kids go to school and don’t solve a problem correctly, they may be too hard on themselves or blame others for their failure. Therefore, knowing how to respond is important. Children who are praised for solving a problem tend to be more motivated in school than children who are told they're just smart. The latter, ironically, often become frustrated when something isn’t that easy. So instead of giving broad praise such as, “You're the smartest kid in the school!”, give kudos for specific accomplishments such as, “I'm proud of how you found a different way to solve that word problem”. Likewise, if they didn’t achieve a goal or get the right answer simply smile and encourage them by saying, “You're almost there. Don’t give up.”
Children are naturally very curious. Unfortunately, some kids may lose that sense of curiosity as they get older. What can we do at home to prolong curiosity? Keep them excited by targeting what interests them. Ask questions about what they're interested in and you will have initiated a love of learning that may pay off in their future. Thereafter, your child will ask more questions and continue to delve in that curiosity. Also, take time to share what you're excited about too. Check out a new museum or watch an interesting documentary together, and tell your child what you liked about it and why.
Seize teachable moments
You can help your child develop superior school skills throughout the day. Researchers conclude that education does not only happen in school. Experiences outside of the school are just as valuable. For example, if you drive under a thunderstorm. Instead of saying “Hey, it’s a storm!” ask a question: “How do you think thunder is formed?” Encouraging observation of details will help your child do the same in school. Another example, a trip to the store can be a chance to build vocabulary, math skills and managing money. Tell a 2-year-old the names of fruits as you bag them. Ask a 3-year-old to find four bags of frozen broccoli. Have a 5-year-old write down which cereal she wants. Older kids can compare prices and sizes, and sort fruits and vegetables.
In conclusion, these tips will benefit all children, whether your child is gifted or not. One of the best predictors of future success is for parents to be involved and engaged in their children’s education, at home and in school.