“Keeping Track of the Who”

March 20, 2012

On March 5, 2012, IEA Senior Fellow, Newberry Honor Award winning author, and renowned gifted expert Stephanie Tolan spoke to a group of parents in South Pasadena, California, as a part of our Gifted Child Parent Support Group series. This post offers some highlights from Stephanie’s talk.

Fighting for Gifted

In America, it is okay to be a gifted athlete. But in terms of intelligence, academics, and creativity, many believe that every child is gifted. “You don’t look around a whole class full of kids and say every one of those kids could be Michael Jordan . . . but there is this concept in the world that every child is a gifted child. It’s like saying every child is tall.”

“All human beings have gifts of some kind,” Stephanie acknowledged. “But that’s not like saying every child is gifted because gifted is by definition outside the norm.”

“Those who deal with highly to profoundly gifted kids – kids along the far right edge of the bell curve – those of us who deal with those kids know that giftedness is innate to the person. We know that no kid who is not gifted is going to be able to leap ahead at the rate that these kids just naturally move.”

Theoretical Curve of Distribution of Intelligence
Theoretical Curve of Distribution of Intelligence (via http://expressiveepicurean.wordpress.com)
The highly and profoundly gifted kids Stephanie mentions lie on the far right edge of this bell curve.

While many organizations choose to focus on talent development (which is equated with achievement), there are many kids who are gifted but do not achieve. Therefore, it is important to IEA that we focus on giftedness.

Stephanie’s Advice for Keeping Track of the Who

When parents define their kids by their differences, they are focusing on the “what.” What their child is good at. What their child does differently. Stephanie urges parents, however, to remember the “who” – the being-ness of the individual child.

  • “Help [your kids] see themselves first as a who and then a who who does stuff.”
  • Embrace who your kids are, including remembering that what makes them happy is important.
  • Allow your kids to explore their options. Let them decide what is important to them and what they like. “Multipotentiality is part of the package.” Your kids don’t have to be stuck on one track forever. Encourage them to learn what they love through exploration.
  • “Part of your child’s job is to play.” Just because your kids have a gift doesn’t make play and down time any less important.
  • Let your kids have an interest of their own, something you don’t coach them in, like the music they prefer or the games they play. “It was important that [my son] had something I didn’t have.”
  • Remember that this is a balancing act.
  • So often as parents of gifted kids we are concerned with achievement of potential or of specific goals, but don’t forget the child’s happiness along the way.
  • What you are paying attention to grows. Focus on the good things!

Stephanie Tolan is author of the Newbery Honor Award-winning novel Surviving the Applewhites. She is a well-known lecturer and advocate for highly gifted young people. She has also written Listen!, Flight of the Raven, Welcome to the Ark, and Ordinary Miracles and is co-author of Guiding the Gifted Child. As an IEA Senior Fellow, Stephanie and the other Fellows facilitate Yunasa each year. Stephanie will also be at the new Yunasa West camp this year.

IEA hosts free monthly Gifted Child Parent Support Group Meetings throughout the school year in the Pasadena, CA, area.  These meetings often feature a special guest speaker and cover a variety of topics. If you are interested in receiving more information about these meetings as they are announced, sign up for our email list and include your Los Angeles area zip code.

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