Heike (mother of Magnus, 13 years): Life with Magnus is really fun. I mean he can be quite challenging but overall, as he’s gotten older, because he’s 13 now, you can have a different level of conversation.
Justin and Zoe (parents of Thomas, 5 years): Day to day life with Thomas is busy. One of the joys of having a child that’s gifted is that they do love learning and they’re interested in everything and it’s a joy for them, and for Thomas it’s a joy for him. Like really every day from when he wakes up he’s thinking about what can I do next and what can I learn today.
Alison (mother of Ruby, 5 years, and Annabel, 3 years): Ruby’s asking questions all the time. She dominates a lot of airspace within the household. It can be very intense experience sometimes when you’re trying to do other things. I have to create a balance within our household between my work, which I love doing, Annabel, who has her own interests, and Ruby who has her interests. And so, how to manage all that can be very challenging.
Dr Gail Byrne (educational psychologist): One of the lessons that a gifted child learns within the family is that you have to work as part of that family. And that means that regardless of how bright you are, how talented you may be, you still unstack or stack the dishwasher.
Marilyn and Trevor (parents of Matthew, 7 years, and Sophie, 5 years): When we dish up food we make a point of serving the eldest first. Just so that the children realise that as part of a family there is a structure. So in terms of Marilyn’s parents we will serve them their food first. Then it will be us and then it will be Matthew and Sophie and they seem happy with that. They realise that there’s an order but at the same time they’re part of the family.
Alison: Having a sibling has been very, very good for her. Annabel grounds Ruby a bit in the fact that she can play imaginative games with her. I think that if Ruby was just on her own she would potentially be thinking too much.
Dr Anne Grant (educational consultant in early childhood giftedness): Generally gifted children are more sensitive and more intense about everyday things. And this can lead to different behaviours that other people may not understand. Usually parents, after three or four years, have got a handle on how their children respond and how they manage. But quite often other people haven’t. So these behaviours may need interpreting for other people, maybe for their carer, or pre-school teacher, or teacher, or maybe even for other people in the family.
Justin and Zoe: With kids like Thomas it’s not often enough to know that the sun goes up, the sun goes down. Sometimes they want to know what happens when the sun doesn’t burn anymore, and these are big questions, and answering them with a child who is clearly intelligent, but nonetheless not emotionally ready to deal with the answers to big questions like that, is very challenging.
Heike: Magnus has a perfectionist streak. It comes out when he can’t get something perfect or when he can’t get it right.
Dr Anne Grant: It’s a very common characteristic amongst gifted children to be perfectionist, and there’s an important role for parents to teach children that it’s okay to make mistakes; that they need to be a risk taker and it’s okay to take a risk with something; and that there will be times when they don’t do very well, and that’s also okay.
Justin and Zoe: Part of what we do is working with him to understand that it’s okay to do it wrong, that you’re only this age, and you’re not expected to be able to do it at your age. So sending that message, you learn from doing it wrong and doing it wrong’s really important.
Marilyn and Trevor: Frequently I disobey the GPS and turn down the wrong road. I’ll describe verbally what I’m thinking so that the children are listening in the back, and they realise that ‘Ah I’ve made a mistake’ but it can be rectified. It’s not the end of the world.
Justin and Zoe: We are very cautious to ensure that Thomas understands that there is a relationship between being good at something, and putting the effort in.
Dr Anne Grant: It’s important that parents acknowledge to their children, that they do have an advanced ability, but it is also important for them to separate out the idea that the worth of an individual is different from the level of ability that that individual has.
Alison: I think that there is a danger of their self worth being tied in with this idea of having advanced abilities. I try and talk to her and say ‘You’re strong. Yes, you’re clever. You’re also quite funny, and all those other sort of things.’ So try not to over emphasise it.
Justin and Zoe: Thomas doesn’t necessarily need to know in detail about his various cognitive strengths. Thomas needs to use them. Thomas needs to develop them, but we are very careful about how we talk to Thomas about his strengths and his weaknesses.
Marilyn and Trevor: We want to have a balance with Matthew and Sophie. We want to feed their intellectual skills and abilities and enhance that and, at the same time, we want to make sure they know the social norms, as well as being sporty and playing along with other children.
Dr Anne Grant: Parents often say that one of the most important considerations for them is that their child is going to be able to make relationships with others and fit in with other children and ultimately, of course, fit in and be part of the community. And so one of the important roles for parents is to help their children manage this transition from the family, and into the community.