Peer Support – Is it Time for a “Think Group” Phenomenon?

It’s an honour to be blogging for SENG’s US-based National Parenting Gifted Children Week. They’ve started with a conference, and I hear great news of how well it has been going. Congratulations to all those involved!

National Parenting Gifted Children Week is hosted by SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted).Please follow the Blog Tour!

Download SENG’s free NPGC Week ebook, The Joy and the Challenge: Parenting Gifted Children.

Lists of the characteristics of gifted children often describe their social (or asocial) behaviour as well as describing their thinking. Here are some examples:

I have been selective, drawing out those characteristics of giftedness that illustrate the extent to which gifted children’s thinking and social behaviour can be unswayed by the social world around them. Often divergent thinkers, many of these kids resist peer trends and peer pressure. This may arise through active disagreement with agemates’ priorities, or through such a defined focus on personally compelling interests that the whims of the crowd are mere background matters.

Does this mean, then, that gifted kids don’t need peer support? There are people who seem to think so, and these people can include some of the gifted kids themselves. The feeling of belonging within a group outside the family can be so rare for gifted children that they do not even see it as a need until they join a gifted children’s association or a gifted class. However, once you bring a group of gifted children together with their true peers – other gifted children – first there is nervousness, then there is excitement, and then many of the children express a sense of relief. We all like to ‘fit in’ somewhere, and gifted children are no exception.

Gifted children’s peer relationships can be qualitatively different from those of agemates. Quite often, expectations of emotional loyalty seem higher while expectations of superficial conformity (such as a group dress code) seem lower. Peer pressure exists among the gifted but may manifest in unexpected ways. I remember an outdoor game developed by my students. It had complex rules, and play was interrupted often to refine those rules, even with written record-keeping, amended motions and points of order. A bunch of very active primary school children used their own form of peer pressure to make their rules as important as the running and chasing. Every child conformed to take part in this process!

They may not all need formal playground democracy, but I believe that all gifted kids need some time with other gifted kids – not just to do well in class, but also to feel good inside. It doesn’t need to happen every day, with pull-out programmes and gifted children’s organisations making a huge difference to many children’s lives, but it must happen.

I could stop there, but there is something else. I believe that the parents of gifted children need peer support as well. If little Johnny teaches himself a few sizable chunks of how to read at age three, but has sobbing fits that last thirty minutes each time he finds a word he cannot yet read (whether someone helps him or not) it’s a problem! When little Johnny’s tired and frazzled Mum tells a regular Mum, with the intention of asking for advice (as Mums often do), regular Mum is likely to see mental visions of little Johnny chained to a book, and is more likely to back away shaking her head than to offer meaningful support.

Painter up high.

Those people you think are “volunteers” painting out graffiti may just be the parents of kids like little Johnny, painting over environmental print in a desperate bid for a moment’s peace.

There are many moments of the gifted parenting journey that are not only challenging and tiring (like all parenting at times) but socially isolating. Those who believe that pushy parents create giftedness logically believe any related parenting problems are self-induced. Those who believe giftedness is a cakewalk believe there are no problems. Those who believe the gifted should be brought down a peg or two will extend their helpfulness with this goal to the parents. It’s well worth taking time to find true parenting peers to help you through this!

Many of you will have heard about groupthink phenomena, when members of a cohesive group believe the way they think is the only way to think. Let’s switch that word around. I suggest we make National Parenting Gifted Children Week a “Think Group” phenomenon. Stop and think about how you, or parents of gifted children known to you, can access a supportive parenting group, whether face-to-face, online or both. In my experience, many parents of gifted children don’t expect to need the support of a group. When they find themselves engaging in one, first there is nervousness (“Will my kid be gifted enough?”), then there may be excitement (“I really can figure out how to tweet*!”) and then there is almost always relief (“I am no longer alone!”). If you can readily understand how being with gifted peers helps children, it is just one more step to see how peer support can help parents of the gifted as well.

Just one last point – If you should be parenting a twice exceptional child you’ll find that some of the criticisms meted out by regular parents lack internal consistency. In a nutshell, your child is too smart and not smart enough both at once. You’ll need two things. A true peer group and a blog. Why the blog? Because you’ll be too darned tired to think up the smart answers the daft criticisms deserve in the heat of the moment. But think them up you will. So please blog these wonderful thoughts to other parents of twice exceptional kids. We’ll be out there in cyberspace, appreciating every word!

*There are many places to network with the gifted community online, but #gtchat is where the support started to feel real for me.

Photo credit: Flickr member eltpics.

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About Mary St George

I teach in gifted education, both online and face-to-face.
This entry was posted in education, gifted, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Peer Support – Is it Time for a “Think Group” Phenomenon?

  1. Mona says:

    Fantastic, Mary! You are absolutely right about both the gifted kids and the parents of gifted kids needing peers and support systems. It’s amazing how fantastic it is to sit in a room with other parents who 1) don’t think you’re bragging when you talk about your child; 2) understand that, in fact, this makes parenting your child as difficult as parenting a child with any other special need, except at least most other kids with disabilities have some acceptance of being who they are by teachers, other parents, friends, or passersby on the street.

  2. Lisa Conrad says:

    Excellent, excellent, excellent! “Often divergent thinkers, many of these kids resist peer trends and peer pressure.” This falls into the ‘words of wisdom’ category! Thank you so much for this perspective that I had never understood before. As a parent, I worried that my children not only marched to different drummers, but often didn’t even go to the parade. I also appreciate the advice on joining a parent support group. This can be a lifesaver for parents of emotionally intense children. Let the ‘Think Group’ phenomenon begin! Great post, Mary!

  3. I love two points especially: that parents need a peer group and that we can have a think group. I spoke with a parent today who said she feels like she can’t celebrate her child without sounding braggy. Other parents are complaining about a low spelling test score, and they roll their eyes if her kid gets yet another 100. That is so isolating. Also, I love being a think group! Like a think tank, only way cooler.

  4. Lisa says:

    Mary, what an excellent reminder this is of the potential isolation for both gifted children and their parents and the importance of a sense of belonging! Not until I began to talk to other parents of gifted children and get to know their children did I see just how “normal” my son’s intensity and sensitivity were. This is one reason that mixed-age groups can sometimes work very well–it’s not the age that matters as much as the type of learner.
    ~ Lisa

  5. innreach says:

    What a wonderful, helpful and supportive piece of writing Mary… I agree totally, especially with the the last bit the peer group and the blog. It is so true that at times we can be too exhuasted, or just haven’t a real life place/person to voice our thoughts which may be dying to be told… having a blog where you can air them, and then finding that appreciation from like minded folk who can/do understand, can bring emmense relief and the strength to carry on for another day/year… Thanks for this ;-D

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