Gifted children can be difficult to work with, and it takes a special grown-up to fill that role. Over the years, we’ve developed a child-centric, worry-free approach to finding the right mentor. With a little patience and a lot of listening, you can find the right teacher or coach.
We were in an office. Or was it a library?
The girls were with a sitter; that much I remember. I was uncharacteristically alone.
My lap felt empty; my heart felt worse.
Kindergarten parent orientation. I sat next to the women in the Prada shoes, quietly scraping someone’s oatmeal from the hem of my skirt. The teacher stood in front of me, a vision of youth and confidence. I studied her. Sarcasm oozed beneath affability.
I should have run.
But I stayed.
My girl went.
And in the swampy mess of the coming year, we learned two things:
Gifted kids need good mentors, and it takes a child-centric effort to find the right fit.
The Role of Mentors in a Gifted Child’s Life
Giftedness isn’t a gift. It’s more like the ribbon around a package, tying up a host of joys and challenges both relished and rued. In our case, the package held a hefty dose of Twice Exceptionality we had neither prepared for nor anticipated.
Except, it wasn’t. We had an epic mismatch in temperament and expectation. Our headstrong and asynchronous daughter needed flexibility and a gentle hand.
She was met with rigid structure instead.
Creating a child-centric approach
By the time we made our transition to homeschooling, the idea of handing her off to someone else was harrowing.
What if the track coach didn’t understand her?
What if the violin teacher wasn’t flexible?
What if the co-op mentors wouldn’t accommodate her?
My heart built a bomb shelter and hunkered down.
Fortunately, my head made a plan.
Our daughter’s needs, both current and future, came first.
What did she need from a mentor right then? What would she need from a mentor later on? What skills did we want her to develop as a result of the mentor relationship?
I asked my daughter a series of questions:
- Who did she want to be?
- What did she want to become?
- What obstacles stood in her way?
- How did she want to avoid them?
Our kiddo was a first grader at this point, and an introverted one at that. But we used what she did say to augment our own perceptions, then set some objective criteria for the people we would trust with our daughter.
Once we found mentors who met these criteria, we knew it was important to communicate our daughter’s needs – and not just through us as her parents.
Building on the quagmire of our kindergarten experience, we wanted a combination of measured parental involvement and gradual self-advocacy. I had no desire to become the mama bear on steroids I had been once before. It was also important to us as parents (and educators) that our daughter learn to advocate for herself.
We could have sent her off to these activities and situations with a laissez-faire attitude, but what good would that do? Her track coach, her violin teacher and her co-op mentors needed to know her, not in a “here’s what you’re in for” kind of way, but in a manner that highlighted her qualities and safeguarded her needs.
So we met with the coach, the teacher and the mentors. We shared her past experiences, her challenges, and her positive traits. Then we worked together to create an environment where our daughter could monitor herself and her needs, asking for breaks when needed and requesting necessary accommodations. Our daughter took ownership of the relationship while we maintained our parental sanity.
To keep the lines of communication open, we encouraged frequent updates from both sides
The biggest problem we faced with school were the surprises. We’d hear nothing for weeks and assume all was fine, only to be blindsided by a bombshell email or phone call. To prevent this in our daughter’s new mentor relationships, we set up a weekly progress check. Our regular conversations staved off unexpected revelations while our daughter developed emotional independence.
Trust in a child-centered process doesn’t just keep the fear at bay. It encourages growth and relationship skills our children will need as adults. Each new school year brings a transition, one we must prepare for with the approach outlined here. Her recent mentors have brought out the best in her, fostering a sense of self-confidence she might not have developed otherwise.
It isn’t easy to let go. It isn’t easy to loosen our grip. But it beats running headlong for the hills, and I’d say that’s worth it in the end.
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