If you’re parenting a gifted kid, you know how hard it can be to speak objectively with your child’s teacher, coach, or mentor. Here’s some advice from the mom of three gifted/2e kiddos who’s been on both sides of a teacher’s desk.
A few weeks before my youngest child started preschool, I sat down to fill out his confidential parent questionnaire.
- Do you expect your child to have difficulty separating from you?
- Do you expect your child to have difficulty adjusting to the classroom routine?
- Do you expect your child to have difficulty getting along with others in the classroom?
- Is there any additional information about your child you would like us to know?
Yes, probably, he might, and hold on a minute – I need more paper and a better pen.
How Not to Talk to Your Child’s Teacher (or Coach, or Mentor)
My son is highly asynchronous. All three of my children are. Eight years ago when the eldest was heading off to preschool, I had no clue what that word even meant.
What did I know? My daughter was different. She’d been a talented artist since the first day she picked up a paintbrush. She exhibited unshakeable focus, an ironclad memory, and a penchant for crafting complex stories about Pink Duck, her imaginary friend.
But there were problems, at least from an objective educational standpoint. By the end of her second year of preschool, the teachers were expressing concerns. My kiddo preferred parallel play to cooperative. Her tendency to melt during transitions had intensified. They tried to tell me she was developmentally delayed from a social-emotional standpoint.
Mistake number two came with kindergarten. We enrolled our daughter in a private Catholic school. The teacher was new (only two years out of college) and while I didn’t doubt her competency I had a sinking feeling about her classroom demeanor.
My daughter needed someone who was willing to work with her and her idiosyncrasies. This educational environment didn’t provide that.
So we fought and we stumbled and we cried through the entire school year. The evaluation process started in December and stretched into April; by May my highly gifted daughter had failed out of the school. I was furious at the comments and the grades on my daughter’s report card.
Intense rage does not begin to describe the emotion I was experiencing. I had one overarching desire when it came to that school and the whole situation.
I wanted to burn it down.
So I did.
Not literally, obviously, but I called the school and asked to speak to the teacher. For five minutes, I railed into the phone. She could barely get a word in edgewise and was sobbing by the time the principal took the phone from her.
Needless to say, I’ve not stepped foot within a 10-mile radius of the building since that moment. I live in fear I might see those two women again.
How Not to Treat a Parent
Here’s the thing. I should have known better. As a veteran of the educational profession, I know what it is like to work with parents of struggling children. I know what it is like to be on the receiving end of the phone call I delivered so many years ago. I’ve read emails about my decisions and policies as an educator that would make your eyes bleed for days. I’ve even had parent-teacher conferences moderated by an impartial third party so the parent wouldn’t eat me alive.
Now yes, these instances were rare, but over the course of an 18-year career, they were bound to happen. For the first decade of my professional experience, I lumped those parents under one unflattering category:
FLIPPING OUT OF THEIR MINDS.
And then I had my daughter. And she went to school. And she struggled. And then suddenly, I was the one on the phone ripping an educator to shreds with claws I’d sharpened on the blood of my enemies.
I was a woman unhinged.
When Parenting Makes You Unsteady
Love makes us do crazy things. When we’re 16, it’s filling that boy’s lawn with pink flamingos because he wouldn’t return our call. At 20, we’re skipping Metaphysics to read poetry under a live oak on the University quad. At 22, we’re standing at the foot of an altar pledging to love, honor, and obey when everyone says we’re just babies.
10 years and who knows how many kids later, we’re loving small people to distraction and squashing anybody who gets in the way.
It doesn’t have to be like this. And we don’t have to throw our kids under the bus, either. We can be honest about our children’s strengths and areas for growth while advocating for our children and seeking out the best educational and extracurricular environments. It just takes time, a few deep breaths, and a healthy dose of objectivity.
How to Talk to Your Child’s Teacher (or Coach, or Mentor) Without Setting the School on Fire.
Come from a cooperative standpoint.
The information you are providing is intended to help all of you – the adult, the child, and your family as a whole. It’s true what they say about flies, honey, and vinegar. Bring the sweet stuff and leave the swatter in reserve.
Assume competence until you know otherwise.
The best way to create a rapport with someone is to assume the best of intentions. Most educators, coaches, and mentors have a working knowledge of students with special needs. While your child’s needs are unique to him, there’s a good chance the person you’re working with has a basic understanding. Hold off on the studies, etc., until you know they will make a difference. Otherwise, you risk information overload.
Provide thorough information, but be concise.
Whether it’s a result of our penchant for social media or simply a sign of our busy lives, most of us prefer to skim what’s in front of us instead of wading through long blocks of text. Provide the teacher, coach, or mentor with as much information as necessary in the shortest form possible. Lay it out clearly with headings and bullet points and keep the length to one page, two at the max.
Don’t worry about bragging.
Whether your kiddo is straight gifted or a quirky 2E, you’re going to have some explaining to do. Your child is differently wired. You aren’t bragging – you are telling the truth. Not everyone knows about the additional challenges that come with giftedness. Think about it for it a minute. Before you had your child, did you?
Avoid extremes on either side.
Sugarcoating a situation isn’t going to help you; nor will exaggerating your child’s flaws. If you’re having a hard time with objectivity ask a trusted friend or relative to write out what they see. The additional perspective on your child’s strengths and challenges will help you see the bigger picture.
Give practical suggestions.
Think of situations in which your child shines. Now, think of situations in which your child struggles. What are concrete, actionable things you do to support your kiddo at that moment? How would those strategies transfer to a classroom, sports team, or club? Provide specific examples of situations in which your child is likely to thrive or stumble, then offer practical (realistic) suggestions for specific actions a teacher, coach, or mentor might take.
Call in the cavalry, but only when you need it. And do so by degrees.
Nothing makes a conference or meeting more stressful (and more likely to self-combust) then two defensive parties. If initial attempts at communication have been met with disinterest or refusal, don’t be afraid to climb the chain of command. Through it all, however, remain as straightforward, calm, and collected as possible. We may in actuality be crazed, vicious mama bears, but they’re more likely to cooperate with a specific request for a child if it’s resented in a professional manner.
Not because you need ammunition for later, but because it helps you keep track of the progress you have made.
Don’t forget to seek the good.
Every situation has some positive aspect to it, even if it’s really hard to find. Find something – anything – and mention that you appreciate it. A positive gesture or compliment can do a lot toward smoothing the road ahead.
Advocating for your gifted child shouldn’t feel like World War III.
For the most part, the adults involved in your child’s life want the best for her, just as you do. Be calm, be cool, be collected and objective, and the results you want will fall into place.
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