Sunday, March 7, 2010

Super Sunday Series - HOW to be your child's advocate

Welcome back to the Super Sunday Series - where I speak to all topics gifted and how they relate to your child's well-being.  Please click on the tab above if you want to discover more about the Series and its topics.

Last week I wrote to you about the importance of being your child's advocate.  I mentioned this in my talk last Saturday and someone asked this question (paraphrased):

"How do you have time to be an advocate when you have to spend so much time merely attending to your gifted child's needs?"

It was a great question, worthy of more than the answer I gave her on the spot.

Oldest's first teacher introduced us to the concept of being your child's best advocate.  I had no idea what she meant then.  Oldest was 2.5 years old, I wasn't yet cognizant of the difficulties her intensities were going to create for a classroom and its teacher, and frankly, like many first time moms, I assumed everything was going to be all sweetness and roses with her school experience.

I met with this teacher (who, not coincidentally, is now Youngest's first teacher) this week to talk with her a little more "how to be your child's advocate."  I saw the gleam in her eye, and she said, "Ooooooh, my favorite topic."  She's been teaching for 25 years, and people from all around our city know of her expertise with young children, her ability to give them a wonderful foundation for their school age years.

Here are her top 7 ways to do this:

  1. Know your child.  Know both their strengths and weaknesses.  As the parent, you have the ability to make a more accurate assessment of who your child is than anyone else, if you pay attention.  What's important is to have an accurate picture of who your child is.  I see so many parents who act as if everything (good, bad and ugly) their child does is wonderful.  They can't/don't see where their child needs improvement.  Being realistic about who your child is makes #2 below so important.
  2. Develop your own skills as referee and coach.  By coaching, she means to help your child maximize the skills they have.  By refereeing, she means to set the appropriate limits, expectations and have consequences for when those limits are crossed.  To her advice, I would add "research, research, research."  If your child is a perfectionist, learn about that.  If your child has overexcitabilities, learn about those.  If your child is reading 7th grade books in 2nd grade, learn about reading levels and what they mean.  Read books on parenting, become a "student" of how to be an effective parent.   Read about giftedness.  What does it really mean?  It might surprise you.  
  3. Know your community resources.  There is work involved with this one - it takes some effort.  She strongly recommends you research all options available to your child to find the place that best fits your child's personality, coming to a decision by process of elimination.  
  4. Recognize that no one system is going to provide everything your child needs.  From the gifted perspective, I think this is very important.  Gifted kids think differently, act differently, and almost always need "more" in their lives, as far as enrichment.  Finding activities that help your gifted child pursue their passion, outside of school, may go a long way at school.  And by saying gifted kids need "more," I am by no means saying they need more "work."  I believe they need enrichment that gives them more "thought," if that makes sense. 
  5. Be the school and teacher's partner, not adversary.  Many of the suggestions here are important, but I find this one at the top of the list for us.  I look at my children's teachers as a partner in their eduction, not the person who does it while I sit around and do nothing.  I don't think in terms of, "the teacher has to do this for my child," but rather, "what can I do to help the teacher teach my child?"  And I didn't just wake up one day and say, "this is how I'm going to do it."  It's taken some real effort.
  6. Celebrate the social differences your child has.  Instead of saying, "my child is a terrible perfectionist (which may be true)," you can frame it in the positive and say, "my child has a commitment to excellence."  Instead of, "my child will blurt out answers without waiting to be recognized," you can say, "my child is eager to share her love of knowledge with others."  
  7. Find their tribe.  I've been seeing this around some places lately and I love it.  Your child's tribe might NOT be at school, it might be someplace else entirely.  And that's OK, as long as you teach him or her that it's OK.  

***One final note:  I've talked about this before, but one concrete way to advocate for your child is to have them tested.  When you have test results to rely on, rather than a parental opinion (that some people WILL assume is exaggerated), your advocacy gains credibility.  A word of caution, however:  be prepared for the results.  They might be lower than you thought, or you might learn your child has some other issue entirely.  Or the results might be so high that you have to rethink everything.  It's a leap of faith that you must be willing to come to terms with.  Plus it's expensive.

What do you think?  What ways do you advocate for your child that are different from the suggestions I've made, with the help of my 25 year teaching expert?  What do you see here that you agree or disagree with?  Share with us.  By sharing, we can learn more.  
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