Raising and teaching gifted children is an amazingly fun challenge, but it is a challenge. Something that I have learned over the past few decades is that often, the best way to teach a gifted child is to allow them to teach you.
That may sound counterintuitive – aren’t we supposed to be the teachers? Yes, but allowing your child to teach you, and allowing yourself to learn from them, can actually have a lot of benefits.
There are several ways in which your child can teach you. Here are the two that I have found work well!
Teaching as a Learning Tool
One of the hardest things about teaching a gifted child is that they tend to learn extremely quickly, and they like to dig deep. This can get exhausting, but it can also stump the most dedicated teacher. How do you teach a ten-year-old who has already surpassed you in some subjects?
This question comes from personal experience.
My son surpassed me in math and science when he was ten, and in other subjects a few years after that. At that point, I had two choices. I could either give up on teaching him and turn him over to someone else, or I could get creative and create an environment in which he could learn.
I chose the latter.
Because I could no longer be the instructor for those subjects, I decided to be transparent with my son. I told him that if he would be open and honest with me about what and how he wanted to learn, I would keep him supplied with resources. Instead of being his instructor, I would be his fellow student – I would learn along with him.
Instead of evaluating him through tests, I studied along with him and allowed him to teach me what he learned. If he could explain it in ways that made perfect sense to me, I knew that he had a good understanding of the material.
Ten years later, we still work with this system, which brings me to the next benefit.
Teaching Your Gifted Child to Understand Others
Most gifted children are aware that they think, perceive, and learn in ways that are completely different from what is considered “standard” or “normal.” They may not be aware of what the “standard” or “normal” ways of learning actually are, but they know that they think differently.
As they get older though, this can present quite a challenge. If they think, process, and communicate in completely different ways from those around them, how will other people be able to understand them?
This is a real issue that many gifted children face. Often, the best way to help them overcome it is to be an open and honest (but compassionate) sounding board.
My son, who is profoundly gifted and twice exceptional, realized around age 8 or 9 that many people did not understand him. Kids his age did not understand why he wasn’t interested in the games or shows that they were. Instructors and leaders had a hard time with the fact that he often knew more about their subject matter than they did.
Many gifted children respond to this by simply hiding behind a “standard” mask, refusing to let people hear their ideas or see their creativity. Sadly, this is difficult to fully prevent, but it can be mitigated.
When your child knows that you really see them, even when they are awkward or speak like someone far older than they are, they will be more willing to open up. It may take quite a bit of practice before they are willing to do so to the world at large, but allowing them to be real, open, and excited with you can solve a number of problems.
First, it allows them to honestly gauge how effectively they are communicating with others (i.e., with you). Often, when my son is working on a paper, a devotion, or something else he wants to teach, he will talk it through with me. He knows that if I’m lost, there is no chance that other people will understand. If I track with him all the way, however, he knows that it’s good to go.
Second, being an honest sounding board for your child allows them to try new things and present new ideas in a safe way. Because they don’t have to worry that you will reject them if you don’t understand their idea, they have the freedom to dig in and work through it. Once they do, they will often have the confidence to then offer that idea to others.
Allowing Your Child to Teach and Grow
When your child thinks and learns in nonstandard ways, it can be difficult to find opportunities for them to learn and grow. Allowing them to teach you and allowing yourself to learn from them can bring many of these opportunities to light!
As they grow, they will find many ways in which to share their gifts, their creativity, and their abilities with others. Simply giving them the tools, confidence, and support they need can make all the difference!