Lucy from Peanuts with No IdeaI don’t know about you, but I’m tired of reading advice given to parents of gifted kids by people who know nothing about gifted children. It’s bad enough when the average person provides advice, but it’s much worse when the person giving the advice is a professional psychologist. The latest piece of advice I encountered is an answer to a parent who asked whether she should enroll her four-year-old daughter in kindergarten, skipping a pre-k class. The answer to that question should never be a blanket yes or no. Too many various factors need to be considered, but Samantha Rodman, the psychologist who answered the question gave her an absolute “no.” What she says in her answer tells me that she knows very little about gifted kids.

The mother asking the question explained that she thought it might be a good idea to enroll her daughter in kindergarten “early” because her daughter had not done well in school in the previous year due to a lack of challenge. She is aware that skipping is “looked down on for social reasons” and acknowledged that her daughter already has social problems, but she believes those problems resulted from her daughter being more advanced than the other kids. Most parents of gifted kids understand that problem since many of us had, or still have, a child who struggles socially in school. Those struggles don’t happen because our child is socially incompetent, but because he is forced to interact almost exclusively with age mates with whom he may have little in common. When kids are grouped by age and only one of those kids is gifted, then it is not uncommon for that gifted child to have social problems – in that group.

It would be understandable had Rodman told the mom that maturity can be an issue for kids and that her daughter might not be socially and/or emotionally mature enough to move up a grade. That always a possibility and it’s one that should be considered with grade skips. But that’s not what she said. She even ignored the mom’s comment that her daughter did well during a week-long paleontology camp – for first to third graders. What Rodman did say to this mom looking for advice was, in my opinion, potentially harmful.

Rodman’s answer started this way: “Don’t do this. If your daughter doesn’t fit in now, she’s certainly not going to fit in any better when the other kids are a whole year more socially and emotionally developed than her.”  There is so much wrong with that statement. First, it is wrong to give a blanket “no.” Children are different, so what doesn’t work for one just might be the perfect solution for another. Second, children do not develop at the same rates – not intellectually, not socially, and not emotionally. It’s stunning that a clinical psychologist wouldn’t know that. It’s Child Psychology 101. It’s even more true for gifted kids since they tend to develop asynchronously. Rodman is also clearly unaware of research that supports grade skipping.

Not understanding the asynchronous development of gifted children is just part of Rodman’s lack of understanding of gifted kids. She also says, “There is no kid in the world that doesn’t benefit from learning how to socialize and make friends in pre-K.” That is quite an overgeneralization. Learning how to socialize and make friends is important, but it certainly doesn’t have to be done in pre-K, and if a child is intellectually, emotionally, and socially advanced, trying to learn to socialize with less advanced kids is beyond pointless. It’s like asking an adult with social problems that he should attend middle school and learn socialization skills by interacting with 12 year olds. Not only would that not work, it can also lead to more problems.

Rodman does give the mom some good advice like suggesting that she enroll her daughter in various extracurricular activities. Those activities give kids a chance to meet others with similar interests and even a good chance of encountering other gifted kids. But then she ruins her advice by telling the mom not to “overfocus” on her daughter’s intellectual achievement over “other aspects of life.” Like what? Mental health? That was a big focus for me when my son was young. The persistent lack of challenge in school was affecting his mental health – even after I got him involved in extracurricular activities to alleviate his stress. And considering that the mom was also concerned about her daughter’s social development, she was hardly “overfocused” on intellectual achievement. It wasn’t even achievement the mom was concerned about. She was concerned about a lack of challenge.

Despite what the mom said, Rodman thought she knew better why the daughter had a bad year in her preschool class. How she could know when she never met the child, I don’t know, but she said, “The reason your kid had a bad year was not likely that she was bored, because there are loads of fun things to do in preschool, lots of different centers and fun activities that kids can do at whatever level they are at…” Again, she clearly doesn’t understand gifted kids. What some kids think are fun activities are not what some gifted kids consider fun. My son absolutely loathed craft activities in preschool and kindergarten (which he started early), and was far more interested in studying planets and constellations. Oddly, those topics aren’t covered in preschool or kindergarten.

So what does this Rodman think the *real* reason behind the daughter’s bad year in preschool? It’s this: “The reason was likely because she felt socially left out or didn’t have friends.” Well, yes, the mother acknowledged social problems, but saw them as the result of her daughter being advanced. Being advance, however, isn’t enough. Rodman went say that “Unless she is a prodigy, which is not what you’re describing, she will always need to interact with normal human beings in her own age group, and if you skip her, you’re basically saying that her social life is less important than her academics.”

Normal human beings? What is that supposed to mean? Do we expect kids to interact with abnormal human beings? Is Rodman suggesting that the daughter isn’t normal? And why the focus on the age group? I don’t know about you, but it’s been a really long time since I’ve had to interact with human beings in my own age group. I interact with people representing a very wide range of ages. And the only reason kids need to interact with other kids their age is that schools are guilty of age discrimination. They group kids according to age alone. Rodman also again is demonstrating her lack of understanding of gifted kids. Do they not have any special needs? Does a child have to be ready for college at age 6 to be considered as having special needs?

In addition, skipping a child in school so that her intellectual needs are met is not at all the same as saying that child’s social life is less important than the child’s academics. Concern over academics is a separate concern from concern over intellectual needs. And as many parents of gifted children know, when a child’s academic needs are not met, the effects can be devastating. It can lead to stress, to underachievement, to depression, to all the things this psychologist says we should be concerned about. We ARE concerned about them. THAT is why we want our children’s academic needs met.

The worst part of all this is that Rodman claims that her own daughter is gifted and that she is as well. She could have been grade skipped she says, but she’s thankful she wasn’t. Good for her. But her personal experience is hardly the kind of expertise we expect from a professional psychologist. We expect a professional to base her opinions and advice on knowledge gained from the study of issues in her field. That would include the study of giftedness for any psychologist who intends to hand out advice to parents of gifted children or who work with gifted kids.

This is precisely why it’s so important for parents of gifted kids to work only with those professionals who understand giftedness.

Carol BainbridgeFor ParentsRants and ResponsesAdvice for Parents,Socialization
I don't know about you, but I'm tired of reading advice given to parents of gifted kids by people who know nothing about gifted children. It's bad enough when the average person provides advice, but it's much worse when the person giving the advice is a professional psychologist. The...