Why Parents of Gifted Children Feel Isolated and Alone

Mother and daughter gazing out window
Mother and daughter gazing out window. Chris Bell/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Parents of gifted children often complain that they feel isolated and alone. Some people on hearing that complaint might say that these parents need to stop getting so involved in their children's lives and get a life of their own. Then maybe they wouldn't feel so alone. Other people might say those parents are as spoiled as their children are and ought to be happy they have a smart kid. After all, they don't have to worry about their children doing well in school or being successful in life.

Those kids have it made.

The truth is that parents of gifted children have some real and valid reasons for their feeling of being alone and isolated.

Too Few Parents of Gifted Children

One reason parents of gifted children may feel alone is that there are relatively few parents of gifted children who can identify with the issues that parents of gifted kids face. Only about 3-5% of the population is gifted, although some people argue that the gifted make up about 10% of  the population. It depends on how "gifted" is defined and how gifted children are identified. That means that there are fewer parents who can relate to what it's like to be the parent of a gifted child.

Let's say that gifted children make up 10% of the population of all children. In that case, 10 out of every 100 children would be gifted. In a school with 50 students per grade level, only 5 of the students would be gifted. That doesn't seem too bad.

But consider that first parents need to know which of the other kids are gifted, information the schools are not allowed to release due to privacy issues, and then they'd have to contact the other parents.

Parent support groups can help alleviate the isolation parents of gifted kids feel. However, take another look at the situation just described.

It assumes the best of everything. First, it assumes that all the parents of those 5 gifted children feel the same way, that they all feel the need for a parent support group. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Some parents may not even realize that their child is gifted unless the school has identified their child as a gifted child. Many gifted children are underachievers and gifted underachievers are usually not recognized as being gifted.

Second, that situation is based on the idea that 10% of the population is gifted. That makes for a very wide range of giftedness. To make this idea clear, think about giftedness in terms of IQ scores. An exceptionally gifted child with an IQ score of 160 is as different from a mildly gifted child with an IQ of 115 as a child with an average IQ score of 114 is from a child with a score of 69. A score of 70 qualifies a child for special services.

This means that of those 5 gifted children out of 50 in one grade level in one school can have an IQ score range of 115 to 160 or even higher.

The needs of those children can be vastly different. Mildly gifted children can be well-served in a regular classroom, while exceptionally gifted children need special academic accommodations. How well, then, can the parents of a mildly gifted child understand what it is like to be the parent of an exceptionally or even highly gifted child?

Lack of Understanding

Another reason parents of gifted children feel alone and isolated is that too few people understand giftedness or what it's like being the parent of a gifted child. Contrary to the popular misconception that gifted kids "have it made," some gifted children struggle in life. Their struggles just may be somewhat different - but that doesn't mean they aren't struggles.

For instance, many gifted children are not sufficiently challenged in school. They may be getting straight A's, but they are left unprepared for challenges in life. Getting straight A's might seem to predict a life of success, they can actually be a sign of potential problems. Some gifted children respond another way to a lack of challenge: they become underachievers. Gifted children also may struggle to fit in. This is especially true when they are expected to fit in with their age mates, even though they may have little in common with them.

Closing Thoughts

The next time you hear a parent of a gifted child talk about feeling alone and isolated, don't immediately jump to the conclusion that the parent is spoiled or unappreciative or somehow irrational. Consider these reasons the parent may feel as she does. And if you are the parent of a gifted child and have these feelings of isolation, remember that there is nothing wrong with you. There are very real reasons you feel as you do.

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