Studies show that even when having the same test scores as their peers, gifted black children are less likely to be accepted into accelerated programs. Boys are even more unlikely to be chosen. As a former gifted child, I can say that this isn’t a new phenomenon.
When I was growing up, the one thing I knew for sure is that I was smart. If I didn’t know it, I was constantly reminded by those around me. Teachers had high expectations for my work. My siblings often chastised me when I asked for help. The level of my intellect was never in question. But now that I am a mother, I’m drawing upon these five lessons to help me with the other aspects of parenting gifted black children.
You Are Your Child’s Best Advocate
When I took Alexandra for her 2-year-old check-up, the pediatrician was concerned. She began asking me questions about her developmental milestones. After the fourth “No,” she suggested we have her evaluated for speech therapy. Alexandra wasn’t talking, but she could hear and comprehend. I knew that because I could tell her to bring me the blue cup from the kitchen table and she would. Not wanting to overlook any major issues, we agreed to the evaluation.
She was evaluated and recommended for both speech and occupational therapy. Then we had to complete the application process. It was a tedious and complex process with multiple meetings, hundreds of forms and it lasted several weeks. I distinctly remember providing the social worker the address to her daycare. It hadn’t been completed on the forms we needed to sign and I knew it from memory. She was astounded and grateful that I knew because it saved us from needing to reschedule.
I hear you thinking, this isn’t a story about giftedness. And you’re right. But it is a story about advocacy. My tenacity and ability to be present and show up for each of those meetings taught me that I was her best advocate. When you are raising gifted children there will be times that you have to show up and be present to ensure your child’s needs are met. As their parent, you are their best advocate.
Teach Them to Code Switch
Harold and I make a concerted effort to keep Olivia and Alexandra in spaces where they encounter what we call “regular black folks.” Most of Olivia’s friends are white. As a theater kid, she rarely has friends of color with the same interests. But because she’s a mocha brown black girl who runs a social service organization we want her to know how to deal with all types of people.
Gifted children often find themselves in spaces where they are one of the few black or brown faces in the room. On the other hand, in their families and social circles, they may be the only one with their gifts and intellect. They must learn how to function in both environments. It’s a matter of survival.
Family is often an unforgiving group. While they will be proud of their achievements, they will also give them the most grief. There was no amount of talent in the world that kept my brother from calling me Monchichi growing up. And no, you cannot call me that.
Intellect and Academics Are Not the Same
Remember the movie Finding Forrester? It’s about a young black male who has mediocre grades, but high test scores and ends up with a scholarship to a private school. Your gifted child may not always perform to his or her capacity.
Maturity and motivation are big factors in how your high achiever shows up. Until it becomes important to them to do their best at all times their grades may not reflect their ability.
They Won’t Be Great At Everything
The worst thing you can do to a gifted child’s psyche is to set an expectation that he or she cannot meet. Kids with high abilities often also have high expectations, and when they can’t meet them the emotions are enormous.
Many gifted children are more capable in one area than in others. The Multiple Intelligences assessment will help you to determine where your child excels. It will tell you how your child is smart and help you to align your expectations with their abilities.
Don’t Be a Limiting Factor
This is probably the most difficult of all the lessons I’ve learned in parenting gifted black children. All parents want their children to be successful. Sometimes, we want them to be successful in the way it suits us, and not how it’s best for them.
Your children may have an interest in subjects that are unfamiliar to you. Find a way to allow them to explore. Your children may have an interest in subjects that you don’t find beneficial. Encourage them to try all different types of activities. And most importantly stay out of the way. Obviously, you have to truck them back and forth to activities. But don’t let your idea of success stand in the way of their interests.