Tips for Parents

From Jean Peterson, Ph.D., Purdue University, author of Gifted At Risk: Profiles in Poetry and The Essential Guide to Talking with Gifted Teens


  • Help them know that their being loved doesn’t depend on their performance or achievement. Assure them with your actions that your love is unconditional.
  • Be a parent, but also a human being–imperfect, vulnerable, sometimes insecure, sometimes strong, sometimes weak. They need permission to be human as well.
  • Value them as sons and daughters, not just as fulfillers-of-dreams or as central to your self-esteem. Value them for “being,” not just “doing.” Have enough of a life not to be dependent on, or to overvalue, their accomplishment.
  • Support effort. Give extended, not terminal, feedback.
  • Encourage activities that aren’t “graded.” Beware of overscheduling. Help them learn to conquer boredom themselves.
  • Model play. Model balance. Model appropriate risk-taking–i.e., in areas where you are not sure you can be “excellent.”
  • Model kindness to yourself when you make mistakes.
  • Model clear expression of feelings. They need to know that feelings don’t have to be feared, denied, or displaced.
  • Be a parent-friend, not a peer-friend. Above all, be a parent. Let them be kids.
  • Encourage them to talk with someone when they feel they can’t talk with you.
  • Model a good level of assertiveness. Know where you “begin” and where you “end.” Be clear about what is their responsibility and what is yours. That will help them to take care of themselves when you are not available.
  • Model good coping–with stress, challenge, competition, “mountains.” You are an important teacher of coping skills.
  • Beware of overfunctioning. Let them make mistakes, “fail,” create their own style, arrange their own room, learn to problem-solve. These are important, educational experiences. You will be contributing to their resilience and self-confidence.
  • Take note of your negative, critical messages. They are heard and have impact.
  • Know that it is normal for them to be angry with you at times, especially during adolescence. It helps them become “separate–but connected” eventually.
  • Model respect for others, other kinds of intelligence, other views.
  • Model support for the system. Help them to understand the system. Teach them how to advocate for themselves. Be wise advocates when you feel the need to intercede.
  • Encourage them to be “selfish” regarding the system. They need to have it work for them. You had to learn how to deal with your world, and they also can use their intelligence to figure out how to deal with theirs.