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There is a staggering paucity of scientific research available on the parents of gifted children. Add to this the fact that much of the older research conducted on gifted children lacks a cohesive definition of giftedness as well as any unanimously accepted markers by which it can be gauged (Matthews & Jolly, 2010), and it becomes easier to understand why many aspects of giftedness are still largely a mystery to the scientific community. One aspect that, until recently, stood relatively unexplored is the practices of the parents of gifted children. In an effort to understand giftedness to a greater degree recent research studies have examined the parents of gifted children in multiple ways. Existing studies have assessed parental values, the effects of parental encouragement, and the relationship between parents of gifted children and the schools that their children attend (Matthews & Jolly, 2010). Few studies, however, have focused on finding commonalities by analyzing topics like parenting styles, parental behaviors, and factors that may affect the parent-child relationships of parents of gifted children. This paper was written to analyze the available research for common themes in parenting practices related to the three topics of analysis mentioned above. After this short introduction elaborating on the details of this essay is a review and discussion of multiple research articles highlighting similarities between them. Following the research review is an investigation into the type and availability of community resources that exist for parents of gifted children. A short critique of the studies reviewed in this paper is then presented before the author’s concluding remarks and suggestions for further research.
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Parenting Style In a child development class lecture at San Jose State University, Shah (2014), shared descriptions of the four parenting styles recognized by researchers. They are; the authoritarian parenting style, characterized by strict parental control and high expectations; the permissive parenting style, which is fairly relaxed disciplinarily with little enforcement of rules; the authoritative parenting style, generally considered by researchers to be the most beneficial for children, fosters the development of autonomy and relies on positive reinforcement to control behavior; and the neglectful parenting style, in which parents are usually emotionally detached from their children and only provide for their most basic needs. According to a personal communication between the author and a student at San Jose State University, J. Garcia related her belief in the supremacy of authoritative parenting as the most beneficial parenting style, as well as her opinion that the experience of a neglectful parenting style can be difficult for children who lack adequate resiliency to recuperate from. Three studies featuring discussions relating to the parents of gifted children and their parenting styles are explored below.
In a study exploring relationships between parenting style and creativity in the gifted, Miller, Lambert, and Neumeister (2012), explain that in terms of fostering creativity in a gifted child, the authoritarian parenting style is least beneficial for gifted children’s development. Authoritarian parents are less likely to provide their children with immersive toys or provide environments conducive to developing creative potential. The researchers then made connections between the neglectful style of parenting and creative deficits due to low levels of parental responsiveness. Alternately, both the authoritative and permissive parenting styles reportedly resulted in positive outcomes for creative development.
A second study, authored by Moon and Hall (1998), analyzed a number of gifted children and their families to determine possible correlations between parenting styles and the way in which a child’s giftedness is expressed. The authors found that gifted children designated as high achieving or high IQ were often members of supportive families with responsive parents who rely on an authoritative style of parenting. Conversely, the study showed that children who expressed their giftedness in the form of intense creativity and artistry generally had parents who were more permissive in their parenting style but were extremely responsive.
Another article, by Alvino and Rizzo (1995), discussed differences in parenting styles that were found between parents of gifted and non-gifted children. The authors found that the parents of the gifted children tended to parent more authoritatively than the control group. They also participated in more literacy and play activities than the parents of non-gifted children. The authors wrote that the parents of the gifted children tended to be more stringent in their requirements of their child’s strict adherence to rules and directives, but they were also willing to participate in discussions concerning their reasoning and expectations more readily .The three studies above seem to show that for the parents of gifted children, an authoritative style of parenting may be the model to follow in childrearing.
This section examines three articles for the presence of common themes in parent-child relationships of the families of gifted children. The first article, by Wellisch (2010), analyzes the affects of attachment style on gifted development. Wellisch explains the differences in attachment styles thusly; children who are securely attached have experienced regular responsive care-giving and have learned to associate their mothers with safety, comfort, and protection. In opposition to secure attachment, avoidantly attached children rarely seek motherly contact and are not distressed when she is removed. Disorganized attachment is characterized by children who display confusion and negative emotions in connection with their mothers. Lastly, ambivalent/resistant attachment results in children who are easily distressed and tend to cry much more than infants of other attachment styles, they are intensely upset when their mother leaves, but her return does not comfort them either. The results of Wellisch’s (2010) study of gifted children and associated attachment styles found that nearly all of the gifted participants presented markers of secure attachment. Secure attachment is described by the researchers as the most beneficial parenting style to implement concerning gifted children.
The second article discussed in this section, authored by Maxwell (1998), explores how the advanced sense of self-efficacy that often accompanies giftedness can have negative affects on parent child relationships. Maxwell explains that many parents of gifted children are sometimes very strongly disconcerted by their child’s advanced abilities, this can disturb secure attachment bonds and cause damage to parent-child relationships. The author elaborates on this unique challenge for some parents of the gifted by sharing a perspective that is rarely seen in the literature on gifted children. According to Maxwell, parenting a gifted child can be similar to having a child with a congenital birth defect. Parents are unprepared for a child with abnormal requirements and may no longer feel invested in the hard work of childrearing. The perspective taken in this article is an interesting lens through which past and future research may be viewed in order to find ways to better support members of the gifted community.
The third article in this section, by Garn, Mathews, and Jolly (2012), discusses parenting practices that negatively affect parent-child relationships and children’s academic motivation. An authoritarian parenting style can hinder the development of autonomy and damage secure attachment bonds (Garn, Mathews, & Jolly, 2012). The researchers explain that i parenting has been correlated with increased stress, parental resentment, and tension in gifted children. They suggest parents of gifted children endeavor to support their children’s scholastic endeavors responsibly, and consider the affects their parenting style and motivational practices might have on their children.
The articles in this section point to the detrimental nature some parenting styles may have on relationship between parent and child. The authoritarian style of parenting is most detrimental to parent-child relationships (Garn, Mathews, & Jolly, 2012), while authoritative parenting is associated with the presence of a secure attachment bond (Wellisch, 2010). Additionally, parents who are not prepared to meet the rigorous requirements of parenting a gifted child may feel negatively about their child’s abilities and damage the parent-child relationship by withdrawing support and responsiveness.
The following three studies explore certain behaviors observed being utilized by the parents of gifted children and how these behaviors are related. The first study examines the use of scaffolding in analogical and metacognitive thinking by the mothers of gifted children during their infancy and early toddler years. Morrissey (2011) shares results indicating that the mothers of gifted children generally begin scaffolding analogical and metacognitive thinking from an earlier age of infancy than mothers of children of average development do. Additionally, the author’s findings suggest that mothers of the gifted interact with their infants in stimulating and challenging ways from the very first years of life, a practice that can contribute to the advancement of a child’s burgeoning cognitive development.
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In the second study, researchers Hébert, Pagnani, and Hammond (2009) explore paternal influences on giftedness as well as the parenting practices of the fathers of the gifted that contribute to the development of above-average talent and intellect. Six themes were found among influential factors the authors identified. Fathers of the gifted appear to be similar in their strong work ethic and the high expectations the hold for their sons. They are highly responsive to the needs of their children and endeavor to offer pertinent guidance and advice at watershed moments in their sons’ lives and development. They also support secure parent-child relationships by expressing admiration, respect, encouragement, and an unconditional belief in the abilities of their sons. These findings are useful insights into ways parents of both the gifted and the non-gifted can support their children while fostering optimal developmental outcomes.
The third study in this section investigated the self-reported attitudes and behaviors of a sample of parents of precocious children, as well as the responses of a control group of non-gifted parents for comparison. Researchers Snowden and Conway (1996) found that there was no statistically significant differences between the two cohorts of parents. All participants scored highly in the five areas of assessment; their encouragement of creativity, the interactional methods they implemented demonstrating flexibility and tolerance, the degree to which they supported choice and free agency in their interactions, the quality and duration of their participation in play; and their perceptions concerning their own abilities teachers in the process of their child’s learning and development. The results of this study seem to oppose the findings of other research into the differences between the parents of the gifted and the parents of children of average abilities (Alvino & Rizzo, 1995; Morrisey, 2011). The possible cause of this may be the small sample size used in the experiment, and the self-report style of survey that the authors utilized.
Just as there have been relatively few studies examining giftedness in children, and even fewer studies examining the practices of parents of the gifted, there are virtually no community services available to assist those parents outside of what may or may not be offered at their child’s school. According to the only available study on the subject, the author reported that many parents of gifted children feel they are in need of parenting education programs for a variety of reasons (Dangel & Walker, 1991). The results of the survey performed by the authors show that, of the 159 participants who completed the survey, nearly half indicated interest in computer training to supplement their child’s education. Other responses evidenced that parents of the gifted are concerned with optimally promoting motivation and responsibility in their children, as well as fostering social growth and interpersonal skills (Dangel & Walker, 1991). This study is useful for the development of parent education programs that could be offered to parents of gifted children. It also demonstrates how little research has been performed regarding the parents of gifted children; a wealth of avenues of inquiry have yet to be explored, articles such as the one mentioned above are important footholds on the climb to a deeper understanding of giftedness and gifted children.
Researchers Jolly and Matthews (2010), bemoan the sporadic nature of the research on giftedness and the parents of the gifted, as well as the scarcity of articles that utilize a theoretical basis as a lens for their examinations. The accumulation of the studies reviewed above required an extensive and time consuming search of multiple scientific databases related to child development, in agreement? with the shortage of research available also discussed by the researchers. The authors also lament that many studies on the gifted are bereft of adequate sample sizes to be able to draw meaningful conclusions about larger populations, a fact evidenced by multiple studies discussed in this essay.
Giftedness, by its very nature, is a difficult area of research. Of the three articles examined for commonalities in parenting styles, parental behaviors, and factors that may affect the parent-child relationships of parents of gifted children, a number of influential factors that appear to result in positive outcomes were revealed; Intensive caregiver simulation, parental support and acceptance of abnormal abilities, and an authoritative style of parenting from an early age can play a significant role in the development of gifted children. The information relayed in this paper coincides with the views of the author, who suggests that future research should focus on deeper investigations of parenting behaviors, the ways in which schools can support the parents of their gifted students, and the practices, attitudes, values, and beliefs of nontraditional families with gifted children.
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