Is Your Child’s School Gaslighting You?

In recent months, the term ‘gaslighting’ has entered our daily conversation and it got me to thinking and reflecting on my time as a parent of school-age gifted children. Traditionally, gaslighting refers to spousal relationships, but take a look at this list of signs you’re being gaslighted: 
  • You are constantly second-guessing yourself.
  • You start to question if you are too sensitive.
  • You often feel confused and have a hard time making simple decisions.
  • You find yourself constantly apologizing.
  • You can’t understand why you’re so unhappy.
  • You often make excuses for your partner’s behavior. (partner = the school)
  • You feel like you can’t do anything right.
  • You often feel like you aren’t good enough for others.
  • You have the sense that you used to be a more confident, relaxed and happy person.
  • You withhold information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain things.

Of course, this isn’t a one to one correlation, but there sure are a whole lot of similarities with how parents are made to feel when dealing with school districts regarding gifted education.

Parents who first suspect that their child may be gifted are often flooded with these same feelings when confronting school officials. And yes … it is by and large a confrontation in many instances. There are some amazing school districts where this is not the case, but they are few and far between.

But why? Why do school administrators seem to go out of their way to not provide necessary accommodations for students with high intellectual and or creative abilities? [This is where I tell you to go get a favorite beverage and put your feet up.]

Reason #1:
MONEY … they believe it takes a lot of money to provide a gifted child with an appropriate education. They fail to realize that many alternatives are more about perceptions of what being ‘gifted’ means and less about resources.

Reason #2:
MYTHS … ‘all children are gifted’; ‘gifted children will do fine on their own’; ‘gifted children have already been given a head start by virtue of their socio-economic status’; ‘gifted programs are simply another road to racial divides’; ‘gifted programs take away resources from the less fortunate’; and on and on and on.

Reason #3:
PERSONAL BIAS … it’s sad to say, but some school officials make decisions affecting students based on personal bias. I can’t tell you have many times I’ve been told that the best way to advocate in a particular school is to find personnel who have gifted kids. Why? Because those who don’t, seem to hold identified gifted children in such low regard.

Reason #4:
PRIORITIES … the squeaky wheel gets heard. Let’s face it. In today’s world, the prime objective in most schools is to ensure every student becomes proficient. It’s where educators’ sentiments reside. It’s where resources should be directed. It is the single most advocated position in educational policy. It plays well with the public.

Now that I’ve painted a dire picture, you may be wondering if there’s even a way forward. It’s easy to give up and acquiesce to those thoughts of being made to feel like you’re asking for too much. Wake up! You are being ‘gaslighted’.

Here’s the most important thing to remember – it is your child’s future we’re talking about. A recent study showed that 61% of college failure can be traced back to a child’s high school experience. (When you hear the term ‘helicopter parent’; think gaslighting.) As a parent, it is your job to advocate for the best possible education for your child. Not what the school says they deserve … what they need to live life to the fullest.

So, what can you do to change all this? I’m often reminded of a book my parents used to talk about by Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Be realistic about the situation in which you find yourself. Understand that there are people who are trying to manipulate you in an effort to further their interests; not yours. 
  • Chances are, you are fairly intelligent and having a gifted child may not have been a big surprise. Raising one is a totally different thing.
  • School is not what it was when you were there 20+ years ago. If you don’t think so, be adamant about spending a day in your child’s school (this may well require you to get all the appropriate clearances, but you’ll need these anyway if you want to be active in your child’s school life at any point).
  • Educate yourself about everything related to your child’s education. This is hard work. It takes time. It is involved. You should research all aspects of what the term ‘gifted’ entails. (Hint: it probably isn’t what you think.) You must know what school policy is and state laws require regarding gifted education. (Hint: it’s different in virtually every locality.) 
  • Understand where school officials are coming from. Learn who is sympathetic to your cause. As I mentioned earlier, try to find out who in your school district (teachers, administrators, school board members) have gifted children. They will be your allies in advocating for what is best for your child.
  • Don’t go it alone. Find like-minded parents who can guide you along the path of parenting these unique kids. There is a gifted community out there; you just have to tap into it. This may require you to join (form) a parent group or organization; seek counseling from a therapist or psychologist; become involved in advocacy.
  • Most importantly, hold your child close. This may sound like an overreaction, but it isn’t always easy with gifted children. They are an independent lot! Take time to build a loving and trusting relationship when they are young. You’ll be glad you did when those tween and teen years hit. You will want them to be your partner in any advocacy efforts you make. There is nothing more deflating to gifted parenthood when you finally get the school to accommodate your child’s needs and your child says they have no interest in gifted anything. It happens more often than you think.

Raising gifted kids is definitely a challenge. Understanding the implications of being gaslighted can certainly clear up some of the mystery involved in dealing with schools and people who may not have the best interests of your child in mind, even though they say they do. We all want our children to grow up to be happy, fulfilled adults. This doesn’t happen by accident. It takes commitment, perseverance, and a whole lot of love.