Guest Author - Christine McNeil Montano
Last year I was invited to participate in a SENG parent group. SENG is a non-profit organization, Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted. SENG describes their purpose as “dedicated to fostering environments in which gifted adults and children, in all their diversity, understand and accept themselves and are understood, valued, nurtured, and supported by their families, schools, workplaces and communities.” Since 1981, SENG has been training parent facilitators to lead support groups.
I had a positive experience with the SENG group. When I agreed to participate, I didn’t know much about SENG and I’d never heard of their parent groups. The meetings were held over a three month period with the same group. Each meeting was structured as per the guidelines of the organization, following a framework and with an agenda. Our homework was to read assigned chapters of the book “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children” by James Webb PhD et al. Meetings opened with discussion about the topics in the reading, including asking questions about content in the book or sharing family stories related to the topics. Time was allowed for general Q&A, to ask for ideas, resources or advice on how to handle a challenge we were currently facing. At some meetings we watched portions of video lectures by Dr. Webb. We were given some supplemental materials such as check lists and quizzes to help us understand our children’s learning styles and thinking styles. There was also a lending library of books and materials about giftedness in general, and education of the gifted.
Honestly, at first I felt apprehensive about joining the group as I still hesitated to use the label “gifted” about one or both of my sons, who were 11 and eight at that time. Worse, I feared judgment from the other participants. You see, I rarely say the “G” word let alone talk about it in my community. Although I’ve been blogging for five years about parenting, education and homeschooling, I’ve never said the “G” word about my children! This group happened to be for homeschooling families only. Although I knew most of the families I’d never previously shared that I suspected that my children were gifted.
What I found was the philosophy and structure of the SENG parent group model provided a non-competitive setting for learning about giftedness and specifically to discuss meeting the emotional needs of our gifted children. We were not there to brag or show off; instead we were there seeking support for the unique challenges and problems that are commonly found among gifted persons. Indeed most of the discussions we had were about the negative side of giftedness, such as dealing with perfectionism, challenges due to asynchronous development, and being so emotionally sensitive. To help us, there were guidelines we agreed to use, regarding respect and etiquette, including a pledge of confidentiality about the personal information shared by the participants.
As is typical with all new groups, at first we all held back a bit and had some walls up and were afraid to share. However by the second or third meeting, each person had opened up to share something personal or emotional and trust began building as each experience showed us all that this group was receptive and nurturing. Sometimes either the telling or listening to a story was so moving that tears were shed.
The questions about resources and academics were answered easily and quickly. Those non-emotional issues, being positive aspects of giftedness, were easy to handle. The information and resource sharing was helpful. We agreed that giftedness brings many positive aspects to our children’s lives. The harder things to handle though, the things that frustrated us, or the problems we wished were solved but that we felt unable to handle on our own, comprised a lot of our discussions focus.
It was obvious that we all loved our children very much and wanted the best for them. Admitting we didn’t always have the answers and that we sometimes were at a loss for creative solutions to their problems made it apparent that none of us thought we were perfect parents. Talking about our children’s challenges also made it clear that none of us thought our children were perfect either. I think this is why I felt the parent group did not have a competitive atmosphere. To admit our children’s faults, not to just complain, but in order to ask for help to find solutions was a humbling experience. As is common with group dynamics we did bond with each other over time as we got to know each other and learned some personal things about each other’s families.
The SENG parent facilitator ran the meeting and clearly was the leader but the group functioned also by having each participant share and give input. Everyone was allowed to speak and share ideas (not to dictate advice though, those two things are different). I was impressed by the range of ideas and resources that different parents were able to share. I recall that the facilitator even learned some new things and ideas from the participants. Each parent was seen as a worthy contributor to the group.
The more I learn about giftedness and the older my children get older the more I realize that my greatest challenge with both parenting and homeschooling my children is not the issue of my children’s academics, learning, or having to do with their unique talents. The hardest part for all of us seemed to be dealing with the emotional side.
“A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children” is a fantastic resource because it addresses the emotional side of giftedness. It is a book worth reading and re-reading.
Participation with my SENG parent group was a helpful experience, one that I highly recommend to every parent of a gifted child. Information from books can be useful but there is nothing like connecting with other people face to face in a positive, safe environment where we can learn and inspire each other by sharing our personal stories and sharing our wisdom.