By Julie Taplin, Chief Executive, Potential Plus UK
Parenting a child with High Learning Potential – what I wish someone had told me when I had my child.
I actually don’t think there is anything I would have wanted to be told at the time I had my child. It might have made me fearful and anxious about ‘doing the wrong thing’. The path of discovering the joys and challenges of parenting a young (and now somewhat older) person with high learning potential has been a journey that has ultimately enriched the whole family.
That’s not to say I haven’t been extremely grateful for advice and guidance along the way, but for a lot of the early years I was also extremely naïve.
There have been some wonderful moments – like the time our toddler decided to ‘read’ a book out loud during a quiet church service – the reading was such a deep growling sound that we had to sneak quickly outside.
Or when their uncle asked them to name any animal and he would make its noise (probably expecting a cat or a dog), but they asked for the sound of a giraffe!
Our first ‘challenges’ came around the time a sibling arrived. Looking back, it might have been feelings of insecurity or transition to nursery, but it was the start of a long period of OCD-type behaviours – going to the toilet, hand washing, hair pulling, to name just a few. Just as one became manageable, the next one started. Referral to a child psychologist was suggested by our GP, but instead we opted to muddle through ourselves. Perhaps if we had gone down the route of referral some of the issues we encountered might have been resolved more quickly.
Concerns cropped up through the primary school years, but I didn’t realise that difficulties with friendships, perfectionism or boredom at school were often part and parcel of a child with high learning potential.
Enlightenment first came when our child was identified for a piece of research being carried out as part of the Department for Education’s Gifted and Talented Programme by a charity called the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC). As parents our initial excitement and pride was quickly overtaken by a lot of questions and a need to find out more. And sometimes things just fall into place. My interest in the topic of gifted and talented led me to find and be offered a job at NAGC – this was the start of our family’s journey of discovery about high learning potential.
The understanding that we as parents have gained over the years has been invaluable and helped the parenting of both our children. The importance of praising effort as well as outcome to help them focus not only on the end result but also how they were going to attempt the challenge. The need as parents to model the type of behaviour we wanted to encourage in our children – being willing to go outside our own comfort zones to try something new and being ready to make mistakes and try again. The understanding of some of the common characteristics of high learning potential and how best to meet not only their educational, but also their emotional needs.
We also learnt that the impact on siblings can’t be underestimated. Going to parents’ evening with our younger child, only for the teacher to want to tell us all the things the older one was achieving was certainly a low point. Throughout their education we thought we were making a pretty good job of highlighting and supporting the strengths of both our children, so it was surprising to us (but perhaps shouldn’t have been) when our younger child stopped talking to us and eventually sobbed that they ‘would never be as good as’ their sibling. We ‘doubled-down’ on our strategy of talking about the strengths and struggles that we all individually had, but I think it was only when they both went on their separate paths after school that they each started to believe this.
Our family’s journey has continued into our children’s 20s and 30s. And through all this time I have continued to learn and benefit from the expertise of the charity where I started work almost 17 years ago. I truly don’t know what we would have done or where we would all be now without it.
What have I learned along the way to pass on to other parents? A young person with high learning potential grows up into an older person with high learning potential. They certainly don’t grow out of it. They might understand themselves better and how to regulate their own behaviour, and possibly their own (over) thinking, but parents still need to approach their quirks and characteristics in a way that continues to support them.
About Julie Taplin
Julie Taplin is Chief Executive of Potential Plus UK, the operating name of the National Association for Gifted Children, an independent charity that has been supporting families and schools for the benefit of young people with high learning potential since it was established in 1967.
After graduating from university in German and Business Studies, Julie gained her Diploma in Marketing and worked for a multi-national company in Hamburg before moving into the charity and education sectors in the UK.
Julie has worked for Potential Plus UK since 2005 and been its Chief Executive since 2018.
For more information about Potential Plus UK, please visit:
About The Potential Trust.
The Potential Trust is a registered charity (charity number 326645) whose aim is to provide, promote and encourage whatever makes education and learning more interesting for children and young people (up to school leaving age) who have High Learning Potential (sometimes called more able, highly able or Gifted and Talented) or Dual or Multiple Exceptionalities (sometimes called DME, Twice Exceptional or 2e, neurodiverse or gifted with learning differences). We want to support all those children with more than the average share of curiosity, creativity, perception and persistence and to enable them to have access to events and experiences that facilitate their personal and social development and their creative, artistic and practical abilities as well as their intellectual abilities. We do this by:
- Providing Potential Bursaries
- Running Potential Conferences
- Developing Potential Collaborations
- Being a catalyst for Potential Change.
For more information about how to get involved or to support us, please log onto our website at https://thepotentialtrust.org.uk or follow us on Twitter @PotentialTrust
The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own.