An Interview with James T. Webb: About National Parenting Gifted Children Week

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Senior Columnist EducationNews.org
Eastern New Mexico University

James T. Webb, Ph.D., ABPP-CL, has been recognized as one of the 25 most influential psychologists nationally on gifted education, and he consults with schools, programs and individuals about social and emotional needs of gifted and talented children. In 1981, Dr. Webb established SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of Gifted Children, Inc.), a national nonprofit organization that provides information, training, conferences and workshops, and he remains as Chair of SENG's Professional Advisory Committee.

A frequent keynote and workshop speaker at state and national conventions, Dr. Webb, a licensed and board-certified psychologist, has appeared on Good Morning America, CBS Sunday Morning, The Phil Donahue Show, CNN, and National Public Radio. A Fellow of the American Psychological Association, he served for three years on its governing body, the Council of Representatives. Dr. Webb is a Fellow of the Society of Pediatric Psychology and the Society for Personality Assessment. In 1992, he received the Heiser Presidential Award for Advocacy by the American Psychological Association, and also the National Award for Excellence, Senior Investigator Division, from the Mensa Education and Research Foundation. He has served on the Board of Directors for the National Association for Gifted Children, and was President of the American Association for Gifted Children. Currently, Dr. Webb is President of Great Potential Press, Inc.

Dr. Webb was President of the Ohio Psychological Association in 1974-1975, and a member of its Board of Trustees for seven years. He has been in private practice as well as in various consulting positions with clinics and hospitals. In 1978, Dr. Webb was one of the founders of the School of Professional Psychology at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio, and from 1978-1995 he was a Professor and Associate Dean. Previously, Dr. Webb directed the Department of Psychology at the Children's Medical Center in Dayton and was Associate Clinical Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Wright State University School of Medicine. From 1970-1975, Dr. Webb was on the graduate faculty in psychology at Ohio University.

Dr. Webb is the lead author of five books and several DVDs about gifted children, four of which have won "Best Book" awards.

  • Guiding the Gifted Child: A Practical Source for Parents and Teachers
  • Grandparents' Guide to Gifted Children
  • Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger's, Depression, and Other Disorders
  • Gifted Parent Groups: The SENG Model, 2nd Edition (New)
  • A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children (New)

Guiding the Gifted Child, which sold over 125,000 copies, has been translated into several languages, and it won the National Media Award of the American Psychological Association as the best book for "significantly contributing to the understanding of the unique, sensitive, emotional needs of exceptional children." Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults has won three awards, as has A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children. Grandparents' Guide to Gifted Children also has won two "Best Book" awards. Dr. Webb has written over 70 professional publications, fifteen books, three videos, and many research papers for psychology conventions or conferences regarding gifted and talented children.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Webb graduated from Rhodes College, and received his doctorate degree from the University of Alabama. Dr. Webb and his wife are parents of six daughters.

1) Jim, I understand that a "National Parenting Gifted Children Week" is upon us. How did this get started and when did it get started?

National Parenting Gifted Children Week is an idea that I have been thinking about for several years. There are national weeks that focus on many other areas; why not one that focuses on specific issues for gifted children and their families? So, I began exploring the idea, and I learned that it is really not all that difficult to arrange to have such a week recognized, once a reputable nonprofit group decides to register it with the National Special Events Registry.

In January 2008, I proposed the idea to the Board of Directors of SENG, which seemed like a natural direction since a primary focus of SENG is on the social and emotional needs of gifted children within families. It also made sense since SENG would be holding its 25th Silver Anniversary Annual Conference, and publicity for a National Parenting Gifted Children Week could tie in nicely with that event.

The SENG Board adopted the idea and asked me to take the lead in registering it. We decided that National Parenting Gifted Children Week should occur the third full week on July of each year for two reasons: (1) that is about when the SENG Conferences are held each year, and (2) by being in the summer, it would not conflict with any other national weeks in the future that might wish to focus on educational needs of gifted children. SENG also asked me to help publicize it, since SENG's new Executive Director had so many other responsibilities getting ready for the upcoming SENG Silver Anniversary Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. We contacted NAGC, as well as many state and local gifted child associations, and each of them was enthusiastically supportive.

The purpose of National Parenting Gifted Children Week is to celebrate the joys and challenges of raising, guiding, and supporting bright young minds. Each day of this week will focus attention on a particular area of interest to parents of gifted and talented children. This year, the daily topics will be:

·Challenges of Parenting Gifted Children

·Underachievement Issues

·Advocacy for Gifted Children—Teaming with Educators and Legislators

·Identifying and Recognizing Giftedness

·Special issues for Gifted Minorities, Gifted Boys, and Gifted Girls

·Misdiagnosis, Depression, and Suicide in Gifted Youth

·Parenting Supports and Resources

2) What do YOU see as the main problems parents have raising their kids?

Probably the single biggest problem for parents is their experience of aloneness and the lack of resources for good information. A widespread myth that still exists in our country is that gifted children don't need any special help because they are so bright, and that they are typically easy children to parent because they are fundamentally just children who happen to be a bit brighter. As a result, parents of gifted children find few places where they can feel comfortable in asking many parenting questions, and they often are hesitant to do so.

However, gifted children often do pose extra challenges. Many of these are apparent from the list above of the focus for each day. In addition, a recent special parenting issue of the Gifted Education Communicator noted that:

  • It takes extra time to parent a gifted child because of their intensity, sensitivity, and curiosity
  • Because they are so verbal, gifted children can be skilled bargainers
  • Gifted children keep parents off balance through their asynchronies
  • The usual rules of conduct for children may not fit the gifted child
  • Gifted children often challenge traditions and values
  • Sibling issues can be particularly acute
  • Finding peers and compatible friends can be difficult
  • Idealism and perfectionism can lead to unhappiness
  • Underachievement and issues with discipline and power struggles are common
  • Hours and hours of parent advocacy are likely to be needed in order to get a good educational fit
  • The fast pace of modern society have made parenting more difficult

3) Now, what do YOU see as the main problems parents face in getting their kids a good education?

The biggest is finding a school system that can be sufficiently flexible so that it can match the education to the child, rather than requiring the child to fit into the already prescribed lock-step curriculum. Regrettably, with the emphasis on helping children achieve basic minimal levels of competence, the gifted child is often in a position of waiting for others to catch up. Diminished motivation, boredom, underachievement, and inappropriate behaviors often result.

Parents need to be advocates; yet parents often tell me that they find that they are not welcomed by schools. They are met with statements like, "All of our children are gifted," or "Your child needs to learn to socialize, not worry about academic achievement," of "You are being a pushy parent." I would suggest that parents read books such as Infinity and Zebra Stripes, by Wendy Skinner, or Losing Our Minds: Gifted Children Left Behind, by Deborah Ruf, or Academic Advocacy: A Parent's Complete Guide, by Barbara Gilman. These books, and others, will provide encouragement and solutions for parents as they seek a good education for their children.

4) What do you see as some of the best options for gifted kids nowadays? (mentoring, acceleration, enrichment).

This is difficult to answer because gifted children differ markedly. Their abilities cover a wide range from barely gifted to extremely gifted, and they tend to be asynchronous.That is, their abilities in one area (e.g., verbal ability) may not be at the same level as their abilities in other areas (e.g., math or spatial reasoning). As a result, any one child may actually need several different kinds of options—whole grade skip, combined with single subject acceleration, combined with enrichment, combined with remedial tutoring in an area. The key, as I noted earlier, is flexibility within the classroom, combined with a teacher who understands and enjoys working with these intense, sensitive, and challenging children. For the teachers, I would recommend Intelligent Life in the Classroom, a very enlightening book by Karen Isaacson and Tamara Fisher.

The key, then, is to match the program to the child. Additionally, teachers and parents must recognize that what is the right answer for a child at this time may not be right educational program next month or next year. Karen Rogers, in her book Re-Forming Gifted Education: How Parents and Teachers Can Match the Program to the Child, has described virtually all of the educational options, and she also describes which kinds of gifted programs work with what kinds of gifted children at various ages.

5) Jim, just between you and me, and I guess whoever else reads this, I have always had some concerns about the regular education teacher doing "enrichment". How well prepared is the regular education teacher to do "enrichment" with gifted kids?

It pains me to say this, but there are few regular classroom teachers who understand gifted children and are able to do the differentiation necessary for "enrichment."A large part of this comes from our educational climate. Colleges of Education rarely put any significant emphasis on gifted children and their education, and the teachers are not trained in ways to help gifted children. Our educational systems—with their emphasis on No Child Left Behind, accountability, tightly organized scope and sequence in lesson plans, lockstep curriculum—seldom are able to have the flexibility needed for enrichment, and unwittingly or schools have created a climate where mediocrity, conformity, and fitting in are more valued than excellence, innovation, and creativity

6) I understand that you have recently published another book. What is the title and what issues does it address?

The most recent book that I am lead author on is A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children (www.giftedbooks.com). Jan Gore, Ed Amend, and Arlene DeVries are the other authors. The book is a bit thicker than we would have liked, but we were able to include a wide array of topics and essential information for parents, as well as for educators. The topics include all of those mentioned above, along with information on misdiagnoses and dual diagnoses of gifted children, how to find appropriate professional help, and education advocacy.

7)  Do you have any specific books that you believe gifted kids should read to help them in their growth and development?

There are many excellent books, and it is so important to help gifted children read and to continue reading throughout their lives. One excellent place to find such books is in the extensive bibliography compiled by Judith Halsted in her book, Some of My Best Friends Are Books: Guiding Gifted Readers from Preschool to High School. Another excellent resource is the reading list on www.hoagiesgifted.org. One life skills book that I recommend often these days is Teen Success: Ideas to Jumpstart Your Mind, by Beatrice Elye, because it deals with topics such as speed reading, conversational skills, time management, etc.

8)  Are there any good books for parents out there that you know about?

 Fortunately, there are more and more good books for parents of gifted children, many more than a decade ago. I would just suggest that the parents go to the websites of the three major publishers of such books—Great Potential Press; Free Spirit Publishing; and Prufrock Press.

9) What other information do you need to get out about National Parenting Gifted Children Week?

We hope other national, state, and local associations that work with parents of gifted and talented children will join SENG in announcing and celebrating this special week, and that people will support SENG's continuing efforts. SENG is an independent, non-profit 501(c)(3) entity with a diverse Board of Directors and many programs, and people can find more information at www.sengifted.org.

Published July 9, 2008

Wednesday

July 9th, 2008

Michael F. Shaughnessy

Senior Columnist EducationNews.org

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