For the past dozen or so years, I’ve been involved in one way or another with parents seeking support for their gifted children—casually on park benches, in spontaneous parking lot meetings, and during more formal gatherings in classrooms or auditoriums.

It was one of those groups of parents, in fact, that prompted my move to social media—and several years and tens of thousands of followers later, there I remain. And this is what I’ve found: Whether it’s 23 people or 23,000, in real life or online, parents want the same things.

Comradery. The business of parenting isn’t always easy, particularly when you’re parenting members of a population to which typical child-rearing books and resources don’t apply. When you’re the parent of a gifted child, you realize early on that, in order to find others who can truly relate to your experiences, you have to do some searching—often while simultaneously dodging accusations of elitism, zealous pride, or even an overactive imagination (yeah right, your kid didn’t really start speaking at 5 months, master preschool puzzles at 12 months, or begin reading and performing calculations at 3 years with no formal teaching). Finding a group of people who get it, or even one other parent who does, can be a substantial boost to your understanding of your child and to your overall sense of sanity.

Empathy and respect. And, with the discovery of like minds, comes compassion. It’s human nature to want to feel as if we’re not alone—that others can relate to what we’re going through. When a group of like-minded people come together, there is the opportunity not only to exchange information but to provide comfort and to form bonds that sustain us as we face the challenges of advocating for our children. We all crave a safe haven where our choices are honored and we don’t feel judged simply for doing what every good parent tries to do—the best for our children.

A voice. We each have a tale to tell, and the proper venue can provide a safe place to do that. Many parents of gifted children have learned that it’s not really alright to share stories of their children’s successes or even their challenges. We are so often met with an audience that has bought into the myths: “gifted children will do fine on their own,” “gifted children are at the top of their class,” “gifted children must be so easy to raise,” “gifted children don’t have to manage a learning disability.” And it becomes tiring trying to explain the realities to less-than-receptive listeners. This is where a strong parent group can do the most good—creating an environment for open dialogue, a place where all voices are heard.

Resources and tools. But gathering with other like-minded parents is only part of what the majority of group participants are after. What most end up needing to do—what many times will cause them to seek sources of support to begin with—is to advocate. And, to do that effectively, they need tools. Collaboration can lead to a collection of materials and experiences on which we can all draw. The leader of a group often is part librarian, part sounding board, and part coach: offering parents techniques to help them garner services for their children; providing information on self-care; and directing them to books, organizations, and Internet resources to help them build the knowledgebase required to become their children’s best advocates—until those children are ready to take the reins themselves.

Confidence to pay it forward. It’s been my experience that those in the learning community—gifted or otherwise—are willing and often eager to help others who find themselves in the same boat. After being involved in a real life or online group, many people are inspired to attempt forming their own. I would encourage those who can’t find a group to consider starting one—repeatedly, if necessary. Your tribe is out there and eventually we all find one another.

That is perhaps the biggest takeaway from my founding Supporting Gifted Learners:

One person can make a difference and can initiate a community of learners to come together for a common purpose—to support, empathize, and encourage growth. Parents, educators, and gifted advocates of all varieties play a part. From schoolyards to social media, there are opportunities to get involved, for our voices to reach a broader audience. And I can tell you, from personal experience, that there is immense satisfaction in being part of the process.

This post is part of the April Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop. Click below to read more!

Graphic designed by Pamela S. Ryan