Book Review: Nurturing Brilliance: Discovering and Developing Your Child’s Gifts
Author: Janine Walker Caffrey
By: Hillary Doherty Bel Air, MD
Great Potential Press’s Nurturing Brilliance: Discovering and Developing
Your Child’s Gifts by Janine Walker Caffrey, Ed. D. is a book that parents of gifted children PreK-12 can benefit from reading. Wherever you and your child are on your educational journey, Dr. Caffrey offers reassuring tips on maximizing your child’s potential.
Dr. Caffrey is the mother of two “brilliant” children. She asserts that brilliant, rather than the oft misused term gifted is her word of choice. She feels that it better describes children whose talents and abilities attract, or as she says “should” attract, the attention of those around them. Dr. Caffrey proceeds to describe nine areas of brilliance and tips for identifying your child’s predominant gift. Though I appreciated her examples and the questions to help guide you in identifying your child, I feel that I have seen children exemplifying gifted in many ways outside of her descriptions. However, her advice is not exclusive to these nine areas so I am glad I continued to read. She shares useful tips on advocating for and energizing your “brilliant” child.
It could be easy to stop reading after the second chapter if you feel that your child does not easily fit into one of Dr. Caffrey’s nine categories. I forged ahead to chapter three entitled “Sparks.” This chapter hits on a very important point for parents of the gifted and all parents in general…no one thing we do is going to make or break our child. That being said, a combination of “sparks” – opportunities, experiences and inspiring people, will help a brilliant child go far in reaching his or her potential. For each of her nine categories she provides suggestions for Things to Do, Places to Visit, People to Meet, Structured Activities, and Unstructured Time to help inspire a child.
Most of her suggestions fall outside of the realm of formal education. Here is where this book differs from other guidebooks for parents of the gifted such as Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting our Brightest Young Minds by Jan Davidson, et al. While Dr. Caffrey does offer guidance on how to navigate the school system for the brilliant child’s benefit, she does not bash what is going on today in education. She reminds parents it is only one part of the child’s life experience and should not be expected to be the only thing to provide a spark. I found this a comforting reminder as the six hours spent in school daily sometimes seems to stifle my children. She acknowledges this is the case for many, but does not dwell.
She does say however, that being engaged at school is important for children’s growth and learning. She offers tips to parents on how to follow the chain of command in the school system and encourages parents to be persistent in advocating for their children. Dr. Caffrey’s suggestions for success in working with your child’s school emphasize that communication is key. Though a simple concept, I was inspired by this reminder and feel that it works in both directions. Parents should communicate through the proper channels about our expectations and in turn the school should let parents know how they are helping their children reach their maximum potential. Often this information is kept a big secret. Knowing how children are chosen for gifted services is important for many reasons.
Dr. Caffrey gives many examples of how brilliant children sometimes fall through the cracks. It is essential that the schools not let this happen. Dr. Caffrey seeks to empower parents to stick up for our children – we know them best. We know they need guidance and a good education. Without this, she emphasizes that they could be at risk for underachievement. If not identified as gifted because they are not getting good grades or because they have a behavior problem, they could not reach their potential when gifted education services are what they really need to shine! She cites specific examples where this has happened to brilliant children. To me, this emphasizes the need for schools to give all children, not just those with high grades, tests for giftedness and has inspired me to continue to fight for consistent testing throughout my county school system. In her fourth chapter entitled Diamond Cutting, Dr. Caffrey reminds parents that persistence is important.
I stuck with Dr. Caffrey though the middle of the book dragged a bit, but I have read many guidebooks for parents of gifted children. If this had been my first, I would have perhaps been more engaged. She shares strategies on how to help brilliant children make friends, to just be a kid, and to find their niche as they mature into teenagers. I did walk away with some helpful tips on preparing my child to budget money beginning in 5th grade – next year for my older child! I look forward to seeing if we can rise to Dr. Caffrey’s challenge this summer!
Dr. Caffrey encourages each of us to be a “pathfinder parent.” That means, carefully examine each issue your child faces and categorize it as red, yellow, or green. Yes, intervene in a red light issue – don’t allow your bored child to drop out of high school. On a green light issue though like forgotten homework allow your child to manage his or her own problem. This will help ensure they can face the challenges of their future.
For this tip and others, I encourage parents of gifted students to give Nurturing Brilliance a quick read. Dr. Caffrey reminds us that as John F. Kennedy said, “For those to whom much is given, much is required.” I felt inspired often throughout the book and particularly at the conclusion, to help my children make the most of their brilliance so that we all can benefit from their gifts.
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