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Mentoring the Gifted

“A Mentor sees things in you that you may not see in yourself”

Mentoring The term Mentoring comes from Greek mythology. When Odysseus went journeying, he asked his trusted friend, Mentor, to care for and guide his son, Telemarchus, into adulthood.

There have been many studies done on the benefits of mentoring the gifted. As we read the biographies of people who have overcome great obstacles to learning and achievement, there is invariably a mentor, parent, teacher, friend or relative who looked beyond the disability – physical, emotional, social or economic – and said “you can”.

“One of the most valuable experiences a gifted student can have is exposure to a mentor who is willing to share personal values, a particular interest, time, talents, and skills. When the experience is properly structured and the mentor is a good match for the student, the relationship can provide both mentor and student with encouragement, inspiration, new insights, and other personal rewards.” Sandra Berger

Gifted children may benefit from mentoring for many reasons:

  • Because of their asynchrony, they may feel out of step with their age peers. Contact with and sharing experiences with a like minded older child or adult can help their sense of belonging and increase their self esteem.
  • Multiple potential poses college and career planning problems. They often have potential in many areas and have difficulty choosing a career path as a result. The opportunity to spend time in a few areas may help them choose.
  • They may come from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The presence of a mentor can help raise self confidence and aspirations as young adolescents are given a sense of both the lifestyle associated with a mentor’s profession and the educational pathway to it. Side benefits may be summer work opportunities and scholarships
  • They may find school utterly boring and irrelevant. A glimpse of real life experience may give them the challenge and motivation they need to focus and achieve. Parents often notice mentors have a maturing effect. Students suddenly develop a vision of what they can become find a sense of direction and focus their efforts
  • Studies have shown that girls in particular achieve more when mentored. 15 years after Kaufman’s study, the women whose earning power equalled that of their male counterparts, had all had at least one mentor.  Girls often focus their abilities on nurturing others. Care must be taken that they don’t get slotted into “helper” roles as this can negatively affect their aspirations and self confidence.



Buddy Systems in School

This may be older children buddying younger ones within primary school or within secondary school. This can be beneficial for a younger child who has difficulty settling into school or interacting with his own age peers and will give the older one a sense of responsibility. A knock on effect would be an increased sense of understanding and community which would lessen the likelihood of bullying and be a resource for the younger child should bullying occur. (It may be easier to speak to a schoolmate rather than a teacher.)

Secondary school pupils visiting primary school to help with projects: This can tap into the older student’s love of “giving something back” and could be as simple as reading with younger kids. It provides the younger child with a “cool” role model and the older student a sense of responsibility and self-worth.

According to the Special Education Support Service (SESS.ie): If relationships with peers are difficult or stressful, the existence of a mentor can be very beneficial for defusing fraught situations.

Academic Mentoring

Teacher student mentoring: This can be done through a formal mentoring programme run by the school or can be informal, as when a teacher takes an interest in a particular student and helps them to advance in their chosen field of expertise. Not only will this give the student a means of exploring ideas in greater depth than provided for by the school curriculum, but it gives them a sense of belonging, appreciation and self worth and a role model from which to learn other values. The teacher in question may not necessarily be one of the child’s regular teachers, but someone with a common interest. T

Formal arrangements with Universities for secondary school students to work with undergraduates or staff within the university.

Career Mentoring:

This allows a student to gain real life experience of a particular career in business, a profession or the arts. It lets a student see what a particular career is really like rather than what they imagine it might be like. This may be short term to aid in career planning, or long term to help a gifted student or young adult develop a career.

Other Forms of Mentoring:

May be as simple as a child developing a relationship with a friend, relative or neighbour who happens to have an interest or hobby that the child finds fascinating.

For girls, professional women who come to the school on career day or a specific course for gifted girls can be beneficial. Mentoring has been shown to be very important in the early career of gifted girls.


Another related area is that of volunteering. Even from a very young age, gifted children may worry passionately about issues such as war, poverty, starvation, dishonesty and cruelty. They are idealists with a strong sense of moral and social justice. They come to realise that few adults seem as concerned and may feel powerless to influence any change. Ultimately, this may result in existential depression.  Volunteer work can be a great outlet for such children, as most people involved in social causes are idealists and a gifted child will likely feel that someone else truly understands their feelings and that their ideals are shared by others. They can join other idealists in ways that can impact the world around them.


As they enter adolescence, it becomes more difficult for a parent to fill the role of mentor. This is a time when our children need to find their own identity, to break away from their parents and to become independent individuals. In order to allow this to happen, it may not always be appropriate for parents to be their children’s mentor, beyond continuing to be a support and a role model. These children may also have surpassed their parents and teachers in terms of knowledge in their area of interest.

It would be a very worthwhile project for us, as an advocacy group, to look into the idea of setting up a co-ordinated mentoring resource. We could develop an information pack to advise schools on how to foster mentoring. It is a very cheap way of supporting gifted kids. We could also look into developing contacts with selected businesses and universities for more formal programmes which might be mutually beneficial. There are many articles, papers and guidelines advising on how to set up such programmes and the pitfalls to be avoided.

Catherine Riordan

Recommended Reading


A Love for Learning: Motivation and the Gifted Child by Whitney and Hirsch
Great book. As a parent, I found it very useful and very positive, even inspiring! As I read it I kept thinking “I wish my kids’ teachers could read this”. It would be of benefit to all their pupils, not just the gifted ones. As it says on the back: “Provides vital information to help educators and parents supply the four C’s needed to create and nurture enthusiasm: Challenge, Commitment, Control and Compassion. The principles and techniques described in this book will spark and cultivate excitement for lifelong learning”.

Counseling the Gifted and Talented by Linda Silverman
Although written for counsellors, this book is very useful for parents. It is a little heavier going than the average parenting guide, but still easy to follow. The authors “examine both the cognitive complexity and emotional intensity of gifted children and discuss the need for modification of counselling techniques”. As parents, we are our children’s first counsellors and the information in this book is very helpful. Very few professional counsellors will have any knowledge of giftedness. This lack of understanding can actually be damaging to any gifted child they may try to help. It is a parent’s responsibility to know what the pitfalls are and to make sure, where possible, they are avoided.

Making Great Kids Greater: Easing the Burden of Being Gifted by Dorothy Sisk
Particularly useful for teachers. “This practical resource offers techniques, strategies and lessons to help gifted students bridge the gap between their cognitive and social-emotional development. Teachers will find this a goldmine of effective classroom strategies to develop the affective domain.” Rather than focusing on the usual strategies for dealing with advanced learners, this book focuses on how to nurture the social-emotional development of gifted children and thus help them to flourish.

Disclaimer: This is not an expert site, it is run on a voluntary basis and as such is based on opinion and experience but we hope that it acts as a signpost for educational resources and other support services for Irish families with exceptionally able children. By using this website you accept that any dependence by you on such information, opinion or advice is at your own risk.

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