Your child is gifted. Perhaps a school psychologist has formally tested your child, or you have engaged private testing that indicated advanced skills. Or perhaps you watch your child on the ball field or in school plays. She just blows her peers away. Everyone knows that there is something very special about your child’s abilities.
What do you say to your child about his gifts? Do you say anything at all? Does it really matter how you discuss giftedness with children?
Many, but not all, gifted kids will figure out that they are different, even without formal testing. By 5, children have started comparing themselves and their abilities to their friends, classmates and siblings. Gifted children begin to notice that their skills in some areas exceed their peers. They may also realize that they react differently. The many “over-excitabilities” of giftedness can result in greater sensory sensitivity, emotional sensitivity, a sense of justice far beyond their years, a quirky sense of humor, or a level of energy and movement that doesn’t match friends and classmates.
I think that kids benefit in two big ways from knowing about their gifts: they will not interpret “different” as “bad” or “exempt from challenge”, and they can learn to manage any sensitivities or intensity differences with confidence. Can gifted traits be disruptive to the status quo? Sure, but that’s not necessarily a problem when it is managed well.
I like Mary-Elaine Jacobsen’s personal management strategies in her book, “The Gifted Adult”. I think that many of her suggested approaches to handling what she sees as a triad of constant brain traits (complexity, intensity and drive) in gifted adults can be applied to supporting a gifted child.
Young gifted children may ask questions constantly, want to discuss their passions without end, and strive for perfection when everyone else is satisfied with their first amazing effort. They want to answer every question posed in class and may want to control a game because they are bored with a simpler strategy of play. Telling a child that they are “too much”, when these behaviors emerge as the result of their brain’s makeup, is potentially harmful. It is possible to teach children to manage the expression of their gifts without denying their nature. It starts with telling them the truth: they are wired differently. Acknowledging their frustrations and providing solutions isn’t always easy, but even an incomplete attempt done with compassion and optimism is better than telling them to fit in and stop causing problems.
Children who don’t have to work to receive high grades may not feel empowered by acing a test; they may feel like frauds when complimented for effort they didn’t expend, or even fear the loss of praise when they are encouraged to explore advanced studies. Gifted children need to hear praise for the quality of their efforts even more than children who struggle. Telling a child that their creativity and depth of thought is what you find impressive, rather than their grade, communicates that the true nature of their giftedness is seen and appreciated.
There are other challenges that gifted children face, with the degree of challenge increasing when their abilities far outrun their peers or when areas of disability create the situation of being “twice exceptional”. Take a look at Gifted and Struggling? Meet the Twice Exceptional Student and How OT Can Help. Supporting children is so important under these circumstances. Being honest is just the beginning.