Gifted and talented children are frequently leaders in their schools and communities. They often have advanced language skills and display an early and intense sense of humor. Gifted children can be the funny, outgoing, energetic kids who have deep empathy and abundant warmth. Wondering if your young child might be gifted? Read How To Spot A Gifted Child In Your Preschool Class (Or Your Living Room!).
But being gifted isn’t all rainbows and first place ribbons. Some aspects of being gifted contribute to styles of interaction with authorities and peers that are not a cause for celebration. Gifted kids can be perceived as causing trouble, creating conflict and disrupting things wherever they go. Super-bright children might end up with this label for the following common behaviors and characteristics:
- They resist many rules as limiting and irrelevant. “Because that’s the way it’s done” is not accepted when a gifted child sees the rule as useless or worse: illogical.
- Boredom with class material they have already mastered gets expressed as anger or criticism.
- Their unique interests mean that they may reject their peer’s play schemes and try to convince their friends to play games their way or else.
- They talk. A lot. At times, they may take over a discussion or attempt to alter a teacher’s presentation to address related issues or get more in-depth about a topic. They may not be able to let a topic go until they have asked every question and made every point that they find important.
- The frequent sensitivity of gifted children might make a normal level of noise, light or interaction too stimulating, and younger children especially will react in frustration or even tantrums.
- Your gifted child may be having difficulty with an area of development that has been masked by their talents. Gifted and Struggling? Meet the Twice Exceptional Student and How OT Can Help A common example would be the gifted child who is struggling with dyslexia, but has been able to use powerful memory and logic to fill in the blanks in a story. They may not have read the book, but they are able to recall enough of the teacher’s description or the cover’s blurb to “fake it”. The resulting failure and frustration, even with high overall test scores, builds their resentment and avoidance.
What can you do to transform a gifted troublemaker into your family’s champion or star?
- The first step is to recognize where the ‘trouble” is coming from. Your child’s early developmental skills and rapid acquisition of new information could be fueling their behavior. Seen through this lens, many of the frustrating reactions and interactions with gifted children become understandable.
- Explore ways to create a more enriched environment for your child. It doesn’t have to be classes and microscope sets. It could be more trips to the library or more craft materials to allow all that creativity to be expressed. Children that are fulfilled are less crabby, less demanding and less resistant.
- Be willing to take the time to answer questions and discuss the origins of rules. A rule that is in place for safety can be accepted if it is explained. A rule about social behavior, such as allowing everyone to have a turn in order, is an important lesson in navigating a world in which the kids with the fastest brains aren’t always the ones who get the first turn.
- Consider the possibility that your gifted troublemaker is “twice exceptional”. There may be issues like dyslexia or sensory processing disorder that need to be addressed. Other issues don’t have to be cognitive. Your child may be struggling with anxiety or coordination. Giftedness doesn’t discriminate or remove all challenges to learning. But remember that these do not minimize their profound gifts in other areas. They complicate them.
- Share your awareness of their gifts with them. Kids who know that their frustrations and responses have a source other than being a difficult person have higher self esteem. A gifted kid who thinks badly about themselves? Yes, it does happen. Feeling different from their friends, knowing that their ideas aren’t always welcomed, being told to be quiet and go along with the flow. All of these can make a gifted child question themselves. When you explain that their brain works differently, and that you will help them navigate situations successfully, your support can make a tremendous difference!
- If you engage a psychologist, be aware that they may not see what you see. I wrote What Psychologists Just Don’t Get About Raising Gifted Toddlers out of my frustration with professionals who don’t see beyond a standardized test to the full effects of giftedness on toddlers.