Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Get your gifted boy through middle school

Middle school - that time warp most of us would like to forget!

But if you have a gifted middle school boy, it is critical to stay attuned to the pitfalls and challenges that might derail his adjustment and safe passage into adolescence.

We know that many boys are not "built" for school - at least for those traditional classrooms where they are expected to sit still and be silent. They don't like school. They roughhouse, squirm in their seats, and want to play. They are typically less socially mature than girls and more likely to express negative emotions such as anger. They also are disciplined more often, are more frequently diagnosed with ADHD and learning disabilities, and are more likely to receive lower grades and drop out of school. Their organizational, verbal and attentional skills lag behind those of their female peers. While brain differences may account for some of these distinctions between the genders, it does not mean that their behaviors are abnormal or problematic - they just don't fit what is expected of them in most schools.

Gurian and Stevens have described how girls and boys learn differently. And while some teachers accommodate these differences, many also feel overwhelmed by "boy energy." Author Jessica Lahey described this dilemma in the classroom:
"While I love teaching boys, many of my colleagues do not, particularly during the hormone-soaked, energetic and distracted middle-and high-school years. Teachers and school administrators lament that boys are too fidgety, too hyperactive, too disruptive, derailing the educational process for everyone while sabotaging their own intellectual development.
Peek into most American classrooms and you will see desks in rows, teachers pleading with students to stay in their seats and refrain from talking to their neighbors. Marks for good behavior are rewarded to the students who are proficient at sitting still for long periods of time. Many boys do not have this skill." 

Why is middle school so difficult? 

Ideally, middle school should usher in a period of self-discovery, personal and academic growth, and identity formation, rather than a time that must be endured. But it is more typically a difficult phase for most students, who struggle with peer pressure, hormonal swings, and ambivalence about their newfound independence from family.

Most gifted middle school children face similar struggles, often compounded by gifted "traits," such as heightened sensitivity, introversion, a preoccupation with fairness and justice, overthinking, perfectionism, asynchronous development, and the emergence of existential depression. These may be coupled with a nagging sense of boredom and disconnection with school - both academically and socially. This perfect storm of personal, social and school-related distress can affect their identity, confidence, motivation, and how they will approach school in the future.

What happens for gifted boys in middle school?

Gifted boys often arrive at middle school with a mixed track record. Some boast a transcript filled with good grades (although this sometimes belies a history of coasting through school and never quite reaching their potential). Others sport a spotty record, marked by underachievement, inattention, boredom, and frustration. Some have endured social isolation or bullying because of their "differences." Still others may have felt relatively confident, but then struggle when confronted with middle school social pressure to "toughen up" and adapt to messages from a sexualized, hyper-masculinized culture.

What are some of the potential pitfalls gifted middle school boys face - and how can you help them?

1. Peer pressure

Gifted girls certainly struggle with peer pressure related to cultural norms and expectations. But gifted boys also feel pressure to adapt to societal views of masculinity and sexuality. Those gifted boys who lack social agility, athletic talent, or strong leadership skills are especially at risk for social isolation, rejection from peers, or bullying. Asynchronous development can complicate matters, particularly when a child is chronologically younger than his age peers due to full-grade acceleration. Those with "nerdy" interests - robotics, chess, science, classical music, theater - can be targets for bullying, or at the very least, exclusion from most social circles.

While some boys feel confident enough to weather these challenges, many mask their abilities, hide their less-than-popular interests, and "dumb themselves down" to fit in. They downplay any appearance of intellectual curiosity, hide their successes from peers, or may actually perform well beneath their abilities to prove that they are just like everyone else.

What you can do:

  • Help your gifted child find a group of like-minded peers, a niche he can belong to, and extra-curricular activities that ignite his passions and introduce him to others with similar interests. The more peers he finds who "get him," the stronger he will feel in the face of mounting pressure from the majority of students at school. 
  • If he is athletic, encourage involvement in sports. They are a great outlet, confidence-booster, and can offset some of the pressure and stereotyping about giftedness that he might encounter at school. 
  • Encourage participation in social activities, but don't force him to attend an event he is not prepared for and that might increase his anxiety, like a school dance. 
  • Provide guidance and suggestions for navigating social demands at school - when he is open to listening. 
  • Advocate for ability grouping or clustering at school, which will improve his in-class experience and allow him to spend time with like-minded peers who "get" his way of thinking.

2. Sensitivity

Gifted children may be emotionally excitable and experience heightened sensitivity.
Some gifted boys are highly sensitive to emotions, others' feelings, sensory input, conflicts, and injustices in the world around them. This sensitivity conflicts with society's template of the rough and tumble boy who can take his nicks and bruises.

The media, society and our culture are guilty of perpetuating these stereotypes. From an early age, boys are persuaded to emulate the strong, silent, rugged images portrayed in film, sports and video games. They learn that "real men" are risk-takers who challenge their bodies, are self-sufficient, never show fear, and don't back down from a fight. Warmth, kindness, creative and artistic expression,  and displays of emotion are unacceptable, and even viewed as effeminate. Mark Greene recently highlighted how empathetic and compassionate men are portrayed as "delicately aware" or "easily hurt." He pointed out that:

"We are very close to pathologizing emotional awareness in men... But emotionally distant men are a product of their environment, not a genetic inevitability. Why emotionally distant men get to be the baseline against which "sensitive men" are judged needs to be reexamined."

As a result of these pervasive messages, sensitive, gifted middle school boys not only learn to mask their intellectual abilities, but their sensitive, emotional nature as well. This "double life" as a tough guy, at a time when emotions, hormonal swings and identity formation are already in an upheaval, can create even more uncertainty and distress. Those who are unwilling or unable to hide their sensitivities resign themselves to potential ridicule and bullying. Sometimes introverted gifted boys are even mislabeled or misdiagnosed because of their social differences.

What you can do: 

  • Provide acceptance and normalize your son's sensitive nature. Help him recognize that although his feelings and reactions may differ from societal stereotypes or what seems to be the norm at school, point out that many boys feel the same way, but also mask their emotions.
  • Encourage him to stand up to peers when necessary, but also select friends who are accepting and supportive. 
  • Help him appreciate that his sensitivity is just one aspect of who he is, that it offers a window into greater understanding of himself and others, and that there are tools for managing these emotions when they get overwhelming.
  • Encourage healthy outlets for his sensitivity, such as creative expression or volunteer work to help those less fortunate. 
  • Support involvement in activities that bolster his strength, provide a healthy balance to his sensitivity, and support his burgeoning sense of masculinity. For example, participation in non-contact sports, involvement in healthy forms of competition such as the debate team, and taking on a leadership role with an extra-curricular activity are all character and strength-building activities.

3. Underachievement

Gifted children can lose their passion for learning, scale back their efforts, coast through school or give up completely at any stage in their academic career. But they seem most at risk for underachievement during middle school. And a much higher percentage of gifted underachievers are boys. While there are many identified triggers and causes of underachievement among the gifted, middle school often provides the perfect storm, as gifted boys conform to peer pressure, become more observant and critical of their education, and respond to an accumulation of apathy and disrespect for a school system that has ignored their needs for years. Some gifted boys who have coasted through elementary school with little effort may become frustrated with the increased academic demands of middle school, or might be surprised to struggle with some assignments for the first time. If they never learned study skills, or previously confronted and rebounded from failure, any academic difficulty may be perceived as an affront to their identity, and some may retreat completely rather than risk trying and failing.

What you can do: 

  • Recognize the signs of underachievement before they escalate. Boredom, apathy, complaints about wasting time at school, disrespect for teachers or the school, and disinterest in learning are clear signs. But it can be more subtle for some children, who are selective consumers (choosing to exert effort only for subjects they enjoy of with teachers they respect), or underachievers under-the-radar (seemingly successful students who are never challenged and fail to reach their potential). 
  • If there are family conflicts or personal traits your child exhibits (e.g., perfectionism) that are contributing to the inertia, these need to be addressed. 
  • Many of the triggers may be entrenched in the social and academic culture at school. You can help your child by encouraging him to find his passions, identify what is meaningful - even in a class he does not enjoy. Help him retain his intrinsic love of learning through involvement in extra-curricular activities that he enjoys. 
  • Advocate early and often. Addressing underachievement before it becomes a habitual pattern is the best strategy.  Gifted children learn best alongside like-minded peers and in an atmosphere where they can express their curiosity and creativity. While some parents opt for homeschooling or private education, public schools are the available choice for the majority of families. Advocate for acceleration, ability grouping, clustering or other accommodations that may spark his interest.

4. Identity formation and existential depression 

The middle school years hasten a burgeoning drive toward identity formation, often seen as a primary task of adolescence. While some young teens manage their new sense of self by readily adapting to social norms or identifying with pop idols, gifted children are often more discriminating (and some might say, cynical), and tend to question everything. They challenge their family's beliefs, the school culture, political and social norms, and even their own previous views. Many abandon their family's religious affiliations, and question life's meaning.

Along with this newfound independence and exploration of values, some gifted children become apathetic, disillusioned and plunge into an existential depression. James Webb has noted how gifted children's idealism and intellectual abilities predispose them to this awareness:
"The gifted become depressed particularly because their high intellect allows them to contemplate the cosmos and their very small place within it."
Gifted boys, in particular, may feel torn between an adherence to traditional male values and their sensitivity to the world around them. Any form of hypocrisy, unfairness, or deception is almost impossible for them to tolerate. When this occurs at school, they may feel despair, and lose all investment in participation.

What you can do:

  • Gifted boys may struggle in silence, particularly if they adhere to social norms regarding masculine expression of emotion. However, if you sense that your child is depressed, apathetic, or struggling to assert his sense of self in the face of peer pressure, encourage him to speak with you. 
  • If he is angry or distressed about what he perceives as inequity or hypocrisy at school, allow him to express his concerns - without minimizing or escalating his views (e.g., avoid comments, such as "yeah, those teachers are all incompetent."). Suggest healthy outlets for his anger, such as participation in volunteer activities.
  • If he feels isolated because he wants to retain his true identify and avoid conforming to social pressure, help him find niche or extra-curricular interests where he can spend time with like-minded peers. 
  • Let him know that you are there for him as he traverses this phase of exploration and discovery, and that sometimes, people feel depressed before they bounce back. If his depression persists, though, it is often essential to seek therapy with a licensed mental health professional.


Of course, parenting a middle school child can be stressful as well. Boys, in particular, tend to retreat, spend time in their rooms, and are reluctant to communicate about their thoughts and feelings. Boisterous, loving, expressive little boys turn into sullen young teens, and after the initial shock, parents are left to grieve this loss. But gifted boys - all boys - still need their parents' involvement, even when they are dismissive and try to push parents away. Keep a watchful eye, remain enthusiastic and involved, and provide your empathy and support when your son offers that rare opening for conversation. He doesn't want you to see his vulnerability, but will be grateful and feel comforted to know that you are always there for him. And get support for yourself when you need it. Family, friends, and even local gifted advocacy parent groups can be a great resource as you weather this challenging time along with your child.

The following are additional blog posts that target middle school and gifted students:

Caught in the middle: How to help gifted children survive the middle school years

Difficult passage: Gifted girls in middle school

Ability grouping works - and is essential in middle school and beyond

How school policy affects gifted children's friendships (and what you can do about it)

What was the best class your gifted child had in school?

When does therapy benefit gifted adolescents?

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Blog Hop on Ages and Stages of Giftedness. To see more blogs in the hop, click  on:

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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Ignite creative fire in your gifted child

Most toddlers and preschool-aged children are creative and passionate about their play. They become engrossed in what they love, and learning is fun. But once they adjust to the structure of school, some lose their creative passion, and focus, instead, on grades and performance.

Gifted children, in particular, thrive when given free rein to express their creative interests. Intrinsically motivated and intellectually curious, when comfortable expressing their creative ideas and inspirations, they engage fully in school. When these instincts are thwarted by too many rules, boredom in the classroom, or an emphasis on outcome and performance, they may comply, but their creative drive is sacrificed.

In a recent commentary, "Educators should steal Google's secrets about creativity," author Matt Presser raised the bar for schools. He highlighted how Google's policy of allowing engineers to spend 20% of their time on projects that interest them can be an example for educators to follow.
"The traditional method of mass education starts with a curriculum and fits it to students's needs. Too often, students' interests exist separately from school, and they complete assignments for their teacher's eyes only. Personal passion is too often missing from our classrooms.
As teachers, we should approach education the other way around: by starting with our students and then shaping a curriculum around them. When we give our students real responsibility to tackle problems connected to their interests, they flourish."

Researcher Beth Hennessey also emphasized intrinsic motivation as an essential component of creativity among gifted children, and pointed out how the school environment can sap this drive. She noted:
"In their present form, the majority of American classrooms, from preschools through high schools and colleges, are fraught with killers of intrinsic interest and creativity. Nowhere is this situation more dire than in the gifted and talented classroom or "pull-out" program where the promotion of students' intrinsic motivation and creativity of performance must be top priority."

More recently, researchers Gotlieb and colleagues have emphasized the importance of social-emotional imagination and creativity. They point out that most school culture is not geared toward creativity:
"There is a fundamental tension between the expression of creativity, which requires breaking consensus to push forth new ideas, and organizational culture (whether corporate or school based), which values individuals who conform to the group. We argue for a need to shift the school culture to accommodate creative expression."

If your child is in a school that encourages creative expression and intrinsic motivation, you are fortunate, If not, you have your job cut out for you, as you wade through the maze of advocating for changes. But you still can foster an environment of creativity in the home. 

Here are some tips for encouraging your child's creativity:

1. Process, not product

Emphasize the activity, not the outcome. Encourage your child to focus on what engrosses her, sparks her interest, ignites her curiosity. Help her see that creativity tends to follow a zigzag path: Role model that you are willing to try new things, and take on challenges that are difficult and require learning from scratch. Children follow their parents' lead, and in fact, a recent study found that even one-year-old children of creative parents show evidence of greater creativity. Get messy; get confused; lose your way; find a new path; discover great possibilities.

2. Shake up routine

Children need routines and traditions for structure and a sense of safety. But they also thrive when there is flexibility and creative divergence from these routines. Take a different route to the store. Eat breakfast food for dinner. Camp out in your backyard. Trying something different not only sheds light on new perspectives, but also demonstrates flexibility and creative thinking for your children. They also benefit from plenty of unstructured, unplanned, open-ended time where they must rely on their imagination.

3. Innovative problem-solving

Remind your child that creativity can occur anywhere by supporting the concept of creative and innovative problem-solving. Teach your child to brainstorm, by coming up with as many ideas as possible to approach a given problem. The more outlandish and creative, the better. Then, encourage him to narrow down and eliminate some of the options, based on how effectively he might solve the problem. Helping your child find new and different approaches to solving problems or formulating ideas encourages creative thinking along with a sense of accomplishment.

4. Any activity can be creative

Creativity is much more than art, music, poetry and dance. Sure, these activities and classes might be fun and inspirational for some children, but fall flat for others. When children have little artistic inclination, they sometimes falsely assume they are not creative. We must remind them that ANY activity, school subject or career can be creative - it depends upon their approach, perspective-taking, an innovative outlook, and openness to new ideas. You can reinforce this by encouraging creative approaches to even routine tasks. This could involve anything from folding laundry to organizing toys differently. This helps your child see that creativity can occur anywhere, in any situation, and at any time.

5. Banish perfectionism

Perfectionistic thinking can stop creativity cold in its tracks. Just try to draw a picture if you expect perfection. Either you will be paralyzed before you even start, or give up quickly along the way. Torn art projects, smashed Lego structures, and instruments stashed away in closets often result from unmet high expectations. Help your child focus on short-term goals and what she enjoys and is learning from the process of exploration and creativity. Keeping a portfolio that demonstrates her progress and growth over time can help when frustration builds. And of course, comment on the process of discovery rather than the outcome.

6. Support the traits that support creativity

There have been many accounts of personality characteristics associated with creativity (e.g., see Clark). Researchers Furst and colleagues have categorized three overriding "traits" common among creative individuals. These include plasticity (an openness to experience and exploration), divergence (non-conformity and impulsivity), and convergence (conscientiousness and precision). It would seem that plasticity and divergence are necessary for initiating creative ideas, but convergence is needed to narrow down and follow through on them. This theory suggests a complex range of skills that are required to initiate and complete a creative project. 

While you can't force creativity, you certainly can encourage openness to experience, a fearless drive to explore and try new things, some non-conformity and a healthy questioning of norms and values. Support for disciplined focus, follow-though and conscientious behavior is also important. This fits with research on the role of practice for those who achieve success in creative arts fields. Creative and artistic talent is a start, but disciplined practice is necessary for success and satisfaction in these fields of study.

7. Encourage reflection

Ask your child to reflect upon questions that arise and generate ideas and solutions - before you rush in to help. If he struggles, you can brainstorm with him and model how to explore and expand upon ideas. Eliminate phrases from the household such as: "this is the way we always do it," or "there is only one right answer." Even if you disagree with his solution, you will have encouraged greater self-awareness and exploration. Gotlieb and colleagues also emphasize the importance of reflection for building creativity among adolescents:
"Rather than expecting students to be constantly externally focused, we need to capitalize on the contributions of their internal reflective processes. Teachers, parents, and caring adults can do so by facilitating conversations in which students contemplate their long-term goals and steps involved in achieving them."

8. Fight for change at school

Yes, advocacy can be tiresome. You may have tried before, and perhaps hit a brick wall. But encouraging creative exploration will benefit every child in the classroom, not just gifted students. Hennessey aptly noted that "students' own intrinsic interest, curiosity, and excitement about learning must not take a back seat to concerns about grades or the need to outperform one's peers." She emphasized the importance of allowing students to feel in control of their learning, to become more aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, and to avoid succumbing to extrinsic incentives within the system.

Help your child discover the joy of creativity!

While not every creative child is intellectually gifted, it is likely that those identified as gifted have creative potential. Although some might disagree, it would seem that unless rigid standards, perfectionism, or a drive for extrinsic rewards have robbed them of their intrinsic motivation, most gifted children possess this creative potential. They are deep, inquisitive thinkers, question everything, think "outside the box" and see a range of possibilities in most situations. They are often highly sensitive and have a profound sense of fairness and justice. They can size up other people and most situations quickly and accurately. Let's give them the freedom to explore and expand upon their creative nature at home, and insist on opportunities for creative expression within the schools.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Creativity and Productivity. To see more blogs in the hop, click on:

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Social-emotional learning and the gifted child

A panel of academic researchers recently released a statement (also summarized in an Education Week article) emphasizing the importance of social-emotional learning. Of interest, these researchers identified several essential components necessary for optimal learning:
"Students who have a sense of belonging and purpose, who can work well with classmates and peers to solve problems, who can plan and set goals, and who can persevere through challenges - in addition to being literate, numerate, and versed in scientific concepts and ideas - are more likely to maximize their opportunities and reach their potential."
Few would argue with these critical elements. Most parents, teachers and administrators would readily agree that students benefit from these conditions. While there is clearly more to social-emotional competency, such as frustration tolerance, executive functioning skills, and ability to read social cues, those are more specific to the individual student. The components listed above outline general policies and conditions that could - should - apply to all classroom settings.

So how does this relate to the gifted child?

As much as all children may benefit from an emphasis on the social-emotional learning components listed above, it is likely that without attention to gifted children's specific needs, gifted children will be left behind.

Let's look at the conditions listed in the above statement:

1.  A sense of belonging and purpose

Gifted children thrive when surrounded by like-minded peers, where they are challenged, can compete and collaborate with students of similar intellectual abilities, and where they do not feel compelled to mask their talents to fit in or, in some situations, to escape bullying. They are less likely to lapse into underachievement if they feel a meaningful connection to their school, and are best challenged when they can direct their efforts toward a goal that has meaning and a sense of purpose.

Unfortunately, most gifted children rarely encounter these opportunities in a typical heterogeneous classroom setting. Since ability grouping is viewed unfavorably by many school districts, gifted children rarely experience the sense of belonging and connection. Instead, many feel misunderstood, awkward, and isolated.

2. Work well with classmates and peers to solve problems

Gifted children may have difficulty working cooperatively with students in heterogeneously grouped classrooms. They often learn at a faster pace, and with more depth and intensity. Yet, many are expected to patiently work in groups or sit back and wait until others catch up. Not surprisingly, most will become frustrated, impatient, bored and apathetic. If they vocalize their frustration, they may be viewed as arrogant or insensitive; if they silence themselves, they learn that their academic needs must take a back seat to those of other students. They also may feel pressured to complete most of the group work for other students, who rely on their talents, but resent them for it. And they are deprived of learning to problem-solve with peers who can work with them on a similar intellectual level.

3. Plan and set goals

Many gifted students never learn self-regulation skills, such as goal-setting, planning, time management, and study skills. They coast through school, so skills-building seems unnecessary. As a result, they are deprived of important learning opportunities and remain unprepared for more challenging work in higher education or career. Baker and colleagues highlighted the problems gifted students encounter when they are denied an opportunity to learn these important life skills, and how this can lead to underachievement:
"From an academic skills perspective, later elementary and middle school may present specialized demands (such as time management, study skills, systematic problem solving rather than rote memorization, etc.) that are underdeveloped among students who have been unchallenged and have experienced seemingly effortless academic success in the early elementary grades."
Lack of self-regulation skills become noticeable when gifted students face an obstacle - typically when they finally confront challenging work in higher education or a career. Many feel overwhelmed, as they are blindsided by their lack of preparation.

4. Persevere through challenges 

Much has been written about the importance of grit, resilience, and learning from failure. When academics come easily and require little effort, gifted children are denied an opportunity to develop a strong work ethic, a sense of responsibility, the strength to cope with failure experiences, the ability to surmount obstacles, and the self-worth that comes from real accomplishments. Gifted children who are rarely challenged may become risk-averse, afraid to move beyond their comfort zone, and view themselves as "impostors" who are not deserving of their accomplishments. While there is some unnecessary debate about the grit-talent dichotomy, gifted children clearly deserve an education where they are challenged, encouraged to reach their potential, and held to a higher standard.

Some gifted children become underachievers and stop pushing themselves altogether. They may become "classic underachievers" who give up on school completely, "selective consumers" who only apply themselves when they enjoy the topic or like their teacher, or "gifted underachievers under-the-radar," who often achieve good grades, but coast through school and fail to reach their potential. These underachievers not only lose out on learning in school, but fail to develop the resiliency and drive to persevere that will help them in future endeavors.

Let's insist on accommodations for gifted children that enhance their social-emotional and academic learning

It is not surprising that many gifted students do not feel they can "breathe" until they leave for college, when they are finally challenged, are surrounded by like-minded peers, and where intellectual curiosity is appreciated. It is a waste of time and potential to let these children languish bored and frustrated for years in traditional classroom settings. They deserve the same social-emotional learning - and academic challenges - as all students. It is time to insist on ability grouping, clustering, and intensive, advanced, and accelerated instruction for all gifted students. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Are you too much of a critic?

Gifted people can be amazingly sharp. They see alternate solutions, diverging paths, and multiple options in any situation. They understand the big picture, and can parse through an array of mind-numbing details.

Many gifted people view their critical analytic skills as an asset. And these skills can be exceptionally useful at times. Critical analysis and detailed focus come in handy in everything from editing to computer coding to party planning to woodworking. A knowledge of arcane historical facts and niche interests can be entertaining as well as surprisingly useful. And many a career was forged on an employee's depth of knowledge and mastery of facts.

Then what are the drawbacks?

Critical analysis requires complexity, creativity and flexibility. Understanding grows exponentially. This differs from overthinking, overanalyzing, and endless critiquing. Sometimes an intensive focus on details and finding flaws can obscure the big picture, rendering it meaningless. Minor problems loom large. Chronic dissatisfaction and perfectionism wreak havoc.

Do any of these situations sound familiar?

  • Unable to enjoy a feel-good, uplifting film because of critiquing the cinematography/editing/dialogue, etc.

  • Obsessing about perceived personal inadequacies

  • Late handing in work, papers or projects because of needing to perfect them

  • Irritated by minor flaws in any new situation - a new apartment, a vacation rental, a restaurant, a classroom

  • Unable to enjoy artistic events - art show, concerts, dance, theatre - without scrutinizing the flaws in presentation or performance

  • Engage in "friendly" debate with friends and family, sparring about facts related to current events, politics or any area of accumulated knowledge

  • Set high standards for friendships and relationships, often having difficulty finding friends you can respect and trust

  • Annoying others by correcting their grammar or facts mid-sentence

  • Accused of being stubborn, opinionated, competitive by those who know you well

  • Define some of your self-worth on your critical analytic skills and accomplishments

If any of the above seem familiar, you may recognize the drawbacks that accompany too much critiquing. It not only interferes with relationships (since most people don't really appreciate your criticism), but also creates inner turmoil, causes restlessness and dissatisfaction, thwarts pleasure, and perpetuates a never-ending scrutiny of perceived personal flaws.

What causes this critical sensitivity? 

1. Gifted people have active minds. They size up most situations quickly and with remarkable depth, complexity and detail. This often leads to seeing both the endless possibilities and every flaw in any project, situation, place, person and endeavor. It is easy to be critical because it comes naturally. Gifted people derive pleasure and a sense of accomplishment from this depth of analysis and detailed focus. They thrive when they get to immerse themselves in a beloved interest. Finding solutions, glitches, errors, and obscure facts is satisfying. The challenge for the gifted involves placing their critical analytic ability into perspective, and not allowing every flaw to obscure the big picture.

2. Gifted children and teens are often praised for their accomplishments, detailed focus and encyclopedic knowledge. As a result, their sense of self may become tied to their abilities and success. It becomes part of their identity. Even as adults, the capacity to scrutinize, criticize and acquire knowledge may remain a source of pride and recognition. If they loosen the reigns and are less thorough or critical, it may feel as if they are giving up an important aspect of themselves. Gifted people need to appreciate that their self-worth is not based on their accomplishments, and that they can relinquish or censor their tendency to criticize when it is unnecessary or creates a problem.

3. Some gifted people have perfectionistic traits. They feel driven to always succeed and reach the top. Their self-esteem is tied to their accomplishments, recognition from others, and the ability to prove their worth through performance, projects, tests, and even winning points in day-to-day discussions. They may feel compelled to become experts in whatever area they are studying or pursuing. This can range from a mastery of political minutia to authority in a niche topic to acquiring the best chocolate chip cookie recipes. They push themselves relentlessly to keep up with information, feel despair when they don't achieve their goals, and may alienate others with their competitive drive and need to prove their self-worth. There is a clear difference between striving for excellence and perfectionism. When perfectionism takes hold, counseling with a licensed mental health professional may be necessary.

4. Despite their talents and abilities, some gifted children have a rough time. They feel insecure, have difficulty finding peers who "get them," and sometimes are bullied. Those with asynchronous development may lack the social maturity to keep up with their same-aged peers, and may suffer from social anxiety. As a result, some may retreat from social activities unless assured of acceptance. They may become cynical, critical of others, and bitter about how they have been treated. While their anger and hurt may be justified, developing a critical stance toward the world only fuels further bitterness and isolation. Defensive behaviors such as frequently criticizing others for minor flaws or overly scrutinizing their own work or performance will only increase their distress. In these circumstances, it is especially helpful to seek guidance from a licensed mental health professional to address the long-standing anger and suffering that has led to self-defeating behaviors.

What can you do?

1. Recognize the difference between a healthy capacity to scrutinize and acquire knowledge, and when critiquing is defensive in nature. Pay attention to whether such a critical focus brings you closer to others and enhances your life, or if it alienates you, creates tension in relationships, or causes problems in school or work.

2. Pay attention to whether your critical analytic focus is truly based on a love of in-depth analysis and scrutiny, or results from internal pressure to achieve certain standards. Is it something that you enjoy and benefit from, or an automatic reaction that you just cannot shake? Is your identity entangled in your role as "the critic/sleuth/perfectionist/analyst?" Do you wonder what it would be like to enjoy a film, vacation, dinner party, or even a quick visit with a friend without finding flaws? 

3. Notice how being a critic enhances or hurts your self-esteem. Is it a positive part of your identity, or does it make you feel worse about yourself? Are you constantly scrutinizing perceived personal flaws and obsessively reviewing interactions where you worry that you said the wrong thing? Do you obsess about what to wear, what to say, and what others think about you? The popularized term "inner critic" characterizes the torment many feel when they continually berate themselves.

4. Have you received feedback that you are too critical, competitive or focused on winning? Does proving a point or surpassing your friend in a challenge mean more than the quality of your relationship? It is not essential to win every game, always get the last word, or come out on top in every situation. And unless you want to completely alienate a friend, you don't need to point out their faulty thinking, poor grammar, or incorrect grasp of facts. It is helpful to keep in mind the following questions before you make a comment: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

5. Recognize that your quick mind and capacity to think deeply provide many opportunities for enhanced learning and a rich mental life. While it can be tremendously fulfilling and enhance your academic and work endeavors, pay attention to when it crosses the line and becomes hurtful to you or others. If you struggle with perfectionism, obsessive worrying, low self-esteem, bitterness, defensiveness, or cynicism; if you have alienated others; if you have difficulty finding satisfaction in work, love, and leisure; it may be time to find help through the guidance from a licensed mental health professional.

It is never too late to stop being so critical of yourself...or others.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

One of the greatest barriers to gifted education

What is one of the greatest barriers to understanding, accepting and educating gifted children?


Gifted children and adults are the target of misconceptions, unrealistic expectations, and gross distortions about their basic nature. Stereotyping leads to sweeping generalizations and assumptions based on limited facts, and is fueled by suspicion, envy, and bitterness. Stereotyping also creates a false sense of certainty about what one knows as "truth" and understands as the "facts."

Here are a few common stereotypes and false beliefs about gifted people and gifted education:

  • Giftedness is the product of coaching, "hot-housing," and excessive intervention from anxious parents.

  • Gifted people are nerdy social misfits, as commonly portrayed in film and the media.

  • Gifted education is elitist, is not equitable, and hurts at-risk children who are more deserving of resources.

  • Gifted children are expected to do just fine even if they don't receive an appropriate education. After all, they are smart enough to succeed on their own.

Like any stereotype, those aimed at gifted people are borne of unfamiliarity, misunderstanding, and sometimes fear and envy. Gifted children are sometimes perceived as having received "too many intellectual gifts," so need to be "taken down a notch." They are mocked and bullied for their differences, high intellect, or academic success. Their opportunities at school are often limited in an attempt to compensate others without said "gifts."

The term "gifted" itself evokes longing and bitterness among some whose children are not identified. While most people recognize that giftedness is associated with unique and exceptional abilities that are not the norm, some even deny this by claiming that "every child is gifted." Some teachers and administrators who lack training in gifted education may subscribe to this belief, and assume that any child can achieve to the same extent as a gifted child if the same opportunities are provided.

When gifted students are successful, they are scrutinized for fallibility and imperfections. Higher expectations often are placed upon them, despite an absence of sufficient guidance. Those who excel are seen as magically achieving their goals without effort. If they fail to achieve stellar accomplishments, they are disparaged for either not achieving noteworthy markers of success, or somehow lacking "grit."

Some gifted children's social and emotional traits are misdiagnosed and mistaken for various problems, such as Aspergers, ADHD, or OCD. Learning disabilities are frequently overlooked, given widely held beliefs that learning difficulties are absent among gifted children. These twice exceptional children often struggle "twice as much" to acquire the academic services they need.

If stereotyping of the gifted remained only a personal set of beliefs, it would be bad enough. But unfortunately, stereotyping informs school policy and educational funding decisions. When all children are seen as gifted, or when the gifted are viewed as less deserving of educational resources, or when gifted education is perceived as elitist, gifted children suffer.

There is much work to be done. Parents, teachers, leaders in education need to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions and advocate for the needs of gifted students. The more accurate the information that is shared, the more we can help these frequently underserved children.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Helping your gifted child in the aftermath of Charlottesville

Most gifted children and teens have a heightened sensitivity and an acute awareness of what seems fair and socially just. As a result, distressing events such as those that occurred recently in Charlottesville may hit them particularly hard. As a parent, it is essential to offer the appropriate age-based support and remain attuned to what your child needs.

Here are some tips:

1. Young children may not fully grasp the full scope of events, but still may react to what they overhear. They may see snippets of fighting on TV, notice their family's distress, or overhear other adults talking about what occurred. They may formulate their own (often inaccurate) assessment of events. Will the Nazis come and get us? Will there be riots near my school?  

You need to provide simple, reassuring statements to calm any lurking anxiety - even if your child is not overtly expressing it. Look to see if he seems more withdrawn, if his play seems more "aggressive," if he has trouble sleeping. Let him know that there was some protesting against some angry people (with beliefs that your family does not agree with), but that it is over now, and that no one is coming to your town or your house. If your child asks about the beliefs, you can simply say that these include believing that some people are not OK just because of their skin color or religion - and that you don't agree with that.

2. Older children and teens may be much more aware of the events and able to express their anger or anxiety. Again, try to reassure your child that you will keep her safe, and that it is not likely that such an event will happen in your town. If your teen wants to participate in a vigil or anti-hate march, you can assess the potential safety of the event, and decide to accompany her as a family effort. You might also suggest other ways your child or teen can express frustration, such as letter-writing, contacting government representatives, or getting involved in volunteer work.

Many inquisitive gifted teens want to understand the reasons for certain behaviors. They may pursue theories about the causes of racism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry. Depending on their age and maturity, they may benefit from articles ranging from historical reviews of slavery and the Holocaust to the social psychology of racism to current trends in the rise of hate groups. While this research may quell their thirst for knowledge, it may create further anxiety and distress.

3. Model appropriate reactions. Even if you are distressed, try not to overreact in front of your child. State your opinions, but also your plan of action. You might mention that you plan to write letters, participate in a vigil, or increase your volunteer work. This demonstrates to your child that even when there are distressing national or world events, no one has to remain passive. We each can take charge - even in a small way. This may help your child feel less powerless, address any existential angst that may be developing, and provide an outlet for his fears.

4. Help your child find healthy distractions. Continue life as usual, and remind your child that it is OK to continue to work, study and play as always. If your child wants to get involved, help her investigate volunteer activities at school or in the community that might spark an interest.

You cannot shield your child from the distressing events in the news. But as a loving parent, you can provide a buffer, a resource, and a guide to help your child manage the confusing, overwhelming emotions that follow.

A similar version of this article was published in PsychReg.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Six reasons to stop treating gifted kids as "special"

What's wrong with telling gifted kids that they are special?

After all, they hear frequent messages that point out how they are different...unique...and yes, special.

They overhear adults rave about their talents.

Their peers don't quite "get" them, and are sometimes a bit jealous.

Teachers occasionally provide extra attention - explaining different projects or homework assignments that the other kids don't receive.

They witness some parents clamoring to have their children evaluated for gifted programs, and sometimes hear kids brag when they are accepted.

They surmise that being gifted must be a big deal.

Whether they like it or not, gifted children are sometimes treated as special because they are different.  False assumptions and labels, unrealistic expectations, misconceptions, and envy complicate the picture. The term "gifted" evokes longing and bitterness among those whose children are not identified. All children are gifts to their families and should be special to them. But sometimes when families notice another child "labeled" as gifted, and don't understand the context for said label, sparks can fly.

What does "special" really mean?

In an odd twist to this quandary, use of the term "special" within education circles has different connotations, and is often associated with learning difficulties. Most parents don't want this label for their children. "Special services," (typically offered to address developmental or learning delays) do not evoke the same bitterness and envy as gifted services.

Putting aside the official terminology used to define "special services" in schools, most people recognize that giftedness is associated with unique and exceptional abilities that are not the norm. Some may try to deny this by claiming that "every child is gifted." But such statements ignore the facts. As noted in a recent commentary:
"by definition, it is not possible for 'all students' to be 2 or 3 standard deviations above their age equivalent peers. To say so demonstrates either exceptionally poor understanding of mathematics or exceptionally poor understanding of the reality of intellectual giftedness." 
Others may boast that all they want is an average child, or they won't call their child gifted - as if giftedness is a choice or will disappear if ignored.

You don't get to choose your child's intellect - it can be enhanced or thwarted depending on environmental and educational circumstances, but your child's abilities are not yours to choose.

Problems with the "special" label

All of this controversy can lead to the assumption that gifted children are "special" as opposed to merely different or neuroatypical. It is essential that all children know that they are special to their parents just because they are loved. But when children believe that they are "special" to family, friends, or teachers specifically because they are gifted, several problems can arise:

1. Love seems conditional 

Children need to feel special and loved by their parents regardless of their innate abilities. Love should not be contingent upon talents, performance or accomplishments. This is a set-up for approval-based achievement, perfectionism, insecurity, and long-standing resentment. If children assume that they are only loved when they perform - and perform well - they will become anxious, insecure and resentful. Ultimately, this can damage their relationship with their parents as well as affect their self-concept and overall mental health.

2. It just feels wrong

Recognition of a child's abilities can backfire, especially when associated with an innate talent unrelated to effort and hard work. Praise for a talent or an easily accomplished task can evoke feelings of guilt and shame. With their heightened sense of fairness and justice, gifted children know that it's just wrong to receive acknowledgment for something they had no more control over than the color of their eyes. It is confusing and leaves little room for distinguishing talent from a legitimate, hard-fought achievement.

3. It destroys peer relationships

Children also sense when they are treated differently and inappropriately singled out at school. Some may feel undeserving, and fear that peers will resent them. This is particularly damaging when teachers ask gifted students to tutor struggling students or co-teach the class. No one likes a teacher's pet, and singling out gifted students is bound to hamper their chances of fitting in. Due to the elimination of ability grouping in many districts, gifted instruction is often delivered separately, away from the rest of the class. Gifted students receive small chunks of "pull-out" instruction or individualized, "special" attention from the teacher, and may feel embarrassed that they warrant this additional time. Other students also may resent it as well.

4. It creates inflated expectations

Some gifted children develop highly inflated and unrealistic expectations for themselves. They might expect to matriculate at the most prestigious college, land the best possible job, and receive numerous awards along the way. Any divergence from this path is perceived as a disappointment and failure. An average grade, a rough patch in school, and less than stellar SAT scores are viewed as shameful and an assault to their sense of self. There is no margin for error. While some eventually develop resiliency and humility, others may struggle for years with anxiety, shame, depression, bitterness, and anger.

5. It skews their perspective

When gifted children assume that functioning at such a high level is the norm, they may come to expect this from others as well. They may become impatient, demanding and frustrated when their peers do not grasp information at the same pace, cannot delve into projects with the same intensity, and have less intrinsic interest in learning. Just like a talented athlete loses patience with a struggling teammate, gifted children can become frustrated in interactions with neurotypical children. Appreciating that there is nothing "special" about their abilities may help them tolerate this frustration and feel more accepting of their peers' differences in these situations.

6. It perpetuates stereotypes about giftedness

Some of the reluctance to provide gifted education, the backlash against ability grouping, and the widespread neglect of gifted children's needs is fueled by the public's emotional response to the concept of giftedness. When a group of highly able individuals are viewed as "special," envy, bitterness and irrationality may follow. Otherwise well-meaning teachers, administrators and families block attempts to provide gifted services. They claim that gifted children are not deserving of "special" treatment, that it is elitist, that it is not equitable, that gifted children are privileged, or that other children would feel wounded if they believed that they were not as smart. These notions are often excuses for implementing policies based on emotional reactivity about giftedness and "special" treatment rather than sound research or clarity about what gifted children need.

Not treating gifted children as "special" does not mean ignoring their needs

Gifted children have unique educational needs due to their intellectual differences and require academic services tailored to these needs. Not treating them as "special" does not mean neglecting their education or failing to provide services they require. In fact, receiving appropriate services should be the "norm" for them, and not viewed as special treatment. It is ironic that gifted services are often housed within special education departments, as this is often the only means of assuring any funding at all. If giftedness were viewed as just another learning difference that required a different educational approach - rather than a trait to be envied - teachers could get on with educating their students.

What can you do?

Show your child love and acceptance, provide structure, and discipline appropriately as needed - what you would do for any child. Treat giftedness as just another aspect of who your child is - not as overly important, but as a trait that needs attention and care. Praise your child's efforts, offer support and acceptance when he or she fails, and encourage healthy risk-taking. Teach self-compassion, gratitude and tolerance for others' differences. Educate family, friends, acquaintances, teachers, administrators, legislators, and any others you encounter who are misinformed about giftedness. And continue to advocate to ensure that your child receives an appropriate and enriching education.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Help your gifted child find work-play balance

Organizational consultants emphasize "work-life balance" for employees drowning in stress. Find your pace. Be mindful. Don't check e-mail after work. And so on.

Gifted children sometimes need to find their "work-life" balance as well. They crave intellectual challenge and stimulation, but too much activity can result in burn-out. How can parents recognize that fine line between engagement and too much pressure?

Finding Work-Play Balance

1. Remain attuned to your child

Your child will let you know. He might not voice specific complaints, but his behavior speaks for itself. Symptoms can include anxiety, irritability, lethargy, depression, mood swings or sadness, an increase in arguments with you or his siblings, and a lowered frustration tolerance. Other signs are sleep disturbance (sleeping more, waking more often, or frequent nightmares), loss of appetite, or physical complaints, such as stomachaches or headaches. These symptoms may not necessarily stem from a work-play imbalance, but sometimes that can be part of the problem.

2. Read between the lines

If your child is able to express her concerns, listen to her. Gifted children, in particular, are highly sensitive and aware of their feelings. If she tells you she feels overwhelmed, or claims a particular class is too stressful, believe her. Her distress may be revealed through obsessive worrying, perfectionism, late-night melt-downs before an exam, or chronic procrastination. She also may express her distress indirectly. She might be annoyed by her teacher's voice, or the color of the classroom, or the lay-out of the robotics studio, or some other seemingly obscure complaint. It may be too difficult for her to admit to you (or herself) that she feels overwhelmed and overworked. Listen and pay attention to what she really might be saying.

3. Find out what is causing the problem

If a class or extra-curricular activity is too demanding, find out why. Understanding what is upsetting your child shows that you care and are open to learning more. It demonstrates your interest in assessing the situation and taking action, if necessary. Learning more about the problem, however, does not mean you must intervene, pull your child out of a class, or stop an activity altogether. Additional options include limiting his involvement, reducing expectations, speaking with his teacher, or helping him improve his social skills, time management or coping strategies. If he continues to struggle, and you are unable to help, it may be beneficial to consult with a licensed mental health professional.

4. Understand your child's drive

For many gifted children (and adults), work and play are inescapably intertwined. Play is the best learning tool for young children, and researchers have recommended making provisions for even more play time during the school day. Gifted kids use both play and challenging academic opportunities to delve into a task or project, and find intrinsic joy through learning, curiosity, creative expression, and accomplishing a meaningful goal. When schools eliminate the option for challenging learning, the result is lukewarm, rote educational instruction. This creates its own form of stress and misery for gifted children, contributing to boredom, apathy, and disillusionment. As a parent, it may fall on you to provide opportunities for free time, play, and creative expression at home, and to advocate when necessary within your child's school.

5. Encourage what works

You know your child best. When she is engaged, excited, immersed in a task she loves, and shares her enthusiasm with you, it's a clear sign that she's on the right track. When she throws herself into learning, is eager to embrace a new challenge, and is confident, you know that she has found that work-play balance. Help your child remain on the path that fosters challenge, curiosity, engagement, and a willingness to risk failure without fear. These opportunities will support continued growth, help to prevent burn-out, and encourage an ongoing passion for learning.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Balancing Boredom and Burn-out. To see more blogs, click on the following link:

Friday, June 23, 2017

Five reasons to consider an elite college (and they're not what you think)

With so much recent criticism and outright condemnation of highly competitive colleges, you might wonder why anyone would bother to apply. After all, with acceptance rates lower than 10%, and a brutal admissions process, why subject your child to the stress...and likely rejection?

Media commentary aptly warns about the highly competitive admissions standards, discourages students from placing so much value on any one school, and reminds us that a good education can be found just about anywhere. Elite colleges are sometimes the target of harsh criticism, though. Sometimes it seems that journalists highlight every possible drawback to reassure the rest of us that we're okay despite never having attended one of these colleges.

Unfortunately, some critique moves beyond the colleges and targets the applicants, themselves. Applying to these institutions is viewed with suspicion, and perceived as merely a stepping stone to Wall Street. Students are stereotyped as entitled, prep-school kids or anxious superachieversobsessed with the outward symbols of success.

Parents of student applicants are portrayed even more negatively. Labeled as pushy elitists preoccupied with their child's future earning potential, they are accused of turning their poor children into bleary-eyed overachievers, chained to the desk... or computer... or piano... or ballet barre. Rumors and accusations regarding how a child (possibly could have) gained admission become the subject of hushed speculation. Bitter, snarky comments suggest that it must have been a legacy admission, or that thousands were spent on SAT test prep, or the family must have donated to the school. The heightened competition can bring out the worst in families and communities.

Okay...yes, there are some parents who hover, indulge too many of their own personal hopes and dreams, and pressure their children. This behavior is not exclusive to gifted children, though; it happens everywhere. And yes, some gifted teens are overachievers who place added burdens on themselves and expect to always succeed. But overachievement, perfectionism and high expectations are not exclusive to giftedness either.

In reality, the majority of gifted teens are not overachievers in hot pursuit of perfection and awards. Most just want a good education.

A challenging education has eluded many gifted children due to rigid school policies that have marginalized their needs. So college looms large as that one last chance to grasp an enriching learning experience. Many believe that they finally might be able to rekindle that intrinsic love of learning lost long ago. And at the very least, they no longer have to hide their curiosity and academic interests to fit in.

Five reasons gifted teens pursue admission to elite colleges

It is time to dispel the speculation and myths about college choices. Here are five reasons gifted teens consider a highly challenging college (and they are not what most people assume).

1. Finally, they can learn

It is well-documented that gifted students are undereducated, often bored, and frequently coast through classes with little effort. Most schools focus on at-risk students and/or teach-to-the-middle, and the needs of the gifted are overlooked. Gifted students often breathe a sigh of relief when they arrive at an elite college, where the academics are intensive and fast-paced, and where class discussions include like-minded peers.

2. It's the money, honey

Elite colleges typically offer the most generous need-based financial aid. This is a critical and decisive factor for many low-income and middle class families, who find that these schools are sometimes more affordable than their state flagship university. Elite colleges are much maligned for their sticker price, which unfortunately shuts out upper middle class students from aid. Even then, the price is often no higher than costs at many other private institutions.

3. A place they can call their own

Many gifted students feel like outliers in high school. Although some mask their abilities to fit in, others never feel they belong. School seems built for other kids - the athletes, the popular kids, the students who appear to thrive with the education that is offered. College presents an opportunity to embrace a new setting and culture, a place where innovative ideas are encouraged, and a diverse environment where students hail from many regions. Gifted students might even feel pride about their school - for the first time.

4. Finding their niche

As outliers, gifted students often struggled to fit in during high school. If they found a niche, it may have included other "outliers" as well - for example, in theatre, robotics, chess, debate team, or band, But the niche expands and becomes normalized in a college environment filled with other highly talented, intellectually engaged students. It is no longer weird to display intellectual curiosity, passion for learning, intense drive, and a thirst for knowledge. And it is a comfort and a relief to find like-minded peers who feel the same way.

5. Testing their limits

Gifted students just might get to challenge themselves for the very first time at an elite college. As suggested in a previous blog post, there are disparities in the demands and intellectual challenge of classes at different colleges. When students coast through high school, they never gain perspective about what it means exert effort, build resilience, or learn from failure experiences. Some may hit a wall in college, where they find that a class or subject seems too difficult, and they must ask for help - often for the first time.

Of course, most students can find a way to meet their academic and social needs at any college of their choosing. Even those gifted students who might benefit from the intensity and challenges of an elite college may not be accepted or choose not to attend. It takes a particularly well-developed "resume" to gain admission at most elite colleges, the likelihood of acceptance is uncertain, and many families cannot afford the cost if they do not qualify for need-based aid. Success in life does not depend on attending a highly competitive college.

However, an elite college may offer the best fit for some gifted teens in search of a challenging education. They should not be discounted in response to media critique or disparagement. Some of the critics may not have had personal experience with these schools, may be responding to an encounter that went awry, and may be cherry-picking information to support their opinions. Before you completely dismiss elite colleges as an option, understand your financial needs, learn more about admissions requirements (and whether it is worth your child's energy to apply), and most importantly, determine if a particular college would be a good fit for your child.

Final note: I have no stake in the game with this commentary. I attended state universities for both of my undergrad and graduate degrees, so I have no personal "attachment" to elite colleges. I am commenting based on my observations as a psychologist who works with teens and college-aged adults, a parent, and an advocate for the gifted.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

How to explain "giftedness" to your child

What should you tell your child about being gifted? 

Whether identified as gifted, referred for an evaluation, or placed in a “gifted and talented program," children quickly form their own impressions. They may wonder if this makes them different or smarter or weirder or better than the other kids. They may worry that they will become less popular or will be teased or bullied. They might even want to stop being gifted altogether.

Understanding giftedness is not easy

Understanding giftedness is complicated for adults; it is even more challenging for a six-, eight- or ten-year-old child. They are too young to fully grasp what giftedness means or place it in a context that makes sense. Gifted children already know they are different, They have probably heard both compliments and criticism about their quirks, talents, and precocious behaviors. The "gifted” label can provide some validation for what they already know to be true, but it also might evoke confusion and anxiety.

Your child needs your help

Children need their parents to provide a framework for understanding what being "gifted" means. The following are some possible explanations you might offer to your child:

1.  Gifted is just a word. 

It doesn’t mean that someone is better than anyone else. It was named a long time ago because people felt that it was a “gift” to be able to learn so easily. People might feel the same way about kids who run really fast or can slam dunk a basketball. You are so fortunate to be able to learn so quickly. But it doesn't make you a better person. People are special for all kinds of wonderful reasons. Being gifted does not make someone any more special than the next person.
2.  Gifted is a word given to kids who have different learning needs.

Everyone is different. Just like some people are taller or shorter than others, or more or less athletic, some people need a different approach in school to make learning more interesting. Everyone learns at a different pace, just like people grow taller at different rates. Some people need their teachers to teach a little more slowly, and others do best when they can move quickly through the topic. You seem to need teaching that lets you move quickly or spend a lot of time exploring a topic in depth.

3.  You were found to be “gifted” because of some tests you took.

We asked the school to give you these tests because you complained about being bored. We knew that if the testing labeled you as “gifted,” we could ask the school to give you more interesting work. We didn't care if you were gifted or not. We didn't care what score you got on the test. The only reason for taking it was so the school could give you more choices and make school more interesting. (Note: it is never a good idea to tell a young child his or her IQ score.) Now that the school knows your test results, they can find more interesting school work that is more suited to what you need. 

4.  Giftedness is something that is a part of you.

Giftedness is just like your eye color or height. It doesn't come from how hard you work in school, and will not go away if you slack off. It is always there and gives you some great choices to do some really creative/intensive/interesting/(you fill in the blanks) things. You can't turn it on and off like a light switch. Being gifted affects how you see the world and think - not just how you perform in school.  But if you work hard, you can achieve a lot. If you don’t, you will lose out on the opportunities your abilities have given you. Just like you can decide what clothes you wear or what haircut you get, only YOU can decide how to use your abilities.

5. You are a lot more than your giftedness. 

Even though being gifted is a part of who you are, it is not everything. There is so much more to who you are, and so much we love about you. Your intelligence and talents are just one small piece, and we wouldn't love you any less than if you had different color eyes or hair. You have so many great qualities and interests, and we are so happy that we get to know them. 

6.  Giftedness comes in all shapes and sizes.

Some kids are really gifted with math. Some are great writers. Some are born leaders. Others paint up a storm. Occasionally, a few gifted children are good at many things; most are not. You have subjects in school that come really easily to you, and interests that you love. We hope you continue to put a lot of energy into these things. But you still need to work hard in those areas that are not easy for you. 

7.  Gifted children sometimes feel they are different from other kids.

Even if you like how easy school is, it can be uncomfortable when you feel like you are different from a lot of the other kids in your class. It’s normal to feel this way. We can help you to figure out what to say if other kids make comments about your interests. We also can help you find things you do have in common with some of the other kids, or help you find outside activities that school does not offer. Being a kid can be hard for everyone - even for some of the other kids who look like they have it easy. Friendships may become easier to find when you get older - but we will help you get through whatever is hard for you right now.

8. Giftedness is not an excuse. 

Being gifted does not mean school should be easy. We know that some of your classes may be too basic for you, which is why we are trying to find opportunities inside and outside of school that will challenge you. We don't expect you to be perfect, but want you to try hard and put in your best effort. Success at anything takes hard work and and practiceNot everything you are going to do at school - or later in a job - is going to be interesting, so you have to learn to do the hard work even if you don't like it. 

9. We love you no matter what

You don't have to be gifted or smart or talented or do well in school for us to love you. We love you for who you are and always will. You don't have to be perfect or prove anything or live up to your giftedness. You just need to figure out what interests you and let yourself delve into it. Of course, we would like you to put in effort in school - even when you don't like your classes. That's just life - sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do, like chores at home. But we don't love you any more or less just because you are gifted. We love you because you are you!

These ideas are just a few suggestions for starting a conversation with your gifted child. You will need to modify them to suit your child’s and your family's beliefs and values. What is most important, though, is conveying that you will help your child navigate this journey through giftedness, and that ability and achievements play no role in your love and appreciation for your child.

What have you told your child about being gifted? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.