Giftedness: A bonus or a burden?

Definitions of giftedness vary, but generally identify that a gifted child has above average ability in one or more areas of human potential (intellectual, creative, social or physical).  Also, there is a sense that this ability is a natural ability as opposed to one that has been trained.  Usually, the gifted are considered to fall in the top 10{ba4639bc087185d97391fd5d15a50de89571c56f25425ee41c30a195518528de} of ability range for their age.

A review of the research on giftedness discovered that most parents are reasonably accurate when it comes to labeling their child as gifted.  Whilst some people do seem to broadcast that their child is gifted, other parents do not want to make a fuss about their gifted child.

Identifying giftedness as early as possible allows us to support a child to fully develop in their area/s of talent and to watch for some pitfalls that may accompany having great abilities.

More formally, giftedness is usually identified by psychological assessment that will probably involve an intelligence test and an achievement test.  These allow comparison between one child and what is expected of a child of that same age.  Obviously, though, if a child is gifted in a creative or physical domain, an IQ test may not show this, so it’s important that an assessment involve looking at the child progress of development and any of their records as well as the observations of their teachers, coaches and the like.

Gifted does not mean good or better.

Gifted children have an advanced capacity to learn and whether this capacity is met or actualised, will depend on the opportunities they are offered.  In fact, it is not unusual for a gifted child to achieve poor grades at times as some gifted children will purposely dumb things down if they think their capacities will show them in a bad light to their friends or ease any pressure or discontent they feel.  It is also possible for a gifted child to have a learning disability.  A child may have superb potential in one domain of learning, but struggle to achieve in another particular area.

Gifted kids can become bored and frustrated if the work they are offered in school does not stimulate or stretch them.  Sometimes, boredom can lead to behavioural issues, poor learning or study habits, or even a disengagement from school. I have seen children in my practice who have spoken about trying to reconcile some of the gaps between themselves and others.  One thought that because all of her friends found mathematics difficult, that she must have been doing it incorrectly.  So, she started to convert mathematical problems to Roman numerals in her head and then of course this was very difficult.  She started to get things wrong, but she felt more like the others.  In my experience, gifted children can be prone to over thinking things at times.

There has also often been the concern that gifted children will be more often subjected to more bullying.

Research  into bullying and victimisation, however,  has found that there was no difference in the rates of gifted children as bullies or being bullied.  Rates of bullying varied from school to school and it appeared that bullying had more to do with school culture than whether or not the child was gifted.

When it comes to giftedness, it does seem that there may be a link between dysfunctional or unhealthy perfectionism and the goals that parents have for their children.  In one review of the literature, it was found that troubles with perfectionism were more likely associated with parents who had performance goals or wanted their child to meet certain standards in certain areas as opposed to the parents who had an emphasis more on wanting their child to be able to continue to learn.

Education politics often focus on those students who struggle with the curriculum and do not always allocate resources to gifted students.

Parents of gifted children often become highly involved in schools.  Services offered to gifted children vary broadly from school to school.  Some gifted students are home schooled or their parents seek out private home schooling.  However, gifted children don’t necessarily need an expensive education.  They do need a teacher that can respond to them to continue in a way that will extend them in the areas of their high abilities.  Parents of gifted children often report that having a gifted child can be quite exhausting.  Many parents of gifted children work hard to provide a home life that is enriched with additional intellectual stimulation.  Especially in the early years, when a gifted child starts school, the environment at school may be less stimulating than the environment that the switched-on parents have been providing at home.

Gifted children also need adults who will expect that their elevated abilities will not necessarily be across all areas of learning or achievement.  Children who are gifted, like other children, will have asynchronous development. That means that they won’t keep developing at the same rate across all of their human abilities.  Gifted children need to have teachers, parents and schools that can track how they are going and adjust what is offered to keep the child at that “just right” level of stimulation.

Some gifted children will be accelerated at school.  Acceleration is when students move through the curriculum at a faster rate than usual.  This might mean that they skip a grade or start some higher education options earlier.  Many gifted children may have a situation where they do most of their work in the classroom, but may spend one or two subjects (eg maths or IT) with a higher grade level.  There are some who worry that accelerating a child can be harmful because as we all know, a child’s social-emotional development may not match their learning abilities. There is often a concern that putting a gifted children with older students will leave them vulnerable, but researchers tell us that there is no evidence that acceleration has a negative effect on the social-emotional well being of a gifted child.  In fact, gifted students who are accelerated tend to outperform those gifted children who are not.

So, when it comes to supporting children who have significantly higher abilities than others, it is important to:

  • Remember that clever kids are still kids and encourage their children to ask questions and use their imaginations through play
  • Create a home that encouraged self competence, models positiveness and promotes learning over achievement.
  • Seek to develop supportive relationship with school or seek other ways to extend the child at home or in the broader community.
  • Carefully choose a school that will cater for the child’s needs and one that will welcome parents’ input and feedback.
  • Monitor their general happiness levels and be careful not to expect more from them because they can have an intelligent conversation with you does not necessarily mean that you should ask them age-inappropriate advice on how to run the family budget or seek relationship advice. React to children in a developmentally appropriate manner and allow them to make decisions commensurate with their age.

Just because they can read a chapter book earlier than their peers does not meant that they can go without that special shared time with a story or cuddle just before bed.

Overall, it takes a village to bring out the best in children and gifted children are no exception.  We need to be sure that each child receives support that takes into account their abilities as well as their age and that does not assume that their abilities will be equal in all areas or that their ability to cope will match their special abilities.

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