understand gifted kidsEveryone knows about gifted kids, right? If you are the parent of a gifted child, you probably know more than most others do. After all, you have one at home and have first-hand experience. However, as I like to say, if you’ve met one gifted child, you’ve met one gifted child. In other words, the gifted child you know is the gifted child you have. They aren’t all alike any more than other children are alike. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t understand gifted children in general. Even if you have a gifted child or know one, you may not know gifted children as well as you think you do.

1. Gifted kids excel in school without any help from anyone

Gifted children should do well in school, but the fact is that many do not. It’s not that they aren’t capable of excelling, but for one reason or another they don’t do as well as we would expect them to do. One reason is that they simply tune out. Without appropriate academic challenge in school, they may stop paying attention and doing homework. They may still do well on tests, but those zeroes on homework assignments add up and lower overall grades. They also may not be interested in the subject matter in school. For instance, they may be far more interested in learning how to write code for computer programs than they are in learning how to write well. Or they may be more interested in working to help those in need than in working math problems or learning geography. Finally, it is possible for a gifted child to have a learning disability, which may go unnoticed because gifted children are good at compensating for any deficiencies. They do well enough in school to hide the disability – but the disability hides the giftedness as well. Without some kind of intervention, these children will not excel in school.

2. Gifted kids are happy and well-adjusted

Gifted children are human, not superhuman. That means they are as susceptible to emotional problems as any other child is. In fact, in some ways they may be even more susceptible. Many gifted children are emotionally intense. They feel deeply. We often say that they don’t make mountains out of molehills; the molehills are mountains. Many gifted children are also perfectionists and are very self critical. Even the non-perfectionist gifted children can be their own worst enemy. They often experience high levels of stress because they expect so much from themselves. But others can expect a lot from them as well. They can be made to feel that they must live up to the high expectations that others have of them. They may be told that they are too smart to get anything other than an A on school work, or that they should be at the top of their class. And it’s not unusual for gifted children to be teased and bullied because to the other kids, they are “different.” Sometimes the stress and pressure is so much for these kids that they end up committing suicide.

3. Gifted kids grow up to be highly successful adults

Thinking about gifted children this way is a little like reverse engineering. We start by looking at highly successful adults and then look to see if they were gifted children. If they were, then we think, “Aha! That’s why this person is so successful! He’s gifted!” However, gifted children don’t grow up and lose their giftedness. That is, they don’t become less intelligent as they get older. There are numerous reasons a gifted child does not become highly successful in adulthood. It may be that they became an underachiever and simply stopped caring about any kind of success. They may also have a fear of failure. Some people think that gifted children are natural risk takers, but that’s not true. They know what people expect of them and are afraid that they won’t be able to meet those expectations. It’s easier for them to not try than it is to try and fail. They can easily use the excuse that if they ever did try, they could succeed; they just aren’t interested. Conversely, they may be afraid of success. If they tried and succeed, it would mean even higher expectations, more responsibility, and more stress. And then there are those who genuinely aren’t interested in fame, fortune, or power – on much of any level. They want a simple life, and that’s okay.

4. Gifted kids are really just hot-housed kids pushed by their parents to learn early

This belief is based on the idea that gifted children are made not born. If you want a beautiful rose to grow the way you want it to grow, you just plant a rose bush in a hot-house and take special care of it, feeding it, watering it, and making sure it gets the right amount of light. If you want a gifted child, you start by playing Mozart to your fetus, then use flashcards in your child’s crib, and move on to teaching your child to read at 3 months, and so on until you have a gifted kid! It’s all about parents pushing a child to be gifted. That, of course, is not possible. You can only teach a child what he or she is capable of learning at any stage of childhood. It has to do with brain development. You can’t teach a child to learn something his brain isn’t ready to learn. You have as much chance of doing that as you have of teaching a child to tie a shoe before his fingers are ready. You can certainly work with a child to help with fine motor skills, but unless and until his fingers are developed enough, he’s not going to be able to tie that shoe.

5. Gifted kids think they are better than everyone else, especially when they’re told they’re gifted

If you tell a child she’s better than everyone else, then that’s likely what she’s going to believe. However, telling a child she’s gifted is not the same as telling a child she’s better than everyone else. Of course, if you think being gifted means being better, then that’s likely the message you are conveying to a child. A child doesn’t even actually have to BE gifted for a parent (or anyone else for that matter) to tell her she’s gifted and therefore better than everyone else. You can even leave out the “gifted” and just tell a child she’s better than everyone else and that’s what she’s likely going to think. Clearly, then, it’s not being gifted that makes a difference; it’s the message we pass on to a child, gifted or not. Some gifted children might end up thinking they are better, or at least smarter, than everyone else when they spend all their time around non-gifted age mates. Imagine yourself in a room full of average ten year olds. You’re in that room, not just for the afternoon or even for the day. You are in that room every day for months. While you’re in that room, you and the others are given some lessons in math and other subjects along with work to be done. You aren’t allowed to proceed with work until the others in the room have finished. You can’t work ahead, and you can’t pull out a book to read. How do you think you’d feel after months and months of that? Would anyone have to tell you how to feel? Gifted children aren’t any different. They may end up feeling smarter than the other kids when they finish tasks early and aren’t allowed to move ahead. After all, instead of being intellectually challenged, they just have time to think about what’s taking the others so long to get done.

6. Gifted kids are easy to raise

By now it should be obvious that gifted children are not easy to raise. They can struggle at school, but not the way most other kids struggle. They may have to struggle to pay attention and complete work that is tortuously tedious. They may be unhappy with the work they do because they don’t believe it’s ever good enough. They can be stressed from the pressure they put on themselves and that others put on them to achieve. They often have a hard time a time making friends and often feel like a misfit. They can get teased and bullied. These are the same kinds of problems that parents of other children have to help their children deal with.¬† But gifted children can also be argumentative because they want the reasons and rationales for everything. While they can be a lot of fun to raise, you can see how parenting a gifted child is not as easy as some people think it is. Gifted children do not “have it made” and neither do their parents.


I remember a time when people didn’t understand children with Down’s Syndrome. Or who had ADHD. Or who had a learning disability. It was tough for those kids and for their parents. But we learned. And we changed our attitudes toward and opinions about these children. That was a good thing. A very good thing. We have become enlightened and now do all we can for these kids, as well we should. Their lives are enriched because of what we have learned about them and what we do for them. And their parents are no longer frustrated or even embarrassed by their children. It is truly a beautiful thing to see how far we have come. But when we consider the attitudes and views about gifted children, we are still in the Dark Ages. Unfortunately, it is these erroneous beliefs about gifted children that prevent us from getting out of those dark ages. After all, if gifted children have it made, what is there to do? And who has any sympathy for arrogant brats who think they’re better than everyone else?¬† Parents can’t say much either because they’re just supposed to be grateful their kids are smart and don’t have to worry about anything. It’s a vicious cycle that is hard to break. But it’s one that must be broken.

Read More About Understanding Gifted Children

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Carol BainbridgeAbout GiftednessFor Parentsgifted kids,Gifted Myths,Gifted Traits
Everyone knows about gifted kids, right? If you are the parent of a gifted child, you probably know more than most others do. After all, you have one at home and have first-hand experience. However, as I like to say, if you've met one gifted child, you've met one...