The Dark Side of Giftedness

So you realize that your young children are in the gifted range of development. You see that they’re moving along pretty fast in the developmental checklists. Maybe stringing two words together before they’re 18 months old, very focused on learning new toys and books, has an uncanny memory for where things are hidden, or are ultra perceptive to the adult environment. And you thought giftedness was all perks...until you started noticing the sensitivities.

Maybe your child really notices if you’ve taken your glasses off or gotten a haircut or (heaven forbid!) put lunch together in a different way. You may see that you’re getting some big reactions to things and you wonder what’s going on emotionally with your bright child. But it makes sense though, doesn’t it, that a child who is racing along in development might have a bunch of feelings to go along with it?

Typical Emotional Challenges for Atypical Smarts

Psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D, in her book Smart Parenting for Smart Kids: Nurturing Your Child’s True Potential has identified the typical emotional challenges that gifted kids face. It’s these challenges that activate the intense feelings that are hard for kids and parents to cope with:

  • Some are afraid of effort, because they're used to instant success
  • Some routinely butt heads with authority figures
  • Some struggle to get along with their peers
  • Some are outwardly successful but just don't feel good about themselves
  • Some are driven by perfectionism

She goes on to say, “It’s ironic that the children (and adults) who are most frightened about not being good enough are often the most capable.” It’s not all fun and games being gifted. They need to be treated like kids who need help and guidance, with consideration for their unusual experiences in the world, and inside themselves.

The Burden of Potential

Dr. Moore states clearly that it’s a mistake to assume that giftedness is “a predestined calling to greatness.” If you do that you’re probably going to create a child who can’t negotiate life’s normal ups and downs. Gifted children need the freedom to explore their curiosities, bump up against problems, and fail sometimes. Don’t fill their heads full of ideas that they’re great; help with their present-day challenges.

That said, you will need to understand the difference for your gifted youngsters between emotional problems that come from interacting with their world, and problems that come from their own self-perception. Chances are they’ve got high standards for themselves. Gifted children are also apt to be very empathetic with others, and sensitive to the world’s injustices. Your children may feel empathetic with others but others may reject them. The first trait can cause frustration and self-doubt; the second can cause sadness or confusion.

Other aspects of giftedness can cause big emotional reactions that are hard to handle. High energy and alertness can become frustration. Instead of rushing quickly to find another toy or game, you might say, “I know you want something fun right away but it’ll take me a minute, and I’d like you to stay calm while I do that.” Or involve them in the search for something new to do. The world won’t always measure up to what your children feel inside, but you have to help them to cope.

The Right Kind of Praise

Very bright kids are sometimes very organized with their sorting and categorizing and figuring it all out. That’s fantastic for school but in play it can bother other kids. The rules they decide on for games might be overly complicated for the other kids. Frustration on both sides and charges of “bossy” can happen easily. Try to set the challenge for him to figure out some rules that work for everyone.

It can be the most natural thing for a very bright person to want the satisfaction of all the puzzle pieces fitting perfectly – and it can cause quite an emotional reaction if things don’t. A bright child might be used to praise for perfection and as Dr. Moore states, “They don’t often hear, ‘Wow, you did a great job of setting sensible limits and refraining from overdoing!’”

A bright perfectionistic child will help you grow some very specific parenting skills. You’ll learn to comment on “the process” more and “the product” less. Comment on the effort it took, the concentration to finish it, the nuances of figuring out how to do it, the enthusiasm or even courage it took to undertake whatever it was, or the choice of words or color used. It’s as much about the journey as the destination.

Working through Outbursts

There are many internal attitudes or external problems that can cause your gifted child to become highly emotional. When an eruption happens it’s no use to respond with rational suggestions to think or feel differently. Just be a mirror for a minute, letting them know you understand the feelings. Don’t agree or disagree with what they’re upset about, just tell them you understand it. Give them some time to calm down before you talk.

If your upset children accuse you of something during the outburst or otherwise tries to instigate an argument, take that as a sign that they’re still too emotional to problem-solve, and try not to react. Stick with your plan, “we’re going to talk about this in a few minutes when you feel better,” or “I really want to hear all about it but let’s wait a few minutes till we’re both calm.”

Your own even-temperedness is the gift you give. It will be internalized by your child and grow into their own ability to cope with their feelings without being overwhelmed by emotions.

How do you deal with the dark side of your gifted child?

Tags : education   school   giftedness   

Nikki M
That photo!!!!