Submitted by Maria Rabinovich, RP
In some children, giftedness is easy to recognize. The signs of advanced intellectual ability manifest early on, propelling these kids to outperform their peers both academically and socially. More often than not, however, gifted children exhibit a pattern of asynchronous development. They might perform well at school, but struggle to learn social skills. Alternately, some gifted kids are average achievers at school but demonstrate heightened curiosity, insight, and empathy at home.
Because gifted kids don’t align with social and developmental norms, they often find it difficult to integrate with their same-age peers. Understanding the diverse ways in which giftedness can develop can help parents and educators identify these unique children early on and give them the support they need to thrive. Specialized academic programs that emphasize independent research, balanced with enriching debates and dynamic teamwork, have been shown to keep gifted kids satisfied and engaged at school.
How to Identify Giftedness
Only a special psychoeducational assessment can determine whether or not your child is gifted. With that being said, it’s important for parents to learn how to recognize the hallmarks of giftedness. Most schools don’t identify gifted children until at least the third grade, by which point your child may have already “tuned out” at school owing to boredom or social difficulties. Some gifted children are never identified by educators and therefore miss out on valuable opportunities to reach their full potential. Ideally, students should be screened for giftedness and tested by age six, but this rarely occurs unless parents seek out professional intervention.
First, it’s essential to know what giftedness isn’t: Gifted kids are not inherently good at everything. Like all kids, they have distinct strengths and weaknesses; they might be excellent at creative writing and poor at math, for example, or vice versa. Giftedness and learning disabilities can also co-occur, creating a particularly complex pattern of development. Gifted kids do, however, have a few fairly universal traits. They’re almost always highly inquisitive, sensitive, perceptive, and passionate about their interests. Their enhanced capacity for abstract thinking and reasoning allows them to understand concepts that ought to be beyond their years. This frequently drives them to seek out the company of older children and adults, rather than their same-age peers.
Academically, children are evaluated for potential giftedness based on their aptitude for creative problem solving, their general intellectual ability, or the presence of an acute specific ability (e.g., exceptional performance in a given subject, such as math or the arts).
Understanding the Social and Emotional Aspects of Giftedness
Both parents and educators must understand that giftedness impacts all areas of a child’s life, not just his or her level of academic ability. Gifted kids think and perceive the world very differently than their non-gifted peers, and this can easily lead to social and emotional problems. Furthermore, these issues tend to take a heavy toll; gifted children are usually very hard on themselves and prone to internalizing negative feedback. In this area, the gifted child’s sensitive nature and excellent memory often work against him.
The biggest threat to the emotional health of the gifted child is isolation. If a gifted child doesn’t have access to similarly gifted peers, he will almost certainly struggle to relate to others. Gifted kids often come across as being eccentric, too, which creates the potential for teasing and harassment. Gifted kids who have skipped ahead a grade, or who attempt to socialize with older children voluntarily, make particularly easy targets for bullying because they’re smaller and weaker than those around them. Having access to a peer support network designed specifically for gifted children can counteract the message that your child is “different” or “strange.”
Parenting a Gifted Child
Parenting a gifted child can be very challenging, even when both parents are themselves gifted. Gifted kids have an innate dislike for rules and guidance; yet, at the same time, they need structure—perhaps even more than intellectually typical kids. To get the best out of your gifted child, you’ll need to be prepared to explain why your household rules exist and why following them will benefit everyone.
The parents of gifted kids also need to learn how to deliver feedback without being judgmental. Because your child will probably face some degree of isolation at school, he will be relying on you very heavily for acceptance and unconditional love. When you need to correct your child’s behaviour, make sure you do so without applying hurtful labels to him. Try to avoid raising your voice wherever possible, too; gifted kids are often very noise sensitive and may read you as being much angrier than you are. Patience and calmness are key when raising any child, but if you’re raising a gifted child, you’ll find that these traits are particularly necessary for the growth of closeness and trust.
To make parenting your gifted child a smoother journey, you should work closely with a psychologist or therapist specializing in gifted development. They can quickly identify unhelpful patterns in your parenting style and give you advice on how to best support your child special talents. Having access to a support network for the parents of gifted children can also yield valuable insights into how to deal with the “ups and downs” of parenting a gifted kid. By looking after yourself, you’ll be creating a community around your gifted child—one where he feels safe to explore and grow into his unique abilities.