Here we go again. Another gifted child doing what gifted children do and another adult who can’t see what it really means. I get it. I was you. And then I read and researched and asked questions and went around that mountain several times until BAM…I saw the light.
Let’s take a little quiz and see how you do in recognizing what’s going on with gifted kids. After all, they’re not much different from other children; are they?
1. When a child is refusing to complete schoolwork, most teachers assume the child is purposely being a problem. After all, who wouldn’t want to complete schoolwork?
If the child is gifted, it could be...
A. The child feels the work is not valuable, not challenging, nor applicable to his current or future plans in life.
B. The child has little or no rapport with the teacher and therefore can’t overcome his mindset which tells him that the assignment isn’t worthwhile.
C. The child senses that you are overworked, overwhelmed, tired, cranky, and therefore decides that steering clear of you and not asking any questions is a better decision than asking for help to complete the work.
D. The child is bored with the pace and lack of depth in the schoolwork and so he decides to not complete it.
YES! You chose a correct answer.
A. Giftedness is advanced cognition. Yes, if an assignment is not tough enough, interesting enough, or is not directly related to his goals in life (yes, even at age 7) it is stamped worthless and to be avoided in the mind of a gifted child. If you as an adult were handed a first grade worksheet, would you be insulted? Now you understand the mindset of a gifted child.
B. Good rapport is held in high esteem with a gifted child. Don’t even try to fake it, they’ll see your phony ploy a mile away, or you will crush their oversensitive hearts beyond what you can imagine. Take some time to focus on their strengths and once you’ve earned their trust, you may be able to talk them into that “worthless” assignment.
C. Like attempting to fake a positive relationship, a gifted child can gauge your demeanor before you walk across the room. It’s part of the gift. He may decide to be empathetic to you if you’re having a bad day, but only if there is a sense of comfort or a willingness to positively engage in your eyes. Gifted sensitivity can be a blockade or can buoy an honest attempt to help.
D. Have you ever been in a meeting that rehashed a procedure you’re familiar with or one where an email could have relayed the message more succinctly? That can be a daily mindset for a child who has rapid mental processing and/or craves depth in an otherwise mundane educational setting. Yes, I know that we all must do things we don’t enjoy, but guess what? You’re an adult and this is a child. Shouldn’t you be the one finding a way to manage the situation? Great. Let’s continue.
2. You ask a gifted child to draw a simple illustration. This is met with resistance. What’s the problem?
A. The child says she is not a good artist and so she won’t draw the picture.
B. The child repeats over and over that she doesn’t know what to draw even after you gave her several examples.
C. The child is instantly overwhelmed and tells you so.
D. You sit beside her to guide her through the process, but she struggles to hold the pencil. It sounds like the pencil is the problem.
YES! You chose a correct answer!
A. You and I both know you don’t expect the illustration to be perfect, but that gifted child may not. Perfectionism is a huge issue with many gifted children. After all, aren’t they supposed to know how to do everything because they’re “so smart”?
B. I know you’re thinking that this child really does know what to draw. She understands the directions. Directions aren’t the issue. It could be that she is a divergent thinker who has been reprimanded for creating “outside the box” and that’s all that’s running through her mind. Once an inspiration hits, it’s hard to redirect focus to other ideas.
C. The picture itself may not be the problem. The child may be running through her mind all of the classwork, homework, meal eating, after school practice, bath taking, dad is going on a business trip, her sister is going to find out she broke her favorite toy agenda that awaits her later in the evening. Increased sensitivity, a lack of focus, or anxiety, could be the real issue. It’s hard for gifted children to separate “must dos” from the other components in their lives. Often, it’s all interconnected and can come bursting through the dam at any moment.
D. The pencil could be the problem. Often, gifted children suffer with executive function issues like fine motor skills which can go undetected because their stellar cognition compensates for their weakness. It could also be a sensory issue. Some gifted kids have an aversion to textures and some to sound. Either of these could be the hurdle to that simple drawing. In addition, sitting with a gifted child may sound supportive, but it can actually backfire and increase the pressure to perform. Again, sensitivity could be at play.
3. This child is always sneaking a book or technology when they are supposed to be completing their work. Rewards don’t seem to help and neither do any punishments. What’s going on?
A. The child seems to be avoiding work. And yet, he or she seems to do really well on assignments and tests when focused. Maybe it’s a focus issue.
B. The child is off track and focused on extraneous or content inapplicable to the current study. He or she just doesn’t care.
C. The child doesn’t seem to understand typical expected behaviors.
D. The child is disregarding classwork. These are important tasks that don’t seem to register as important even after a punishment has been given. It’s as though rewards and punishments serve no purpose.
Yes! You chose a correct answer!
A. Self directed learners enjoy learning at their own pace and on their own time. Often that may mean they will fall behind. They may lose focus and get lost when paced with the rest of the class. They may fall farther and farther behind. You may have caught onto the fact that often rewards and/or punishments are futile. Any kind of ownership and flexibility you can offer to self directed learners will lead you in the right direction. They can often handle far more than the adults in their life realize. While sometimes you may want to decrease expectations, increased expectations may actually work better. When you want to increase expectations, flexible expectations may work better. It’s a lot of trial and error, but they work better with flexibility and ownership.
B. Like being self-directed, delving into an area of interest or expertise can become quite obsessive. Children with intellectual or imaginational overexcitabilites may appear lost or distracted when in reality they are doing double the work trying to study or learn content that is more interesting to them while simultaneously attempting to also follow along with the class. Often they are successful in their attempts, but sometimes they are not. A drive to learn is to be applauded. Encouraging independent exploration and research and the sharing thereof can curb the proclivity and inspire them to use group focus time more wisely.
C. Boldness and determination is often misinterpreted as arrogance and stubbornness in gifted children. They have strong feelings and ideas and are well learned when voicing them most of the time. They have mulled them over and over and examined their perceptions from many angles. While there is a time and place for everything, often what is a drive for justice and fairness can be misunderstood as being forceful or disrespectful. Know that gifted children are often asynchronous with their attitudes and actions and often don’t follow typical behaviors. On one hand, they may have the logic and ideas of someone much older, but struggle to manage the proper time to share their insights. This is where an understanding and supportive adult comes in.
D. You’re right again! Punishments and rewards rarely work well with gifted children…unless you allow them to generate their own. Even then, expect to be changing them often. Many gifted kids enjoy novelty and because they learn so quickly, they will also catch onto your habits of enforcement (or not) and loopholes. They may call it hypocrisy (mentally or aloud) when you don’t follow the same standards as the students and will challenge the fairness of your responses. You may even find yourself (secretly) agreeing with them. How to solve it? Work on building a good rapport (and a strong ear to listen to endless stories) and leave the behavior charts for another child.
Does it sound like these kids are really complicated? Does it sound like it will be a struggle to get any work out of them? It can be a frustrating and time consuming effort to identify and support these kinds of kids.
Can you imagine what it’s like to be that child? Can you imagine the uncertainty that runs through their minds? Can you imagine how hard it is for a gifted child to explain what they’re thinking or feeling to a teacher or parent who is struggling to understand and instead writes off their reaction as lazy, inept, or disrespectful?
If it sounds like you need to coddle a gifted child to get anything accomplished, the good news is that you do not. You need mainly ONE thing. You need to WANT to help. That’s it. Will it work every time? No. Will you make mistakes, get frustrated, and want to give up? Yes. Every parent and teacher of a gifted child has felt that way. They can be very frustrating. That’s why it’s up to you, the adult, to learn more about that gifted child.
Gifted children may struggle with sensitivities, perfectionism, and anxieties, but they also are brilliant, creative, empathetic, and have a fabulous sense of humor, so get to know one. You’ll both be glad you did.