I read on the Internet (so it must be true) that this week is National Parenting Gifted Children week. I can’t find any current celebrations, but it was still a good reminder of an often-overlooked explanation for behavior problems. Our difficult child may not just have a bad attitude or be unable to get along with teachers. He or she may be a gifted child struggling in a system that rewards conformity.  

We tend to think of gifted children as high-achieving and accomplished. That certainly is the most common profile. But gifted children can reach for other ways to cope with their environment, and this article lays out the six types of giftedness. Girls, for example, may go underground and hide their talents. Some gifted children suffer from learning disabilities or emotion issues. Foster children who are gifted may be in this category, and often fall through the cracks because the school focuses on their weaknesses and ignores their strengths. Other children challenge the system and become discipline problems.  

With any of these types of giftedness, our children can become frustrated with themselves and those around them. They appear to us and other adults to be just not trying. So we concentrate on their attitude or self-image, trying all the usual techniques. Unfortunately, because the core problem is not attitude, but inability to handle how their brain works, the usual behavior modification techniques just don’t work.

Furthermore, because we are so used to thinking of gifted children as achievers, we tend to assume that they don’t need much support from us or the educational system. Actually, the exact opposite is true. Their abilities make them stand out from the system just as much as developmentally delayed children, and inability to conform can lead to just as much frustration, anxiety, and emotional issues. Mensa, the organization for gifted people, notes that its membership ranges from people with multiple doctorates to high school dropouts. Giving up on the educational system is not an uncommon reaction.

Another characteristic of gifted children is “asynchronous development.”  In other words, their growth in academics, emotions, social skills, and other areas of life are not uniform. They may be reading at a high grade level, for example, but not be able to ride a bike. They often lack social skills, making everyday life in a typical school extremely difficult for them. It is very easy for them to get frustrated when they cannot find peers who can can keep up with the speed of their thoughts.

Few parents are qualified to diagnose giftedness in our child, but we are the ones who know their day-to-day lives the best. If a child shows flashes of advanced ability in any field, don’t let their bad attitude or stubbornness blind you to the possibility that all of those characteristics may be part of the package of giftedness. Check out the resources at The National Association for Gifted Children, the Davidson Institute, Mensa, and Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted. They will give you a place to start gathering the information about how you can identify whether your child is gifted and the next steps you can take.

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Debbie Ausburn

I make my living as a lawyer, but what I do is take care of other people’s children.