Hearing your child may be ‘gifted’ sometimes feels like a validation that you’ve done something right as a parent, but the reality is, there is a big difference between bright children and truly gifted children.
Today, there is a push for our children to exceed expectations, and many of these expectations are not necessarily developmentally appropriate for their age and stage in life.
The U.S. Department of Education defines ‘giftedness in children’ as, “Children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience, or environment.” The most important thing to note about this definition is the word ‘potential.’
Often the biggest misconception about truly gifted children is that they are your overachieving, driven to perform, straight-A perfectionist students. While some children who are gifted do have those character traits, remarkably, the majority do not.
The potential is there, but compared to bright children, who are performance driven and often work far harder than their gifted counterparts to be successful, many gifted students are simply just average. Some are even below-average performers in the classroom. In 1989, educator and researcher Janice Zasbo shared characteristics of a bright child compared to those of a gifted child, and those still stand to this day.
An important thing to know about gifted children, especially when it comes to the classroom, is that many gifted students are not the top of the class. While gifted students are very bright, they are often turned off from learning what’s happening in the classroom curriculum because they prefer self-motivated learning and exploration of personal topic interests.
They tend to be the ‘work smarter, not harder,’ children, and so, where they excel in something that truly inspires their innate curiosity, they often couldn’t care less about how they do on a spelling test or math assignment. This can be frustrating for parents and teachers alike, but even more so for your child who constantly feels they are disappointing.
Remember their brain is unique; not lazy as it may seem or some teachers might suggest.
Gifted children often are highly sensitive and have intense emotions. They are often passionate and determined about things they want to know or do because their brains are craving specific neural input. They can be very sensitive to smells and touches, and even constructive criticism can make them feel inadequate and prone to lashing out. They are sometimes seen as strong-willed and stubborn, and while they may be, it’s most likely not to intentionally make you angry or because they are purposing to be disobedient.
Their brains process information differently, and require different stimulation. Research shows that gifted children have a primal need to process their thinking in a way that allows them to understand the quality of the information their brains acquire, and decide how to best use that information–and that often doesn’t match the standard classroom curriculum.
Because they often have more advanced vocabularies, they are capable of conversations and logic that doesn’t always match their age. Unfortunately for the gifted child, the adult figures in his life will inappropriately expect that as a gifted child, he should be able to be more in control of his feelings, emotions and behaviors.
Gifted children can also have learning disabilities. In educational terms, this is known as ‘twice exceptional,’ or ‘Double E,’ and parents of gifted children often struggle with ensuring their child has an appropriate education experience because their superior intellect compensates for their learning disabilities.
While most parents are thrilled that their child’s intelligence allows her to perform adequately in school, gifted children with learning disabilities often also show a dislike of school because it is simply fatiguing for them to not only conform to common curriculum, but to compensate for their learning disability as well.
The most important thing today’s parents need to know is that while gifted children do learn more and at a typically faster rate than their peers, an appropriate curriculum for a gifted student is not one that simply gives more work at an accelerated rate. In fact, most times, truly gifted children will balk at what they find excessive workloads compared to their peers, and will possibly even feel penalized for being gifted.
Research shows gifted children need differentiated and appropriate work, and most classrooms adjust for gifted students simply by giving them more of the same, and expecting it to be done faster than their peers, if they adjust at all. This is another reason that even children who are recognized as gifted in school programs often simply tolerate school.
Gifted students are not simply ‘smarter’ children who should blow through school with ease, and as the parent of a gifted student, I’ve found that to be much the opposite. They need opportunities to find their learning styles and interests, room to explore in their learning, and purpose for learning — not just ‘because that’s what you do in school.’
It’s challenging, but when you understand that a child who is truly gifted has a brain that thinks out of the box, you won’t take them not fitting nicely in the box so personally, and can help them reach their fullest potential.
Photo Credit: Greg Westfall/flickr