meanness in gifted kids? - Mothering Forums
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Parenting the Gifted Child > meanness in gifted kids?
umami_mommy's Avatar umami_mommy 10:29 PM 05-18-2010
my close friend's DD is almost 7. i have known her since she was 2. she is a very verbally gifted kid. she has a tremendous memory and vocabulary and reads many years above her age.

but she has a serious mean streak. i have never seen a 6 year old talk abut ranking her friends (man is this hurtful to some of her friends), do such splitting (pitting one kid against another), threaten others if she doesn't get her way, and be so quick to verbally squash anyone she disagrees with. every time we get together it's something with her. she needs to dominate and control most social settings. (admittedly, in our group we have 4 alpha kids... in four families of kids... kids who are used to being in charge in groups and used to not taking bullshit from anyone) but here's the problem, when she acts up with my DS, he doesn't want to see her for a while. she just shrugs this off, but it really affects him. he will cry and hide and be really upset with the way she is acting. and she always blames others for her aggressive behavior. if she blows up, she blames the kids for making her mad. i am very firm with her that she may not intimidate my children and it's her responsibility to go somewhere and cool off. but she gets really angry with ME when i tell her this. she is 6!! she tries to intimidate me!!

anyway, i am wondering if this is something seen in gifted kids. 'cause it certainly doesn't come from her parents. they are both quakers and the kindest, most loving and gentle parents. they have both tried really hard to set limits with her and make her understand how harmful her behavior is, and i'm sure they have curbed a lot of what might be really problematic behavior, but it still affects my kids. i especially hate it when she splits my kids when she is angry one of them. she can also be really verbally cruel to my 3 year old... which also gets me going. i spend time with my GF at least twice a week. (we are close friends and writing a book together) sometimes my DS doesn't want to see her because of how she acted the time before. and i find sometimes i don't want them to spend time with her either.

anyone have any suggestions, insight, etc....

mom2ponygirl's Avatar mom2ponygirl 11:55 PM 05-18-2010
Well I think you find meanness in kids without giftedness as well. However, a highly verbal gifted kid with a mean streak is hard to deal with - they have a lot of power at their disposal. I know many highly gifted kids who are extremely empathetic and sweet, I don't think meanness and giftedness go together any more than any other personality trait and IQ.

With my friend's son with this combo - we really did have to limit contact for some time. The mom was always willing to remove him from the situation when he had difficulties. As a teen, he still has some of these tendencies, but my dd is also older and it is easier to talk over why he behaves the way he does. He also will respond to another adult telling him to cool it. I don't think he would have at 7.

Good luck - it is a really tough place to be. Have they considered any counseling? She needs other kids to work on her social skills, but you can't sacrifice your own children if she is so hurtful. I would encourage your friend to seek help with dealing with her daughter and helping you find tools to keep your kids safe with her as well.
umami_mommy's Avatar umami_mommy 12:00 AM 05-19-2010
yeah, i guess what i mean is she seems like she is acting like a teen, but coming from the place of a 7 year old... if that makes sense. reacting to things a 7 year old reacts to, but in the way a much older child would.

maybe that doesn't make sense?

i guess maybe i mean social difficulties due to very uneven development.
whatsnextmom's Avatar whatsnextmom 12:08 AM 05-19-2010
It's certainly something we've experienced though I'd say the child mentioned is an extreme case that would be more a personality issue exacerbated by the giftedness.

My DD's GATE peers has been a constant frustration for her over the years. Most in that class are just not nice. Many are innapropriately argumentative as opposed to using debate to learn. Many have poor work ethics despite our district being extremely flexible with gifted children. Many feel above their peers, their teachers, their work even when it's a true challenge for them. There are 3 boys that bully my DS. 2 of which are also in his gifted class. I would say that most of these kids are just poorly parented though. Many parents of gifted children are too quick to excuse poor behavior on intelligence. Many put up with disrespectful attitude because they mistake it with a healthy dose of questioning authority. A child is well within his rights to ask why, to debate the merits of certain rules, ect. No one should belittle another to get their point across. Unfortuantely, I see many parents of gifted children fall into this trap and end up with kids who treat them and everyone else terribly!

My own kids prefer the company of other high-achievers (gifted or not) or kids who share their passions (gifted or not.)
no5no5's Avatar no5no5 12:47 AM 05-19-2010
Well, based on my limited experience I have not found giftedness to correlate with mean behavior. I've witnessed a lot of kids act like that, and they have typically been ND kids. They have often been poorly (not gently) parented, but not always.

In your situation, it might be more helpful to think about ways to help your kids deal with this behavior than to wonder about why she acts like that. Perhaps that might mean that they really needs to spend less time with her. I understand that might be hard, but perhaps if you all need to get together your son could bring a book and tell her that he wants to read instead of playing. Perhaps you could promise your kids that you will leave immediately if she is mean, and then stick to it. I really don't think it is fair to force your kids into her company twice a week if she is going to be verbally abusive to them. If your son is saying that he doesn't want to be with her, I would respect that.
emmaegbert's Avatar emmaegbert 02:25 AM 05-19-2010
I went to an elementary school that was highly selective and for gifted kids. There were all types in there are some seriously mean girls. I don't think its a gifted thing, per se, but she may be more effective at playing mind games b/c of her intelligence.

I second the idea that you help coach your kids on how to respond- or, protect the younger child and coach the older one. I've had to do that with a very mean and smart neighbor girl who is 2.5 years older than my son. She has mellowed some (her parents are the nicest people, and they *have* worked hard with her setting limits, etc) and what is really interesting is that the more my son has figured out how to stand up to her, the more she actually seems to like playing with him. I also found that with this neighbor girl, being extremely clear and direct with her was helpful (like, call her out on stuff. Not in a mean, retaliatory way, but just really clear. Tell her what the boundaries are. Now, this may be hard if you are in her house, but kind of let her know you know what she is doing, and you are the boss, not her?)

Our mean neighbor still can cause a lot of strife if she gets going with a group of the kids, and if the adults aren't available to put out fires as they happen. But she's gotten much better.
Linda on the move's Avatar Linda on the move 10:21 AM 05-19-2010
I think her behavoir sounds so over the edge that it could be a personality disorder.

I wouldn't force my child to spend time with a child like that, and I would be clear (though kind) with the parents.

She needs help. This isn't going to get easier for her parents as she gets older. Imagine her behavoir in a 12 year old who is your height and hormonal. I'd suggest the parents get a professional involved.

It's NOT a gifted trait. Both my kids are sweeties. Giftedness, however, makes it more difficult to deal with it. She capable of being far more manipulative because she's smarter.
umami_mommy's Avatar umami_mommy 10:26 AM 05-19-2010
that's quite a leap... a personality disorder. in a 6 year old.

sheesh.
karne's Avatar karne 11:00 AM 05-19-2010
I don't experience meanness w/my kid-really the opposite, actually. I wouldn't label this as acting like a teen either-my pre-teen and the teens I know are really nice kids.

It sounds as though this child could benefit from some social skills training.
connieculkins's Avatar connieculkins 11:09 AM 05-19-2010
I don't like mean kids and I don't like mean adults...and no, I don't think it is related to giftedness, but I do think genetics plays a role in some kids. It's funny, but I can often tell which adults used to be 'mean kids' even though they have learned how to appear nice. I don't know if it's the body language they give off or what, but even when they are seemingly nice I get a mean vibe off of them. They also tend to be more cliquish than others although they probably see it as being 'involved with the community and their church'. Not coincidentally it is these very same people whose kids are suddenly becoming the clique forming bullies. If there are genes that code for this behavior I'm sure they had some evolutionary advantage which is why they persist to this day, but boy, does it get me mad. And now my kids have to deal with it.
umami_mommy's Avatar umami_mommy 11:13 AM 05-19-2010
Quote:
Originally Posted by karne View Post

It sounds as though this child could benefit from some social skills training.
i agree. i wonder what might be helpful.
umami_mommy's Avatar umami_mommy 11:17 AM 05-19-2010
connie,

i believe that kids (like adults) do well if they can. if they aren't it's for a reason. they are struggling, usually with some deficit.

if my friend's DD is struggling with being kind, it's because something is happening she needs help with. it doesn't matter if it don't like it. i don't like it when my 3 year old chooses to poop in her pants. but i help her with it. that's my whole point of this thread. to get sme ideas about what i can do to help.
sapientia's Avatar sapientia 11:27 AM 05-19-2010
seems like the child is using their powers for evil, not good.

My gifted daughter is super quick-and can hold her own in any debate with an adult (she's 13) and sometimes she lets her 'ability' override her common sense...she can seem relentless and I have to talk to her about considering the other person, that the person is more important than winning the debate, you know? SOmetimes she needs to work at a little more consideration...but outright meanness-no, and not in her gifted friends as a rule.
Seems like there needs to be some empathy developed in the child mentioned.
umami_mommy's Avatar umami_mommy 11:36 AM 05-19-2010
anyone have any suggestions for empathy development in children?
physmom's Avatar physmom 11:57 AM 05-19-2010
Ok, please no but I remember going through a pretty mean streak when I was a little older than that girl you described. For me there were a ton of crazy things going on in my life. We just went through a move, I had a less than stellar home life, and I was in a SUPER strict religious school/church where I spent most of the day practicing my handwriting. (something I am STILL horrible at)

Anyways, I went through a stage where I was picking on one girl in particular (I thought she was my friend and I thought we were making jokes, I didn't realize it was hurting her). It really took someone nicely calling me out on my actions (and it wasn't my parents who did it). At the time, it was somewhat related to giftedness because it was in a program where I was really bored and instead of accommodating for me, they taught to her level so I think I was blaming it on her (I can see that now but I definitely didn't realize that was what I was doing at the time). Some of the leaders there just really didn't seem to like me and I couldn't figure out why.

So I guess, what I'm trying to say is that even with the nicest parents there are external factors that can cause meanness and that can be related to giftedness. I'm not sure that's what's going on with her but I do appreciate that lady who called me out on my behavior because at the time I just didn't realize it was harmful. She came to me very gently and said it (but also very clearly). It probably also would've helped if I was in a more accommodating program but I guess you can't have everything in life...
Linda on the move's Avatar Linda on the move 12:34 PM 05-19-2010
Quote:
Originally Posted by umami_mommy View Post
that's quite a leap... a personality disorder. in a 6 year old.
It is a leap, but her behavoir is manipulative, controlling, and cruel and nothing her parents have tried is helping.

Quote:
Originally Posted by umami_mommy View Post
but she has a serious mean streak. i have never seen a 6 year old talk abut ranking her friends (man is this hurtful to some of her friends), do such splitting (pitting one kid against another), threaten others if she doesn't get her way, and be so quick to verbally squash anyone she disagrees with. every time we get together it's something with her. she needs to dominate and control most social settings.
Quote:
she always blames others for her aggressive behavior. if she blows up, she blames the kids for making her mad....... but she gets really angry with ME when i tell her this. she is 6!! she tries to intimidate me!!
Quote:
she can also be really verbally cruel to my 3 year old....
I wouldn't have my children around her. At all. And if I liked the parents I would gently suggest they seek professional help with her -- a counselor who works with children.

Empathy generally develops naturally in children if they are treated with empathy and gently encouraged to be empathetic. That's totally lacking in a child with nice parents who are trying to set limits sounds to me like something is off.

And none of this is "acting like a teen." I have older kids (12 and 13) and they are very nice.
Juvysen's Avatar Juvysen 02:11 PM 05-19-2010
My 4 yr old is going through something similar... she's especially controlling with DS1... but then, she has a 2 mo old brother, so I think she just feels like she needs more control over her life. We're working on it...

It's hard because she's extremely good at knowing exactly which buttons to push to get the best response. She generally doesn't try it with me, though, but she *has* been having tantrums...

Anyway, i'm interested in knowing how to help her understand what's socially acceptable and what's not, beyond just brute force from me.
umami_mommy's Avatar umami_mommy 03:47 PM 05-19-2010
linda, do you have any evidence that children as young as 6 can be actually diagnosed with personality disorders? i was under the impression that since young children are still developing that PD were for ages 16 and above.

this very gifted little girl is also very imaginative, engaging, caring and sensitive. she is sometimes fearful and overwhelmed with social and new situations.

if i had to pin point what was happening with her i would say that there were some very real deficits with social skills, cognitive flexibility skills and empathy. she is not evil, disordered or needing to be isolated. she needs understanding and compassionate adults who can guide her and provide her with good modeling.
no5no5's Avatar no5no5 04:14 PM 05-19-2010
Quote:
Originally Posted by umami_mommy View Post
anyone have any suggestions for empathy development in children?
I am hesitant to really get into this, simply because she's not your kid. As close as you are, you really don't know what's going on with her as well as her own parents do. There could be many different issues at play, and how her behavior should be dealt with depends on the reasons for it. In dealing with my friends' kids, I see my role as simply helping my own children articulate their own feelings. The rest is up to the parents.
umami_mommy's Avatar umami_mommy 05:30 PM 05-19-2010
her mom and i had a discussion today and she is totally willing to look at any resources i send her regarding empathy skills training. i am also interested for my kid, who struggles with this too. (he is impulsive and can be explosive)
ssh's Avatar ssh 05:36 PM 05-19-2010
Quote:
Originally Posted by umami_mommy View Post
that's quite a leap... a personality disorder. in a 6 year old.

sheesh.
I've taught gifted kids and I don't think this is a 'gifted trait'. It sounds more like a normal girl trait, wanting to micromanage/control things even people, that's being intensified by the child's verbal skills. It's really common for some kids to try to organize play and social encounters in a way that comes off as bossy and mean.

I'm not an expert, but I'd take the child aside everytime it happens and talk to her about why the behavior hurts other people and also talk about ways she can feel in control and socially secure without hurting peoples feelings. She could probably understand the basic ideas involved in the idea of diplomacy and the importance of being able to be part of a team. Even simple ideas like 'being well liked gives you more social control', and 'people like and want to be with people they think are nice' could help. Has anyone been talking to her about the possible consequences of the behaviors?

I've been talking about possible consequences of social behavior with my DD, age 4.5, for over a year. She's really intense, so her issues had to do with being loud or intimidatingly friendly. She also went through a brief bossy phase 5 months ago. We've also talked about what kind of person she wants to be and how people see us based on our behavior. So we can talk how her behavior doesn't match the person she feels that is. For example; "That sounded bossy and rude." DD says, "I'm not rude. I'm a friendly person." I reply "I know you're a friendly person, that's why I was letting you know how it sounded. You could hurt one of your friends feelings"... etc . I know it sounds kind of silly, but this type of reflective social coaching has really helped my DD get along better with other children.
umami_mommy's Avatar umami_mommy 05:51 PM 05-19-2010
ssh, you reply is very helpful. (and thoughtful) i am not sure how her mom talks to her about what is happening. they usually do it quietly away from everyone else.

i did talk directly to her and my DS the other day about some ganging up behavior with a friend's 5 year that i did not like. i spoke to them both about how important it is to show kindness when someone is having a hard time. i asked her if there were ever times *she* struggled with acting right and did she want others to be mean or kind to her in those situations. this seemed to resonated with her even though she tried to tell me she preferred meanness. my DS is actually a moosh and just needs a little prodding to act compassionate (though he can be really stubborn about forgiving others) so it seemed a positive chat for both of them. i will do it more with her when i think she can hear what i am saying.
ASusan's Avatar ASusan 06:05 PM 05-19-2010
**what follows is mostly OT and irrelevant to the child the OP is concerned about, but the embedded discussion of diagnosing personality disorders in childhood hit some of my buttons **

I don't know that personality disorders are *diagnosed* in childhood, but they certainly have their roots in childhood. Personality disorders are Axis II disorders, which, by definition, are life-long.

The military is getting out of paying benefits - even requiring recruits to pay back enlistment bonuses - because it is *diagnosing* anti-social personality disorder in troops returning from war. 1) to get a diagnosis of anti-social personality disorder, one must have problems that stem back to childhood; and (2) If there was a personality disorder, why didn't the military discover it upon screening tests during enlistment?



OP - I agree that social skills training could help the child. Google "social skills training gifted children" for some interesting reading (suggestions?).
Your talk with her and your child sounds like a good intervention on your part.
ssh's Avatar ssh 06:27 PM 05-19-2010
I was just rereading this thread, and was really put off by the labeling. It's really counterproductive to label little kids. They are still learning how to be social, learning to deal with their impulses while still developing a self image to base their behaviors on. Very few little kids want to be mean or especially disliked. They just need to have their own way or need to feel in control and don't realize how they are perceived. The conversation approach the OP used in her last post can be effective.
proudmamanow's Avatar proudmamanow 06:33 PM 05-19-2010
umami_mommy, I had to double check where you live because you sound a bit like you are describing my 5 yo. Right down to the Quaker parents!
We are actually just now starting family therapy and have found a WONDERFUL child psychologist. With dd we think she has sensory issues, is a very very sensitive & anxious kid. And one who processes all this by being mean & nasty & controlling at times, also physically & verbally aggressive sometimes too. We are on her like a dirty shirt about it, but she persists. She is extremely verbally gifted, but not good at expressing her emotions at all. And seems to get overwhelmed very easily.

Thankfully she is not old enough to figure out how to do some of the social stuff you describe, in fact she tends to get left out rather than anything else at this point--this despite desperately wanting to be included and loving her friends.

But I feel for your friends and I salute you for being such a caring friend.
Linda on the move's Avatar Linda on the move 07:43 PM 05-19-2010
Quote:
Originally Posted by proudmamanow View Post
We are actually just now starting family therapy and have found a WONDERFUL child psychologist. With dd we think she has sensory issues, is a very very sensitive & anxious kid. And one who processes all this by being mean & nasty & controlling at times
Good for you for getting help with your DD and with how to best parent her while she is young!
umami_mommy's Avatar umami_mommy 09:21 PM 05-19-2010
proudmama, you are also describing my friend's DD. she is very anxious to be every one's "best" friend. i think she is acting in the only way she knows to try and control social situations that seem totally out of her control.

a tak with her mom today reveals that mom and dad both feel they aren't so good at empathy. so i guess we can all use some help in that area!
Bird Girl's Avatar Bird Girl 02:56 AM 05-20-2010
I will say that my experience has been that children (and adults, and dogs, and macaques and pretty much every social animal that's been studied) find that holding power over another individual is self-reinforcing; that is, bullying, when it results in a satisfying feeling of control or power will provide its own reward and tend to recur.

I handle bullying by pointing out directly the harm that's being done, and the insult to the bullied child. I do like to handle it right out in the open, in a sort of "in your face" style to the bully child, because that saps their sense of triumph and turns that satisfied brain feeling into one of shame. And that, to my mind, is appropriate, since the bully was usually trying to shame the bullied child just a moment before. I am never rude, but I do leave that "Miss Manners" feeling of having been informed, politely and directly, of rude and thoughtless behavior.

It is my personal view that if the bully child is allowed to keep that sense of superiority by avoiding a reprimand in public, and is instead called aside for a "discussion," that the self-reinforcing nature of the power-play will tend to cause that behavior to continue.

Other people don't believe that children engage in power plays. I don't mean to cause controversy. But bullying is a very damaging thing, equally to the bullied child and to the child who is allowed to develop her bullying tendencies, so I am ready to combat it strongly when I see it.
umami_mommy's Avatar umami_mommy 11:19 AM 05-20-2010
i guess bird girl i don't quite see her as a bully. i *do* think that if she was in a school setting without the close supervision of adults, she would become one. but she is homeschooled and so closely supervised 99% of the time.

why do i not see her is a bully... she doesn't quite seem sophisticated in her relationships with other kids. it seems to me (i could be wrong) a bully knows what he/she is doing when treating others they way they do. she doesn't seem to understand the consequences of her behavior. which is a hallmark of impulsive/explosive children, not a bully.
Linda on the move's Avatar Linda on the move 12:02 PM 05-20-2010
Quote:
Originally Posted by umami_mommy View Post
why do i not see her is a bully... she doesn't quite seem sophisticated in her relationships with other kids. it seems to me (i could be wrong) a bully knows what he/she is doing when treating others they way they do. she doesn't seem to understand the consequences of her behavior. which is a hallmark of impulsive/explosive children, not a bully.
but she's only 6 and she's very bright. Her underlining tendencies could become quite scary as she becomes more sophisticated.

Are her parents very clear on what behavoir is acceptable and what isn't? Some parents believe that kids should be given lots and lots of freedom and will naturally figure out and choose the high path. This may work for some kids, but it doesn't work for all kids.

Does either parent have an anger management problem? Even if the parents are basically nice people, having a parent who sometimes loses control can make it very difficult for a child. (and you might not know the answer to this)
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