September 16, 2013

Being Gifted Isn’t Always A Gift


Gifted Kids

Like most parents of a gifted child (although I hate the word gifted and prefer to say “high ability”, I’ll go with gifted because that’s what most people use), I sit in awe of what my daughter is capable of doing, understanding, and achieving. Most things come easy to her. This isn’t a brag. It’s her reality. She knows she’s smart, and she knows she’s different. Both of these she’s known for a long time.

Since she was 2 or 3 she’s known she’s different. When you can read before you’re 2, you learn pretty quickly that you’re not like the other kids. And when you devour books like their potato chips, your ideas of what the world is or should be come very early. So when you’re around other kids who aren’t like you, you try really hard to be like them. Sometimes it works. And it may work for awhile. But then the gap widens and it’s harder to bridge that gap.

You’d think being with other gifted kids would be awesome. For the most part it is. But, see, gifted kids are often very quirky kids. And they’re often very intense kids. Intensely emotional. Intensely focused. Intensely annoyed. If Emeril were a teacher he’d definitely say these kids are what happens when you kick it up a notch. Or two, or twenty, or a hundred.

People talk about being different and unique. That’s nice stuff. But for kids, it’s the last thing they want to be. Different isn’t cool. Even among gifted kids, being different means your peers may not want to be around you.

Then think about a room filled with gifted kids all vying for first place. Not everyone can be first. They know this, in theory. But in reality, when they’re not first – first in line, first to finish, first to raise your hand, etc. – the intensity can take over. There is no second place. For these kids there’s only first and not first.

We love to watch little kids do amazing things. But these are children, not circus performers. It’s a lot of pressure to be ‘on’. And what happens when they get older. Little kids doing these things are awe-inspiring. Then it becomes an expectation. When you’re 10 and expected to know as much as an adult, and often do, you don’t get the wide-eyed excitement. People expect a lot and these kids need to deliver. And for the most part they do, but without the applause or jaw drops. Being gifted and little and cute gets these kids lots of attention. Being a gifted tween? Meh.

Being gifted is like this. Sometimes it’s awesome, but it’s often lonely. When learning comes easy and you’re capable of doing things far beyond your age, but you’re still emotionally and physically your biological age it doesn’t matter how gifted you are. And when you just want to be friends with kids your age and you can’t figure out how to make it work, it hurts. You think there’s something wrong with you.

And when you think there’s something wrong with you, it doesn’t matter how gifted you are.

Image credit: JD Hancock creative commons. Text added to image.



Christine September 17, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Very well written and insightful as usual — I spent a lot of time trying to mask the ‘gifted’ to fit it…it was completely against my nature and everything I was taught to play dumb, but I learned that I was often better off to keep quiet. It was honestly in an executive coaching class peer forum that someone said to me – ‘do you think you’re fooling anyone – they all know anyway’ that it really clicked for me . My dad taught me to take a backseat – ‘if you have the answer before the rest of them even know the question’ – it takes awhile to be ok with that and figure out how to guide/coach in a non threatening and non arrogant way. Tweens and teens are just hard if you’re different.

Sara September 21, 2013 at 3:56 am

Not all gifted kids are high achievers. My son didn’t care about being first or doing well. He just cares about devouring information on his terms. Underachieving is a big problem for gifted kids.

Sara September 22, 2013 at 9:00 pm

You’re absolutely correct, Sara. We often don’t think about this aspect of gifted kids. Thank you for the reminder that not all gifted kids are driven for outward rewards.

kim/the maker mom September 27, 2013 at 11:59 pm

“these kids are what happens when you kick it up a notch. Or two, or twenty, or a hundred.” Uh, yeah. When my boys attended the gifted school, they actually had a special weekly class on affective issues. It gave them space to identify and discuss some of the common emotional issues (as well as things like sensitivities). It’s interesting that when I mention this to other parents of gifted kids, their reaction is “wow, that’s great/helpful/etc.” When I mention it to other parents (or even, recently public school educators) there’s a look of confusion and sometimes almost disgust over the idea of gifted kids talking about how they are different or special. Grrr.

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