The Unique Challenges of Raising a Highly Gifted Child
Doc Smitty discusses the myths, challenges and signs
Parenting is hard at times…for everyone. Each child presents their own unique challenges.
Highly gifted children are no different. While the problems may be different, it shouldn’t be considered “easy” by any means.
A new film titled, “Gifted,” tells the story of Mary, a highly-gifted, 7-year-old math prodigy. Mary, who is being raised by her uncle, is identified as highly gifted on her first day of school. She is offered a scholarship to a private school for gifted children, but her uncle wants her to remain in public school to keep his promise to give Mary a “normal childhood.”
But is the well-meaning uncle doing the right thing for his niece? Let’s take a look at this issue.
What is high giftedness?
The definitions may differ depending on who you ask but a commonly accepted measurement is a child with an IQ over 140 on a standardized IQ test or who have a profound developed talent in a particular area (music or math).
Do you think your child might be highly gifted?
Here are some traits that highly gifted children commonly show:
- Early reading (often as early as 2-3 years) and expansive vocabulary for age
- A long concentration span
- Learning in big, intuitive leaps
- Emotional sensitivity
If your child is identified as highly gifted, you will find that there are many different beliefs and opinions about what you should do for them. There are many things about them that defy logic and common sense. You will feel isolated at times and others will minimize your concerns because “what do you have to worry about?”
4 myths about highly gifted children
1. Highly gifted children don’t need extra help because they will “turn out just fine.”
The struggles that face gifted children may be different. Learning content and getting good grades might come easy (it doesn’t always, by the way). But, that doesn’t mean that you can leave them alone to their own and not pay attention.
Consider this: a highly gifted student with an IQ of 140 is different from average to the same degree as a child with an IQ of 60. We should not expect a child with an IQ of 140 to participate in a program without accommodations, period.
Because they identify quickly that they are different in many ways than their peers, they feel a strong desire to conform to those around them. This may mean acting out in unexpected ways or pretending to not know things that they have known for years. Over a long period of time, this need to conform can present an identity crisis which can lead to depression and anxiety. Being intentional and proactive about providing what they need can help to prevent these types of problems.
2. Highly gifted children should be “well-rounded.”
We should make efforts to be sure that we are providing help to nurture all children in their weaknesses and in their strengths. This is no different in children with high giftedness. The mistake that is often made is to try to steer them away from their area of interest because they are already far surpassing their peers.
What happens next? They can grow to dislike school because they are spending time on activities that do not interest them. We also delay or rob them the possibility of becoming the next great mathematician, author, computer programmer or musician.
Consider this analogy: If we had a star basketball player that was able to compete with students 4-5 years ahead of them in age, would we ask them to quit playing basketball for a few years and try baseball instead?
3. Keeping them with their age-matched peers is valued over their intellectual need.
The logic makes sense. Taking a highly gifted child, who already may feel different, and placing them in a higher grade for some (or all) of the courses could be a disaster. The problem is that research consistently shows the exact opposite to be true.
Highly gifted children who are accelerated to their academic needs consistently do better on assessments of mental health, future academic success, standardized testing and adjustment to adulthood.
Many people will look at you crazy for considering this and it’s not just grandparents and other parents. Even teachers and school administrators will talk about their concerns regarding acceleration and your child’s socio-emotional development. I highly suggest you read A Nation Deceived and A Nation Empowered which are reports that summarize the available data on this issue.
Acceleration may not be the right decision for every child but it should not be dismissed offhand without significant research.
4. Your school district will know what to do with your highly gifted child.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Teachers and administrators are required to have some amount of education in gifted training. However, because high giftedness is much more rare, they may not be experts in the unique needs that these children have. Because of their uncertainty, they often use the same strategies for all children who fall into their gifted program. This might work in some aspects but, over time, highly gifted children may start to show needs that don’t fit within the general strategy for giftedness that is deployed across the district.
I encourage you to do your research and learn as much as you can about highly gifted children. In addition, become a student of your child- their interests, academic strengths/weaknesses and their sensitivities that may require unique approaches to their education. Take the information that you have and go to your school with a collaborative approach. In the end, we all want the best education for our children so it is important to become allies with the school in the development of a plan for your child.
Parenting a highly gifted child can be a great joy. Seeing them excel far beyond what they “should” be able to do can give you immense pride. Take the challenges head on and be proactive to learn about your child including what is best for the social, emotional and educational needs.
About The Author
Justin Smith is a pediatrician and the Medical Advisor for Digital Health for Cook Children’s in Fort Worth, Texas. He has an active community on both Facebook and Twitter as @TheDocSmitty and writes weekly for Cook Children’s checkupnewsroom.com. His interest in communications started when he realized that his parents were relying more on the internet for medical information. He believes that strategic use of social media and technology by pediatricians to connect with families can deepen their relationship and provide a new level of convenience for both of their busy lifestyles. Dr. Smith’s innovative pediatric clinic, a pediatric clinic “designed by you,” is set to open in Trophy Club in 2017.