Monday, February 5, 2024

You Can't Fool a Gifted Kid; They Spot Inauthenticity a Mile Away

Gifted children come equipped with an attuned awareness of the world around them. 

Sometimes this attunement comes in different flavors. Some gifted kids use logic, and even mathematical equations to figure things out. Others are hit with insight like a lightning bolt. Still others feel profound empathy. They easily spot kindness. They cringe when confronted with duplicitous behavior or meanness. They question why bullying and nastiness and deception exist at all; it is harsh and mean... and doesn't make any sense.



You can't fool them. You can't cajole them. You can't pretend. Gifted kids spot inauthenticity, falsehoods, injustice, unfairness, and just plain foolishness a mile away. They have no patience for pettiness, spitefulness, false bravado, or fake friendliness. They have no respect for pretenders and posers. They cannot tolerate teachers who seem to lack depth or clarity about what they are teaching - and get in trouble for eye rolling, reading a book in their laps, or asking pertinent and confrontational questions. 


But as long as authenticity is part of the equation, they will be accepting and forgiving. 


They understand that all adults make mistakes, that their friends can have a bad day, and that teachers are imperfect. They accept apologies and are typically compassionate toward another's struggles. Some of their existential distress - especially common among gifted teens - stems from a deep disappointment that their family members, educators, religious leaders, politicians, or community members seem duplicitous, unkind, or willing to follow set values and doctrine they feel make no sense. Underlying their existential angst is despair. They feel adrift once they have lost faith in those people and institutions they once trusted. 


Your gifted child may not necessarily agree with your rules; they may complain and groan and relentlessly challenge you. But ultimately, they recognize when your decisions make sense. They may not like putting down their toys for bedtime or limiting snacks before dinner or taking out the trash, but they realize that these "rules" makes sense, despite their unpleasantness. They recognize that you are attuned to their needs, even if they grumble and complain. However, if their bedtime, for example, is much earlier than the norm among their friends or if it makes no sense to them, they will bristle, feel despair (that their developmental or seemingly age-appropriate needs are misunderstood), and perhaps, start to lie and find a workaround.


Of couse, they may not always act like they have a clue. Many are sociallly awkward, impatient with their peers, quick to challenge authority, or hide their attuned self in order to fit in. They may be rigid and judgmental and self-righteous, regardless of how much their actions might hurt those around them. Some of these behaviors stem from asynchronous development, where maturity lags behind their cognitive abilities or even their given age. Other times, their sense of justice and and fairness rises up within them and they blurt out their frustration with little regard for its impact on others. With time and maturity, most learn how to temper their frustration and more tactfully express their complaints.


Parenting, teaching, or mentoring a gifted child can be tough. They spot every flaw and are quick to point them out! They expect authenticity and empathy and attunement. They won't hold a grudge when they realize you lied about Santa, but they might if they find liquor bottles hidden under the sink (and depair that you or your spouse/partner are unwilling to treat a drinking problem). They desperately need to trust you, rely on you, and feel that you love them deeply, regardless of their missteps, and that their giftedness or achievements are never tied to your love for them.


It's hard to be authentic and empathetic when life gets in the way. As a parent, finding support and peers who understand is just a critical as any parenting guidelines or philosophy. Understanding your own struggles, setting aside time for yourself, and finding friends who get you (including other parents of gifted kids) will support you while raising your complex and intense child. As I emphasize in my book, The Gifted Parenting Journey, a compassionate understanding of your own needs and finding adequate support is essential when raising any child - but especially a gifted or twice-exceptional child.