Saturday, May 3, 2014

Why is the "gifted" label so threatening?

What is it about the "gifted" label that creates such controversy?

Parents of gifted children, who harness the courage to advocate for appropriate educational services, must navigate a maze of criticism and skepticism from opponents who doubt the validity of the concept. Often met with blank stares at parent-teacher conferences, school board meetings, and parent groups, they feel alone and misunderstood.

Not unlike their children: alone and misunderstood.

How does the label of "gifted" play a role?

When parents who love and adore their children cherish the gift of their very being, it can seem like an assault to their senses when told their child is not "gifted." How can that be? What makes your child more of a gift than mine?

And so the controversy begins. A simple label, grounded in IQ scores above 130, emotional excitabilities, and exceptional talents beyond the norm, incites bitterness and envy. As all parents grapple with their child's strengths and weaknesses, a debate about "gift as a blessing" vs. "gifted as a technical term" obscures meaning.

In an earlier post, I advocated for a name change. Yet, there is also reason to question whether finding a new label will matter. After all, gifted children will continue to stand out from the crowd, draw attention to themselves, and risk envy, ridicule and derision from peers. Gifted has been a familiar term, used for decades, and changing it may create confusion and misunderstanding. And change could be seen as a concession to social/cultural forces steeped in ignorance. Nevertheless, a different name might help to eliminate one of the many barriers gifted children face.

Until then, efforts needed to address the controversy include:
Education. (Ironically.) Teachers, administrators and policy-makers need training in gifted education. Specifically. Not just a half-day seminar, but extensive training and supervision, certification, and continuing education.
Advocacy. Parents didn't sign up for this, but must absorb the burden until improved services are available. Parents of gifted children understand the dilemma better than anyone, and their continued advocacy on a local, state and national level is essential.
Communication. Explaining, describing and clarifying what gifted means in every conversation about it will educate others. This does not mean apologizing for your child's abilities or balancing your child's strengths with a quick acknowledgment of his or her weaknesses. Parents of gifted children are entitled to express pride, disappointment, joy, excitement, and all of the other emotions inherent in parenting, without shame.
Without a name change, parents are left to advocate, educate and clarify each time they use the term "gifted."

Until others get it.

Until it is less threatening.

Until it is understood.

This blog is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page inaugural Blog Hop on The “G” Word (“Gifted”).  To read more blogs in this hop, visit this Blog Hop at


  1. I think it's deeper than a label. I think that most people equate a very large sense of their self-worth with their innate "intelligence", far more so than any other intrinsic characteristic. This is why it is so threatening to most people to consider that another person may be more intelligent than they are, because they see that as a direct threat to their own worth as a person. Where we separate out e.g. sporting or musical prowess, from our notion of worthiness as a person, intelligence is more fundamental and people are not able to isolate it as a trait that confers no intrinsic additional worth on a person. Also, high intelligence is often assumed to bring high material or social rewards. If we valued integrity, honesty, kindness etc above social standing, power, and any individual skill or proficiency, then maybe others would find the notion of "giftedness" less threatening. Until then, when we say "my child is gifted", many people hear "my child is worth more than yours", and it doesn't matter what label is used, that's what's going to be heard.

    1. Anonymous. Really well put about the idea of worth, and how, despite the label, others feel devalued if their intelligence is on the line. I really like your comment about valuing kindness, integrity, etc. as so much more important. Meanwhile, we have to sort out how to advocate for the needs of gifted individuals without inciting so much backlash among those who feel threatened. Thanks for your comments.

  2. We are encountering this for the first time. Having moved to a new town, my son who has been proud of being "gifted" in the past is being treated badly by his peers who see it as thinking he is better than others (which he does not). When he tries to blend in by telling other boys they are gifted in football, for example, that has not worked. Kids as well as adults feel threatened by the gifted child, and we are at our wits end with my son crying and not having friends. And even teachers do not take well - especially if they are corrected (albeit very tactfully). I wonder if changing the word would make any difference.

    1. So sorry that your son has to endure this situation. Good luck.