How do children come to terms with their own giftedness?
What happens when giftedness is veiled in mystery, minimized, discounted, or ignored?* What happens when children overhear that they are gifted, but the concept is never explained to them? How do they comprehend the term, interpret expectations from adults around them, or understand that they are differently wired than their neurotypical classmates? How do they grapple with heightened sensitivity, difficulty relating to same-age peers, or despair when their passion for learning is thwarted in classes that lack challenge and engagement?
While each gifted child is different, most form conclusions about what giftedness means. Just like wrestling with a Rubix cube, curious and determined, they sort through the information they receive and try to figure it out.
- They may compile information based on what teachers, you as their parent, or neighborhood children say.
- They may overhear hushed comments filled with awe from adults, and feel pressure to succeed.
- They notice their teacher's frustration when they raise their hands too often or when additional enrichment is required and may assume that their drive for learning is a nuisance.
- They feel betrayed when peers rely on them for homework advice, but reject them on the playground.
- They may field taunts from other kids. Nerd. Geek. Brainiac.
- They don't understand why their gifted class or program is viewed with skepticism, envy, or unwarranted praise.
- They absorb impressions from negative portrayals in literature or film - from Sheldons to Sherlocks - where gifted role models are displayed as effeminate, socially clueless, arrogant men or unattractive, lonely women.
- They recognize that they learn faster and with more depth and curiosity than many of their peers, find themselves bored and waiting for other kids to catch up, and become impatient with others around them.
- They learn to distrust authority figures whose ideas seem simplistic and uninspiring.
Gifted children will form their own conclusions. And this may be a problem.
Astute and sensitive, gifted children try to understand the conflicting information they receive about giftedness. But despite their curious and deep-thinking minds, they struggle to comprehend. Are they better than the other kids? Why are classes easier and yet, more tedious than they seem for others? Why can't they fit in with kids their age, or at least share the same interests? Are they always expected to get good grades or be the best? They didn't do anything to "earn" their gifted status. Is it a burden they must bear, or a vehicle for amazing opportunities?
Despite debates about whether giftedness is good or bad - or appeals to eliminate the construct altogether - gifted children know they are different. Attempts to minimize or deny or pretend their giftedness does not exist only confuse the matter. It denies what they already suspect about themselves, and can fuel apathy and despair once they realize that the adults in charge will never understand them. The unfortunate belief that acknowledging a child's giftedness will hurt them misses the point. These children are gifted, and need your help to understand what it means - not a blanket denial that their perceptions are false.
It falls on you to help your child understand their giftedness and place it in context.* Without your careful, attuned explanation of giftedness, they will form their own conclusions. You can help them understand their strengths and weaknesses, appreciate that giftedness is only one aspect of who they are, and recognize that they are no more special than any other child. Help them recognize that while they are no more responsible for their giftedness than their eye color, they have control over how they utilize their abilities. They will face options in terms of educational and career paths and must sort through their multiple talents to define a clear direction. They will need to learn how to accommodate their heightened sensitivities and adapt to the schools/jobs/social circumstances they encounter along the way. Most importantly, they need to know that you will love them no matter what, that their giftedness has no impact on how you feel about them, and that you will support them as they face the choices and opportunities ahead.
*Articles related to these topics can be found in the new GHF book, Perspectives on Giftedness.