The Joys and Challenges of Gifted Children

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Recently, I was reading a blog post on Gifted Children. This Mom had a unique perspective on just what it takes to raise a gifted child (being that all 3 of hers were). To her, having a gifted child, was not much different than having a special needs child. In a way, I can see her point. There are definitely challenges in motivating the exceptionally smart children.

Jennifer, the author of the blog I was reading says, “In my observation, there are Really Smart Kids, and there are Gifted Kids – and the parents of the Really Smart Kids have the better end of the deal. True giftedness not only involves intelligence, but thinking so outside the box that the box is not even recognizable. Gifted kids think differently, learn differently, relate to people differently. They are often misunderstood by teachers and peers, and they often struggle with fitting in and feeling accepted. There is a lovely little term called “asynchronous development” that makes life oh-so-interesting: the gifted child may have the intelligence of one many years older, but his body, his maturity and his emotions are still at his biological age – or younger.”

Grace was a child with a huge vocabulary before most of the children her age were even talking in sentences. People commented all the time on how grown up she sounded because of this fact. When she was 3, she started reading. I didn’t feel like I had done anything special to get her to that point. She just came to me one day and said, “Mommy, I want to read this book to you.” I was blown away that she was able to read me the entire book, only needing help with one or two words!

I also knew at a very early age that she had a real talent for music. As an infant, I worked at a child care center almost an hour away. She came with me every day. On our commutes, she would sit in her car seat, trying to match pitches that I would sing to her. In her toddler years, she could hear a song one or two times, and know every word to the song. Before she was even walking, she’d be standing at the coffee table, tapping her feet to the rhythm of music. I knew I was going to have a very smart little girl with some huge talents!

We had always joked that we were NOT going to teach her to tie her shoes. After all, she needed to be able to learn SOMETHING in Kindergarten! Surprisingly, tying ended up being something she struggled with. In Kindergarten, she was already reading at about a 2nd grade reading level. She was identified as “Gifted”, and put into a special program with other advanced readers. I was so glad she was put into that program. Up until that point, I wondered why I even bothered to send her to Kindergarten. Sure, she benefited socially, but academically, she was bored. The gifted teacher she worked with did a great job in challenging her to read more carefully, and gave her tips to push learning to the next level. She has continued to work with this teacher several times a year for the past several years. Now that she is a 4th grader, she is preparing for the statewide Battle of the Books. She is having a hard time getting motivated to read the books because, as she says, the books on the list are too easy.

While she is a very smart girl, she lacks some (OK, a lot) in the area of self-motivation. Things come so easy to her, that she doesn’t want to take the time to work at them. The idea of doing extra, just ’cause? Not in her line of thinking! Here’s an example: Grace has been in dance since she was 3. This year, she was invited to join the competition dance group. I’m so proud of her! At the same time, I get so frustrated watching her. I know she can do the moves, and I know she has room for improvement. She just doesn’t push herself!

Sadly, I can’t get too upset with her, because I was the same way! When I was in 5th or 6th grade, I was identified as gifted. I was in a program called “High Potential.” I was pulled out with some other children. I may have been a bit advanced in some areas, but I never quite felt like I belonged in that group. I was terrible at math, and because I struggled in that one area, I didn’t think I was as smart as the other kids in the group. Like my daughter, I didn’t push myself. I didn’t try at anything quite as hard as I could have. I went through school in advanced classes, and most of it was easy (though, history had a lot of numbers, so it wasn’t my strongest area). I couldn’t understand kids who struggled to read. Also, I played the flute. It came fairly easy to me (granted, if I had practiced, I probably would have been much better). I got by on my ability alone. I was in dance classes from 2nd grade through 10th grade. I danced at the competitive level for a couple of years, until I hurt my knee in 9th or 10th grade. Looking back, I wish I would have pushed myself harder. Instead of just getting by all those years, I wish I would have taken everything to the next level and just TRIED. I can only imagine where my music, dance, and even academics might have gone!

Michael is a Kindergartner. He began reading last spring. I was so excited, I tried to push him. He shut down and decided to quit reading altogether. His interest is back in reading these days. His teacher informed me just today that he is among the Top 10 Readers in all the kindergarten classes at his school. Problem is, he won’t read for anyone else except me. He refused to read for the teacher who wanted to “test” his ability in order to pull him out for a special guided reading group. His teacher opted not to force him, for fear he would shut down. I think that was a good choice – for now. My challenge now is to figure out how to build his confidence so that he can realize his true ability.

Going back to the blog that got me on this topic for a second. Jennifer says that it is important for parents to advocate for their children. We need to work with teachers to help our children, and to ensure they are continually challenged. On this point, I agree 100%. It was a struggle for me and it is a struggle for both of my kids who seem to be on the advanced end of the spectrum. Not only is it important to make sure our kids are challenged, it is also important to help them stay motivated (as they may struggle with motivating themselves). Our children who are either truly gifted, or just really smart, may have a hard time fitting in with their “average” peers. We need to not only advocate for them with their teachers, but we also need to support them in their struggles. The same is true with any child. It is part of our duty as parents.

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