3 Things Gifted Kids Need

Factors that lead to success

School boy sitting cross legged on desk in front of blackboard
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We frequently hear that "gifted kids have it made," that they have all the advantages in life, and that they need nothing special. We also hear how gifted kids shouldn't be pressured to achieve, that we need to let them be kids. We hear that kids aren't really gifted if they don't achieve. We hear all kinds of things about gifted kids. We get "advice" from everywhere. Sometimes the advice is well-meaning and sometimes it's not.

It can leave parents of gifted kids wondering just exactly what it is they are supposed to do for their children. We can simplify that advice by singling out the three things that gifted kids need.

To Be With Others Like Them

Gifted children often feel like misfits, particularly when they are in classes with age mates, none of whom are also gifted. Gifted kids tend to follow an asynchronous path of development, which means that although they may be eight chronologically, they might be closer to ten or eleven intellectually. That, in turn, means that gifted child have more in common intellectually with ten and eleven year olds than they do with eight year olds. It also means that they are unlikely to be well understood by their classmates, and they may have a difficult time fitting in socially with them.

Everyone needs to feel as though they belong. We all want to fit in somewhere, so we form friendships with people with whom we share interests and who understand us.

Imagine going through life surrounded by people who don't understand you, who don't get your jokes, who don't share your interests and may even think you're "weird" for just being who you are. You would feel alone. You would feel like a misfit who didn't belong anywhere.

This is exactly how many gifted kids feel when they do not have the opportunity to be with other gifted kids, particularly those who share their interests.

A verbally gifted child who wants to write stories or study language being surrounded by mathematically gifted kids who want to work out complex math problems isn't going to feel as though he fits in, even though he's with other gifted kids. Gifted kids, like all of us, need true peers.

To Be Challenged in School

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find any support for the idea that children should not be challenged in school. If children aren't challenged, how would they learn the importance of perserving, of hard work and effort? How would they learn to meet the challenges in life? And yet we know that many gifted children aren't challenged in school. One reason for this lack of challenge is a result of several myths about gifted children. One such myth is that they will do just fine without any additional services or accommodations. But this isn't true. Gifted children may become underachievers in school, or although they may be getting straight A's, but they aren't having to work hard for those A's and are therefore not learning the value of effort.

Instead of getting academic accommodations, gifted kids are often asked to perform as teacher's helpers. Since they have already mastered the material being studied, they are asked to tutor those students who need additional help learning and understanding the material. While some children enjoy this role, many do not. And whether they enjoy it or not, they are not being challenged in a more appropriate envrionment with more difficult material.

To Be Treated as Normal

When some parents and teachers discover that a child is gifted, they somehow feel that the child must be treated differently. They may expect more from the child than they did before. They may think that since the child has exceptional ability, they must perform exceptionally. They put more pressure on these kids to perform than they put on other children.

Even if they don't realize a child is gifted, they may treat the child differently. For instance, they may see that an five-year-old child is bright and seems to think like an eight-year-old, so they begin to treat that five-year-old as an eight-year-old. The problem here is that the child may still be a five-year-old emotionally. The adult then sees the child as being immature and treat him as though he is an immature eight-year-old rather than a five-year-old who requires a different emotional response from the adult. A five-year-old gifted child is still just five and in many ways is no different from other kids who are five.

Dealing with gifted kids isn't easy. If we don't single them out and provide them with the challenges they need, they can suffer from it. But if we do single them out and provide them with "special" accommodations, they can experience some negative reperussions. For one thing, many gifted programs really don't provide challenge in the sense of more difficult work or in-depth learning. Instead, they require more of the same work kids get in regular classes, four essays instead of three, for example. For another, some of the programs provide "fun" activities that are no more challenging or demanding than activities in regular classes.

The message gifted kids get, therefore, is either "you are special so you must work extra hard" or "you are special so you really don't need to work hard at all." Neither is a message we would give to other kids. Gifted kids need to be treated as the kids they are. They are advanced in some ways and in some areas, but not in others. They need challenge like any other child does, and they don't need more pressure than other kids do.

Final Thoughts

These three factors aren't needed just by gifted children, but by gifted adults as well. That is, gifted adults feel more satisfied and more as though they belong when they have contact with other gifted people. Studies reported in the article Looking Back on Lessons Learned: Gifted Adults Reflect on Their Experiences in Advanced Classes indicate that the other two factors were also important. Gifted adults reported that advanced classes had been beneficial. The studies also indicate that what leads to success in other children is the same as what leads to success in gifted kids: hard work, emotional support, and a positive, open outlook.

Source: Perrone, K. M, Wright, S. L., Ksiazak, T. M., Crane, A. L., Vannatter, A. (2010). Looking back on lessons learned: Gifted adults reflect on their experiences in advanced classes. Roeper Review 32(2), 127-139.

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