Brooke: Today I took my 4-year-old in for his annual checkup, and some issues we’ve had recently regarding his behavior (he’s been argumentative and extremely difficult) came up. As the pediatrician and I discussed it further I also brought up the fact that he’s been bullied at preschool lately.
And then my son started reading all the signs in the room. He’d learned all the letters of the alphabet by the time he was 18 months old; he read his first words right before his second birthday and was reading sentences– sometimes a lot of them– by three. Now, at night when we put him to bed, half the time *he* reads *us* his bedtime stories.
I never wanted to slap the gifted label on him– I just wanted to think of him as a regular kid who happened to read early. But after this office visit, things are starting to make sense. The pediatrician looked me in the eye and said, “Your son is gifted, and it can be a really hard thing for both of you.” He advised me to find a preschool for gifted kids and get him in as soon as possible He also told me that a lot of the time younger gifted kids have behavioral problems because while they might be older intellectually, they’re still young emotionally.
It’s a lot to process. Of course I’ve been combing the internet, trying to put all the pieces together. Of course everyone wants to have a kid who’s talented and smart, but whatever is going on with my son comes with a lot of baggage for me (unresolved childhood issues) and quite a few downsides for him. He gets bored easily. It’s hard to keep him stimulated. He doesn’t have any symptoms of ADD/ADHD, but he’s very active. He needs less sleep than other kids his age.
It’s exhausting. It’s also a lot of pressure: what if he just hears how gifted he is over and over again and never learns that he has to work hard to accomplish his goals? What if being gifted means he’s doomed for a life of neuroses and anxiety and overanalysis? Is it really official if the pediatrician says so, or has it been official all along?
Melissa: My child is “gifted” you say feeling a little embarrassed because you don’t want to feel like you are bragging. The truth is that it is not always something to brag about. The difficulties that come along with finding engaging education, interesting yet age appropriate social interaction and dealing with the emotional challenges of being different from peers is not always something others consider when you say your child is “gifted”. They usually just look at you like you must be so fortunate.
Giftedness is especially difficult for schools to deal with because of the lack of resources to differentiate the curriculum enough to engage the gifted child. So many times the focus of the resources that are available go to the children that are not meeting the academic benchmarks. Parents of gifted children are in a constant struggle to help get their child’s academic needs get met and often times the schools can not provide a viable solution. This leaves it up to the parents to find engaging activities for their child.
The problem is that if the academic needs of the gifted child are not being met, your child can become bored and be mistaken for having an attention or behavior disorder. It seems like every time you approach someone about your child’s special “gifted” needs, they look at you as if you should feel lucky, not complaining. Little do they know there are very high rates of depression and suicide among gifted teens because of lack of challenge, boredom and depression.
It can become a real struggle for a parent to not have support and understanding from the public educational system. When you turn to private education for your gifted child it usually comes with a huge price tag and many times they can’t come up with a great solution to meet the needs of the gifted child either.
Not only do gifted children become frustrated because they can not be fully engaged in school, but also because their minds are running much faster than their maturity level. So many times the gifted child has trouble relating to peers because their thought processes are of a much older age. This can become confusing because the child is drawn to an older group, but many not be as emotionally mature. They can really struggle to figure out where they fit in.
It is a very tough situation for parents to help their child navigate and many times you become the target of your gifted child’s emotional distress. It may come out as anger, frustration, aggressiveness, or depression. Many times parents feel at a loss when trying to maintain calmness in the midst of all these emotions. Sometimes you may not even understand why the emotional outbursts are happening. The truth is that usually the child doesn’t know how to articulate it either.
It is important to understand that there may not be a particular reason, but it may be an accumulation of many things. For gifted children it is important to be patient and empathic but at the same time to set boundaries so they feel safe. Since their minds are usually far more developed than their emotions, it is your job to contain them. This is sometimes an emotionally draining job for parents especially when everyone around you just thinks that having a gifted child is a gift.