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The Gifted Child’s Struggle

Gifted Child’s Struggle

Gifted Child Video Course


The Gifted Child’s Struggle


“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: 

A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. 

To him… 

a touch is a blow, 

a sound is a noise, 

a misfortune is a tragedy, 

a joy is an ecstasy, 

a friend is a lover, 

a lover is a god, 

and failure is death. 

Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create – – – so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.”

Pearl Buck

Video preview:

Obviously, children who are gifted are going to surprise you early in their development by such characteristics as talking early with a vocabulary well beyond their age-peers, learning to read before kindergarten,  understanding addition and subtraction by early in kindergarten, intense curiosity, reduced need for sleep and increased energy level. Not all gifted children develop the same or show all of these characteristics. See for a more comprehensive list of early signs of giftedness.


My focus today is on ways giftedness can create problems and conflicts; being gifted can also mean difficulty socializing with age peers, thinking styles that don’t always mesh well with the demands from the environment, even children who see themselves as little adults, challenging teachers and parents.


I remember being in the second grade with Mrs. Hefty. At the time I was very interested in learning about all of the creatures living outdoors; insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, birds. I remember struggling to stay still and pay attention to the boring once upon a time stories the teacher read during reading circle, and wondering why we couldn’t be outside experiencing life and learning about what was real. If the teachers are so smart, I remember thinking, why don’t they give the answers while the students ask the questions. I got in trouble a lot. “Mrs. Mason, Bradley doesn’t sit still during reading circle, he wanders away, he asks off-topic questions, and SOMEBODY put a live snake in the top drawer of my desk,” her notes and requests for conferences read.


Then next year I was placed in a very large classroom with about 40 students and two teachers, one for language arts, one for math and science. We were separated into two groups, the Turtles and the Roadrunners. Can you believe it? Oh, and I was a turtle. I felt indignant. Well, guess what, by the middle of third grade things still weren’t going very well. I was moved to a very structured classroom with an older teacher, Mrs. Rosenthal. BORING! No room to wiggle or explore at all.


Fortunately, I came up with a solution. My great aunt recognized my intense interest in nature’s creatures, sending me field guides so I could identify and learn the living habits belonging to many of nature’s inhabitants; insects, butterflies especially (Yeah, I was a butterfly chaser), amphibians and reptiles, birds. I still wasn’t reading well, but in the structured classroom with the desks lined up, I was able to open one of my prized books and hide it behind the kid in front of me while the teacher droned on. When she caught me and took away the book, I had a backup ready in my backpack for the moment she became more interested in the academic material and quit attending carefully to the students in front of her.


So I learned to read. Suddenly, like crazy, I was reading everything. I read 146 books and won the book reading contest. I taped numbers on the spines of my books, organized them on shelves, made 3 x 5 index cards with notes about them like in the library. I was first runner up in the spelling bee for grades 1-5, misspelling aardvark. I took the leading role in the school play, rewriting some of the lines to make them more poetic. I wasn’t a turtle anymore!


In fourth grade my parents moved from Detroit to El Paso. I learned to speak Spanish very quickly. My teacher had some kind of breakdown and was replaced. The last time I saw her was when she dragged my friend Michael out of the class by his hair, came back into the room, everybody was talking not listening and she yelled “Shit,” right before the principal came in and led her away. The new teacher let me read ahead and do research as soon as I quickly finished my boring worksheets, so I was very good for her. We had a deal. I began doing the UIL competitions and getting to talk more with kids who had interests and analytical minds like me, which was a relief. I had a hard time understanding why some of my age-peers had the interests and conversation topics that I could not find interesting or worthy.


As time went on, I had teachers that I did both well and poorly for in terms of behavior and attitude. The grades and academic work were never a problem again. For the teachers who seemed to like and understand me, who challenged me with more difficult and advanced projects, I was a helpful and grateful student. For other teachers, it seemed my divergent thinking style, my questing of the status quo, was seen as a threat and an aberration, something to be disciplined out of me and not allowed in the classroom. These teachers did not like me, I did not like them, we made each other uncomfortable the whole school year long.


I started high school at Klein High, recognized statewide for academic excellence. I had already taken advanced science and math classes customary for the HS freshman year in middle school. In the middle of my freshman year we moved to Boerne, a small mostly agricultural and ranching community. I was in classes with sophomores and juniors, some smart kids I could identify with. They all graduated and my senior year I took Home Economics Cooperative Education and Honors English IV, leaving about 11am to go work and make money to fuel my hot rod habit. I regarded my last two years of high school as a waste of time. I did learn how to make cars go fast and how to party and not get caught, I was tutored by the adults at the restaurant I worked in. I graduated third in my class.


I started college adrift with no sense of purpose. I had received no advice or guidance about declaring a major or choosing a vocation. It was a difficult and senseless period of time, I was in college because that was the next step but my goals were vague and unelaborated. My grades were mediocre. I switched schools to SWT because I had friends there and the girls were pretty when I visited. I was very lucky because I found two professors in the psychology department who took an interest in me, challenging me with advanced classes and the opportunity to work with them outside of classes on research design. Our projects were difficult, interesting, and socially relevant. My grades became A’s. I got my name on work that was published, got to present work at some large conferences, travelling with my professors. They encouraged me to go to graduate school and wrote outstanding letters of recommendation.


I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Psychology. One of my English professors offered me a job and a stipend of 600.00 per month to pursue a Master’s degree in Creative Writing. I felt pressure to get out of the restaurant business and get a real job making real money, so I took the first professional job I was offered, personnel consulting for commissions pay when applicants are placed into high-tech jobs. I was a headhunter, and I hated it. Adrift again, I think the only thing that steered my back to a path of purpose, productivity, and engagement with life was my memories of those teachers who clearly saw me as good, valuable, someone who could make contributions at a level of surprise, creativity, and excellence. Thanks Mrs. Billie Hoffman, Dr. Archer, Dr. Ogletree. You didn’t know it at the time, but you made all the difference.


The reason I share this life story with you is to illustrate the importance of a positive attitude, a nurturing and encouraging relationship, and a willingness to accept differences and accommodate for the student who is different. I wanted to convey the impact both of the harm caused by mismatched inflexible social and academic environments and a rejecting teacher or parent attitude and of the soul-sustaining impact of a few parents or teachers who can look past the shortcomings and light a fire to the potential of a student by encouraging not dousing their aptitudes and interests.


Oftentimes gifted children excel intellectually with broad leaps in vocabulary, academics, and abstractions, but socially and emotionally remain at chronological age level development or even lag behind (called asynchronous development). These children can appear defiant, self-centered, manipulative, morally inept, they can be seen as making bad choices on purpose, lazy, and disrespectful of authority. This is the Gifted Child’s Struggle. What follows is a list of some of the types of problems that can arise.


Social/Emotional Issues:


-Hard to fit in and find friends


-Problems intensified by the same characteristics that make them gifted


-Asynchronous development


-Anxiety; intense concerns about death, sex, the future, adult level of prediction  and                                   comprehension coupled with child level of emotional coping and wisdom

-Physical development may lag behind the minds ability to envision an outcome, resulting in         extreme frustration made worse by perfectionism



Advanced Verbal Reasoning:


-Debate, argument, manipulative little lawyer


-Insecurity arises in children allowed to manipulate their parents


-Advanced sense of humor can result in rejection by peers due to their lack of appreciation


-Tendency to seek adults or older peers for discussion leaves them out of synch with age-peers



Perfectionism and Emotional Sensitivity


-Fear of failure and refusal to try


-May require full details before venturing a reply making them appear shy


-May stay at the periphery of a group trying to analyze all of the details for meaning before           engaging and appear withdrawn


-Caught by the tension between how things are and how things could or should be


-Comments and criticism taken VERY personally


-May become preoccupied with issues of social injustice; war, starvation, bullying, if overloaded by this type of information can create “existential depression” or an apocalyptic worldview


Five Domains of overexciteability: they may have insatiable appetite for input in these domains as well as become overwhelmed by their heightened sensitivity and input

Psychomotor- rapid speech and abundant physical energy


Sensual- sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, captured by sensory experiences, attends to details unnoticed by others


Intellectual- love of ideas and learning, what  if and why? perfectionist


Imaginational- imaginary friends, rich fantasy life, creative


Emotional- intense feelings, heightened sensitivity to others’ feelings




Medical and mental health professionals rarely receive training in identification and treatment of gifted individuals as ADHD, ODD, Bipolar, OCD, Anxious, or having Asperger Syndrome. Managed  care has created a push for a quick diagnoses and medication. Few exceptional children fit any diagnostic categories well and may sort of fit many diagnostic categories, creating confusion and dis-abling labels.


Sometimes it’s not the child but the environment that creates the problems. Some children and adults may be twice exceptional, having  both a learning disability or difference, as well as being gifted. These two conditions may mask one another resulting in inappropriate or lack of proper treatment.

Gifted characteristics that interfere with proper identification:


Boredom with and refusal of rote and routine tasks, like homework

Self-critical and frustration with mistakes

Difficulty shifting from one topic or activity to the next

Critical of others and authority figures

Inapproprate jokes

Emotionally over-reactive

Lack of interest in details, don’t turn in homework

Stubborn and non-conforming

Dominating or controlling of others

Defiant of authority

Excessive focus on topic of interest

Weak follow through when they have learned what they were after

Resentment of working with those of lesser ability

Weak ability to organize time and assignments


Signs of Perfectionism:

Worries over small mistakes

Difficulty making choices

Focuses on the one thing that’s wrong

Fiercely competitive

Carried away with details

Own worst critic

Never satisfied with own work

Makes excuses or blames others for mistakes

Overly upset when a skill or activity doesn’t come easily

Skips time to rest, play, or socialize because there is too much work

Puts off big projects

Trouble letting go and finishing big projects


These people believe; you are what you do, the world is watching, failure would be totally humiliating, perfect performance gives them a sense of control that they think will relieve their anxiety


Tempering Perfectionism


Attunement: don’t disagree, describe wishes or fears, offer affection until they are less upset, you can reflect but downgrade with semantics to help shift perspective; “I’m an idiot” = “You are frustrated with your mistake.”


Identify what went right and praise effort and persistence over outcome


Don’t correct their homework


Allow failures and disappointments


Teach smart self-talk and coping strategies but not when they are upset

Focus on reasonable effort rather than “Doing your best.”




The gifted child will feel different. They may see themselves as little adults, noticing adults who are not as smart as they are, believing if they are not treated as adults it is grossly unfair. They may appear bossy, rude, and demanding. They may be perfectionists in some areas and disorganized slobs in other areas. They may have trouble sleeping because they are so busy thinking. Try expressing understanding of their perspective, offer respect and choices, give reasons but don’t debate about rules and adult expectations. Group them with like minds, don’t downplay their feelings, help them create an emotional scale and learn how to manage their feelings. Gifted children often need special help like counseling just like children with disabilities can, gifted children also often have problems with ADHD, OCD, anxiety, and dysgraphia. The literature is full of famous people who made brilliant contributions but were deemed a failure in school. Obviously, the gifts and talents of these people such as Einstein and Edison were overlooked while they were ostracized and rejected for their differences. It is still possible to identify a child as having problems due to a mental or behavioral disorder and overlook that the problems are secondary to or occur with giftedness and the ability to excel under the right conditions. I have often considered that giftedness in public education can present a handicapping condition created by a mismatch in environmental demands and an individual’s unique profile of strengths and weaknesses.


Resources/helpful websites:

Gifted Child Video Course



Daniels, S. & Piechowski, M. (2009). Living With Intensity. Tuscon, Arizona: Great Potential Press

Delisle, J. & Galbraith, J. (2002). When Gifted Kids Don’t Have all the Answers. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing, Inc.

Elgin, S. (1996). The Gentle Art of Communicating with Kids. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Kennedy-Moore, E. & Lowenthal, M. (2011). Smart Parenting for Smart Kids. San Francisco: Josey-Bass.

Shenk, D. (2011) The Genius in all of Us. New York: Anchor books.

Walker, S. (2002).  The Survival Guide for Parents of Gifted Kids. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing, Inc.