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  • Susan Fletcher, Ph.D.

When Being Intellectually Gifted is Your Achilles’ Heel

If you have a child who is gifted and you have concerns about behavior problems, read on.

The definition of "gifted" in most of the literature states that gifted children and adults are defined as those in the upper 3% to 10% of the population in any of several intellectual domains. It is possible that a child can be gifted and have problems in a classroom. It is even more possible that a child not yet identified as gifted can have difficulties.

Giftedness puts a child at risk for:

  • underacievement

  • peer relationship issues

  • power struggles

  • perfectionism

  • depression

When that student becomes an adult, giftedness can put him or her at risk for:

  • job difficulties

  • problems with peers, a spouse or their children

  • depression

In a recent article in The Register Report (Sprint 2014), they listed common strengths, along with difficulties associated with those strengths. This list is useful if you are struggling with a child who is gifted.

Acquires information quickly vs. impatient with slowness of others

Inquisitive attitude vs. asks embarrassing questions; strong willed

Seeks systems and strives for order vs. seen as bossy or domineering

Creative and inventive vs. may disrupt plans of others

Intense concentration vs. resists interruption; seen as stubborn

High energy vs. frustration with inactivity

Diverse interests vs. seen as scattered

Strong sense of humor vs. humor may disrupt classroom or work

Keen observer vs. sees inconsistencies and may become disillusioned

It's the combination of these characteristics that can add up to create problems for someone who is gifted.

What can a parent do about it? Recognize that the behavioral issue in someone who is gifted may be a "skill deficit" rather than a character issue. Seeing it as a skill deficit creates an opportunity to teach a skill. Someone who is gifted may need the help acquiring an interpersonal skill more than you think. It is a mistake to think that someone who is really smart can figure it out for themselves. Many times they can't because it just makes sense to act and respond a certain way.

If you have a gifted child, I challenge you to identify 3 areas in the list above as targets for improvement. Talk about it openly as the downside of the positive characteristic. Be specific about working on one skill at a time. Even someone who is gifted benefits from repetition and over-learning something.

If you have any ideas about the information above, I encourage you to comment below, even if you don't agree. When it comes to having a child who is gifted who might be struggling, it is often about staying one step ahead intellectually and behaviorally.

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