I was tempted to simply end it there and make this the shortest article I’ve ever written, but I’ve never been a writer of few words, so I’ll expound.
Gifted kids know they are different. Whether we tell them or not. If we don’t tell them why they are different, they will create their own explanations. I’ve literally had several children come to my therapy office and earnestly tell me that they believe they are aliens. And, I suppose creating their own explanation isn’t, in itself, harmful. The problem, however, is that these stories generally involve some sort of harsh self-criticism and judgment.
Kids are wired to be egocentric. They believe the world revolves around them. This enables babies to stay alive. If babies didn’t believe the world revolved around them, they would never be fed or changed or cared for because they would never make their needs known. Being egocentric empowers them to keep crying until someone meets their needs.
The downside of egocentricity is that kids believe the world revolves around them. Therefore, if something negative happens in the world, if they somehow don’t fit in, it must be because there is something inherently wrong with them. So, gifted kids who aren’t told they’re gifted, feel different, don’t know why, create fantastical stories to explain it, and inevitably blame themselves leading to poor self-concepts.
Additionally, gifted kids need to understand the joys and challenges of having quick thinking brains. If we don’t explain the differences in how their brains work, they will never learn how to learn. Many gifted kids simply know. A teacher tells them something and they follow along and know it. And they believe that this knowing is learning. Until they actually have to learn something.
I had a college junior in my office the other week. Her words to me, “Heather, I just don’t know what’s going on. I thought I was having trouble focusing in class, but that’s not it. I can focus, but my mind is just . . . kind of . . . blank.”
I asked her to explain further and she said that she generally takes notes while a professor is speaking and it all makes sense. She’ll write down her notes and she’s got it. But, in this recent class, she’ll take the notes and understand the words, but she just doesn’t get it. “My mind just goes blank and I’m missing something, but I don’t know what it is.”
“Ahhh!” I said with a smile, “You’re learning!”
“What?!” she asked me with a quizzical look on her face.
I explained the difference between knowing and learning and that up until this point her brain has simply known. Learning involves frustration. Learning involves not knowing. Learning involves blank minds, working through it, making your brain sweat, and then understanding.
“You’re just finally having to learn something,” I said.
“So, I’m not stupid?” she asked, softly.
“You made it til your Junior year in College without having to learn anything. No, you are most definitely not stupid.”
And that’s the harm. Once again, kids’ brains fill in the gaps. If they suddenly don’t understand something, they feel they are stupid. They feel they have simply been an imposter all these previous years. If we tell them upfront and early that their brains work differently than others, it allows them to understand their learning and knowing processes. Plus, it’s helpful to give them things they struggle with so they learn how to learn early on, but that’s another article!
Yes. Tell kids they are gifted. Explain to them what that means. Explain the joys and challenges. Give them a reason for their difference. Remind them that different isn’t good or bad, it is simply different. Being gifted doesn’t make them better or worse than anyone else. But, it does, partially, make them who they are. And they deserve to know themselves. In order to be whole and well, they need to know who they are. Yes.