Martha Lopez, WATG President-Elect
Learning to deal with the emotional intensity of a gifted and talented child or adolescent takes a lot of energy, time, patience, and understanding. Eventually, parents learn to accept their son or daughter’s emotional quirkiness. Parents and teachers need to keep in mind that cognitive strength and cognitive complexity give rise to emotional depth and profound feelings that the child or adolescent needs to express, or rather, is compelled to talk about in detail. In other words, gifted children not only think differently—more quickly and profoundly—but their feelings have a more vivid and encompassing quality of intensity that needs to be expressed and listened to. For example, when your preschooler says goodbye to you, she behaves like she is falling apart because she imagines that you will never return. But your child will calm down. Or when a young gifted child sees a homeless person, he feels and thinks that he needs to save the homeless person or solve the problem of homelessness.
I liken the parenting process of raising a gifted kid to training for a high-strung marathon. I say this because as gifted and as precocious your child is, (unfortunately or fortunately), and as intense as he may become in any given situation, you both can experience emotional confusion and stress. The gifted child needs a parent who will help him calm down and refocus, and is there for the marathon of learning to manage feelings.
Emotionally intense children can present a serious challenge. It is truly a steep learning curve that parents must navigate as they try to give their son or daughter the tools they will need to reach their potential. There is no one-size-fits-all direction that all parents can follow at all times. But, in general, alongside calmness and structure at home, appropriate schooling and socialization are obviously crucial tools. Without a doubt, I can say it is not as easy for parents of gifted kids to find a school and social match as it is for the neighbor’s children, who may have an easier time fitting in.
While the intensity of a spirited gifted child is common and predictable, the degree of his or her emotional reactivity can be confusing to parents, teachers, and specialists. In desperation to end the confusion about emotional reactivity, this gifted problem is often misunderstood and mislabeled. Books and internet articles are written on the differences between gifted children’s behaviors, autistic spectrum disorder, and attention deficit disorder, because children who have intense feelings are often singled out as having difficult-to-handle emotional and behavioral problems. Social-emotional and learning issues of gifted children are very different from issues of children with autism or hyperactivity. Correct diagnostic labels are critical because they prescribe the school and home environment that best fits the child’s special learning needs. For example, boredom in gifted children who are perfectionistic can lead to underachievement. Most people do not understand that boredom in gifted kids is common when they are not in the right school environment. Teachers and administrators very often misunderstand underachievement, as “this child is just not as smart as his/her parents think.” Additionally, difficulty making friends and being bullied—socialization issues—are very common among gifted kids, and evolve out of feeling misunderstood by peers, not developmental delays related to autistic spectrum disorder.
The spirited child’s sensitivity to people and events around them can be alarming to the uninformed and uneducated teacher, parent, or any other person who gets a glimpse of their intense feelings and “over the top behavior.” The gifted and spirited kid’s behavior and mood is often called over-reactive and lacking in perspective because of the depth of feelings that are manifested in a simple situation. “David, you need to brush your teeth now,” can become an opportunity for war with his parents if David does not want to stop what he is doing. Likewise, “Susie, you need to complete your school work,” can become a very nonsensical position for a parent to request if the child finds homework boring or meaningless. “Maria, let’s turn out the lights and go to bed,” is an impossible simple task if Maria suffers from intense separation anxiety and truly believes that she cannot be alone.
To make matters worse and more confusing for parents of the quick and astute child, the child sometimes actually knows when he/she is creating problems, stops misbehaving, and helps out mom or dad. Temporarily, the child’s reasonable and empathic behavior allows the parent to feel relieved and happy. The exhausted and frustrated parent has a glimmer of hope and thinks that her child is not a manipulative tyrant. David decides he can brush his teeth. Susie gets started on her homework. Maria goes to sleep in her own room. The roller coaster is on the level part of the track. But quickly the child forgets to be empathic to her parents and reverts back to her original position wanting their own way. Graceful behavior goes by the wayside, and tyrannical attitudes take over again. This rollercoaster behavior recommences.
Parents of gifted kids are sometimes told that raising their child looks easy, especially because learning comes so easily to gifted kids. Parents of gifted kids, however, (especially those who deal with quirky kids), know differently...
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