Gifted Children: Just Pulling the Wool Over Your Eyes

If there is just one thing I wish every person who does not understand giftedness, and yes, I did say every, could understand is that giftedness often comes packaged with intense emotional overexcitablities that could mimic, at any given moment, a unintentional nuclear explosion. This is an inborn behavior trait, not spoiled, arrogant or disrespectful behavior.

One of my gifted sons was, and probably still is, a perfectionist. When he was in kindergarten, his entire focus was to be perfect at everything. On that fateful day, when he returned home from school after having his first popsicle stick pulled for talking when he shouldn’t have been, he, in deathly seriousness, proclaimed that his “life was over.” He was completely despondent and immediately crawled under his bunk bed for a self-imposed time-out. His self-punishment lasted for a few days after school—under his bed and face to the wall. At the time, I toggled between worry, confusion and amusement over his behavior, but mostly worry.

When consulting with other seasoned moms about my son’s self-punishment, I was provided with the advice, “oh, he is just pulling the wool over your eyes!” These seasoned moms were sure that my son’s self-punishment was all an act to gain sympathy from me and hopefully ward off any serious punishment my son feared I may dole out.

I knew in my heart that they were wrong because I knew well the behaviors which stemmed from my son’s perfectionism, and I didn’t believe in negative reinforcement and punishment, so he had no need to fear any negative consequences from me.  Nope, his self-imposed time-outs were his way of dealing with his regret and sorrow for his now imperfect behavior record at school.  And he truly felt his life was over.

I’ve heard the he’s just pulling the wool over your eyes advice several more times regarding my gifted sons’ behavior. In sixth grade, one gifted son was terribly over-anxious, suffering from headaches and stomachaches and crying often all because he knew his teacher did not like him, and it seemed she made no bones about it either. Everyday after school, we would struggle through a stream of tears, screaming, anger and despondency. This would all start up again in the morning from the moment his toes emerged from under the covers of his bed until his foot hit the pavement of the school’s driveway.

We requested a conference with his teacher hoping to help her see what was really going on with our son, and to find some solutions. Our first conference with his teacher consisted of just her litany of wrongs our son committed in school. My husband and I tried to explain the emotional state our son was experiencing in response to issues at school in the hopes that his teacher would realize that maybe there was more to this situation than what she had surmised. With us sitting in the old, middle school desks and this teacher sitting in her chair facing us from in front of the class, she cocked back a bit with her arms folded across her chest and smugly announced with an obvious amount of retaliatory confidence and self-righteous pride, “oh, he is just pulling the wool over your eyes!” She further explained that he was just fine at school and was probably faking all the drama to get our sympathy. No, we knew the tears, anxiety and emotional pain were real. We also realized that we could never convince this teacher that she was wrong because she was just too sure she was right.

When I heard this sentiment a third time from one of my sons’ school principals, again in response to emotionally painful issues at school, I came to understand three very important truths: 1. that way too many adults believe children are manipulative and up to no good by default; 2. that way too many people, especially educators, don’t understand that gifted children have real emotional intensities and overexcitabilities that they can struggle; and 3. that for parents of gifted children, it is a difficult, uphill battle to convince the non-believers of the sincere and intense emotions and sensitivities gifted children can have.

Recently, I was chatting with two other women, one of whom also has a gifted child. When this mom relayed a story about her child having a meltdown because he was distraught at the thought that his mother might believe he was misbehaving, the other woman in a sincere effort to support this mom, softly said, “he was just pulling the wool over your eyes”. Being the moms of gifted children, this mom and I, without missing a beat, both quickly turned to the third woman to explain how children like ours can be sincerely emotionally distraught and that there was no wool being pulled. She understood completely, thankfully.

I wish others could be so willing to understand the nature and the very existence of overexcitabilities in gifted children, especially educators.

If you are the parent of a gifted child whose overexcitabilities are problematic in school, don’t hesitate to advocate for your child’s needs at his school. Go prepared with information on the overexcitabilities of gifted children, and print off the information to leave with your child’s teacher. One thing I have learned from experience is that, despite being educational professionals, most teachers do not know enough about gifted children and their little-understood traits such as overexcitabilities and intensities. The majority of the gifted children teachers have experience with are not gifted at all, they are the smart, high-achieving students often accepted into gifted programs–yet, a good teacher would be happy to be able to learn more about gifted children.

Your gifted child needs you to be his champion and to find ways to lessen his anxiety and help others to understand his meltdowns. He needs love, understanding and support. We all need to speak out about the emotional needs of all gifted children so that others can come to understand this real need our gifted children have.


And for goodness sakes, let’s try not to fall for that wooly, over-used excuse for your child’s emotional behavior–because they are not always trying to pull the wool over your eyes.



“Overexcitability and the Gifted” by Sharon Lind

“Dabrowski’s Theory and Existential Depression in Gifted Children and Adults” by James T. Webb, Ph.D.

“My Gifted Child, You Have Been CHOPPED”

“One Spoonful of Peas: Parenting a Gifted Child with Emotional Intensities”

“#3 Gifted Students are Often Extremely Sensitive”

“Emotional intensity in gifted children” by Lesley Sword

This post is part of Gifted Homeschoolers Forum  December Blog Hop: Parenting OE’s, 2E’s and Everything in Between. There are many more great articles and posts in this blog hop, so go check them out!

GHF Parenting OE's and 2E's

27 Comments on “Gifted Children: Just Pulling the Wool Over Your Eyes

  1. Pingback: My Declaration: I am Not Afraid to Take a Stand | Crushing Tall Poppies

  2. Just so everyone knows, it really doesn’t stop when they grow up. I have a sophomore in college doing his love, game design, at a prestigious program. He’s already had 2 interviews this Winter Break — one for his Plan B, which has already hired him and said ‘Dude, if you get something else, great! Just let us know.’ The second interviewed him for one position and in the midst of the interview, he mentioned something else that’s he’s done and they said ‘Hey, it sounds like you’ve done some awesome stuff. We’ll pass your name along for that other position too.’ And, he hasn’t even heard from the rest. But, if you talk to my son, he’s a failure at 19.
    And, that’s just one. His two older siblings can be just as bad in their own ways.
    Some days not sure how I do it — reassure them that things will work out, that is — but it’s good to read some of these 2e/gifted blogs and know there are other Moms out there experiencing some of the same stuff.

    • Joan, your story sounds oh so familiar. The thing I have the most trouble with is I seem to fall into their “my life is over” and “this is the worst day of my life” drama. It is so hard to remain positive and strong because you know that to these children, they really are feeling these events so deeply. Thank you for taking the time to share your story, Joan!

  3. I read this post earlier today. The self-punishment, the depth of the emotions, and the inability to ever get anyone else to understand that he’s not faking it resonated deeply. You’ve said it all so well.

    Tonight, my 6yo son fell into despondency, hid in a corner alone, and when I physically pried him out of the corner he said “I feel like nothing. I am nothing.” That’s not being manipulative. It’s asking for help. We spent almost two hours cuddled together validating emotions, discussing how adults and children deal with emotions the same and differently. We talked about how he got to the point of no return, when he could have stopped it, and strategies to put in place for daily use – prevention and emergency coping strategies. We redefined a whole vocabulary for us to use in public so he can get help without melting down and having his friends think him weird (his fear, not mine). It was the most adult conversation about emotions that I’ve had outside a graduate school psychology class (and certainly more respectful than the student discussion). I’m sure it’s only one of many such discussions we’ll have in the coming days – we agreed to meet about it in the morning and write out positive affirmations that he can keep in his pocket for the day.

    Our children want help, they want to be understood, valued and loved. So do I.

    • Elizabeth, no, YOU’VE said it all so well! How you handled your son’s need for understanding was just so beautiful. And you are so right–our gifted children just want help and to be understood, valued and loved. Thank you so much for your poignant story!

  4. I have a highly gifted daughter who has a lot of the intensity and overexcitabilities found in these children. I have in-laws who are convinced it is because she is manipulating me, and never hesitate to tell me so at every opportunity. When I shared literature on the subject with them, they were unfortunately very dismissive, as they are about the entire gifted classification of children in general, despite her test scores and evaluation by the psychologist highly trained in the field. Apparently they know better than him. I thank you for this post—really hit home for me.

    • You are welcome, Erica. I am so sorry about your in-laws. It is so difficult when family and friends refuse to understand. Thank you for sharing your experience here. Your words and experience helps all of us.

  5. Pingback: After the GHF December Blog Hop | Sprite's Site

  6. Yes, I remember being told by a lady who had never met our children that one of them was ‘just saying/doing that to manipulate me’ and at first feeling bad because I thought she was right and then realizing that she was not right at all!
    Thank you for a great blog, Celi!

  7. My gifted nephew was crying every day before school, begging not to go. His mom couldn’t get to the bottom of it, so she tried to talk to the teacher. When she couldn’t get a meeting with the teacher, she went to the administration. The administrator typed his name into a computer, looked at the screen for a few seconds, and responded, “He is getting all A’s and B’s. There is no problem.”

    Thank you so much for writing this. This is an all-too-common occurrence, and parents of gifted children need to know that they are not alone.

    • Thank you, Jennifer! And thanks for reminding all of us that good grades are not an infallible thermometer for emotional contentment or psychological well-being. Yikes, just picturing that administrator checking your nephew’s grades–just scary.

  8. This is a thoughtful and beautiful post, Celi. I am so excited about this blog hop (finally sitting down to read after a crazy day). I read these stories and I see my son. I makes me feel even more grateful for our online community. It’s so reassuring to know we aren’t alone!

  9. Oh how I love this so much! Beautifully written. Gosh, if my mother were only here today. This sounds all to familiar of what my parents went through with my brother. The many self inflicted time outs because of something went wrong at school. At that time they didn’t see gifted in us. Because of 2e they saw that my brother had extreme social anxiety but never was recognized as having or dealing with overexcitabilities. To be honest I don’t know how well known OE’s were when my brother was a kid and being tested in 1993.

    You are an awesome mother for doing all you do Celi! Kudos to you for fighting for your children. And thank you for sharing.

    • Aww, thanks so much, Nicole! You know, I didn’t see the giftedness in my older sons for the longest, and my parents never saw the giftedness in my siblings. Somehow, I feel that school has gradually, over the years, become so rigid, so standardized, and so much in need of conformity that it is squeezing all the differences out of every child who steps away from the norm. And all the differences unfortunately seem to be perceived as learning disabilities or pathologies because they don’t conform to school. I know when I first began teaching, I was given much more freedom to adapt my teaching to my students than when I stopped teaching years later…

      Thanks for telling us your story and sharing your thoughts!

  10. Oh my yes! This drives me completely batty! My son also has OCD and Tourette’s, besides being gifted and intense, and people will say the most thoughtless things. He’ll be utterly miserable and someone will say, “Are you sure he’s not just doing it for the attention?” Or I’ll give him a pass on some socially expected nicety because we haven’t gotten to it in therapy yet (some of his OCD fears unfortunately have to do with please/thank you/eye contact/hand shakes/etc). And I’ll hear, “He’s just manipulating you.”

    If only they could walk a week in my son’s shoes and see how much more he has to deal with than they could ever imagine. But so often it seems we’re supposed to treat children as conniving little manipulators. After years of working with children in various roles (including many years of babysitting when I was younger and now as a physician), I’m convinced that children are really eager to please and if they aren’t it’s because something is wrong… They are afraid, overwhelmed, embittered, or in some other way unable to comply. But they’re all in there somewhere, just wanting to be loved and accepted.

    Thank you for writing this!

    • Yes, yes, and yes! It is so disheartening to hear an adult assume children are “conniving little manipulators.” I agree wholeheartedly with you on this: “I’m convinced that children are really eager to please and if they aren’t it’s because something is wrong.” We all need to look for what is wrong, not assume they are manipulating us. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, Robin!

  11. This mentality is such a hurdle. I still remember being told from about the age of 3 how “manipulative” I was, and how unjust that word felt (still feels). I’m thankful for the gifted community and all of the research that is available now. I’ve learned look a much further into my children’s behavior, to the strong and real emotions. I don’t believe in the “wool” either. Thanks for a great post, Celi, and everything you do to advocate for the less understood.

    • Thank you, Nicole, for sharing your experience with this topic. Yes, to me, that manipulative assumption is about as wrong as the belief that you can spoil a baby by holding him too much! Nicole, thank you again for sharing your story. It truly helps all of us to learn and understand more about giftedness.

  12. My little one was also shattered over the behavior chart in school, or even just being corrected by his teacher verbally for talking or moving out of place in line. It didn’t help that the teachers give out special awards for the ones with perfect behavior all month. The incredible pressure internally to be perfect made him miserable. He would come home and explode with intensity.

    My 2E son had a plan in place for alternate behavior consequences, because the school personnel understood autism spectrum and ADHD and that certain things would not be appropriate for him. It simply didn’t occur to me that they needed that same kind of understanding for gifted needs. It makes complete sense, I wish I’d thought of it before… could have helped for the school to know this wasn’t just a personality issue, or fragile ego, it was part of his exceptionality, and something that won’t go away.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your experience here because it helps us all! I hear over and over, and even with my own gifted sons, the lament, “I wish I would have known before.” And it all boils down to a call to action for all of us to advocate for the understanding of our gifted children and their real needs–because they truly have emotional and social needs that can’t continue to be swept under the rug, especially in school. Thanks again!

  13. I wish adults knew how to be adults. A kid, no matter how precocious, wouldn’t want to “pull wool over eyes.” They want fun, and to be met with dignity. Whether or not they have skills to manipulate, there is not motivation if they can have their relevant needs met. As their inner authority grows, they want to engage with adults who aren’t scared of their powers. I am inspired by your advocacy, and I’m having some feelings myself about all that parents face trying to convince other adults about what supports their kids need.

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