Gifted Children—About THAT Stereotype

Trash it.

Banish it.

Kick it to the curb.

It’s a new year, and the time has come to dispel the myths and misunderstandings that perpetuate that stereotype which problematically misrepresents gifted children.

That stereotype: A gifted child is one who excels in school, is emotionally secure and mature, is socially adept and well-liked, is well-behaved and obedient, is a natural leader and is destined for success.

Just what is wrong with this stereotype?

Just about everything. This stereotype creates a perception of a picture-perfect student using a definitive list of traits and characteristics that many gifted children do not always have. Worse yet, it leaves the impression that a gifted child is near-perfect—in and out of school.

Here are some facts about gifted children that will help break down that stereotype:

  1. Giftedness in children should never be defined or measured solely by academic achievement or performance in school. Giftedness is much more than school-smarts and academic achievement. Giftedness is above-average reasoning skills, a high level of creative thinking and problem solving, above-average verbal ability, an intense desire to learn new ideas quicker and deeper, an insatiable curiosity and an incredible memory.  Many of these gifted traits do not at all adapt to the lockstep, stringent routine of traditional classrooms thus making the  gifted child seem as though he has a learning disability or behavior problem when his inability to conform causes issues in the classroom. Academic achievement does not always reflect whether a child is gifted or not, especially when a gifted child’s educational needs are not met.
  2. Gifted children do not always excel in school. Many gifted children do not excel in school for various reasons—like boredom from having to learn information they have already mastered, or from frustration at continually being held back while waiting for classmates to catch up, or due to anxiety from bullying or feeling as though they don’t fit in, and also from a lack of motivation from an inadequate education.
  3. Gifted children are often not emotionally secure or mature.  They may become frustrated easily, angry for seemingly no reason, or may become upset quickly. Gifted children are passionate and intense, and they may resent being pulled away from an activity or subject of intense interest to them when it is time to move on to the next subject. This may result in an angry outburst, emotional meltdown or total disengagement in the classroom.
  4. Gifted children often struggle socially A gifted child’s above-average intelligence and complex topics of interest can make them stand out, in an unfortunate way, among their same-age peers, and this often results in their peers rejecting them. Gifted students are often unaware that while they excitedly converse with classmates about a highly advanced topic, they are coming across as know-it-alls or arrogant to their classmates. Gifted students often struggle to find like-minded friends.
  5. Gifted children are often non-conformists and many challenge authority which makes them appear as though they might have behavior problems, or that they are disobedient or disrespectful. The mind of a gifted child is wired differently than neurotypical kids, and they learn, feel, think, sense and react in ways which are normal for them, but not tolerated in the rigidly organized classroom, or in society in general.
  6. Gifted children can be natural leaders, but not always, especially when the educational, social and emotional issues which are common among gifted children get in the way.
  7. Gifted children are not always destined for success. Nothing could be further from the truth than the belief that gifted children have it made, especially when schools and our society cling to that stereotype. When schools and society expect the stereotypical gifted child, the truly gifted who do not fit the mold are many times overlooked and neglected. The consequences of being ignored educationally, socially and emotionally hinder a gifted child’s ability to achieve the type of success he desires in his life or career.

This year, let’s work towards ousting that hurtful stereotype so we can begin to improve the educational, social and emotional lives of our gifted children. We need to work towards dispelling the myths, correcting the misunderstandings and educating those who do not get gifted children and do not understand who they truly are.

Let’s make this the year we kicked that stereotype to the curb.

To learn more about the real characteristics of gifted children, here is a collection of articles from Gifted Homeschoolers Forum

And here is an article that perpetuates the misrepresentation of gifted children and promotes that stereotype–oh, and read the comments, too.

37 Comments on “Gifted Children—About THAT Stereotype

  1. I agree with this post. As a high achieving student, but not necessarily gifted I can emphasise with such a parent as yourself. People sometimes say “wow, she’s clever” then look at their kid and such, but they base that on grades, and I tested the theory on my own parents (intelligence isn’t fluid like grades are, they think my intelligence is for some strange reason!)

    I found, once I’d gotten to A-levels, the workload meant that suddenly, I had to revise but I didn’t know how. I spent half the first year figuring it out. My parents thought “she used to get straight A’s but now maybe she isn’t so clever” whereas I thought “I should have learnt these skills earlier because now I won’t be able to go at the pace I like because only the straight A students can-do that.” I can only imagine what it is like for students who face this at university level! I might just quit at that point, if it were me.

    Furthermore, I refused for the exams to learn the mark schemes because I thought it wasn’t real learning – I have already learnt most of the two year course, but netherless I was put in for extra “help” sessions for struggling students. I am often told to stop overcomplicating things or to do things simply but this is a struggle for me. My brain isn’t necessarily the dull space that would be great for rote learning.

    The emotional sensitivity is also something I have. Whilst I am a teenager, ahead academically, reasonably good grade wise, my social skills are low. Most people don’t like what I like, and even if they did, I wouldn’t start to speak to them. (But I would listen intently).

    There are gifted students in my school, but I would struggle to identify them – we are so hard wired to link grades to intellect that we forget who really is “gifted”.

    I quite like your blog, It is nice to link it to social situations and guess how people would react to what you say (namely other mumsnet parents, desperate for admiration and the prove the genius of their little mozarts!)

    Have a nice day.

    • Andrea,

      You are very socially astute and intuitive, which is quite an advantageous skill. You are right, education has been reduced to the sole outcome of grades, and grades do not necessarily equal high intellect. Your realization of this is why I believe you are socially very intuitive. Hang on to that because it is an important skill in the work world and as an adult!

      Alas, you probably know that the consistent making of good grades will not always equal future success. You did find out the hard way that at some point, there will be a challenging class or concept or task, and if you never had to struggle or study before, it can be quite defeating.

      I found the most significant statement you made was this: “There are gifted students in my school, but I would struggle to identify them – we are so hard wired to link grades to intellect that we forget who really is “gifted”.” You are so right. Giftedness is a life condition which includes intellectual, social and emotional traits, and being gifted is not the easy and coveted trait many think it is–shocker for the mums on mumsnet, right?

      Thanks for your very engaging and thoughtful comments; I thoroughly enjoyed reading them and I hope you stop by again and leave your thoughts!

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  4. Pingback: Article: “Gifted Children—About THAT Stereotype” By Celi Trépanier

  5. I hope everyone doesn’t mind a rant. Finding this website is a blessing. Thank you so much for posting all this information here. These stereotypes are so damaging to our children. I am feeling rather alone and isolated in the education of my 8yo second grader. I hope you can tolerate a little background. While she hasn’t been tested yet I am quite sure my daughter is gifted. She has many many characteristics of the gifted I have read about starting since a very early age, walked early, talked early and often and now even more, constant nonstop chatter that involves questions that make my head spin. Extraordinarily stubborn and independent at home. She toilet trained herself without any help from me. She is also very very sensitive about well everything. Constantly correcting her big brother who honestly gets tired of it ( who can blame him we are all tired) When she was five she enjoyed walking home from preschool picking flowers that grew by the side of the road but it wasn’t enough just to pick them, I had to buy a book about flowers so she could find the exact ones she was picking and learn about them. Yes it is isolating. At dance class when the teacher asks a question about a foot position and she gives the correct answer, another mother asks me “how could she possibly know that?” when I shrug my shoulders and say I really don’t know they give me a very funny look… truth is I really don’t know. She does not get perfect grades. She reads well but her spelling is lousy. Report card says she doesn’t listen ( maybe bored?) and doesn’t do well transitioning from one lesson to another. I get the feeling that the teacher really doesn’t like her and I can’t figure out why as she is polite and respectful. Teacher does acknowledge her above average verbal skills. I am considering home schooling but my husband isn’t sold. Thanks for listening, this is a hard journey and until you have a child like this it is impossible to understand.

    • First Leila, you are NOT alone. There is a huge, online community of gifted parents just like you who you can interact with and who understand what you are going through. Groups like Gifted Homeschoolers Forum and many on gifted parenting groups on Facebook provide resources and support. We’ve got you covered 🙂

      Throughout my site, on Crushing Tall Poppies Facebook page and on my website’s RESOURCES page, you will find links to groups, resources, websites and books. And many of those websites have resources available to you. You will find your “tribe” to belong to, for sure.

      “When I shrug my shoulders and say I really don’t know they give me a very funny look… truth is I really don’t know.” Now this is one of those gifted issues that I can relate to. Happens over and over. I had to giggle because I ask my youngest son all the time, “where did you learn that?”

      Leila, thanks for commenting and no need to apologize for your rant. We all understand and can sympathize. We are on the journey, too. Keep in touch and don’t hesitate to post here or on the Crushing Tall Poppies Facebook page if you have questions, concerns or just need to vent!

      • I have a daughter who is profoundly gifted and talented and so you article rang a lot of bells with the experiences I have gone through with her. The most impacting one is that the gifted children are often non-conformists and many may challenge authority. She does very well in school and well at home but I, being a strong disciplinarian, have to reel in my strong expectations and reword the for her more than I did her older brother. She tends to test the waters by disagreeing with certain things or not wanting to do things we tell her, but your article made some things a bit clearer for me.

        • Thank you, Charles, I am glad that this article could offer a bit of help. Raising gifted children is tough, and all gifted children are different, as we all are, so what works for one, doesn’t work for another.

          Thank you for sharing your thoughts here!

  6. But gifted people CAN meet that stereotype if educated properly (it’s an ideal that require a LOT of work) and it’s better than the stereotype that they’re all emotionally-fragile, strenge basket cases who can’t survive without a keeper. Often it’s a choice of which stereotype we’d prefer folk hold and use to make decisions about gifted people.

    • Yes, but “if educated properly” is the key here. I don’t think any parent of a gifted child aspires to the emotionally-fragile stereotype, but much more often than not, gifted children are not educated properly, and like any human being whose needs are woefully neglected, they react. And they are children, so their reactions are not as an adult would react. And despite how hard gifted children work, if they are being taught skills, concepts and information they have already mastered, what then do they work hard at? Ex. What would you tell a gifted 5 year old who taught herself to read when she was 3 1/2, but has trouble sitting in Kindergarten, day after day, listening to the teacher explain letter recognition, letter sounds and pre-reading skills, then going home with phonics homework? I would be a basket case, too.

      I appreciate your comment and being given the chance to explain further the real situations gifted children and their families find themselves in. Thank you for reading and leaving your thoughts!

      • The above comment is funny to me. My husband and I were both classified as gifted and are both the philosophical underachievers. Our daughter is the high strung, emotional out-bursting 5 year old who I was told needed to be tested for a disability because she wrote and did work “inverted”- even though she is bored out of her mind and we have told the teacher so. It’s lovely to say that we can just educate children in X environment, but most schools don’t screen for giftedness until 2nd grade! That’s 7 years of meltdowns! She finally was paired with a little girl from Taiwan to help her with her English. Now she knows Taiwanese! We desperately need to do something besides advanced classes, as a teacher my least disciplined class was always the honors. I never minded it and encouraged it because it was want I had always wished for as a student, but not all gifted kids are like that. There is no one size fits all and to say an advance class or they will entertain themselves or teach others doesn’t always work. We always have smart kids that drop out because school bores them. That is a huge problem.

  7. I just saw an advertisement for a reality TV show that could seriously reinforce some of the myths. In one of the shots a parent is seen screaming at his son, “Memories everything in there .” and also stating that second place isn’t good enough. Another child (I’d guess 10 or 11) is seen declaring, “I’m the smartest person I know.” While it might be a factual statement the intonation could really rub someone the wrong way.

    The shows title is “Genius Child” I won’t watch it since it’d feel like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

    • Yes, I’ve seen the ads and it has been a huge topic of conversation among many of us with gifted children. You are absolutely right–it will “seriously reinforce some of the myths”. Several of the parents I work with were actually contacted to have their child on the show and they said, “no way”! Yes, “a train wreck in slow motion”–well said.

      Have you seen the TV show, “Scorpion”? It is about gifted adults and it accurately portrays (mostly) giftedness with all the emotional and social struggles gifted people often have. It may make gifted people appear a little too quirky, but it sure doesn’t perpetuate myths. “Genius Child” is certainly going to hurt advocacy efforts for gifted children, and all most parents really want is for their child to be understood and accepted along with all their strengths and weaknesses.

      Thanks again, Douglas. Adding your thoughts really helps all of us!

  8. I. love. this.

    I am gifted, but I was the 4.0 GPA leader type. My daughter is gifted, but she is not at all like that. She is the imaginative, non-conforming type.

    People with smart kids who are content to play by the rules have no idea how challenging it is to have a gifted child and how different it is.

    • Sallie, Same here. I was the grade-chaser and teacher-pleaser, and I have two of my gifted sons (my oldest was like me) who would not conform to the structure of school. That is why I find it terribly wrong to identify and define giftedness by traditional school constructs. Giftedness is a human trait, not just a learning (school) trait. Oh goodness, don’t get me started 😉 Thanks, Sallie, for sharing your thoughts!

  9. We live in a school district that absolutely believes in the myth. My son tests off the charts but has so much trouble conforming that school and even most home school co-ops make him miserable. When we decided to home school he became so much easier to be with. He does okay in small groups and does amazing things when left alone to ponder the universe. I believe more then changing the myth we need to change the diagnoses from gifted to intellectually challenged.

    • Nancy, as it so often turns out, giftedness is a multi-faceted challenge for the entire family. There is so much to be changed how giftedness is perceived, identified and dealt with–in children, in adults, in education, and in society. We have a long, uphill battle and thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  10. I love this post. My son just turned six and he has been reading since he was about three. He taught himself really..I wish I could take credit for it 🙂 I don’t know if he is in fact “gifted”, his school doesn’t do any testing until second grade, but all of these characteristics are so familiar. I am so new to all of this and would love some feedback on how I can help my son thrive…especially in Kindergarten because he gets very bored.

    • Ali, READ everything you can about giftedness and be prepared. A child is born gifted and has special educational, social and emotional needs almost from the day they are born. Some schools understand gifted children and their educational needs, and some tragically don’t. Schools aren’t always the best source for information on giftedness. Throughout my site, there are articles, links and resources to help you understand giftedness in children and what may lie ahead. Good luck and keep in touch!

    • Your child will most likely lead you to further educate him/her. Providing opportunities away from mindless video games and television will help steer you in the right direction.

      • Thank you both for your replies. I live in an incredibly small town and there is limited resources at my son’s school. I feel alone and it is frustrating. He has intense emotions and it is very challenging both at home and school. I am trying to educate myself, but it is a bit overwhelming, at least now I know he isn’t just trying to be “difficult” as I’ve said to him many times in the past 🙁

      • Actually, rather than write off video games as mindless, you might want to talk to some gifted kids who are into video games such as Minecraft and learn why they obsess, design, critique, and collaborate around video games.

  11. Oh, man. I shouldn’t have read the stereotype article, but I did…and then I made the even bigger mistake of reading the comments.

    Thank you for bringing this issue out into the light and reminding us of how many naive parents of not-particularly-special snowflakes spend their time wishing their kids were gifted, completely unaware of the accompanying stress, fear, and heartache. (This is why I rarely bother to talk about the real reasons why I’m homeschooling my daughter in casual conversations.)

  12. Celi, YES! I would love for folks to understand that it’s not all sunshine and roses, and that these kids have some serious needs. Wouldn’t the world be so much kinder for us all? Happy New Year!

  13. An interesting article. I think eliminating #7 will be hard because I’ve seen comments from parents of Gifted children who advocate shifting the Special Needs budget for disabled students over to the gifted because the gifted are “our future doctors, scientists and business leaders”.

    The very last sentence of point #3 makes me wonder if nongifted are to always excuse outbursts, meltdowns or disengagements from the gifted.

    • Douglas, I enjoy your insights and comments! I don’t like shifting any budget away from any group of students–period. Every child should be provided an appropriate education which will give him the tools to succeed no matter which career or job he chooses. Idealistic, I know. Governments also need to fund education fully to where it does not end up a give and take, or where some students’ educational needs are sacrificed for another group of students. I wish more people here in America would squawk when funds are shifted out of the educational budget at the state level to pay for non-educational line items.

      I don’t think outbursts or meltdowns are to be excused, but understanding the causes, lessening the causes such as providing a challenging education, and learning how to handle the behavioral issues would go a long way to help gifted children. Ironically, many, many of these issues are not really issues among gifted homeschoolers who have a much more appropriate education.

      Thanks again for leaving your thoughts.

      • We had this problem with our daughter from K-2. She was writing cursive by K was reprimanded by her teacher when she “wrote” her name on a paper. She was told she was not supposed to learn that u til 2nd grade. When she finished her work she was put to teacher errands such as sorting papers and dusting erasers. When I asked them to give her more work, I was told she would get too far ahead of the other children. When I approached administration and school board, everything was geared to slower children but nothing toward advanced ones. We pulled her out of public school mid second grade and enrolled in private church school that allowed her to work at her own pace. She is graduate of the Louisiana School for Math, Science & Arts and is a fabulous RN at a large hospital doing what she loves. She has a 15 yr old giftie son who is well on his way to great things as well.

        • Hi Linda,

          So, so happy to hear about your daughter–you made all the right decisions with her schooling. And now this experience will help her with her own gifted son.

          Funny you should mention cursive writing–that was my first memory of being held back in school. I too was reprimanded for writing in cursive in first grade, and that is when I first learned that getting ahead of the class only brought negative attention and got you in trouble.

          Thank you for sharing your experience, Linda! And it always makes me smile to hear from my Louisiana friends!

          • We had the same experience with my grandson. His 4 yr old pre-k teacher labeled him the worst case of ADHD she had seen in her 12 yrs. My daughter relented and had him evaluated. After talking to him alone for 30 minutes they asked my daughter to tell them again why they were there. When she explained their response was get him out of that class immediately. He needed to either be in regular kindergarten or Montessori. They felt things would only get worse because they lady had determined in her mind that he needed medication. Since he had just turned 5, he was able to begin kindergarten. He is finishing 9th grade as an A student at Park view Magnet In Little Rock and had his next 3 yrs mapped out already.

          • Thank you for sharing your experiences with your daughter and her son. It so nice to hear that some professionals understand giftedness and direct the parents and the child in the right direction!

            And the ADHD experience–that happens WAY too often. ADHD is diagnosed and kids medicated for the wrong reasons.

            Thanks again, Linda!!

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