Envy and Your Gifted Child

It All Starts at an Early Age

At 18 months of age, he could identify all of his colors, the primary ones as well as most of the secondary ones. He also excitedly rode his tricycle around and around in the cul-de-sac where we lived–not even 2 years old. As his parents, we knew we had an early bloomer and we enjoyed watching his exuberance in everything he did. Surprisingly, it wasn’t all good.

My son’s precocious tricycle riding was to become my first experience with an envious individual—a neighbor whose 3 year old was not yet riding a tricycle. Her envious behavior was obvious in her words and actions towards my family, and I was trying  to brush it off and not let it bother me. However, at that point in time, I could not have foreseen the impactful and painful role envy would play in the lives of my gifted children and our family.

Envy is an emotion we all face at different times in our lives, and the envy of others is something that is almost inescapable for gifted children. It may even rear its ugly head when your child first demonstrates his advanced abilities as an infant, hitting developmental milestones earlier than most. We understand the feelings of envy as I assume we have all been in such a situation at some point in our lives where envy took up residence. As the parent of a gifted child, the warning here is to be watchful of signs when the envy of your gifted child turns into actions against him.

All parents want their child to be successful, to shine, and we are proud of our children no matter what. When they do shine, as parents, we are proud of our child and happy for them because receiving positive feedback like an award or recognition once in awhile can boost their self-esteem which developmentally is important for them. But often, parents may also be proud of the achievements of their children for their own need to stand out among their parenting peers.

Sometimes, that can be okay, too. We all have shared in the joy with our fellow parents when their child was recognized for an accomplishment or recognition. But, there are times when there is a parent who is overly concerned about his or her child’s achievements compared to others, and then becomes immersed in a war of one-upmanship and cutting down the tall poppies.

That one parent who compares her child to your child. From APGAR scores, to first words, to walking, talking and reading early, and even riding a tricycle at 18 months old—parents want to know if their children measure up and compare favorably, or superiorly, with others, and many times, there will be envy woven into the comparisons.

When your young gifted child’s development is far ahead in many areas than their same-age peers, other parents may be envious when their own child has not achieved at the same level your child has and they feel the need to equal the score. It is natural and understandable, and sometimes tolerable, that is unless their envy negatively affects you or your gifted child in any way. According to Catherine Alvarez, PhD., in her article, “Envy and Giftedness: Are We Underestimating the Effects of Envy?” on her blog, Microscopes are Prudent, “Those who envy the parent of the gifted child tend to immediately attribute their negative feelings (actually generated by the envy) to some social transgression on the part of the envied parent. In this case, the charge is ‘bragging’.” Assertions that the gifted child’s parent is bragging, claims that the parent or the child, or both, are arrogant and show-offs, as well as envious individuals marginalizing your gifted child in some way are all acts of social transgression fueled by envy of your gifted child. And these can all cause emotional harm to your child and your family–it can even become traumatic at times.

Reactions and Responses to Envy

My 2-year-old son’s preschool end-of-the-year celebration was another encounter with envious parents, but this time their envious behavior was disguised as disbelief over the fact that my child could be so intellectually advanced without coaching from me. Their skepticism of my gifted child’s natural intellectual abilities were unveiled as they feigned interest in and asked questions about the strategies, books, flash cards or other hot-housing techniques they assumed I had been using to push my kid—the real reason he knew so much.  Although I did clearly state that we did not use any product or program to prep our child, I unfortunately responded to their comments and queries with awkward giggles while I, regrettably, tried to tone down my gifted child’s achievements by stating all of his flaws.

I know now that this was not the way to respond to the skepticism and queries of these moms, and I swore that I would never denigrate my gifted child by stating his flaws just to tone down the perception of his intelligence. Thankfully, my child was not present to witness my failure to champion his natural, innate abilities instead of watering them down to please others. I would never want my child to dumb himself down to appease others, and as his mother, I should never feel the need to dumb him down either. I am often guilty of doing this and I often need reminding not to give in to the urge to downplay my gifted child’s abilities.

No parent of a gifted child should feel the need to downplay their gifted child’s innate intellectual abilities. Every parent should be able to be proud of their child without worrying what others may think, and their child can benefit from knowing his parents are proud of his efforts without hesitation. As well, as a parent of a gifted child, we all know we need to be careful to not appear to be bragging, because the claim of being a braggart can lead to hurtful negative repercussions.

My Take-Aways

Here are my three takeaways I’ve learned from my run-ins with envy: 1. Pride and praise for your gifted child should be reasonable, warranted and not superfluous. We should focus on praising our child’s efforts as much as the outcomes when it is earned. To avoid those possible negative repercussions, public praise by you for your gifted child should be carefully considered. This is probably parental advice you have heard before, but it is worth a reminder.  2. When faced with envious comments or even honest compliments on your gifted child’s abilities, try to resist the urge to water down your child’s strengths with a list of his weaknesses especially in front of your child. Your gifted child needs to see you are unhesitatingly, but reasonably proud of him. And 3. Know and understand that envy will play a part in your gifted child’s life, even through adulthood. Encouraging and guiding our gifted children to stand up for themselves and be their own advocate is important. This will help your child to navigate their world successfully, a world where giftedness is very much misunderstood and envy is a reality.

 

FURTHER READING AND RESOURCES:

“My Child Has Achieved More Than Your Child”

“Parents who boast: It’s a brag”

“Envy and Giftedness: Are We Underestimating the Effects of Envy?

 

 

This post is the 5th and final post in my “Gifted Lagniappe Series.” Check out the other posts in this series listed below.

It’s a Funny Thing: A Gifted Child’s Sense of Humor

The Gift of Gab

Peers–Enriching the Social Life of Your Gifted Child

“Teacher, that’s not quite right!”—When Gifted Children Challenge Authority and Their Teacher

 

The Gifted Lagniappe Series

18 Comments on “Envy and Your Gifted Child

  1. For critics, giftedness and the gifted make the ideal target. Always to be encouraged (and blamed for not measuring up) and blamed for being “arrogant” if any such is expressed with courage. (Either way, giftedness and the gifted take flak.)

  2. Pingback: My Child is Gifted and I Can’t Talk About Him | Crushing Tall Poppies

  3. Hello
    Thats the reason why we never speak abou giftedness in france, its absolutely taboo.
    my children have been detected gifted at primary school , (2 of us),by a public center for gifted children.(very rare in france).
    and after, we just amenaged their programms, one with musical class, (that helped him)one other un a gifted programm ….(he is still in.)and we dont speak about….
    i discovered to be gifted at 34 yo…..now i have joined Mensa (France), and now lot of people who had same way in their life.)
    in france we cant speak about giftedness, (only in some associations, for gifted children) but at school, it is still very difficult, and it makes jealous words….from other parents or even some children.
    (thank for your reading, my english is not good at all… 😉

    • Sany,

      Your English is just fine and I understand all that you said. I am so sad to hear that talking about giftedness is so taboo in France, but it sounds like you have found a few safe havens like Mensa and the rare public center for gifted children. Thank goodness. I wish you all the best with your family and thank you for sharing your experience in France with us!

  4. Pingback: The Gifted Lagniappe Series | Crushing Tall Poppies

  5. Thank you for this article. We have had envy & jealousy from other parents & very disappointingly & sadly, from family. We have become a more self reliant unit (my child & us as his parents) & we are much happier. We enjoy get-togethers with people from Mensa (doesn’t happen often) as we just feel soooo comfortable around these people.
    I remember a few years ago reading an article about a gifted boy who also has a physical disability where people were so envious of his intelligence that they treated him very badly – I tried to find it online however I could only find a link to it in ERIC. The article is by Professor Miraca Gross in the journal “Understanding Our Gifted, 14 (2) 26-28 Winter 2002” & is titled “Musings: Are We Two-Faced about Double-Labeled Students?” – well worth a read.

    • Ann,

      I really appreciate you mentioning the Miraca Gross article–I will certainly look it up. It amazes me that people can be envious of a child, first of all, and then be envious and act on that envy with a child with a disability. It does seem two-faced as clearly our society admires as brave heroes those few national beauty pageant contestants who are clearly beautiful (an inherent characteristic), but have a disability like deafness or loss of a limb. Unlike beauty or athleticism, it is different with intelligence.

      I so understand how envy has made your family closer–I’ve seen that a number of times. We all do what works best for us.

      Thank you for sharing so much good information for us here. I keep saying that there is more and better information in everyone’s comments than in my articles, and that is the goal, to share and help each other through this journey.

      Thanks so much, Ann!

  6. This was my life until recently changing schools for my 6yo. People who claimed to be my daughters friends parents were horrible not only to me and in front of our children but then I was informed that they had been asking around school. It creates a toxic environment for a child that is so young. I have found myself not volunteering to help in class this time round (which I resent because I never had that and vowed I would for my children) but my child’s mental health far outweighs our achademic expectations of her.

    • Monty,

      Envy can be so brutal–I’m so sorry this has happened to you and your child. Envy of gifted children is common, but many don’t talk about it.

      Thank you for sharing with us how far an envious person can take their toxic feelings.

  7. I was a gifted girl child in the 60’s/70’s – exceptional academic achievements in areas that interested, merely excellent in those that did not interest me. My father tried to dumb me down. I was told not be talk about my academic achievements, that was bragging. I was told not to stand out of the crowd, that would be attention grabbing and grandstanding.

    I still suffer the consequences of that intellectual, personal, and emotional abuse.

    I’m hoping gifted children have better support now. Especially girl children.

    • Darb,

      Thank you for sharing your painful experience–it really shows us the consequences of dumbing down and having to be careful not to “expose” your inherent intellectual strengths. Like so many of us consistently say, if you had exceptional achievement in say, playing tennis, the expectation that you keep it under wraps would be totally ridiculous. How can you hide when you are playing tennis?

      I’m so sorry for the suffering this has caused you, yet this is the reason I advocate so vehemently–no child should have to suffer simply because he was born gifted!

      • Unfortunately the envy can be from a gifted child’s own parent.

        Though in my case, think, it would not have existed had I been a boy.

  8. Thanks for addressing this. I hope, as a parent of a baby, that we all develop a world where gifts are celebrated if not compared. I would like to invite further self-responsibility when I hear praise: What is it that you value that makes you notice that? Those values can be celebrated without envy.

    • Bob,

      Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world for our young children if we could develop a culture of celebrating gifts and differences, instead of judging, envying and/or condemning?

      “What is it that you value that makes you notice that?” is a very good addition to a parent’s self-responsibilty. It is always interesting to me to take note of what others value because I may learn something that I should be aware of and noticing in my own child!

      Thank you, Bob, for your thoughtful additions!

  9. Hi, I have been reading your blog for some time. The worst case of parental envy I ever experienced was last winter when my son, who is extremely musical, was accepted to a prestigious singing group. We didn’t say anything until it was formal and then announced it on Facebook, garnering lots of well wishes from family and friends. Several days later I got a horrible anonymous letter trashing my son, as well as my husband and I for being terrible parents and she even took a stab at my deceased mother. I think I know who sent it and it is someone I called a friend with children of her own. My son knows we got a “nasty” letter but has no idea of the content.

    • Oh Kathy, that is just so–well, there are many adjectives I am thinking of, but I’ll just say, that was pretty low. I’m sorry you had to deal with that; it had to be very disconcerting for you–I can’t even imagine.

      Congratulations to your son on being chosen for the singing group! Is he enjoying it?

      Thank you for sharing your experience, Kathy. It is an eye-opener for all of us and help us realize just how far envy can be taken.

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