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