9 Things the World Must Understand About Gifted Children

Three years have passed since I wrote the popular post, 8 Things the World Must Understand About Gifted ChildrenSadly, not much has changed for gifted children—they are still very much misunderstood.

Gifted children are often misunderstood by society and surprisingly, misunderstood even in our educational systems. Many of the common characteristics, behaviors and traits exhibited by gifted children have been misdiagnosed and treated as mental illnesses, behavior disorders and learning disabilities even though these behaviors are simply normal giftedness.

As a parent of a gifted child, it is truly frustrating, even devastating, to have your child misunderstood and subsequently misdiagnosed, mistreated and miseducated—all because not enough is known about the social and emotional quirks of gifted children.

This misunderstanding of gifted children is not a recent phenomenon—this is a decades-long dilemma which has negatively impacted the lives of our gifted children, sometimes tragically. Reason would have us believe that providing the facts and information on gifted children would rectify the misunderstanding—“Here are the facts on gifted children. Now do you understand? Good, let’s fix the problem!”, but there is an emotional thread running through the misunderstanding.

Envy, competitiveness, lack of compassion and resentfulness are emotions others may feel towards gifted children because they are intellectually advanced. And our gifted children seem to be very much affected by these negative emotions cast on them from others— from both adults and children. Why? I would have to say because people just don’t understand that gifted children are so much more complex than the smart, perfect, life-is-easy little people the world thinks they are.


I’ll repeat the original 8 things I feel the world should understand about gifted children and I’m also adding one more:


1. There is more to gifted children than their intelligence.  

Gifted children are affectionate, fun-loving, innocent, and yes, sometimes they do misbehave. Their IQ’s do not make them circus freaks, Doogie Howsers or anomalies.


2. They are emotionally very sensitive.  

Gifted children may take a small, negative comment and internalize it to the point that they may start to hate themselves or believe everyone hates them. Comments or situations others may not think twice about can wreak emotional havoc on a gifted child.


3. They may think like an adult, but can also act like a much-younger child.

Two words: asynchronous development. Gifted children’s reasoning and critical thinking may rival most adults, but that doesn’t mean they should be expected to be able to socially and emotionally handle adult situations. And they definitely should not be disciplined when they don’t act like the adult they seem to be–discipline should be realistic. They are still children and they should be treated with respect.


4. They have a strong sense of right and wrong.  

With many gifted children, justice and fairness must always prevail and is worth fighting for. Little white lies, pretense, double-standards, exaggeration or faulty reasoning just don’t fly with a gifted child. So, don’t go there.


5. Gifted does not mean perfect.  

They are not perfect; they are human beings just like everyone else. Please do not expect them to be perfect little soldiers just because they are gifted.


6. Being gifted does not equal straight A’s in school.

Not all gifted children are high achievers. Many times, gifted children because of their emotional sensitivities may suffer from anxiety, fear of failure or perfectionism and other emotional factors which can prevent them from being successful in school. Also, when their learning environment is not meeting their educational needs, gifted children often become frustrated, disengaged and bored which leads to underachievement in school.


7. They are not gifted in everything.

Gifted children can be grade levels ahead in math and science, and then struggle in English and reading.


8. They have a very keen sense of social dynamics. 

Gifted children often have the ability to size-up an adult or teacher who may not be acting like an adult should. They can understand the social dynamics of a situation and may zero in on peers or adults who are acting out of envy, competitiveness or resentment. Gifted children can be quite intuitive and may know what you do and understand why you do it.


9. No, not every child is gifted. 

“Every child is gifted.” This popular sentiment seems to be a prevalent response and defense for those children who are not intellectually gifted. The gifted label is a medical, educational and psychological term used when identifying children who have advanced intellectual abilities often determined by an IQ above 130. Being gifted should not be confused with having gifts and talents. Saying every child is gifted is like saying every child is tall, every child is athletic, every child has curly hair or  every child excels in math.

For as long as gifted children have been misunderstood, there have been parents and educators who have tried to set the record straight by tirelessly advocating for gifted children. Articles have been written, studies have been conducted, groups have been formed, parents have conferenced with teachers, and the facts about gifted children have been publicized, but by and large, the world still does not understand our gifted children, and our gifted children have suffered because of this misunderstanding.


This post is part of the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education Gifted Awareness Blog Tour, June 6-24, coinciding with New Zealand’s Gifted Awareness Week, this year June 13-19th, 2016. Click the image below to see more on the blog tour!

new zealand blog tour image

24 Comments on “9 Things the World Must Understand About Gifted Children

  1. Pingback: The Various Intelligences of the “Gifted” Child | 3D Eye

  2. Hi Celi;

    Perhaps it would be a good idea to explain that that “130” figure refers to an IQ three standard deviations (SDs) above average, where the mean is 100, and the standard deviation = 10.

    Some IQ tests use a mean of 100 but a standard deviation of 15, which means that the figures you offer should include in brackets the mean and SD, e.g.: “IQ = 130 (Mean =100, SD = 10)” or “IQ = 145 (Mean = 100 and SD = 15).

    Those people three or more SDs above average are actually the top ONE percent (http://www.mhhe.com/socscience/intro/cafe/common/stat/dstats10.mhtml) of the bell curve of IQ points; thus an IQ cutoff of the top 2% is somewhere between the second and third standard deviations.

    This is why many Giftedness programs set the criterion at two, rather than three standard deviations above the mean. But two SDs above the mean represents the top 5% of the population (still a thrillingly smart, even brilliant crowd).

    It’s confusing, I know, and in trying to make heads or tails of this stats stuff, I have gotten quite confused over the last three years. Mind you, I barely scraped through Honours statistics; I got a grade — which I didn’t deserve, more than likely — just barely high enough to keep me in the Honours program in my psychology degree. So if you feel confused, join the club!

    Cheers, John Weintraub

  3. Regarding “bad behaviour” and discipline… that is always the in case in educrat-land, that the smarter students are given (perhaps unfairly) high expectations for rule-following, and bear the brunt of discipline for the whole class.

    Also, educators find it difficult to distinguish between Gifted kids and natural leaders. Both are smart, that is true. But the former is 150-IQ “smart” and has issues with asynchronous development. The latter is 105-IQ “smart” and is well-rounded and has more street cred. For the former, “setting an example” is meaningless. An example for whom? The other kids in the class who happen to be in the 70-100 IQ range?

    It makes sense for authorities to expect natural leaders to set an example. If they cool down, so will the rest of the class. But for Gifted persons, who are more “alien” and less adaptable to a regimented school atmosphere. no. They will only be punished for their natural truth-seeking and sense of justice. And if a teacher unfairly punishes a Gifted child (who shouldn’t even be in that school in the first place), he/she just sets up that kid for bullying.

    • “And if a teacher unfairly punishes a Gifted child (who shouldn’t even be in that school in the first place), he/she just sets up that kid for bullying.” <--- This is so true, unfortunately. I've seen this first hand with my own sons, so much so that the teacher herself was bullying my son. Studies have also shown this to be an issue with many gifted children. Ahriman, thanks for sharing your insights!

      • As a parent of an 11 y/o gifted student in Mississippi, I couldn’t agree more with the last two posters (Celi and Ahriman). My daughter has been in the gifted program since 3rd grade and now is a 6th grader at the local middle school. I recently withdrew her because she was not fitting in and feeling like an “alien” as she is introverted, shy, and feeling depressed about this. She did not want to attend the middle school from the get go but after I took her out, she felt a huge weight lifted off of her. She has always since elementary school felt like an “outsider” and “outcast”. She is like the list describes and I love that she is gifted.

        Schools here in Mississippi started early August and I hate that (it should be a crime; kids should be at the beach or something and start school around Labor Day like the days of old). I am having to look into homeschooling to satisfy the Board. Are there any good home school curriculums you all could recommend, as I am a novice? Mississippi is not known for its creative programs and great resources for intellectually advanced students, so you can feel my frustration. I live next to Memphis, TN and they have some programs but they are still limited with the gifted resources. Thank you in advance.

  4. I have two “gifted” kids. My eldest also has ADHD and is now in his first year of high school. He was placed in “honors” classes based on test scores, but has always underperformed in class mainly due to failing to turn in assignments in a timely manner. He actually managed to get straight As for the first time ever this year. However, two of his teachers are recommending that he return to “regular” classes next year because the honors teachers in 10th grade will not be as lenient in accepting late work. My fear is that he will be bored in regular classes. Does anyone have any suggestions?

    • Cathy,

      Oh my, it just infuriates me when schools operate based on grades and not potential or ability. Your fear of your son being bored is valid. However, it is counterintuitive for educators to understand that gifted children do better when challenged and when their learning meets their needs. Often, a gifted child who previously lacked motivation (turning in homework late, zoning out in class), became more conscientious when their education was meaningful, challenging and was reaching them on their level.

      I came up against this when advocating for my gifted children. How does one convince a teacher that their child would make better grades and be more conscientious if his education was more advanced, not less advanced?

      Be strong and go with your gut–you likely know what is best for your son!

    • Cathy, do you have a 504 for extra time? I’ve lived this with my ADHD daughter. I think the kids compensate for the ADHD when younger, and when the difficulty of the schoolwork increases in high school, along with extra executive functioning needs, the poop can hit the fan. 504 has been essential for my daughter to get the upper level classes she needs and thrives in. Testing is expensive and you will find many high school counselors that don’t believe a smart kid needs accommodations. They think that 504 is to “level the playing field” not place a kid in an upper level class even if that is what is appropriate for them (newsflash – they’re wrong). I had to create a lot of documentation full of persuasive language centered around 504 law and school rules, the test results, psychologist/doctors notes, any helpful teacher comments, and keep adding to it. And in the end I showed them I was right, because average kids would not make straight A’s in the highest level of classes even if given all the time in the world. Luckily, the college counselors are much easier to deal with!

    • Ask your son. Explain the pro’s and con’s. See if the choice made can be changed within the school year. My youngest daughter (now 33) did the same thing about not turning in assignments. When during the middle of 11th grade she realized she was not going to make the top 10% of her class (guaranteeing her acceptance at the college her boyfriend planned to attend), she got on the stick and made straight A’s her last 3 semesters. It’s all about the correct motivation. Our other daughter, now 35, was forced into a non-AP science class due to scheduling issues. She and the other GT friend in her class would have gone crazy without each other. “Mom, I don’t understand why they don’t get it” was the comment I heard most often. It’s possible your son doesn’t see the assignments in the higher classes as meaningful/relevant. There’s still a lot of perception of “busy work” at that level and highly-gifted kids (and adults) just won’t put up with it. Highly-gifted kids don’t do “bored” well. Again, discuss this with him.

    • Honors classes will probably be a better fit. You might get the video “Where there’s a will there’s a way.” It is about 15 or 20 years old but watching it with him would probably be of benefit. You can both laugh at some of the crazy parts but learn some hints that might help him. I recommend the College level of the films for anyone over the age of 13 that is gifted. BTW: I taught gifted students grades 7 through 12 for about 8 years, and I always showed this video in 30 minute blocks to all of my younger students.

  5. thanks for this post give me some ease to all the frustration that i had now.

  6. To your 3rd point you say that the child should to be disciplined for not acting like the adult they are expected to be. Which is fair enough but then you fail to say they should be disciplined like the child they are acting. Are you saying that bad behavior should be forgiven and not corrected because they are Gifted?

    People misunderstand Giftedness because they see little advantage in taking the time to understand it. One of your more recent posts and the comments that followed almost made me give up wanting to care.

    Our school board is merging schools and they don’t seem to be listening. They don’t seem to care about the students who’s school they are closing. The response from the director of education was (and I’m paraphrasing): I care about all of our students and I just can’t think about one school. If I can save money and put it into programs that benefit all the students in our district then that’s what I have to do.

    • Fair question about the discipline, Douglas. Speaking from experience, one of my sons who always appeared years older than he was because of his advanced verbal skills was always expected to behave better than his same-age peers by teachers and other adults. In many cases like mine, gifted kids are expected to behave better than the children who were more typical so often times the discipline was stronger, more harsh. Every child, every gifted child should have appropriate discipline which is fair and appropriate.

      Yes, gifted children are simply children and should have appropriate guidance and discipline, but not discipline born out of higher expectations.

      It seems all facets associated with gifted children are complex and riddled with paradoxes. I can understand why some of the comments from that post would make anyone give up caring, but as parents of gifted children, we do get so worn down and many times, defensive. Thank you for baring with us. Your commitment to caring about gifted children is pretty rare and SO appreciated!

      Your comments and questions are always welcome, Douglas!

      • As a parent it’s hard sometimes. I find myself going back and apologizing to my daughter because she is so far ahead her chronological age group I sometimes am too harsh and my expectations are too high. Sometimes her behavior is completely normal for her age. Thank god she is who she is so with reasoning, a hug and a kiss it’s settled. But it’s really easy to forget she is not as old as she acts.

        • Diane,

          Yes, you are right–it is so easy to forget our children are not as old as they act. You are not alone on that one, believe me. I’m guilty of that, too. When our gifted kids’ verbal skills, intuition and critical thinking is so far advanced, it is so easy to forget their chronological age when disciplining or having conversations with them.

          Thank you, Diane!

  7. I love this article! It really articulates the misconceptions that we are faced with on a day to day basis. Your absolutely right in saying that society still confuses the psycho-educational diagnosis of “gifted” with “having gifts”. I also agree with Gina in wishing that more decision makers understood what giftedness is really like. We don’t have the ability to homeschool my 2e son, so advocating for him at school is basically my 2nd job.

    • Jen,

      YES, advocating does seem to become a 2nd job. For years I have told my husband that I have a full-time job and that is advocating for my gifted children–not to mention raising them, supporting them, fretting over them…well, you get the picture 🙂

      Thanks, Jen!

  8. Very clearly written, and I wish more people understood – especially the decision makers. We are lucky to be able to homeschool and avoid some of the misunderstanding and problems, but throw ADHD into the mix and a lot of advantages to being gifted go out the window! It’s a long row to hoe, but after a while you find a rhythm and make some satisfying progress. We’re all learning to have persistence.

    • Hi Gina,

      I think your last two sentences say it all for many parents of gifted children who are also 2E. It is often a long row to hoe and persistence is very much needed.

      Homeschooling has been the answer for many of our gifted children, but us parents still have that row to hoe! 🙂

      Thanks for your encouraging wisdom, Gina!

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