Gifted Children 101: What You Need To Know
When a child talks or reads early, or seems to catch on learning things earlier than his or her peers, parents often secretly rejoice that these abilities will ensure a lifetime of smooth sailing.
What most people don’t realize, however, is that while giftedness makes some things easy for a child and the family, it also presents plenty of unique challenges.
We interviewed Christine Fonseca, educational psychologist and author of Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students and 101 Success Secrets for Gifted Kids, to get a better understanding of giftedness in children, and how parents can help their kids lead happy, healthy lives. This is part one of the interview.
JNJ Parents: What are the characteristics of a gifted child?
Giftedness relates to how a child’s brain is hardwired. It relates to both cognitive development and affective traits characterized by an intense interaction with the world. Some of the more typical things to look for in young children (0-5) include:
- Early walking and talking
- Very alert to the environment
- Gets fussy if facing in one direction for too long
- Strong desire to explore the environment
- Strong preference for new things
- Easily frustrated with familiar objects/toys
- Highly intense
- Early language skills
- Early interest in letters and numbers
- Highly sensitive to the environment.
JNJ Parents: What are some of the misconceptions people have about gifted children?
I could go on and on regarding the prevailing myths surrounding giftedness. In fact, there are so many myths about gifted children and their needs that the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) regularly updates their list of misconceptions and myths. Some of the most prevailing and potentially damaging myths include the following:
- MYTH – Gifted students are always high achieving and therefore do not require additional supports in order to be successful. The truth is that gifted children are not always high achieving. Many times they need support for both their intellectual abilities and their intensities (emotional and cognitive) if they are going to be highly successful. Lack of differentiation typically leads to frustration, underperformance and even increased drop-out rates.
- MYTH – Teachers regularly challenge all students, so additional enrichment is not necessary for gifted students. More than half of all teachers have no specific training to work with gifted students, resulting in an inability to meet the unique academic and affective needs of this diverse population.
- MYTH – All children are gifted in some way. This is probably the most prevalent misconception – and the most damaging. It negates the very real, unique attributes of giftedness. The truth is that giftedness is not only about IQ and/or achievement. It involves a unique set of traits in intellectual processing, personality attributes and emotional development. Gifted children are a unique population and require specific types of support.
- MYTH – Parenting gifted children is easy. Any parent of a gifted child can tell you just how untrue this is. Yes, there are wonderful aspects of raising gifted children. But it is very hard work. Most gifted individuals are highly intense, often engaging in high levels of maladaptive behaviors at a young age. They can be easily frustrated, poor risk takers, perfectionists and emotionally intense. Parents need understanding and support as they try to navigate their way through the minefield of parenting this unique population.
JNJ Parents: Is there a difference between being “bright” and being “gifted?”
I think most people use the word “bright” when referring to high-achieving children. As I mentioned earlier, not all gifted children are high-achievers. In fact, not all high-achieving students are gifted either. Giftedness refers to more than cognitive ability or grades. It refers to a set of attributes – many of which are unrelated to academic performance.
JNJ Parents: Share with us some of the social and academic challenges gifted kids face compared to typically developing children.
When I was conducting research for 101 Success Secrets for Gifted Kids, I conducted more than 50 focus groups with kids from many states and countries. With every group, similar patterns emerged. Gifted children struggle with expectations – their own, those from their parents and those from teachers.
These expectations, real and imagined, feed their perfectionism and are often the cause of a lot of stress for gifted individuals. Other challenges that emerged in the groups include feeling unsatisfied at school, feeling like none of their peers understand their quirks and unique points of view, and feeling like they are obligated to do everything well – and when they can’t it means they are not actually gifted. Above everything, gifted children expressed feeling lonely in their own skin much of the time.
JNJ Parents: Anything else we should know?
It has never been more important to meet the needs – and challenges – of our gifted children if we are to continue to grow as a nation or a society. We must do a better job with understanding and enriching the lives of these individuals. They will be our future leaders, if we give them the tools and supports needed to rise above the din.
Critically acclaimed and award-winning nonfiction and YA author Christine Fonseca is an educational psychologist in Temecula School District and a speaker and workshop presenter on topics ranging from behavioral health, giftedness, emotional intensity, resiliency, and giftedness.
Her non-fiction titles include Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students, 101 Success Secrets for Gifted Kids, The Girl Guide, and Quiet Kids. She is also the author of several young adult novels.
Christine lives in San Diego with her husband two tween girls, and is a teacher, speaker, life coach and introvert. Join Christine on her blog, where she discusses issues our children face every day at home, in school and at play: christinefonseca.blogspot.com. You can follow Christine on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.