Parents, teachers, and care givers often find a gifted child challenging to deal with. It occurred to me recently, that some of these challenges arise when adults do not provide the clarity children need regarding rules and limits.
Gifted children often exhibit what may be considered, provocative behaviors. These children tend to question the existing order, especially when it is a gray area – only loosely defined, because of their intensity and intellectual appetite. Because of their young age and lack of social experience, they often express themselves bluntly, without a filter. As a result, adults can feel judged, criticized and destabilized by the acuity of the child’s perception. Of course, the child picks up on the adult’s discomfort and without a set of tools, often ends up thinking that there is something wrong with his questions, or more likely with him. If this reactive loop takes place on a regular basis, it can erode the child’s confidence.
Although it is true that this negative feedback loop happens to most children, it happens more often and more intensely to the gifted child. That is why I am focusing on this issue that affects the gifted child in this article.
You see, the constant erosion of a gifted child’s confidence causes them not only to lose heart but often to “act out”, exhibiting a negative intensity that further alienates them within their family or community.
One approach that I have found to be worthwhile with all children is the consistent implementation of clear rules. Children learn by questioning and testing to see where the limits are, and, as adults, it is our mission to clarify these rules, clearly defining what it acceptable and what is not. Without this clarity, we are not doing our children any favors, as we are not preparing them to live in harmony with others, to enjoy the benefits of inclusion. In fact, it is essential to provide the gifted child with caring, yet firm rules.
It is his sensitivity to morality, fairness and justice that creates a critical need to understand the reason behind any rule or limit. Since the perception of the gifted child is original and far-reaching, it can be threatening to an adult who finds himself questioning his own beliefs and the social norms. Furthermore, once a clear understanding of the need for a certain type of behavior has been attained, the rule must be applied with consistency. Otherwise, it creates more confusion for the gifted child: Why does it apply in this situation but not in an identical one at another time?
And, although it may seem as if a child is happy when he wins a power struggle with an adult, it is short-lived. With his heightened perception, he knows that he has overstepped and it increases his insecurity that builds over time.
What the child needs is a solid, dependable adult who recognizes the importance of providing a consistent and trustworthy reflection of who she is and what she can do. This way, the child is partnered in defining her own boundaries. Step-by-step, the child builds her sense of self. Without this solid adult figure, teaching him to manage his emotions, he can lose faith in himself, and believe that no-one can understand him. Although this is again true for all children, it affects the gifted child more keenly since his need for understanding (of himself, his community and the world) is so strong that he will quickly become disillusioned and even become destructive as his energy withdraws into himself, believing he cannot be helped.
It is essential that the adults he interacts with on a daily basis can manage his intensity, blunt remarks and confronting behaviors. This adult needs to recognize that however mature the gifted child is intellectually, she is still a child and as such, needs to know that she will not be judged or rejected for what she said or did.
I am not minimizing how challenging this can be for adults: gifted children are less able to be manipulated than other children and this can cause adults to lose patience and disconnect from the child – leaving her with her questions unresolved and much inner distress.
When I was a child, I remember how lost I felt when the rules given to me by my parents were applied inconsistently. I remember feeling that my parents were lying to me, focusing on their own comfort, and that they would always have the last word because they were bigger than me. This created a lasting anxiety and insecurity because I was not able to discern what was true and important and what wasn’t.
As an adult, I recognize how important it is to cultivate a spirit of open-mindedness when caring for gifted children. I understand the importance of being willing to question my own traditional stances and beliefs. After all, most of us grew up accepting “the way it is” without question. It is a gift to go deeper into inquiry – there is little aliveness in habits and norms.
I believe that we support our gifted children the most by showing up in our strength, meeting her exactly where she is at and being clear and predictable in our responses to her needs. This way, she knows what to expect, trusts in our ability to protect her and assist her in making sense of the world and her place in it. As she learns that her inner turmoil can be made sense of, her confidence in her ability to handle life will grow, along with her self-esteem.
Although a gifted child will forgive us when we make a mistake, we must never be inconsistent in the application of the rules. It is our role, as adults, to provide the clarity and consistency that creates safety for the gifted child to blossom.
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Caring for the Gifted Child
Mentor for gifted children, and for parents