Friday, 20 April 2012

Raising a Gifted Child

As my faithful readers know, my wife and I have a wonderful 8-year-old girl that we affectionately call the Bean.  Two years ago, for a variety of reasons which I won't cite, we had her cognitive abilities tested.  We knew she had above average smarts and my wife, Kate, bandied about the "G" word ("gifted").  I was much more hesitant to use the term.  But the test proved Kate right.  We were blown away by her score of being in the 99.8th percentile for kids her age on the particular test she took.

I realize putting in the decimal point seems like guilding the lily but believe it or not, the difference between 99.8 and 99.7 and 99.9 can actually be profound.  So, the Bean is very smart, with a particular aptitude for math, but she's not what one would call profoundly gifted - she's not writing orchestral music in her spare time or solving Fermat's theorom or building particle accelerators in our basement.  She is though, working well above her grade level in a number of areas.

Raising a gifted child has its upsides:  she's very curious and loves science and math, she doesn't require a lot of instruction in many areas because she seems to grasp many things intuitively and talking with her is interesting because she has surprising insights one wouldn't expect from a kid her age.

All is not sweet honey and fargrant roses, though.  Raising a gifted child has its challenges.  Chief among them is making sure she is adequately stimulated at school because she operates well above the curriculum for her grade.  This is one thing that led us to having her tested - from her very first months in school, she was complaining of being bored and how easy everything was.  Indeed, I can count on the finger of both hands how many minstakes she's made in 4 and half years of school, and nearly all of those from inattention rather than "not getting it."

So, we have worked with the school to develop a personalized learning plan that outlines how the school is going to address her particular learning needs.  Last year, Grade 2,  was her first year with this plan and her teacher made efforts to enrich the curriculum for the Bean.  Similarly this year, the teacher has been going out of her way to provide more stimulation, including teaching her some grade 6 math.  The Bean isn't complaining about how easy things are quite as much.  Nonetheless, Kate and I communicate often with her teacher to ensure her needs continue to be met.

Paradoxically, another challenge is getting the Bean motivated to stretch her abilities.  Often, though not always, she chooses the path of least resistance and does the minimum work necessary.  We constantly battle with her to do the little bit extra.

Another challenge is dealing with an almost unmanageable reservoir of energy.  The Bean seldom sits still or shuts up.  One thing that drives me to distraction is when she says she has nothing to do.  We have invested a lot in books, courses, musical instruments, art instruction, craft supplies, games and toys.  How can she possibly claim that she has nothing to do?  Her inclination is to watch television, which I hate, though because of my depression and Kate's cancer, we've been letting her do more than usual.

A number of other challenges can arise from giftedness such as other "over-exceptionalities", which in part includes higher than usual sensitivity to things in the environment - clothing sentitivies, sensitivities to smell and noise, sensitivity to other's emotions to name but a few.  These over-exceptionalities often lead to anxiety.  The Bean has suffered from a number of these, but has managed to work through  them really well with the help of a child psychologist.

So, rasing a gifted child has its upsides, but also its challenges.  On the whole, though, I wouldn't change a single thing.  My daughter's gifts and challenges are what make her uniquely her and we LOVE her more than anything.


  1. Another issue we have is the condescension attitude he has with his siblings. Apparently, it's not as evident in school, but we find at home there is a distinction (from him) between the brillance of our gifted child and his siblings. His social skills are quite good with adults and most kids his age, but he does pull himself away a bit. Fortunately for us, he is moving to a school that has a science & technology focus in grades 7-9, so in two years, we're hoping the extra challenge will encourage further curiousness. French Immersion is no longer cutting it for him!!!

    Another issue we find is the need to be perfect. Sometimes the lack of extra effort can be due to the wish to remain perfect. Our guy can tend to inactivity as a result. We're combining an encouraging and 'forcing' attitude towards him in order to practice and stretch himself. Won't know if it's truly working for another couple of years, I guess.

    Just keep doing what you're doing.

    1. Interesting. As you know the Bean has no siblings, so hard to say what her behaviour would be with them. In general, though, she's not comfortable with the label and probably wishes she had never been tested. She'll bend over backwards to not have attention drawn to herself. She really dislikes being singled out for special treatment at school or among her friends.

  2. Awww... that's tough. What you're all going through. Giftedness, cancer and depression, all of them huge issues. Best of luck to you all... I have friends with gifted children and their challenges are many - and they're not dealing with the other stuff!

  3. Oh man. I see some similarities to my own childhood. I was labeled gifted in 4th grade, even though they probably should have tested me sooner. I did skip kindergarten, after all. I always followed that path of least resistance, too. Motivation has always been a challenge for me. And as a parent, it's hard to find that balance between pushing her and encouraging her. Because the more you push, the more likely she is to resist.

    Good luck to you.

  4. I think Human Nature is to take the path of least resistance in virtually all things. Not because we are lazy, but really, why put forward extra energy when you don't need to.

    I'm sitting here reading the blog with my "gifted" child and it has certainly generated a number of .... interesting discussions about things. Not surprisingly, he doesn't necessarily agree with his brilliant father on ..... anything.

    1. Yes. It's hard to impress on your kids that in 40+ years we may have accumulated some wisdom they do not yet have.