Character Issues in Gifted Children Part I
- Thursday, November 06, 2003
Ask our gifted nine year old to recite long passages from Macbeth, narrate the text of every Calvin and Hobbes cartoon ever published, or elaborate on the reasons for the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, and you'll be amazed. But ask that child where we've always kept the colored pencils, what's his Sunday School teacher's name, or why didn't he realize his shirt was on backwards, and you'll be equally amazed. Amazed it's the same child, that is.
Giftedness is not merely an ability or skill far beyond the norm. Along with the particular area of giftedness, whether in reading or music or math or art, there are a variety of character issues particular to gifted children. More important than teaching academics and far beyond teaching life skills, we must diligently and faithfully teach our gifted children the human skills that much of the rest of the world does by second nature. We must help them correct their natures and form godly character by developing the understanding and coping skills necessary to a happy and contented life. After all, it doesn't matter how gifted someone is if he or she cannot get along in the world.
There are four main character issues that surface, in varying degrees, in gifted children. They are social skills, difficulty with authority, perfectionism, and pride. While all children, and many adults, struggle in one or more of these areas, the difference in the gifted is due to degree and intensity.
Generally speaking, gifted children tend to be extremely introverted. This is not necessarily because they are shy or unfriendly, but more often because they don't know how to be with others, particularly others their own age. This is especially true of group situations, since gifted children are more socially successful one on one.
Although home schooling erases the notion that age mates are automatically any child's peer group, there are many situations in which even home schooled children must function in a group of children their own age. For instance, although we do not belong to a co-op, most activities and camps where I live are grouped by age. Sunday school and Wednesday Bible clubs at church are also age-grouped. While our gifted son does not have difficulty talking with adults or older children, especially if there is a shared interest, he simply has almost nothing in common with other nine year olds.
And because he reads and thinks divergently about subjects to a degree and depth not usually found in children his own age, putting him with his age mates is similar to you being stranded in the middle of Beijing, with no understanding of how to behave or speak the language. We role play typical scenarios with him, and have even given him canned lines to say to get a conversation going, just as we told our children to say their pleases and thank yous every time for years until it became a habit for them. Happily, he is generally well-liked once the other children get used to him and his quirky differences.
Another strategy we take with general success is to remind him to share the games he enjoys that children often play, such as kickball or board games or Legos. This is much easier to monitor when we have children over to our house. A few years ago, when he and another boy were building with Legos in his room, our son called us up to show us the scale model of the D-Day invasion he had built. This would have been less surprising if we had been studying the event, or if we had ever even discussed it at all. Fortunately, this was not a problem for his friend, who had built a structure with wheels, somewhat like a rolling archway with a tower. You can't be together in everything, right?
Introversion can go so far as to manifest itself in characteristics one might see in an autistic child. Although our son's hearing is just fine, he will often be so far away in his own head that he truly does not hear us speaking to him, even when we are standing right next to him. We have gotten around this by making sure he is looking us in the eye when we speak, and sometimes we'll have him repeat it back to us or answer questions so we know for sure that communication was successful. He also has much difficulty with "reading" other people, and we are in the process of teaching him cues and clues that will help him with this.
On the other hand, in our daughter, this characteristic manifests itself in her extreme sensitivity and emotional intensity. Just being in the same place with her can be an emotionally draining experience because she is so intense. All of her experiences with people are magnified exponentially. Simply asking her to make her bed is likely to be perceived as an attack on her personally, and we must be very careful in how we phrase things. Saying "Honey, would you please come back upstairs and make your bed now," as opposed to "You forgot to make your bed" makes all the difference in the world.
She is attuned to the emotions of others in an uncanny way, picking up on signals that the average person would miss, let alone a very young child. Even her sense of hearing is so acute that she can narrate a conversation she overheard from several rooms away. We are challenged to provide her with a calm and quiet environment to help her filter out much of this stimuli, at least until she is older and mature enough that she can make better sense of the world.
Check back next week for Part II.
Helene Barker Kiser lives and learns with her husband, children, and assorted animals in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. She welcomes your thoughts and comments on this article or on any aspect of educating gifted children at home. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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