Wednesday, October 13, 2010

If we don't tell them they're gifted, they'll never know

It's the hot topic of the week... should we identify the gifted child as "gifted?"  Should we label him?  Once she's identified, should we share the "gifted" label with her?  Or should we ignore this aspect of the child, hide the identification if we do become aware of it, and pretend that there is nothing unique about the gifted child?

The answer is so obvious, it makes me wonder why we're asking the question!

Let me ask this another way. If you have a son, do you label him a boy?  If you don't, will he eventually figure it out?  You bet!  What if your daughter is good at soccer?  Do you help her grow and hone her skills, sign her up for clinics to improve her play, and allow her to try-out and play in the elite travel soccer team?  Or do you have her stay in local youth soccer, playing alongside the average soccer players instead, as her soccer peers go off to the travel team?

The answer is clear.  We can't hide the child from himself for very long; to think we can is just silly.  That boy is going to figure out that he is more like the other boys than like the other girls.  There are obvious physical differences. The child may be a boy, blond, brown-eyed and tall, and not telling the child that he is all of these things will not change that he is.  And he will certainly figure it out for himself.

How about that young soccer star?  No one tells a parent of a child who has a talent in sports not to label the child talented in that arena.  No one frowns at the parent who allows his child to play in elite programs or encourages his child through advanced skill clinics. No one counsels the parent, "No, don't enroll your child in the travel soccer team; it might make her age-peers in the youth soccer league feel bad."

But isn't this exactly what is asked of the parents of gifted children?  Some education professionals suggest that we should not identify our gifted children at all, that gifted identification creates excessive expectations for the gifted child.  These excessive expectations of their teachers and parents might pressure the child in ways that aren't good for her, ways that might "take away her childhood."  Others tell us that, once identified, we should not share that identification or its implications with the gifted child.  "Don't tell your son he's gifted, it might give him a big head."  "Don't put your child in the gifted program; it might make the kids in the regular classroom feel bad."

If we do not label the child "gifted," he'll never know, right?  Wrong.  Gifted kids are different.  The differences vary from child to child.  Often, the gifted child is more sensitive than his age-peers.  What is the gifted child to think?  I'm supposed to be just like them, but none of them care about or even notice the homeless people on the street, none of them are overwhelmed by the bright lights and loud noises in the school gym... Why am I so different?  And as the gifted child quickly learns, different is bad.  Suddenly we've gone from not telling the child he's gifted, to giving the child the impression that he is bad.  We should never do that to a child!

If we ignore the talents the gifted child shows in academics, and we do not encourage him to join the gifted classroom or program... what are we saying to the child?  Kids, all kids, need encouragement.  They need to know they're accepted for who they are.  They need to stretch, to learn and to grow.  The parents of that young soccer star know that, and they enroll her in the travel soccer team to get that encouragement and growth.  But the parents of the gifted boy are not supposed to label their son "gifted" and enroll their him in the gifted program, where he might be accepted, encouraged, and learn to stretch his abilities?

Why not?

Carolyn K.


  1. Caroline,thank goodness you can't stay quiet! Great first post and I agree with you . Not telling creates people who feel like aliens.

  2. Dear Mother of All Gifted Websites aka Carolyn K.;)
    I totally agree, Wow one more thing on your plate. Please know many will definitely be filled at Nibbles and Bits. Actually it will be a moveable feast which will reach around the world.
    Best to you, as usual, in all of your endeavors.

  3. You're so right! I love you new blog!

  4. I was a gifted child - it was acknowledged at school (told to my Mother, not me), but I was never stretched and I literally did feel like an alien. At primary school I would pose philosophical questions and the kids around me would react with some kind of horror. Once a girl threw something across the room and had an hysterical crying fit when I asked her one of these questions. You can't feel much more 'wrong' than I felt in that moment.
    When I was 19 years old I joined Mensa. In some way it still didn't actually 'click' that I was gifted though. My daughter is gifted too, and it took a crisis situation for me to actually recognise that in her.
    You're exactly right - not telling someone something about themselves, doesn't make it go away. We use the 'G word' sometimes in our house now. It's a functional, descriptive term though - not an ego-boost.

  5. Thanks for starting your new blog, Carolyn. I'm looking forward to reading your posts. I think you're right on with this one -- it is so helpful for kids to understand why they are different from others. I wish someone had told me as a kid, as it might have saved me a lot of grief!

    Lisa in Ontario

  6. Totally agree. What other aspect of identity would educators and mental health professionals routinely suggest that we hide not just from others, but from ourselves? That whole closeted-minority thing, it's so good for everyone else, must be good for the gifties?

    -- Aimee Yermish

  7. Horribly frustrating... I just posted a very lengthy response, but somehow my browser lost it :(

    A shorter reply then. Kids absolutely need to know they are gifted. I grew up as one who did not, and spent way too many years of my life wondering what on earth was wrong with me, why I couldn't fit in, why I didn't like the same things as my classmates... always doubting myself, always questioning... where I grew up, giftedness simply wasn't identified or acknowledged. All the gifted people I know who went through the same thing as myself were all similarly frustrated. I only discovered what giftedness was all about when I had my own kid and discovered my own self through reading to learn more about her. It was eye opening and liberating. I wasn't weird, I was merely... gifted. Coming to terms with my own giftedness was one of the biggest steps forward ever in my personal development and one I regret didn't happen to me as a child.

    Kids everywhere deserve a fair chance at a fulfilled and happy life. Refusing to identify, acknowledge and accommodate a child's giftedness only results in that child wondering what is wrong with them, because as Carolyn says rightly, kids know - they know they are not like their classmates. They know they feel differently, think differently, have different abilities, but if nobody talks to them about it and everyone simply ignores their differences, they end up thinking something must be terribly wrong with them for their parents and everyone else to be so ashamed of them that they won't talk about who they really are. I know because that child has been me, and I know others like me. Why should we put the next generation of kids through such a thing when we know so much more now about the socio-emotional needs of gifted children than ever in the past? Anyone who advocates such a denial has never lived the other side of the coin. Kids NEED to know, they NEED to be celebrated for who they are. They DESERVE not to have to grow up thinking they are misfits. It's not about asking for false admiration or anything like that - it's only about asking for genuineness and honesty and love and acceptance, to free our kids to grow up to be who they were born to be, not who the world thinks they should be - and nobody can be truly free if key information about themselves is kept hidden from them.

  8. Agreed! More than a label, I view it as an explanation and a way to cope. My DD knew she was different but didn't appreciate why (or what to do about it) until she got older. But I have never regretted telling her at an early age that she was gifted, especially when the other kids made her feel "weird" for working ahead of them in class.

  9. My son came home from school one day in third grade and said, "Mama I'm smarter than everyone else in my class." He didn't say it to gloat, it was just an honest assessment of his own abilities. Of course kids know what they are, and need to know that their parents realize it too. Better that he determines his own label with assistance from us, his parents, as opposed to having the school impose a label that isn't correct. Everyone gets labeled or categorized in school either by the school or their peers. It seems to be part of human nature. It is more important to have the label be a form of acceptance rather than stigmatizing.

  10. Carolyn,
    Thank you for being a voice for the rest of us to lean on.
    We have two gifted sons, now 12 and 9, and seriously underserved in our local public schools that do not have "gifted" programs of any kind.
    Our younger boy was eventually labeled "autistic" and other things by school testing, after we presented his extremely high IQ-testing results and a clear evaluation that he did not have any autistic spectrum traits.
    We have presented much data (including your "What is Highly Gifted? Exceptionally Gifted? Profoundly Gifted?..." article and several important bits from Beth Wright, Miraca Gross, and others). We had another "autism" rule out evaluation recently that included IQ and other testing, confirming again that he is very gifted.
    I think our situation is much more extreme than may kids experience, but I wanted to throw yet another personal story out there to confirm all the great ideas you have shared.

    Perhaps by identifying the gifted child for what he is, and letting him know about it, we can ease some of the anxiety when school seems such a trial.
    Thanks for your post!

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