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The Secrets to Raising a Smarter Child
- By Inderbir Sandhu, Ph.D


Managing Highly Able Children's Behaviour

By Elaine Hook

Challenging behaviour is hard to manage at the best of times and tests every parent to the extreme at some point in our parenting lifetime but managing challenging behaviour in clever, highly able or gifted and talented (G&T) children is more difficult than one can ever imagine because many of these children have the intellectual capacity to deal with the punishment very maturely putting coping strategies into place for themselves in order to deal with situation and the punishment being offered.

Strategies for managing highly able children never last very long because a highly able child is able to understand and rationalise the discipline and deal with it in a very adult manner consequently the G&T child is often not bothered or greatly effected by the punishment and it has no impact.

Therefore as parents and professionals, when setting boundaries for discipline, we must be fair but firm, persistent, unrelenting and able to follow through with the threat we give; NEVER make a threat you cannot follow through with.

It is important, sometimes, that we look at our own responses to our children's negative behaviour; it can be like holding a mirror up to ourselves. Suddenly we are able to see how we can be locked in to patterns of behaviour that we had previously been unaware of. It can help us see how our own behaviour impacts on the young people around us. Children respond to whatever attention they get the most of, so if you are shouting and nagging you will see more of the behaviour that you are shouting and nagging at. Try to give more time to their lovely behaviour and not the negative behaviour.

One of the most common mistakes parents make is presuming that their children have far greater reasoning skills than is possible for their age. The part of the brain that enables us to manage our behaviour and act sensibly and rationally is the frontal lobes. This area is still developing in the early years and is not fully functioning in an adult sense until much later in life. Having deep and lengthy conversations with a child about the rights and wrongs of their behaviour will have no effect; it just reinforces the behaviour by giving the child attention for unwanted behaviours you want to get fid of. If you interpret the child's behaviour from an adult perspective you will mismanage the situation and end up giving it too much attention and increase the problems.

Keep a behaviour diary for both you and the child; it will help you to recognize patterns of behaviour and what triggers the problems. You will need to be completely honest and realistic in your record keeping as if a camera was watching you. Children learn from us, we shape their behaviour.

Educate yourself with what is acceptable behaviour and at what age. A two year old throwing himself on the floor and having a tantrum is a common sight but it is not normal for a 6 year old. It is also important to remember children come to us with their own personalities. What we are like depends on our genes, the environment and our life experiences, add to that gender differences, birth order and our school environment and you can begin to see how each of us is unique.

It is important to remind yourself that the problems you are so concerned about do not make you or your child abnormal and that there are many other parents out there in the same boat.

When you want a child to follow an instruction and behave appropriately change the tone of your voice and look and sound as though you mean it. Get down to their level and ensure they look at you, give the instruction and ask them to repeat it back to you to ensure they have listened, ask if they understand what you have them to do. Ask them to tell you what you want them to do. Then politely but firmly ask them to do what you have asked them to do.

IF they refuse, give two warnings (sometimes three.) You can tell them they have had one warning which was the first time you gave the instruction. Repeat the instruction one more time in exactly the same way as before. Firmly, with eye contact, ask them to repeat it back and tell you what you are requiring them to do. IF they refuse once again you tell them you are going to have to punish them. You MUST now follow through. The punishment can be any of the following; you decide which one you can work with, are comfortable using and seems the best one for the incident concerned.

  • Time out

  • Sticker Charts

  • Behaviour ladder

  • Behaviour jars

  • Behaviour wheel

  • Taking away and earning back

  • The Volcano

Time Out
Find a place that is boring with nothing going on, no toys and no television. No distractions, for instance a piece of carpet in an empty corner of a room, a chair in a similar place, the bottom step of the stairs or sitting on the floor in front of a cupboard or a door. Always explain to the child what you are going to do and why. Sit the child in the "time out" place that you decide on for 1 minute for every year of their life, e.g. for a 4 year old – 4 minutes each time they misbehave or behave in an unacceptable fashion for you and your family. Do not talk to or touch the child, keep them within your sight ensuring they are safe. Only talk or touch the child if they become unsafe for whatever reason.

After the time allowance ask the child to tell you why you put him there and explain that he will go back there if he behaves in a similar way again, ask him to tell you why he was put in "time out" and if he understands. Explain that he will go back on the "time out" spot immediately if he repeats the negative behaviour and again ask if he understands. Then ask him to say he is sorry and have a cuddle and then both of you go back to your normal routine. If after several attempts he refuses to say sorry then he must remain or go back to the "time out" spot until he is willing to say he is sorry.

If the unacceptable behaviour is repeated no matter how soon after the first incident the child must immediately go through the same process and return to the "time out" spot again and the same procedure is repeated all over again.

In conjunction with the "time out" procedure you can use a combination of the following, although each of these can also stand-alone:

Sticker Charts
Create a chart with your child. Encourage the children to design and colour it themselves. Praise positive behaviours as often as possible and give sticker rewards. Count them up at the end of the day, week or month and give a special reward or treat for positive behaviour. Prior to putting the sticker charts into action agree on how many stickers the child has to receive by the end of the given time to be eligible for the special reward. Let the child go with you to choose the special award, i.e. a book, video, DVD, outing. Outings could be a visit to the cinema, shopping, out for lunch, a friend over for a sleepover.

Behaviour Ladder
Together with your child draw a large ladder with say seven rungs on it, one for each day of the week. You can label each rung Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday etc, ask your child to colour each rung each time they have a good, positive day. Agree with your child at the beginning of the week what the treat will be at the end of the week if they are able to colour each rung. For example a new book, video/DVD, packet of sweets, visit to the cinema etc. You must agree as a family what is appropriate, what the rules and boundaries of the "behaviour ladder" will be and you MUST stick to them. Never promise something you cannot follow through on.

Behaviour Jars
With your child go out and purchase two large glass storage jars. Name one "the good jar" and the other "the bad jar" or something similar. You decide together. Make two labels with the wording agreed on them and encourage your child to colour and decorate them. Then agree together what you are going to use as counters inside the jars, e.g. buttons, dried pasta, pebbles, bottle tops, paper clips and agree how many, say 50. Put the 50 items in "the good jar" and decide where they are going to be kept where your child can access them easily and see them properly.

Each time you see negative behaviour you ask you child to remove say 5 of the items in "the good jar" and place them in "the bad jar." You repeat this every time you see negative behaviour. If you see exceptionally good behaviour you also reward your child by taking 10 pieces from "the bad jar" and placing them in "the good jar." Your child can visually understand the consequences of positive and negative behaviour.

At the end of the week you count the two jars and hopefully your child has more in "the good jar" and has earned a reward. Prior to the end of the week you must have decided what the reward will be, e.g. packet of sweets, bar of chocolate, time on the computer, a new DVD/video, a visit to the cinema or a museum etc. If there are more in "the bad jar" you have to explain the implications to your child ask him to repeat back to you and ensure he understands, remember to gain eye contact and then try the same process again the next week.

Behaviour Wheel
Together with your child design a Behaviour Wheel. Discuss together which positive behaviour's should be included and what the rewards will be for seeing positive behaviour. Draw two circles, one smaller than the other and pin them together in the middle with a push pin to enable them to be swivelled back and forth. On the outside wheel put the agreed rewards on the inside wheel put the agreed positive behaviour's. Set a timescale for seeing the positive behaviours, e.g. by the end of the day. If by the end of the day you have seen lovely positive behaviour the child gets the reward. You can make different timescales as necessary, e.g. weekly, two weekly, monthly.

Many gifted and highly able children are not "bothered" or "concerned" about being disciplined. It does not worry them and they seem unaffected by many of the standard discipline strategies we are recommended to use. Consequently you have to try to find ways and means to affect them so they know you mean what you say and that the behaviour is unacceptable and not going to be tolerated. You must be persistent, consistent and firm. Once you have explained why you are disciplining them you do not need to discuss it further unless they become unsafe.

Taking Away & Earning Back
For some highly able children "taking away and earning back" works well. They do not like to loose their prize possessions due to unacceptable negative behaviour. Choose items that they are extremely fond of, e.g. toys, games, mobile phone, iPod, DVD, television, computer, parties, outings, activities, pocket money. Not all will work and some will only work for a short amount of time. Each child is different so you need to choose what is important to your child at the time of the negative behaviour. You follow the same rules as before. Explain why, get eye contact, ask them to repeat why and that they understand and then explain the consequence, remove the item and put it well out of reach so they cannot find it and give a timescale for earning it back and what behaviour needs to be shown to earn it back. If you still see negative behaviour extend the time for earning it back.

The Volcano
The Volcano can be used to manage anger and/or frustration in children. Ask the child to draw a volcano in black and white (or you draw one for them if they are not able to.) Keep a stack of photocopies on the side somewhere and when the child demonstrates anger, frustration or negative behaviours ask the child to colour the volcano in red (or colours he or she considers represent his or her feelings at the time.) Ask the child to fill the volcano up to where his anger/frustration is in his or her tummy. This exercise helps manage anger and diffuses negative situations and helps children understand feelings. As the child completes this exercise discuss the variety of emotions that go with the exercise for all parties concerned, i.e. the child, the parent, friends around them and the family, sometimes even the teacher and school.

Anger Management Resources

Up to 6 years

  • Is it Right to Fight? A First Look at Conflict
    By Pat Thomas - Barrons Educational

  • Teeth are not for Biting
    By Elizabeth Verdick - Free Spirit Publishing

  • Hands are not for Hitting
    By Martine Agassi – Free Spirit Publishing

  • All Kinds of Feelings
    By Emma Brownjohn – Tango Books

6 to 11 years

  • Gifted Kids Survival Guide
    By Judy Galbraith – Free Spirit Publishing

  • What makes me ME?
    By Robert Winston – Dorling Kindersley

  • Rent a Genius
    By Gillian Cross – Puffin

11 years plus

  • Hot Stuff to Help Kids Chill Out - The Anger Management Book
    By Jeremy Wilde Publishing

  • Coping with being Gifted
    By Lawrence Clayton & Sharon Carter

  • Coping with Emotional Disorders
    By Carolyn Simpson & Dwain Simpson

Books for Parents

The Survival Guide for Parents of Gifted Kids
By Sally Yahnke Walker - Free Spirit Publishing

How to Raise a Bright Child
Dr Joan Freeman - Vermillion

Parents & Carers Guide for Able & Talented Children
By Barry Teare - NEP

The Indigo Children
By Lee Carroll & Jan Tober - Hay House Publishing

Further information

NAGC FREE Helpline: 0845 450 0221 - Confidential & impartial support and guidance for children, parents, head teachers, teachers G&T Co-ordinators, SENCo's and other professionals

The National Association for Gifted Children

American Association for Gifted Children

UK 24 hour free Parent Helpline: 0808 800 2222

National Association for Able Children in Education

Gifted National Academy for Gifted & Talented Youth


High IQ's

National Association for Early Years Children

Twice Exceptional

Some children may have a learning disability alongside their giftedness, which adds another dimension, difficulty and frustration to the issues. Remember not to let the disability get in the way of the high ability of any child. Most learning difficulties do not interfere with intellect.

Some common disabilities we see alongside high ability:

  • Autism/Autistic Savant

  • Aspergers Syndrome

  • Autistic Spectrum Disorders


  • Dyslexia

  • Dysgraphia

  • Dyspraxia

  • Auditory & Visual Processing Discorders

  • Sensory Integration Dysfunction

  • Non Verbal Learning Disorder

National Autistic Society

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention Deficit Disorder

British Dyslexia Association

Dyspraxia Foundation

Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology

Sensory Integration

Newsletter for parents and educators of Twice Exceptional pupils/students


By Elaine Hook BA(Hons) Education Consultant National Association for Gifted Children

Child Development

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