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Above Average Abilities but Disruptive

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My 4year 9month old son has recently taken the TONI-3 test administered by a professional in this area and I have been told that he is highly gifted, with a score of >145. However, to me, although he is rather intelligent, highly energetic and inquisitive, he is quite hard to handle. He loves to be read to, but is lazy to decode words. He is a fast learner but he can't sit still for long. Teachers find him a handful. e.g. he touches the teacher's piano while teacher is teaching on the piano, he plays a fool in class, hits/disturbs his friends, refuses to follow instructions. He continues doing all these despite repeated warnings.

He will deliberately do something naughty even though he knows very well that it will annoy me/teachers.

Sometimes, he is an angel, especially if he is alone with me. He is highly interested in a wide range of subjects - solar system, any science topics, math, stories, IQ activities, blocks, anything. I am honored when the teacher confirms that he is gifted and even says he's genius material. (She also mentions that gifted doesn't mean guaranteed success, and most gifted kids exhibit behavioral problems)

1. Should I believe that he is gifted?
2. How shall I control and discipline his behavior? How do I make him more cooperative?
3. Is it true that gifted kids are usually hard to handle (in terms of behavior)?
4. How shall I nurture his giftedness? Appreciate your response.

A: Based on the test score alone, it certainly places him on the gifted range, so perhaps you should believe that you have a special child. This is good but for some children, their giftedness also may cause other issues that make them appear difficult to handle.

Your son is probably not getting sufficient stimulation and being a bright, curious and highly energetic little boy, he may well be bored. It also appears that he is doing activities that may not be very meaningful to him, thus his boredom that leads him to be disruptive.

Since he can be an angel when he is with you, probably that is what he may be lacking - time with his parents. You may want to spend more time with him to get to know his interests better. He is the best person to guide you as to what might interest and stimulate him so you really need to observe a little more. At this age, he may also be more emotionally capable of understanding talks, so you can try slowly getting him to talk about his feelings when he is being disruptive and ask him to propose options. This sounds difficult but he may just be able to give some interesting suggestions. If he finds that school is boring, get him to suggest what he finds interesting and perhaps suggest that teachers cooperate a little. He may also be a kinaesthetic learner and may need to move; again this may appear disruptive to teachers.

Talk to the teachers to see if they are able to compromise a little bit. It is right to allow his to disturb his friends but touching the piano may not be such a big deal and the more he is stopped, he may be curious to do it even more. Bottom-line, I think he is simply learning below his ability level which causes much distress and frustration and being as young as he is, the only way to vent out his frustrations is by being disruptive (also maybe to get teachers to pay attention to him).

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for some very highly gifted children to not fit well in too well into the regular educational mould. As agreed by experts, gifted children in schools can be continue to be very challenging for school systems because it is very easy them to be bored in a regular school meant for the average student. When they become bored and unchallenged, it is not surprising to see behavioral problems occurring.

So, what you need to do as a parent is to make sure that he is well stimulated and doing activities that are meaningful (see some suggestions in previous newsletter). Gifted children may be a handful (due to some of their distinct characteristics) but if adults are aware of their needs and why they behave as they do, it may be help in handling them. It will be a tough journey to nurture and spend a great deal of time and effort on a gifted child but the results can be very fruitful. Here’s wishing you all the best.


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