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Difficult Behavior of Gifted Child

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I have been told that my child is a "genius". After reading the definition, she falls right in the category. My concern is not how smart she is but how to deal with the behavioral issues. She is 11. She acts as if she has no common sense at all and I have to help her with simple tasks. She has become quite "mouthy" and demands things of me and feels she needs to know everything that is going on in the household. What can I do to get her to be a kid?

A: At 11, it does sound like this behavior has been going on for a while. I wonder how she is at school as such behavior may not help her at all at this stage. Is she fine at school, making friends, not complaining, etc? If all's okay at school, it could be that she has been getting her way for some time now.

It is possible that you have always been there for her helping her in everything that she has become very dependent on you and finds it difficult to do things on her own. This has very little to do with common sense she knows exactly how to do simple task but it appears that she has been able to get you to do things for her (which is not the same at school), and since you keeping helping her (thinking that she truly needs help), she has found a way of perhaps, manipulating you. I feel that she is just being very smart and have adopted such tactics to get things done for her. It can also be that she may need that extra attention from you (which she may not be getting at school), so it is possible that you have been unconsciously encouraging her behavior.

She is probably more matured and feels the need to be treated maturely. At 11, it is okay to discuss home things with her and reason out worth her if you feel she does not need to know everything. Perhaps, she wants to feel more involved. It can also be that she feels ignored or left to do things on her own (since she is assumed to be gifted) which may sometimes make a child feel neglected, hence the tantrums due to frustration.

If she asks for help for simple tasks, you can certainly make a suggestion and get her to do it herself. From your description, chances are that she may reject your offer; in this case, calmly repeat your solution and pull back. For all we know, she may not be looking for understanding, but rather for you to "make it perfect" (there is a possibility that she is a perfectionist as well). When you suggest otherwise, she may get irritated and demanding. You may have to listen to some screaming at first, but she'll live. Don't play into this; her teachers certainly won't and that is probably why she is trying it at home. It is not going to be easy but after a while, she will get used to it.

Being "mouthy" may be a way for gifted children to use their advanced verbal skills in "debates" at home against parents/anyone of authority. There is no mention on her behavior at school, so it is assumed that she's behaving well in school which shows that she is able to adapt to structure and limits. Free speech certainly has its place, but discipline is essential for all children, hence a limit must be set.

Another way is to have a heart to heart talk with her. At her age, though she is still developing emotionally, she may be able to respond to your concerns and perhaps reason out her insecurities, in any. This may also be a way to show her that she's being treated as a matured child. Bear in mind that she is already 11, and she may not want to be a kid and wants to be accepted in the adult world. Gifted children develop in different pace, so it is not surprising that she has matured much earlier than you may have anticipated. I wish you best of luck.


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