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Gifted Child with Behavioral Problems

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: Hi! I'm a single mother of two gifted boys (ages 12 and 9). I'm worried about my eldest son. I think he has some behavioral problems. He does not have any friends in school and he plays with kids younger than his age at home. He said that kids of his age could not understand his interests. He doesn't like school so his grades are low except for science which he is really interested in. He gets straight A's in science even with little effort. He does not care about his grades anyway. He would say that at least it's passing. 

He argues like why he needs to go to school when he can learn stuff from the internet and from watching discovery and history channels. He has a tendency to argue with adults and complain on tasks given to him. He has even told me (when he was 6) "I'm not a robot. Why are you controlling me?" when I told him to follow some house rules.

He is also very messy and his things are all over the place. Until now he could not master where he should put his shoes after coming from school. I've read about gifted kids with ADD but his former teacher (when he was 7) said that he only needs to be motivated and understood. His former school (when he was 11) put him on a regular counseling saying that he has some problems on social skills.

Right now, I feel that he has a negative attitude in life. He would sometimes say that he is depressed and would ask what life is all about/his purpose in life. This worries me. I just want him to have a happy life.

What do you think is wrong with him?

p/s: I just forgot to mention in my letter (question) that my eldest son was accelerated in school. He skipped 1st grade and will now be attending 8th grade this August. Thanks.

A: It doesn't seem to me that he has any attention disorder. This looks like something that has been there for a while, unattended or unrealized, causing further complications in his behavior. The fact that he was accelerated may have done some damage to his social life and behavior as he may not have been able to cope with older children at school. A few questions need to be addressed:

  • When did he start complaining about his friends at school?

  • Why do younger children interest him more that his peers?

  • Have you tried speaking to his teachers about why he may have problems with his social skills?

You mentioned counseling; hence it was obvious that the teachers did see some behavioral issues that needed attention. How has counseling helped?

  • Have you been in touch with his counselor?

  • Is he undergoing counseling in his current school as well?

  • Do you, in any way, compare him with his sibling?

Gifted children remain children, regardless of their talents. Hence, it is not surprising that there may be some unevenness in development among the various domains. Therefore, as gifted as they may be cognitively, they may have difficulty with fine motor skills, being responsible for their belongings, or making friends. Parents should always be aware of this.

From your description, I feel that he is avoiding people, so much so that school does not interest him. Since he shows promise in Science, has the school or have you given him any attention/credit for his achievements? He needs to be encouraged and the older he gets the harder it becomes. I somehow feel that his problem is deeper than what you have mentioned, perhaps due to something that happened when he was very young. The best thing to do is to seek help from a child psychologist. Discuss this with his teachers or school counselor and try to get him referred to a child psychologist who may be able to assess the gravity of his problem and advise you on the next step. I suggest you do this as soon as possible.


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