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Gifted Kid? Unsure Kid Being Gifted

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I am a mother of four children. My oldest was identified by our school board as highly gifted. It came as no surprise considering his development. My youngest (twins) are five now and are also displaying certain behaviors such as advanced vocabulary and reasoning ability, unusual creative and musical abilities. My question concerns my eight year old daughter. She is an above average student who appears in school to be your typical left-brained child. Her teachers love her. However at home she is extremely difficult, sensitive to the point of completely disturbing the family dynamics of the home and causing a great deal of stress.

Since she was born she has been an emotionally difficult child to deal with (tantrums, extreme stubbornness, impulsive and easily bored). She is very creative and has produced drawings with detail that most adults don't produce, learns to play the violin well after only a year and half of lessons and is physically talented at any activity she focuses on.

However she has no advanced vocabulary, reads at her age level with no real motivation to read at all. This in itself is fine but I am trying to understand how to cope with and help her cope with her intensities at home.

I am very confused about the definition of gifted behavior and because she is "sandwiched" between children who more clearly meet school board definitions of giftedness. I am unsure how to proceed with my daughter. The school does not see her as potentially gifted because they don't see the side of her we see at home.

My son is already in a special program and I strongly suspect her younger sisters will be in this program once they are of age. Clearly, there is a potential problem for self-esteem issues here where my daughter is concerned.

Does my daughter's situation warrant further investigation on giftedness or not? I am concerned my daughter will miss out on opportunities that may benefit her in the long run but I am unsure if her traits meet the criteria for testing. I would appreciate any advice you may have. Thank you.

A: Usually when one sibling is in the gifted category, there is a high chance for other siblings in the family to be gifted as well, especially since the younger ones are displaying such potential too. In this case, if you feel that your daughter is gifted, then she probably is as parents are the best people to see gifts in their children. If the school does not recognize her gifts (somehow this is quite tricky as only children who fall in the gifted category as deemed by the school are selected), then it really is up to you to nurture her potential.

Heightened sensitivity is quite a common characteristic of gifted individuals. Since your daughter is very sensitive, this affects her perception of expectations from her parents or other family members. In addition, this may also be accompanied by heightened vulnerability to criticism, suggestions, and emotional appeals from others which leads to much frustration in the family and it can be very stressful. Having said that, regardless of her emotional oversensitivity, at eight, she may not be emotionally mature, this is sometimes expected of her. Perhaps, you may be comparing her with your son unconsciously.

Gifted children are usually avid reader, but there are of course exceptions, depending of the type of learner your daughter may be. As long as she is not reading below average, you can rule out some of the learning disabilities. She may not be a visual learner, so she may need to learn in other ways (audio or kinesthetic). She may also be bored at home, since she is fine at school. Or perhaps she feels sidelined by the attention given to her brother, so being disruptive gets her the attention she feels she is lacking.

The best thing for you to do is perhaps see a child psychologist who would be able to study her behavior in detail and may recommend some kind of diagnostic test to get to the root of the problem. As for matters on self-esteem, chances are that if all her siblings are in the gifted program, with her heightened sensitivity, it may pose as a problem. If this happens, you need to be honest with her. Explain that admission into the gifted program is not at all a simple, let alone a perfect process. The school decides who may do well in such programs and those who are not in are assumed to do better in other programs. She needs to be reassured and this has to be done at family level with everyone involved. But, bear in mind that too much attention may look like sympathy, which may have reversed effects.

Perhaps, it would be a good idea to talk to her and ask her if she wants to do an activity after school that excites her. Channel her energy elsewhere so that she may be too tired to vent out her frustrations at home. Moreover, you may want to plan out activities which the both of you can do together. This will create a stronger bond and would help you understand her better. Best wishes to you.


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