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Giftedness and Behavioral Concerns

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My 6 year old daughter (who has a twin brother) was identified as G&T at school in year R, she is doing very well at reading, writing, Math, Science for her age. However, she has trouble dealing with getting what she wants, changes to plans and making choices. Example - sometimes she cannot decide what to wear and will not accept any suggestions, this can lead to a severe tantrum (almost hysteria) lasting 10 minutes or more. She seems to have low self-esteem, she doesn't think she is clever and sometimes objects when she receives compliments or praise.

I would really appreciate some advice on how to help her through this.

A: Gifted children come in many different types and because they are different as it is, their behavior may be a little harder to manage unless we understand them. We live in a culture where being different is considered deviation from the norms and somewhat hard to accept. And, this is very quickly picked by gifted children who have heightened sensitivity.

It is obvious that your girl is cognitively advanced and appropriately placed educationally; therefore she is doing well academically. However, she may have other behavioral issues which may be a manifestation of other feelings. For a young gifted child, challenging behavior may also result from perfectionism, limited stimulation, and difficulty finding peers with similar interests. The example you gave very clearly shows one of the distinct characteristic of a gifted child - perfectionism. When they feel that what they do is not perfect, they would rather refuse to continue than to complete the task. They find it hard to accept failure – in this case, of not achieving perfection.

The need for perfection is a form of control. In a strange way, the environment has managed to somewhat tell her that if she were to be perfect, everyone would love her and pay attention to her. This would make her feel worthy. It's like controlling how people feel about you by being perfect. And this I believe may come from school since she is in a classroom with probably quite a few children who appear “perfect” and constantly praised by teachers. But, rather than making things better, she is actually making others responsible for defining her worth; hence the lower self esteem.

However, trying to be perfect is exhausting and the good feelings are often short-lived – as long as she is at school. So when she gets back, in an environment she is more at ease, all her frustration may be manifested. Additionally, perfection also causes procrastination due to the fear of disapproval or failure. So the easy way out is to not complete the task or distract by throwing tantrums.

If this is really serious, you may want to see a child psychologist. Otherwise, you may want to discuss this matter with a counselor at her school to see if there is anything at school that may ne causing such anxiety. You would also need to help her understand her environment and get her comfortable to describe her feelings. Help her express herself. Find a solution for her when she throws tantrums. When she is in a better mood, go back to the scene of her tantrum and discuss better ways that she could use to deal with her feelings. Ask her for suggestions. She needs to know that you love her no matter what, and she need not prove herself. Help her understand that her happiness is more important than anything else.

Creating a supportive environment that involves implementing practices that promote a child's engagement, help them understand expectations and routines, and reduce the likelihood that challenging behavior may occur. You need to be creative in dealing with this as these children may lose interest if the subject is not meaningful to them. Perhaps, use a story to help her modify her behavior with appropriate strategies to control her feelings. Hope this may help a little and best of luck!


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