High achieving. Well adjusted. Free from disabilities – the list goes on and on. These 6 common myths about gifted children have far-reaching consequences. It’s up to us parents and educators to advocate for the truth.
Three years into my teaching career, I garnered a spot teaching the most advanced course level available to freshman: Honors English 9.
I was excited. Honors students were bright and engaged. They were hard workers who would thrive in the classroom environment. Most of the faculty assumed, as did I, that the students enrolled in honors classes were gifted.
That assumption was incorrect.
Within weeks of beginning my new position, I discovered something. The term “honors” is not synonymous with gifted. The truly gifted children – the incredible thinkers and unconventional dreamers – were few and far between.
I learned to pick them out.
They were the students whose essays showed brilliant insights – but only when they turned them in. They were the students whose observations turned a discussion on its head – but only when they volunteered. They were the students whose faces showed absolute indifference – but only when they hid the truth.
The more I grappled with their presence in my classroom, the more I found myself writing them off ass lazy, distracted, and defiant. It wasn’t until my oldest went to kindergarten that I finally understood.
The standard definition of a gifted child – one who excels in school – is not correct.
You keep using that word – I do not think it means what you think it means
Let’s say it’s 2 PM. You’re out running errands and, feeling rather hobbit-like, you stop at the local coffee shop for a respite. You’ve been craving an apple – a Gala, to be exact – and its stippled exterior has been calling to you for some time.
You pull open the door, smiling at the large stack of fruit by the counter. Oranges, bananas, pears – but no apples. At least not that you can see.
The barista behind the counter smiles. She tells you yes, they have plenty of apples, and promises to grab one for you after she preps your chai.
Satisfied, you swipe your card at the reader. The barista places a steaming, spicy cup in front of you.
And then, she hands you an orange.
“I’m sorry,” you say. “I asked for an apple.”
“Yep! That’s the best one we’ve got.” She grins, tapping it lovingly.
Confused, you begin to protest. “But, this isn’t an apple.”
“Of course it is!”
“No, it’s not. This is an orange. Look”
You pick up the fruit, peel away the outer layer, and pull the sections in two. You lay the fruit on the counter, certain the barista will finally agree with you.
But she doesn’t.
“What do you mean it’s not an apple? Look – it’s got a peel, those little seeds on the inside, and nice, juicy flesh.”
The barista turns to her colleague, gesturing wildly.
“Hey, Manny! This gal says I gave her an orange. This is clearly an apple, right?”
Manny walks over, beefy hands clutching a white dishtowel. He drops the towel on the counter, then surveys the dissected orange.
“Oh yeah,” he says, poking it. “Best looking apple I’ve seen in a long time.” He turns to the sink and starts to wash his hands.
“Mind if I take a bite? If you ain’t gonna eat it, of course.”
It seems like a scene from The Twilight Zone. But for gifted children and their families, it’s an all too common occurrence. Like the students I encountered when I taught Honors 9, gifted children are subject to a variety of myths with catastrophic consequences. It’s up to us – their parents and their educators – to advocate for the truth.
6 Outrageous Myths About Gifted Children, And How They Hurt Our Kids
Myth #1: Gifted children are perfect students
Gifted children can excel in school, and many do. But gifted children also struggle, attempting to survive in a morass of asynchronicity, sensitivities, and excitabilities that challenge their ability to access the curriculum. Often, gifted children can be more disruptive than their peers, acting out of frustration, boredom, or social-emotional delay.
Myth #2: Gifted children are role models
Gifted children are not built-in tutors. They may excel in a variety of disciplines, but that does not mean they are equipped to lead or teach the other students in the class. Expecting a gifted child to inspire her classmates adds fuel to a smoldering fire: intellectual capacity does not equal emotional maturity, and equating the two has disastrous results.
Myth #3: Gifted children don’t need help
This misconception assumes gifted children do best if left to their own devices. A gifted child is just like any other child. He needs love, guidance, and support to grow into the person he is meant to become.
Myth #4: Gifted children are happy and well-adjusted
The emotional toll of giftedness is strong, and the rate of depression and anxiety in gifted children is significantly higher than that of their peers.
Myth #5: Gifted children don’t have disabilities
Actually, they do, and it’s called twice exceptionality. High intellectual ability can come with a variety of diagnoses, from Autism Spectrum Disorders to dyslexia and ADD/ADHD. Ignoring or denying the reality of disabilities in gifted children complicates their ability to access a given curriculum.
Myth #6: Gifted children don’t struggle
Being gifted isn’t a free pass. One of my daughters excels in reading; her first grade sister still can’t read basic sight words. When certain concepts and ideas come fluidly, facing a challenge can be twice as difficult. Expecting the child to suddenly overcome such challenges is unrealistic and unfair.
Debunking the Myths
Clearly, we have a great deal of work to do.
Begin with Education
Not of our children, but of those who work with them. Fortunately, organizations like the National Association for the Gifted Child, SENG, the Davidson Insitute for the Gifted, and the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum offer a wealth of research, resources, and support for families of gifted children. Take some time to peruse their sites, find pertinent information, print it out, and share it with those who are active in your child’s life.
Seek Out Appropriate Mentorship for Your Child
Gifted children need good mentors, whether that person is a coach, a teacher, or a club director of some kind. Find a mentor who is willing to understand and work with your child’s unique needs and foster their varied interests.
Find Your Own Fellowship and Support
A rising tide lifts all ships, and nowhere is this more evident than in advocating for the gifted child. Find support groups, create community, and build a net of human resources upon which you can rely for encouragement, fellowship, and support.
Myths About Gifted Children Exist, But they Don’t Have to Hurt Our Kids
No matter a child’s intellectual capacity, a child is still a child. Labeling and categorizing according to assumptions does no one any favors – not the teachers, not the parents, and especially not the child herself. We would do better, I think, to acknowledge giftedness for what it is – a special need which, like any other, requires due attention and appropriate support. Gifted children are just as likely to slip through the cracks as any other child in an academic setting. It’s up to us to provide them with safety net they need.
Enjoy this post? Read on:
Grief and the Gifted, Highly Sensitive Child
I Can’t Tell You My Child is Gifted
Wish I had know these assumptions were “off base” when I first started teaching gifted/honors students decades ago.
The Fringy Bit says
So good. Thanks for working to change understandings of gifted students and individuals!
Anni H. says
Such another great article! I liken “giftedness” to a similar struggle I see when people see children too large for their age (specifically toddlers) – too many people assume the “larger than their age” child should act older, more mature, even more advanced than the child’s chronological age would indicate. I had to point that out to so *many* parents I worked with, even!
The jump to say, “Oh, so and so is gifted, so they can do x,y,z and be in charge of the class,” sets that student up for failure – and, sets them even further apart from their peers. So frustrating. Thank you for addressing these misconceptions!
Ginny Kochis says
Your comparison is so true! It is a very similar conundrum.
Ultimately, kids are kids. They all need support.
I never had the honor of teaching honors before I quit teaching, but I love that you’re putting this out there! I would definitely have needed this list.
Ginny Kochis says
I’m glad you found it helpful. I don’t know that I would have called it an honor, though. Just an assignment 🙂
Amy Brooks says
What a great reminder that gifted children are still children, still human and still have needs!
Gail Post says
Really appreciate your points. Gifted children are so frequently misunderstood, and are often confused with high achievers. It is so important to keep getting this information out there!
Ginny Kochis says
It is, indeed. Thanks, Gail.
“The standard definition of a gifted child – one who excels in school” Dear teachers, if this is your understanding of the standard definition of a gifted child, then you were not adequately educated in giftedness during your teaching program. Giftedness can be overwhelming and painful on its own without bearing the weight of frustrated teachers who expected it to determine school performance. This misconception is why my overly-sensitive gifted son was treated terribly in elementary school, while my high-achieving gifted son was constantly praised and rewarded. It was SO, SO difficult as a mom to watch my sensitive child (the one who actually needed praise and support) be ostracized while my high-achiever (who was already Mr. Confident) felt accepted and cherished. They are brothers and come from the same loving home, but one was rejected and the other put on a pedestal. in. elementary. school.
Ginny Kochis says
I’m sorry you had such an experience. Struggles like yours are exactly why I wrote this post. We had a similar situation with my oldest, in fact. She is highly gifted but failed out of kindergarten. It’s why we homeschool now.
Alternatively, another myth is that gifted kids are NOT happy and well-adjusted.
All my schools ever wanted to do was pawn me off onto a shrink despite my adamant refusal to ever let my school struggles bleed over into other spheres. As soon as I was out of the classroom and into the hallway, regardless of how much I’d suffered inside said classroom, I was onto the next thing. I was already daydreaming or playing a video game or looking around for my friends as soon as I crossed the threshold. My teachers made me miserable enough in class and with homework; no way was I going to let them poop my party in between classes or at home when not doing homework!
I was bored and frustrated, not anxious or depressed. But when I refused the completely unnecessary therapy they offered instead of the skipped grades or reduced homework that I needed, they basically shrugged and said, “You’re on your own, kid.”
It’s bad enough that awkward, anxious gifted kids don’t get much help. Try being a good-looking, stylish, confident gifted kid. I had to deal with the “gifted kids can’t need help with school” nonsense AND a heaping helping of, “If she really needed help, she’d be slinking in depressed and crying for it with her head hanging in shame, not prancing up to my desk in that pretty dress with that model-smile and politely requesting it like some kind of mini-diplomat!”
Whatever capacity for intellect that God gave me, He gave me twice that in capacity for gratitude and in faith that things will get better. Unfortunately, my schools measured truth in showy feelings, not words. I was too civil, too happy, too well-adjusted. To them, my ability to calmly state my needs instead of yelling or crying or turning my troubles inward into anxiety or depression showed not my intellect and my faith, but dishonesty and exaggeration. So I got almost nothing from them at best, and outright hatred at worst. But at least I could forget it all and go play afterwards.
Ginny Kochis says
I think what you’ve hit on here is one of the difficulties of school, in general: children are unique individuals, and they don’t do well when placed in a box.
I’m sorry you had to go through that. Kudos to your indomitable spirit.
It’s so hard to watch my 10 years old being criticized because he is immature, overwhelmed with the way teachers have been treating him as a disruptive student while in the other hand he is totally excellent in education.
I really relate with the article, because I know him and I can see how he react towards criticism, especially when he is giving his opinion that sometimes it’s taken the wrong way, just because it’s the way he sees life.
Julie D says
I LOVE the Apple vs orange analogy! What a fabulous way of describing our kids going in to school! Wish I’d been able to explain it so clearly for them at the start – would have saved so many “broken heart” moments!
Your articles are full of excellent advice and ideas and I so enjoy passing them on to other families!!