The Pressures on Gifted Children

23 May 2023
Posted by: Chelsea

Having a child identified as being ‘gifted’ is widely considered to be a wonderful thing but for the child and parents concerned, it can bring with it a range of challenges.

What does ‘gifted’ mean?

All children are naturally gifted. Their abilities may exist in many different areas and the role of parents, daycare centres and schools is to help them develop their natural gifts and talents as they grow up.

However, just as very rarely a child is identified as having some developmental difficulties that require special help, at times a child may be identified as being unusually gifted in one or more areas. They too may benefit from special assistance.

In Australia, there is no formal set of measures to define being ‘gifted’. Broadly speaking, it is usually taken to mean a child that is learning and developing considerably faster than average for their age in one or more areas of their physical and/or intellectual and academic growth.

Their skills may be unitary or diverse

Some gifted children may develop several years ahead of their age in one area, such as mathematics while staying relatively average in their performances in other study domains.

Some gifted children may seemingly excel in many different areas.

These skills aren’t always academic. They can arise in areas such as sports, conversation or wider social interaction.

Sometimes, children identified as ‘gifted’ at an early age, can subsequently lag and be caught up by other children around them at older ages.

What causes children to be ‘gifted’?

As with so many aspects of human development, the mechanics here are not understood.

It is clear though that such gifts tend to run in families, suggesting that in significant part, this is genetic.

Most experts agree that while early childhood learning can help children’s subsequent performance in school, there is no evidence to suggest such approaches can help create gifted children.

How many gifted children are there?

There is no clear answer to the question of numbers but estimates in Australia suggest that roughly 10% of children progress in areas significantly faster than averages to such an extent that they can be categorised as ‘gifted’.

Ages and symptoms

The first signs that a child is gifted normally arise at around the age of 4-6, though in some cases that might not happen until the child is older and post-puberty.

Inevitably, as most parents are naturally deeply proud of their children, there is a known tendency for parental misdiagnosis of skills to categorise their children as gifted. However, such parental suspicions, when valid, are often confirmed by experienced personnel in daycare, preschool or early primary school environments.

Some of the tell-tale symptoms include:

  • progression way ahead of norms for their age;
  • a high tendency to ask questions and then to interpret the answers and ask follow-up questions;
  • an inclination to prefer speaking to and playing with, older children or adults rather than children of their age;
  • a visible ability to concentrate for extended periods on a single subject, book, game or discussion, when most children in the 4-6 age range have much more limited attention spans;
  • a very active and inventive imagination.

Why help is required

Many gifted children manifest negative as well as positive symptoms. They may demonstrate:

  • boredom with standard lessons and a reluctance to join in peer-group school activities they think of as ‘babyish’;
  • troubles playing with children of their own age group outside of school;
  • impatience with teachers or daycare professionals not seen to be progressing fast enough (often linked to boredom). This may result in bad behaviour;
  • a reluctance to go to school because they prefer to study independently;
  • a limited sense of humour/fun;
  • a more highly-developed (for their age) and fragile emotional state;
  • a tendency to hide their achievements for fear of victimisation from classmates.

There is a well-known, if moderately rare link between being extremely gifted at younger ages and the development of subsequent teenage or early adult tendencies towards depression and other emotional conditions.

The reasons for this are not clear. There is though some speculation that a lack of a supportive academic structure in their earlier schooling years may have been a contributory factor.

It is accepted that gifted children require specialist support in school, although the provision of such can be challenging for schools and teachers.

If you believe your child is gifted, you should ask for an initial discussion with your preschool centre or your child’s teachers if they’re already in school.

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