The Ups and Downs of Growing Up Gifted

by Judy Galbraith and Jim Delisle, authors of When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers

If you want to know what kids think and feel about growing up gifted, just ask them. We have—thousands of times—and are amazed that wherever we travel and whomever we ask, there is more similarity in gifted kids’ responses than there are differences. Not only are gifted kids curious about what giftedness is (“Is it all about being smart and getting good grades, or is it related more to the depth of my thinking and the range of my interests and passions?”), but they have many more questions about topics like school, friendship, expectations, future goals, and more.

We’ve compiled these concerns into a list that we call “The 8 Great Gripes of Gifted Kids” and, although some of the gripes vary depending on the kids’ ages, they each share a common base: the desire to understand and appreciate one’s personal gifts and talents more fully. The complete list of “Gripes” is available in our new book, When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers: How to Meet Their Social and Emotional Needs (revised and updated edition), but here are some of the main issues that pique gifted kids’ curiosity:

  • School issues: “Why is school often so repetitive and unchallenging, why do we have to do more-of-the-same work when we finish our assignments instead of being able to move on, and why don’t we get a chance to explore our interests in projects that engage our minds?”
  • Friendship: “Why do many of our classmates seldom understand our jokes and our vocabulary, is it okay to want to have friends who are older than we are, and why is it that our gifted program friends are the only ones who really ‘get’ us?”
  • Expectations: “Why is it that parents, teachers, and even friends expect us to be perfect both in terms of our grades and our behaviors? Why is it when we say we want to be a video game designer or an entrepreneur when we grow up, we’re told that these careers aren’t ‘gifted enough’? How do we get around trying to please other people instead of simply pleasing ourselves?”

We’ve long believed that the easiest part of being smart is being smart in school. But it’s these other life issues—friends, goals, personal fulfillment—that make growing up gifted a challenge for many kids and teens. When the “8 Great Gripes” are first brought up, many gifted kids will see this as a chance to vent their frustrations with others who share them. And that’s actually a good place to begin. It serves like an “emotional bloodletting” where concerns that have been bottled up for a long time get aired in an atmosphere of support and acceptance.

parent teacher conferencewiki commons GNU openBut change for the better doesn’t end with venting—it begins with it. It begins by reviewing ways to talk to teachers respectfully about making changes in school curriculum or assignments. It continues by giving clues for expressing to parents how the onus of perfection can actually stifle a child’s ambition and creativity. It moves forward by offering pointers on how to make friends understand that although you may be better at doing some things than they are, that doesn’t imply that you are a better person than anyone else. That’s what happens when the “8 Great Gripes” are used as a springboard for understanding and appreciating the many aspects of growing up gifted that often go undiscussed by the very people who want to know more: the gifted kids in our care.

Take that risk—open up an honest conversation about the ups and downs of growing up gifted. You and the gifted kids you know will both benefit.

Delisle_Jim_FSP Author

Jim Delisle, Ph.D., has worked with and for gifted kids for 37 years as a teacher, counselor, professor, and dad. He currently teaches gifted high school students part-time at Scholars Academy in Conway, South Carolina. The author of 19 books, including The Gifted Teen Survival Guide (with Judy Galbraith), Jim’s latest book is Dumbing Down America: The War on Our Nation’s Brightest Young Minds (And What We Can Do to Fight Back).

Judy Galbraith, Free Spirit Publishing

Judy Galbraith, M.A., is the founder and president of Free Spirit Publishing. A former classroom teacher, she has worked with and taught gifted children and teens, their parents, and their teachers for many years. Judy is the author or coauthor of several books, including The Survival Guide for Gifted Kids and What Kids Need to Succeed. In 2011, she was awarded with the California Association for the Gifted Ruth A. Martinson Award, and in 2012, she was awarded the “Friend of the Gifted” award by the Minnesota Council for the Gifted and Talented for her sustained advocacy on behalf of gifted children.

Free Spirit books by Jim and Judy:

When Gifted Kids Don't Have All the AnswersThe Gifted Teen Survival Guide


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