By Jim Delisle, Ph.D., coauthor (with Judy Galbraith) of When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers
Whether you’ve worked with gifted kids for a couple of weeks or a couple of decades, you’ve probably caught yourself thinking, “How could such a smart kid make such a dumb decision?” It’s an occupational hazard of gifted child educators (parents, too) to assume that intellectual brilliance is accompanied by abundant common sense, but it doesn’t take long being around a bunch of gifted kids to realize that their ability to judge the soundness of their actions runs the gamut from profound to nonexistent. How can this be, and is there anything you can do to help gifted kids connect the dots between their choices and the consequences of those choices?
Well . . . yes and no. Human development is a tricky thing, so trying to force gifted kids to understand cause and effect won’t work if their brains aren’t ready to absorb the insight required to make these judgments. (Think of the TV series Jackass or any of a thousand YouTube videos in which grown adults make wacky decisions that lead to painful results.) However, not all hope is lost if you follow the suggestions below, which I offer to you as an educator of gifted kids for 40 years and the father of a grown-up gifted son who made his share of boneheaded decisions well into his 20s!
First, talk through the options before a choice has to be made. For sure, some of life’s decisions are made on the spur of the moment (“Do I dive in or check the water temperature first?”). Yet with many others, you have time to contemplate your choices. For example, do I study for a test or just assume I know the material because I’m smart? Do I apply only to elite colleges or do I also include a “safety school” where I’m pretty much guaranteed admittance? Should I tell my mom her new hairdo is a throwback to the ’50s or do I just say, “Gee, Mom, I see you have a new look”?
By talking about the choices before the decision has to be made, we help ingrain in our kids the reality that more than one option always exists and that every option has a consequence. Yeah, I know, you’d think that smart kids would make these connections without our help. Some will . . . many won’t.
Second, ask your kids/students to reflect on some of the best and worst decisions from their pasts and dissect the processes used in making those decisions. It’s human nature to remember the stupid things we did far more vividly than our most inspired actions. Why? Because the stupid decisions linger with us like bad breath after eating a taco.
But the good thing about having made bad choices is that they allow us to reflect on other ways we might’ve chosen to respond. By asking questions like, “Did you consider what else you could’ve said/done?” or, “What type of reaction were you expecting when you made the choice you did?” you begin to help kids connect those cause-effect dots I mentioned earlier. But also be sure to help gifted kids understand why the good decisions that they made were, in fact, good decisions! When you focus on the antecedents and results of fine judgment, you instill the desire to use this skill again and again.
Third, discard the guilt. Gifted kids are often touted as being more sensitive, more aware, and more likely to dwell on things they’ve done or not done to the point of mental exhaustion—theirs and yours. If this describes your kid or student, then the worst thing you can do is focus on the past. When you linger on something dumb or dangerous that a kid did, remember this: No amount of talking is going to alter what happened. It’s done. Over. Finis. Instead, focus on other ways to respond should a similar event happen again. And if your maker of dumb decisions is anything like my son, you’ll have lots to laugh about in subsequent years when the sting of teenage choices is moderated by time and experience.
Smart kids doing stupid things? I don’t know . . . perhaps it’s genetic.
Jim Delisle, Ph.D., is a retired Distinguished Professor of Education at Kent State University, a former middle school teacher, and the author of 19 books. When not writing, Jim teaches gifted high school students in South Carolina and works with educators across the world on ways to appreciate gifted kids, even ones who make stupid choices sometimes.
Free Spirit books by Jim Delisle:
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