Problems in Gifted Children

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Problems in Gifted Children

Though it is not necessarily mandated by state department of education or federal special education laws, many schools choose to identify gifted children. The primary purpose of doing so is to provide special programs and education that cater to these exceptional students. Although there is some controversy and discussion regarding the definition and conception of giftedness, most schools identify gifted children through a combination of quantitative assessments, such as intelligence tests, as well as through qualitative assessments, such as teacher recommendations. Once these children are identified and labeled as being “gifted”, they are given access to acceleration, enrichment, and pull-out programs. Such programs are necessary to facilitate the learning and development of these exceptional children. This special attention is crucial, as gifted students often exhibit characteristics and behaviors that are quite different from those of their peers. For example, gifted students tend to develop a greater amount of effective learning strategies, and often are more motivated to gain knowledge and excel. They also possess a more advanced ability to process information (Pressley 1995). Clearly, there are many advantages and strengths such as these that are associated with giftedness. This, in turn, begs the questions: What are the possible problems and difficulties that are linked with gifted children? Is giftedness purely an intellectual superiority, or is it a double-edged sword that can accelerate learning whilst thwarting other areas of the life of such an exceptional child? If there are problems linked to gifted characteristics, can these be played out through negative behavior patterns, and what can be done to prevent such patterns?

Possible Problems linked with Gifted Children

In researching this question, we find that many strengths of the gifted child may be associated with possible problems. The ways in which these strengths can be played out as problems are endless.

For example, gifted children are often quite versatile and have a wide array of abilities, talents, and interests. This could possibly become a problem in that these gifted children may be seen as having a scattered, disorganized mind that cannot focus on one particular interest. The diversity and sheer number of activities or topics that may interest a gifted child might even be overwhelming, leading such a student to feel frustrated that there is not enough time in the day to explore each of these pursuits.

Another way in which the double-edged nature of giftedness can be illustrated lies in the gifted child's propensity for sensitivity. Gifted children are quite empathetic, and have a heightened inclination to feel for others. They have a deep sense of knowledge about the people around them, and desire to be accepted by their peers. A potential problem that could arise from this strength is a higher sensitivity to rejection by others.

In addition, gifted children often hold high expectations of them selves. This considerable strength is sometimes projected onto those around them, leading these children to expect greatness from their peers. Gifted children can thus, become intolerant of others' shortcomings. It can also lead to perfectionist tendencies, which might result in depression. The constant internalized expectation to perform at such a high level has the potential to always anticipate that the outcome of all endeavors is without flaw.

Gifted children have strong powers of concentration, and can focus intensely on the subject at hand. If a gifted child is presented with an area of interest, he or she has the potential to devote a great amount of persistence in this area, and are free to utilize their extended attention spans. Such a heightened ability might result in the neglect of responsibilities, people, and other surroundings in favor of the area of interest with which he or she is focused on. Interruption is nearly impossible and is resisted heavily. Attempts to cause breaks may be of no avail because of this stubbornness (Clark 1992).

Negative Behavior Patterns

The aforementioned characteristics and problems that may arise are rarely inherently problematic. However, it is when these characteristics and problems are combined that negative behavior patterns may begin to arise.

Gifted children have a natural ability to imagine ideal situations, and have the tendency to visualize an array of perfect possibilities. This ability to picture better alternatives is a key factor in gifted children's success. Unfortunately, this ability is sometimes projected onto themselves. Gifted children can imagine a better version of themselves. They can see ways in which they can improve, and might focus on their limitations as a result. They fear that they are not measuring up to what they believe they have the possibility of being. Gifted children are hard on themselves and excessively beat themselves up for falling short of what they think they should be (Adderholt-Elliot 1989).

On that same note, this ability to imagine the possibilities might play out in somewhat of an opposite manner - While gifted children can picture the most ideal situation that an option may lead to, they can also picture the most horrifying situation that an option may lead to. In a sense, they are consumed by the wide range of results of every alternative. When gifted children focus on a potentially negative outcome that may possibly arise, they may choose to avoid such an outcome by keeping themselves far away from undertaking certain activities. This avoidance of risk-taking can have a severe consequence on a gifted child. This could not only result in underachievement, but also a lack of stimulating and challenging experiences that a gifted child craves (Whitmore, 1980; Powell & Hayden, 1984).

Gifted children have a wide range of talents, skills, and capabilities. Their abilities are quite advanced, and are usually highly diverse. Gifted children are involved in many different areas because they have so many different interests that they excel in. This can result in difficulties later in life, when gifted children are beginning to face decisions related to selecting a career (Kerr, 1985).

Though it is not something that one might expect from an exceptionally bright student, underachievement is not uncommon amongst gifted children. It has been concluded that some students may achieve far below their potential in a school setting simply because the curriculum that is being offered is not properly motivating the child to learn. Evidence also states that many gifted children are not excelling in school because they are bored. A 4-year longitudinal study was recently completed. In this study, it was shown that the level of boredom that a gifted child experience in elementary school and middle school was directly correlated to the level of underachievement that was experienced by the student in high school. High school teachers are instructing their classes on concepts that the gifted children had already mastered significantly earlier than their classmates. Since they felt no need to pay attention what they had already learned, they felt disinterested in the curriculum. Thus, teachers were unable to motivate these students (Reis, Hebert, Diaz, Maxfield, & Ratley, 1995).

Preventing Problems

The role of parenting is crucial in regards to the emotional and social development aspects of a gifted child.

Self-regulated learning is more complex than Winne argued, as illustrated by the complex strategies articulated by very skilled readers as they process text. So, too, is transfer of newly learned strategies from one task to another, although paradoxically Winne underestimated the evidence supporting some of the mechanisms of transfer he favored. The development of self-regulation is long-term and much more social than Winne implied. Nonetheless, I think the instructional principles Winne favored are so important that I offer my own summary of them.