Why being gifted can create problems for your child - and how you can help

Devon Harris' son was tested for giftedness when he was three.
Devon Harris' son was tested for giftedness when he was three. 

Brooke Oldfield knew her son William was gifted from a very early age.

"I observed he was of an above average intelligence when he was one," Ms Oldfield said.

"I knew from my teaching experience he was gifted but I did not know the level of giftedness.

Five-year-old William Oldfield realises he is "smart".
Five-year-old William Oldfield realises he is "smart". 

"William was identified superiorly gifted with an IQ of 138 at four-years-old and he reached the glass ceiling in all five domains tested."

Now, five-years-old he's aware he's smart.

"William has an understanding that he has a 'smart brain'," she said.

"I think being gifted puts pressure on him to succeed because expectations of him to learn are higher.

"William is lucky to be at a school where they value giftedness and there is a strong gifted and talented program with many opportunities for academic growth supported by social and emotional programs."

And while he does have a "smart brain" sometimes he faces challenges in other aspects of life. 

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"William experiences a range of social and emotional sensitivities and intensities. He is extremely sensitive and over-reacts to situations with intense emotions," she said.

"He is also highly competitive at sport and board games. He thinks he should come first and win all the time.

"William also demonstrates perfectionism in regard to school tasks. He places extreme expectations on himself to master tasks at the first attempt. When mastery is not achieved, he experiences sadness and tears."

Together with her husband Gavin, his teachers and grandparents, they've been arming him with a range of strategies.

"With maturity we have seen small changes in his behaviours," she said.

"It is early intervention and a continuum of well-being initiatives which will have long term positive effects to his social and emotional development. 

"We ensure William has a balance of co-curricular activities, schoolwork and play time and Gavin and I place value on ensuring he feels loved, nurtured and supported in everything he does."

Human performance expert Mark Oliver said kids who were given the label of "gifted" were often exceptionally high in one or two types of intelligence.

"What differentiates gifted people is that they are extremely high in one or two areas of intelligence but extremely low in at least one type of intelligence," Mr Oliver said.

"The problem is the 'gifted' label tends to obscure the fact that there is one area of intelligence that is very low, and this will potentially derail the gifted person's success."

It was important parents of gifted children identified the areas that needed additional support.

"As an observer, I think there is a danger in not letting them 'be children' and live a rounded life which tends to help build all intelligences," he said.

"As a general strategy it is important to help them go into their emotional 'room' more (unless that is their gift).

"At the end of the day, showing love is always important."

For Devon Harris, she knew her son was gifted when he was a baby.

"It was extremely early on that I noticed he had capacities beyond his agemates. He didn't smile much, he was in a constant state of contemplation," Ms Harris said.

"As a baby he would give people the once over, from head to toe. I could see he was thinking deeply about things. He was also early with all his milestones - rolling, sitting, crawling and walking."

"By the age of two he was counting past 60 and doing simple maths."

When he was three, she got him tested.

"I found an expert who swiftly identified him as gifted and lifted the veil for me as to what gifted really meant," she said.

"That intellectual capacity is only one part of it and that it goes hand-in-hand with expanded capacities in areas such as emotional, psychomotor, imaginal and sensory.

"I felt relief too at having a 'diagnosis' of sorts. It meant I could put language to what I was experiencing. I also found a community where I could gather more information, identify best practices, connect to peers, receive resources and really relax and be myself."

Her aim is to always find the right "balance of pressure" as too little and he's bored, and too much and he's overwhelmed.

"I guess it's the same with any child, but maybe with gifted kids the balance of attention is a little more sensitive and the edges of it are far wider," she said.

"As much as we 'work' on intellectual, sporting and artistic pursuits we make time to develop emotional dexterity. It's worth noting that my goal is not about him being 'well rounded' per say, it's about him being well equipped to navigate and enjoy life."