As a child therapist, there is one thing I know about exceptionally intelligent kids: they are often misunderstood, and for good reason. Gifted children possess an inner world so rich and complex, that quite frankly, others just don’t get them. We tend to view gifted and talented kids narrowly, in terms of their performance: “Wow, Landon has a huge vocabulary. Jane made a fully functioning robot. Sam reads all day.” This is where we sometimes miss the mark. Yes, gifted kids think more, know more, create more, but to truly understand them, is to see how uniquely they experience the world. If the young gifted child could teach us, this is what she might say:
- “My feelings are bigger and different than everybody else’s.”
Super Sensitivity and Emotional Intensity: Just as gifted kids’ thinking is more complex, so is their feeling. Teachers, friends, and parents often see their emotional eruptions as a sign of instability, when actually their ability to sense and feel on such a deep level is one of their greatest strengths.
- “I don’t feel my age.”
Uneven Development: Gifted children’s intellect, social skills, and emotional self-control can progress at different rates. If you can imagine a child housed in an eight-year-old body, with the mind of a thirteen-year-old, and the social skills of a six-year-old, then you can begin to comprehend how complicated daily life can get for these kids.
- “People don’t make sense and I’m the only one who cares.”
Deep Social Concerns: Gifted kids are often highly troubled by issues of suffering, injustice, and hypocrisy. As such, they can react intensely when such things directly affect them or they observe this is the larger world. Most people will understand how an adult approaching mid-life could worry about the meaning of life, death, pain, and the injustice of the world, but when the 5th grader is crying about such issues during recess, it leaves most people rather confused and even uncomfortable.
- “There is no one in the whole world like me.”
Profound Sense of Loneliness: A keen self-awareness accompanied by the feeling of being different can leave gifted kids feeling like aliens––it doesn’t help that their passionate curiosity and interests often do not match those of their classmates. Because of these difficulties, the school experience for gifted kids can be sometimes one of painful rejection.
Despite their many differences, gifted children have the same basic emotional needs of every other kid: they long to be accepted and understood. As parents, educators, and mental health professionals, we can help by simply listening when they try to show us that being exceptional does NOT always feel like a “gift.”