My kid is Gifted and it’s not just because he’s Smart

February 14, 2011

Jennifer from The Martha Project (also known as @TheNextMartha on Twitter) is one of my very favorite people. I’m in awe of how she is always clever and funny (really, who gets that lucky?). Her guest post on raising a son who is gifted is eye opening – making you realize it’s both a blessing and a curse for the parents and the child dealing with out of the ordinary behavior and learning styles. Please to enjoy:

Something about saying that your kid is really smart just turns most people off. Tell people that your kid is gifted and you might as well roll their eyes for them.

But what does that mean? Gifted. I say my kid is gifted and you think what immediately?


           -Really smart?


I imagine that those are the first things people might think, but that is only a part of what defines gifted.

Because I have personal experience, when I hear a kid is gifted I think:

           -A unique ability to take knowledge and apply it in ways you yourself would not have thought.

            -Intense and strong emotions

            -Sometimes developing one area so quickly that other areas are not able to keep up

           -And finally, those poor parents.

Most people do not think of giftedness has having general characteristics that may go along with it other than having a specific IQ.

Let me open your eyes just a little. There’s more. Oh, so much more.

Is my kid smart? Yes he is. Being smart alone does not necessarily make him gifted. Just like other conditions such as ADHD, Autistic, and Aspergers, being gifted has a list of characteristics that help define it.

Being declared gifted is more than saying “My kid gets all A’s, he must be gifted.” That’s just ignorance.

Here is one LIST.

I like that list because it breaks down different areas in which one might be gifted.

Some children are born with natural ability to become artists, musicians, and even athletes. Those are gifted qualities as well.

My kid is not going to bat 300 but he’ll probably do well on the SAT.

Besides those characteristics there is also something referred to as “Dabrowski’s Over-Excitabilities

And that list there? That to me is the tell tale sign of the gifted children. The 2nd list is also many reasons why parenting gifted children can be challenging.

            -Can you change brands of hotdogs without your child noticing? I can’t

            -Do you have to cut out ALL tags or your kid acts like they have knives in their skin? I do.

            -Does your kid react to a situation (that seems harmless) in the MOST dramatic way? He does

             -Can your kid kick your ass at a game of Memory even though he’s been running around the couch in circles not even watching? Mine can.

Oh, and if you happen to be gifted yourself with some of these characteristics? Good Luck.

And finally one other area that can really set a gifted child apart is having asynchronous development.

            -This means that though my 8 year old can read and comprehend at a 12 year old level, he refuses to try to ride a bike due to his lack of inner balance.

            -It also means that it took him a long time to be able to write in a legible manner because his fine motor skills were years behind his thought processes.

            -It means that he may cry about something that you would think only a younger child would cry about.

These are some of the hardest characteristics to deal with as a parent. It’s hard to understand how a kid who can give you the water chemistry for a certain ocean animal will cry over the fact that 2 sprinkles fell off his cupcake. And when other parents or teachers see your kids acting this way? It’s hard to convince them that you actually have a really bright child.

I hope this has opened your eyes a little to what it means to be gifted. This is just a slivering of knowledge. Next time you hear the word “gifted” instead of thinking of the parents bragging or just that the kid is smart, maybe consider the dynamics of this child’s development and needs.

And of course, those poor parents.


  • Carla

    May 30, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Wow, this post really hit home. My seven year old has been such a mystery to me. Her emotions are so intense, she has sensory “issues”, and has melt downs typical for a three year old. It’s exhausting but also heartbreaking because for so long she tended to see things through dark colored glasses. Family also ask why she reacts to things the way she does since she is “so smart”. I’ve always known she was wired differently from the start. She was colicky, cried when her feet touched the grass, and didn’t sleep hardly at all for two years. She also drew complex pictures at 1 1/2, knew 200 signs by the same age, and spoke of deep abstract things at a young age. She was just identified as gifted by her school and when I googled “what does gifted mean for an 8 yr old”, I came across this post. Thank you! Although Milla has been getting therapy and is on a gluten free diet which helps with the explosions, it is nice to know we are not alone. I have no doubt that as she develops, her intense empathy and sensitivities will give way to something big… something really special.

  • Kate

    April 18, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    Cutting the tags out of the shirts…reminds me of my younger son. Both of my boys have exceptional gifts. One a bit more than the other and it is always a challenge. They make me feel like an ass sometimes because they are too smart for their own good. Excellent, funny, and thought provoking. Great post.

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  • Ruby

    May 4, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    Thank you! I am 32, but when I was a kid I was in gifted classes. All I knew was that I was artistic and what they called an “abstract thinker”. But I didn’t think I was smart. Just not like anybody I knew.
    I did not realize how deep this went. I NEVER LEARNED TO RIDE A BIKE.
    I have always felt ashamed of that. I was always a phobic person and had difficulty learning to do things and didn’t even drive a car until I was in my mid 20’s. Being gifted isn’t about being smart. It’s just a different way of being I guess.

  • Susan

    February 15, 2011 at 12:47 am

    What a great essay, Jennifer!

    I’ve always said that parenting a gifted child is just EXHAUSTING. The high energy and drama can be overwhelming sometimes. But the humorous revelations that come out of their mouths can be priceless and regenerative to us tired Moms and Dads. Sometimes when my daughter starts negotiating and rationalizing something with me, I can’t help myself and I actually break out laughing. I often give in simply because the creativity of the scenarios she comes up with are, in themselves, worth a reward.

    I often think we need to come up with a new term, as the gift comes with the curse, such as the overexcitabilities and the endless array of half-completed projects cluttering up the house. There are many characteristics of gifted children that can overlap with ADHD. Lots of debate, but I think there is a high level of correlation that most gifted kids are able to successfully mask for decades. They see so much more than most, yet are often blind and naive to what is right in front of them. They don’t notice the homework page sitting right in front of them, or the clothes in the middle of their bed they were supposed to put away. And, oh yeah, they are 10 years old and choose to still believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, because they’ve figured out that the kids who still believe get a lot more ‘stuff.’

    I think being gifted is more about thinking and feeling differently. Gifted kids think deeper, feel deeper, and express themselves more deeply. Their thoughts and focus are also much wider. A pin hole to others becomes a crater of thought for gifted kids. Part of our job is to rein them in and narrow their focus to make projects more manageable and accomplishable. The problem is that gifted kids have…gifted parents. And most of us have yet to master the project management and executive functioning skills we need to teach our kids…because no one taught us. Someday our kids will become gifted adults, like us…and have to find a path in a world that doesn’t necessarily value those gifts.

    Because the other thing that many people don’t understand is gifted children often don’t finish things. They start a project that is way too big and complex for a limited time period, or they complete the project in their mind from start to finish, and once they know they can do it they get bored and no longer have the desire to actually do the project. So, yes, they often DON’T get A’s. And, as you alluded, not all gifted kids are excited by academics. Many are highly creative and while they may have the mental capacity to do well, they are just not that interested in academic subjects. They are more interested in understanding and using a concept in a new and unique way than, say, ‘showing their work’ to get an A. The challenge is to find highly creative learning models that interweave the creative arts with traditional academics. And showing them that there are many, many career paths in the world where they can find happiness and success. Perhaps they will be a repeated superstar working on the front end of a project where they can be highly creative, hand-on, and strategic, but maybe they will be a disaster when trying to manage a project all the way to the end or having to supervise a team and sit behind a desk all day. We have to encourage them to try and allow them to fail at a young age, as they will often judge themselves by adult standards, even as a toddler. So many things will come easily to them that they will have a tendency to run the other way when they can’t master a task perfectly, immediately. As drama-filled as it becomes, at a young age we need to expose them to things that don’t come easily to them and encourage them to keep at, whether it’s learning an instrument, speaking a new language, playing a sport, or learning to socialize in a non-gifted environment. So many gifted kids don’t learn early enough that they can survive and thrive after failure. Crash and rebuild, not crash and burn. Many won’t experience their first major failure until they are adults and the emotional impact becomes severely, irrationally, magnified.

    Ultimately, the most important lesson we can teach our gifted children is that they have to find the one life path that fits their unique giftedness, and not feel pressured to fulfill anyone else expectations.

  • Lori

    February 14, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    We have three kids and their average GPA is 4.16.

    And the kid with the highest GPA we don’t think is gifted.

    He’s incredibly smart. And they were all in GATE, but these days that happens with grades.

    It’s the intuitive leaps that you know you couldn’t make.

    It’s the understanding the hard concept before you’re done explaining to the child who simultaneously can’t process that it’s sometimes OK to NOT have your fair share of cookies.

    It’s a tortuous route to trying to tease out what REALLY went wrong at school because her emotions override her memory and we don’t want to go ballistic on a teacher for something that in truth was not a big deal.

    We are prouder than you can imagine. (well, probably you can.) But at times we are very very tired.

  • Ehastedt

    February 14, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    Thank you for your humorous account – those of us who live this everyday know all too well that although this seems humorous sometimes it can be overwhelming and makes us feel inadequate as parents.

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  • Bridget

    February 14, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Thank you ….people just do not see how EXAUSTING having a gifted child is. Also the struggles. People think it is just easy and we are lucky.

  • Lynn MacDonald (All Fooked Up)

    February 14, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    You could have been describing my child…except, he’s 17 now. Many of the symptoms you described are sensory integration dysfunction issues. They should be dealt with ASAP. Many gifted kids also have huge holes in their skills and development. While my son is extremely gifted in math, he’s always struggled with the organizational aspects of writing. He was brilliant with huge behavioral issues. He’s now a fine young man and is looking at school. You need to take a holistic approach with these kids and see them as a whole child…both good and bad things to deal with.

    Just my opinion. I never told anyone my son was gifted and he doesn’t talk or brag about either.

  • Bunky

    February 14, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Thank you Jen! Wish I would’ve learned this lesson about 5 years earlier. It’s a good one! Now if more folks in schools would join the party!

  • Joanna

    February 14, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. Love this post.

  • Juliya

    February 14, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Thank you for writing this! I have a four year old child and this describes him so well and it’s nice to know that this is ‘normal’. Everyone sees my son and comments on how smart he is because of his reading, memory games and etc. But then I have to explain why he won’t participate in sports or has melt downs if something just isn’t right to him. Thanks again for sharing this.

  • Guilty Squid

    February 14, 2011 at 10:52 am

    Can I just add one thing? That when people who have a really bright child and just call them “gifted” like it’s something that you want your children to achieve? I get fired up.

    The struggles of the profoundly gifted are inherent and are there from birth.

    Oh and parents of these children deserve way more support and understanding and services for their children than they get now.

    Love you Jen.

    You did good.

  • Alexia

    February 14, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Great post! It’s always so nice to hear things from those going through it. Helps with the ‘Judgies’. Your son sounds incredible and challenging all at the same time. Just like any other kids with his one unique set of circumstances.

  • Deanna @ The Unnatural Mother

    February 14, 2011 at 9:40 am

    LOVE this!! Well said, well said!

  • the grumbles

    February 14, 2011 at 9:31 am

    This made me laugh in so many ways, even though I know you’re being very serious. I went to the grade school where “Gifted Kids Thrive” so I’ve lived so much of this. 2nd grade math prodigy in my class was taking calculus- but couldn’t go to school without his stuffed dinosaur. The trade offs are real.

    My son is too little to tell if he fits into the “gifted” mold yet and I wouldn’t care too much which direction he goes. There are pros and cons.

    1. TheNextMartha

      February 14, 2011 at 9:36 am

      Let’s be honest. I’m not ever serious. Thanks.

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  • Sherri

    February 14, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Oh, this is my kid. And I feel like you are one of the few people who has been able to put this into words that don’t require an eye roll or behind-the-back whispers.

    He’s a great kid and he won’t hit the home run. But he has other talents and quirks and he’s run with them and made it to his senior year of high school.

    And I think he’s truly become his own person. Because we all really don’t have to date the prom queen or score the winning touchdown.

    Loved this!

  • Beth

    February 14, 2011 at 8:57 am

    As the mom of gifted children I agree with the “trade offs” involved. Fortunately we have been able to identify the stress triggers, social balances and areas to highlight that make things easier to manage for all of us. I understand that many parents aren’t that lucky and I truly appreciate how fortunate we are.

    (Now where can I find pants without those “annoying” waist band adjusting buttons???)

  • Eve

    February 14, 2011 at 8:53 am

    What a great perspective. I’ve always struggled with my sons giftedness. He worked puzzles for 5-7 year olds when he was two. But didn’t talk until he was almost four. He was in the “gifted program” in 4th and 5th and AP classes in 6th and this year, but at home has such a short attention span. He’s very immature. During bible time at home my DH will be reading a story aloud and I’ll think he’s not paying a lick of attention but then when I ask was daddy just read he will repeat it almost verbatim. It can be very frustrating. I think I need to research more of what it means to be gifted, maybe it would help me understand him more and parent him more effectively!

  • Summer Davis

    February 14, 2011 at 8:53 am

    Jennifer, Seriously…THANK-YOU. I have a 9 yr old who was just identified as “gifted”. You could have described him in your post. I’ve been trying for YEARS to get him to ride a bike and he won’t do it. His handwriting is atrocious. But he reads and comprehends at a 10th grade level, is a phenomenal speller, a great leader, and very innovative. He can put together a 1000 piece LEGO set in a couple of hours. I was crackingUP about the changing brands of hot dogs. Styles has never, EVER liked processed American cheese. It had to be the real thing – from a young age. I bought processed cheese this weekend and made him a grilled cheese sandwich with it yesterday for the first time in probably 4 years. He told me it was disgusting and wouldn’t eat it, even though I hadn’t told him it was “fake” cheese. My husband and I are often baffled at his young emotional age. He comes home from school crying because kids in his class got in trouble. HE didn’t get in trouble, but it upsets him immensely when other people do.

    Having a “gifted” child is not at all easy. It is, on the contrary, quite difficult. Not only do I have to worry about his getting a good education, I have to worry about HOW he is learning, because it is vastly different from the “average” child. I also have to be concerned with fostering his weaknesses so that they don’t fall TOO far behind, while embracing his crazy strengths. While having a “gifted” child isn’t necessarily the same as having a child with disabilities, I think that it would qualify as having a child with “special” needs.

    I’m tremendously thankful for this article.

  • Miranda

    February 14, 2011 at 8:50 am

    I don’t know if I’ve ever said this, but thank you for being an advocate for not only YOUR gifted son but for gifted children everywhere. Too often gifted kids get the proverbial shaft because “they’ll be alright” and the focus is dramatically shifted elsewhere. As a gifted child, I’m thankful that I grew up in a time period when there was still money to focus on gifted education in schools. Now? Our gifted children are not always so fortunate.

    So, yeah. I guess this is just a lengthy way of saying “thanks.”

    1. TheNextMartha

      February 14, 2011 at 10:51 am

      Thank you for thanking me. Yes. The shaft is large. And in this way? Not good.

  • Law Momma

    February 14, 2011 at 8:45 am

    My mother used to always say “Dear God: rescue me from gifted children.” And I can see where it would be a really TOUGH gig.

    1. TheNextMartha

      February 14, 2011 at 10:50 am

      It’s got it’s ups and downs just like any parenting gig. Those days when I think “what is wrong with you?!” I can go, oh yeah.

  • TheNextMartha

    February 14, 2011 at 8:35 am

    Nothing gets me more fired up than some gifted talk. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share.

  • Sol

    February 14, 2011 at 8:28 am

    Thank goodness your son has a mom who recognizes all of this. I was a gifted child who attended a local gifted school. The school tried to explain to parents that being gifted was great and all but could also be a bit of a double edged sword. Many parents (like my own) didn’t quite grasp the concept.

    Now I am the parent of a gifted child. I am often asked by ignorant parents “Why is your daughter so overly emotional if she is so smart?” I am working with her teachers to figure out what is best for her.

    1. Karen G

      February 14, 2011 at 6:24 pm

      Consider homeschooling…

      From a gifted parent of two profoundly gifted children who were both homeschooled from grades 1-5.

      1. Sol

        February 14, 2011 at 6:35 pm

        We are fortunate to have a teacher and school principal who care. They also suggested homeschooling for the first few years.

        We’ve decided for next year to participate in a part time homeschooling set up. She’ll go in for their gifted program, recess/lunch and then home for the rest of the day. We choose the days (anywhere from 1-3 days a week). It is experimental but Im hoping it’ll be a good balance. My daughter loves school so I don’t want to eliminate it completely.

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