Gifted Children and Behavior Problems

Parents typically feel blessed to have gifted children, and teachers are usually thrilled to find smart, engaged, and curious children in their classrooms each fall. However, gifted children are still normal kids in many ways and can exhibit bad behavior. While many behavior problems are universal to all children, some gifted children exhibit bad behavior in response to issues related to their gifts. Behavior problems don’t always occur simply because of academic boredom or issues resulting from difficulty interacting with non-gifted peers, but for a wide range of reasons. In fact, many gifted children have excellent social skills because their advanced abilities allow them to lead their peers. In order to constructively address the problem behavior, its important to understand how the unique development and talents of gifted children can lead to undesirable behaviors such as acting out in class, arguing with adults, lying, or over reacting in emotionally charged situations.

Gifted children often have skills beyond their peers in verbal or reasoning abilities. This can lead them to become argumentative or try to manipulate adults and other children. Gifted kids can often challenge the logic behind rules to try to explain why those rules should not apply to them. These skills can provide an avenue for children to quickly learn how lying can benefit them, and they can often convincingly lie much earlier than their peers. Their reasoning skills can allow them to create justifications for lies and other deceptions to maintain relationships or to gain tangible (eg: toys, money, etc) or intangible (eg: attention, additional responsibility) goods. It’s important when dealing with argumentative children that you should acknowledge their logic or skills, but clearly express that the adult makes the rules and that rules are there for everyone, not just one individual. Also, not every gifted child is manipulating adults, siblings, and friends, but it needs to be considered. Make sure you pass his or her story through the same scrutiny that you would for any other child.

Most gifted kids experience asynchronous development, and just because their mind might be advanced, their emotional maturity and physical skills may be average or even below average for their actual age. This can lead to saying inappropriate things; for example, some children will be telling sexually themed jokes while their peers consider dirty jokes to largely be about poop. This uneven development can cause issues when a child can intellectually understand abstract concepts like death, war, the future, and romantic/sexual relationships, but their emotional development is not advanced enough to deal with the topic, leading to intense fear, inappropriate curiosity, or acting out. It is important to talk to children who show interest in topics that can be difficult for older children and adults to deal with emotionally. Children need someone to talk to about their fears, and when they are dealing with topics beyond the level of their peers, they may feel like they have no one to turn to, or that they are somehow odd.

Another problem associated with asynchronous development occurs when the intellectual vision of a gifted child can’t be achieved because their physical development isn’t at the same level. An eight-year old might be able to envision a new invention in her mind, but not have the ability to draw or create it. As we age, we can experience a similar frustration – you can remember exactly how you threw that pass, or jumped that hurdle, but now your body just won’t cooperate. When children experience this type of frustration, they don’t always have the ability express it correctly ,and it can lead to rude outbursts or tantrum-like actions.

Gifted children are used to being one of the best. They often can become type-A perfectionists, and have trouble dealing with not only failure, but also being average. This can lead to risk averse behavior, including refusing to try new things, including school assignments or activities.

One other problem is that many gifted children are emotionally sensitive, and far more aware of events and actions that can be perceived as hurtful. They can over analyze childhood slights and worry about total strangers on the other side of the world. While these skills can lead children to be well loved by their peers for their considerate nature, and spur children to support charitable initiatives or try save the environment, it can also cause problems. Over-sensitivity can lead to worrying incessantly, which can lead to distraction in class or becoming overly emotional in certain situations.

While gifted children act out, say inappropriate things, challenge adults, lie, refuse to cooperate, and fight with other children, just like all kids do, sometimes the underlying issue is much more complex than it might be for a non-gifted child. Many gifted children do not mean to be “troublemakers,” and are unaware that their behavior is inappropriate or over-the-top. Because of this, in many cases, finding the cause for the bad behavior can fix the problem very quickly.