Because we measure IQ with numbers, we assume that high intelligence means that a gifted child is like other children, only more advanced. That is true, but gifted kids also differ from other children in ways that go beyond schoolwork or general intelligence.
Giftedness researcher Linda Silverman emphasizes that exceptional mental ability is only one component of the gifted child’s experience. She has noticed that gifted children have a unique organization of the self that sets them apart from other children. Not only are they smarter, but they perceive and approach life very differently from their peers. They are exceptionally sensitive, and their keen perceptiveness makes them aware of things that most people overlook. Their sensitivity is not just perceptual but emotional, too. Not only do they take in more data, but they have more intense reactions as well.
Another researcher, psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski, called this gifted trait over-excitability or super-sensibility. They notice (and often are bothered by) stimuli that other children miss or ignore. For instance, they can be very sensitive to tactile irritants, like scratchy tags in clothing, or textures of cloth. Bright lights, loud noises, and other sensory intensities may be difficult for them to tolerate. They also have vivid imaginations, and scary movies or upsetting thoughts affect them deeply. Parents need to be aware of how frightening experiences affect gifted kids and take care when picking out movies and other forms of entertainment that might cause fear or make them question reality. Their fantasy life is so vivid that it doesn’t take much to fuel nightmares or anxieties.
Gifted perceptiveness also can fuel perfectionism. They notice the smallest errors and think they should be able to do everything correctly the first time. As a result, they are intensely frustrated when their performance doesn’t match their standards of excellence. They can exhaust themselves with their strong motivational drive. They often expect too much from themselves developmentally and can become very self-critical when they don’t do as well as they think they should. Gifted children need help in lowering the bar sometimes and giving themselves adequate time to learn the ropes.
Although they are emotionally sensitive to others, they can still be critical of people who they see as holding them back. This can extend to their teachers as well, and it’s important to match the gifted child with a school program that satisfies their intense curiosity and desire to master interesting material. It is no fun for gifted children or their teachers when schoolwork is too repetitive or unchallenging. Gifted kids lose attentiveness in a classes that emphasize rote learning over intellectual discovery.
The gifted child’s emotions are also heightened. They tend to be highly empathic toward other people, animals, and even objects. They can become very attached to all sorts of things. For these children, the world is alive and everything has feelings. Gifted children can be very attuned to other people’s suffering, and they often take responsibility for making others feel better. They feel deep sympathy for the outcast, the lonely, the hurting, or the humiliated. They imagine the other person’s experience and want to alleviate it. This compassion can make them especially vulnerable to the unhappiness or trauma of family members or friends. Their exceptional sensitivity extends to news about disasters, suffering people, abandoned animals, or the environment.
Gifted kids have a finely tuned moral sensitivity with a strong sense of fairness and justice. Their ethical sense is very idealistic, and they hold themselves (and others) to high standards of truthfulness and authenticity.
Raising gifted children requires special patience and emotional sensitivity. When handled with respect and understanding, they are great company with their unusual curiosity and interesting questions. They often have a sense of humor beyond their years and a comprehension that is almost adult-like. Their creativity is always percolating, and it is fun to see what they will come up with next. Take it easy on the criticism, as a little bit will go a long way with these children. Treat time for introspection and periods of introversion as necessities for all that mental activity. As you take his or her special needs into account, you’ll be turning your gifted child into a gift to the world.