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Gifted and Talented Children - the Emotional Path to Success

Harry is great at maths but refuses the chance to join a more advanced class. Simone excels at English but takes days to finish a short homework essay and has completely given up on music.

Bright, sensitive, competitive kids and those recognised as gifted and talented can face a series of emotional challenges as they grow up.

Coping with uneven development, failure and trying to sustain ongoing achievement are some of the emotional challenges which can face gifted and talented kids.  For example if they are used to excelling in one area they might quickly give up if another subject does not come as easily. Their own high expectations and those of parents or teachers might also start to make them self-conscious or risk averse about their talent. The need to always perform well might lead to perfectionism or to simply not making the attempt.

Helping Gifted Children Fulfill their Potential – 6 Important Tips

Helen Dudeney, from the Australian Gifted Support Centre, says parents can be powerful role models for helping their kids and makes the following suggestions:

1. Give your gifted child some direct insight into how you deal with difficulties. 

If you are having a problem, (and it is appropriate to tell them about it), discuss how you are solving it. You will be teaching them first-hand that there is nothing shameful or unusual about having to overcome obstacles and that solving a problem is a process.  Problems and the effort needed to overcome them do not need to remain hidden.

If you are highly successful in some area it is especially instructive to show your child that you still sometimes have to deal with constraints, frustrations and failure. Let them see the ongoing learning which is happening in your own life.

2. Place value on the effort by a gifted and talented child and not just on outcomes.

Helen comments, “It is a problem if kids only value the end product …and if they are only judged on what they produce, not how they go about it.”

Teach your kids the language and the skills to evaluate their own work. Comment on how they did something and ask them more about it so they can reflect on the effort required. They will then be able to analyse and identify what they did well and what they could have done better. 

Evaluations of gifted American teenagers showed that past involvement in music or dance better prepared them for the challenges of college study. The link with this success is thought to be that these activities were particularly good at teaching students the rewards of incremental individual effort. Based on this research, you might consider trying to create opportunities for effort-based learning and achievement for your gifted child.

3.  Notice the differences in your family environment.

Helen Dudeney comments that your family environment is a great opportunity to observe and acknowledge a range of abilities, including non-academic ones: your sister is empathetic, you are patient, your Mum is funny, your Dad is a good organiser. Be aware of these differences and talk about them positively with your children.

4. Celebrate success without reservation.

Helen also adds an important reminder about responding to your child’s success “If your child achieves a great result let them know that a high mark is an amazing achievement – instead of instantly questioning why it couldn’t have been better.”

5. Failure is part of learning.

Child psychologist Maureen Neihart emphasises the importance of high ability children experiencing rejection and setbacks. She stresses the importance of “working at the edge of one’s competence” where children are encouraged to make mistakes and to experience failing in something “that doesn’t make them a failure”.

Niehart suggests that failure and setbacks help gifted kids learn to cope with stress. “The goal is not to eliminate our anxiety but to make it work more effectively for us.”  She suggests teaching your child breathing and relaxation skills. Niehart also advises against rescuing children from situations that make them anxious because learning to cope with a certain level of fear is “an essential skill for preparing for greater achievement”.

Dudeney says, “Help your children realise that only by doing what they can’t do – are they developing and learning.”

6. Involve kids in activities with no right or wrong answers.

Dudeney comments that “Often gifted kids have a black and white take on the world”.  They might quickly become fixated on always giving the correct answer or making an absolute judgment.  Encourage them to consider people’s opinions and ideas and to ‘see the grey’. Try to cultivate the same sense of possibilities when you respond to your child’s activities whether drawing a picture, telling a story or doing an experiment.