Gifted Handbook for Parents

11 12 2011

Gifted and Talented Education

Handbook for Parents

An Introduction on the Social and Emotional Needs

 of the Gifted Student

Robert Bishop

Dear Parent or Guardian,


One of the most important values that a parent can give a child is the appreciation of learning and the importance of getting a good education. Educators know from experience and research that parents have a major impact on how willing and able a child is to learn. Learning is a process that can be fun and exciting.  Satisfying  curiosity about a question of interest in the real world can be quite thrilling.

Learning is also challenging.  It requires that we practice new skills until they become part of our natural routine.  It requires that we choose advanced material to study that will help us grow and not settle for something we have already learned and can do with ease, It also requires that we realize that learning is work and not entertainment.  There are times when it is hard and ‘strains our brains.’

When we recognize that learning is both fun and challenging, we begin to understand the complexity of helping our children become successful learners.  Teaching our children the knowledge and skills they need cannot be done just in the classroom.  Parents, guardians, and other care givers have important parts to play in supporting and enhancing the work of the classroom teacher.  Children learn best when the home and the school are working together.

Those in the gifted program balance the regular classroom environment, the GATE classroom environment, and the home environment.  When all three are working together in harmony realizing the importance of each and supporting each other we will see positive growth in the student.

So often we discuss the need for challenge for the gifted student.  This is most definitely important.  But often a neglected aspect of the gifted student’s life is the social and emotional growth. Thus, gifted children not only think differently from their peers, they also feel differently.  It is hoped that this brief handbook will open our eyes to the needs of the gifted. This is provided to inform parents of some of the newest research on the social and emotional needs of the gifted student.



Robert Bishop



What does it mean to be Gifted?


Many parents say, “I know what giftedness is, but I can’t put it into words.” This generally is followed by reference to a particular child who seems to manifest gifted behaviors.  Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions of the term, all of which become deterrents to understanding and catering to the needs of children identified as gifted.

Dr.  Joseph Renzulli says: Giftedness consists of an interaction among three basic clusters of human traits–these clusters being above average general abilities, high levels of task commitment, and high levels of creativity.”

A group of parents of the gifted came up with this definition: “Giftedness is that precious endowment of potentially outstanding abilities which allows a person to interact with the environment with remarkably high levels of achievement and creativity.”

Based on Howard Gardner: “Giftedness can be defined as the ability to solve complex problems in effective, efficient, elegant, and economical ways. Using this definition, a gifted individual is one who can use existing knowledge when necessary and can apply known methods when appropriate, therefore reaching solutions based on the best available knowledge and methods.  However, a gifted individual can also abandon existing knowledge and concepts, redefine problems, devise new methods, and reach entirely different solutions.”

Former U.S. Commissioner of Education, Sidney P. Marland, says,

“Gifted and talented children are those identified by professionally qualified persons who by virtue of outstanding abilities are capable of high performance.  These are children who require differentiated educational programs and/or services beyond those normally provided by the regular school program in order to realize their contribution to self and society.”


According to Linda Silverman, author of Counseling the Gifted and Talented,

“To the uninformed, giftedness may seem a sort of special privilege, but to the gifted individual, often it feels like a distinct disadvantage.  It is painful to be different in a society that derides difference……Giftedness has an emotional as well as a cognitive substructure: cognitive complexity gives rise to emotional depth.”



………………………………………………………Traditional Definitions for Giftedness

 Early use of unusual natural abilities without formal training

 Rapid learning and excellent retention

 Creative and productive thinking

 High academic achievement

 Superior proficiency in one or more domains

          (e.g. mathematics, the arts, leadership)


Early Gifted Traits

 ………………………………………………………….. Bright Child             

Knows the answers


Pays attention

Works Hard

Answers question

Enjoys same-age peers

Good at memorizing

Learns easily

Listens well


 …………………………………………………………………… Gifted Child

Asks the questions

Extremely curious

Gets totally involved

Plays around and still does well in school

Questions the answers

Prefers adults or older children

good at guessing

Bored-already knows

Shows strong opinions and feelings

Self-critical perfectionist



Telltale Signs of Giftedness

(Dr. Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, Liberating Everyday Genius)

           Insatiable curiosity; powerful need to know

            Mind runs simultaneously on multiple tracks

            Very high standards

            Harsh inner critic

            Zeros in on key issues, learns quickly, applies what is learned

            Powerful need to know; seeker of ultimate truths

            Considered a complex person

            Easily wounded by unfairness, injustice, and human suffering

            Criticized for being “too much” of just about everything

            Can see many sides to an issue

            Independent, strong-willed, and tends to butt heads with authority

            High energy; often feels driven from the inside

            Strong sense of universal connections and/or spirituality

            The “idea person” in a group

            Loves puzzles, mazes, paradoxes, complex ideas, and words

            Highly sensitive, compassionate, and/or intuitive

            So early with ideas others back away

            Can feel responsible for problems that belong to others

            Struggles with perfectionism and procrastination

            Honesty, integrity, and authenticity are very important

            Keen observer and mental note-taker

            When passionate about something it’s like a dog after a bone

            Searches for meaning in life; desire to “make a difference”

            Thrives on challenge

            Easily bothered by bright lights, aromas, and noises that others ignore

            So many interests that it is hard to choose a direction

            Offbeat sense of humor


Dr.  Mary-Elaine Jacobsen adds in her book, The Gifted Adult, these traits…….


              the inner core traits of giftedness are:

1. Heightened awareness and reactivity

2. The urge to perfect and improve


              the outer “extras” of giftedness are:

1.  Intensity=Excitability and Sensitivity ————————–    Quantitatively Different

2.  Complexity=Complex original thinking and perceptivity—–  Qualitatively Different

3.  Drive=The need to know and create —————————–  Motivationally Different


 Myths of Giftedness

The following is from Special Education in Canada (Volume 56 #1 Fall Issue)

 and The Gifted Kid’s Survival Guide by Judy Galbraith


Myth: Gifted children will make it on their own.

Reality: Everyone needs help, encouragement and appropriate learning experiences in order to make the most of themselves.  Many learners with gifted abilities have disabilities or are underachievers and some will become dropouts from learning or from school unless they receive guidance and challenge.

Myth: Gifted children can be handled adequately in a regular classroom.

Reality: Gifted children process information much faster and in different ways than other students.  Classroom teachers are notably producing differentiated curriculum but do not always have the time to develop quantitatively different programs for each learner for all curriculum.  Classroom teachers need help and resources to deal adequately with children who are no in the learning mainstream.  Just giving more work or asking them to teach others does not educate a child at his or her own level. This is why theBoiseSchool District provides qualified facilitators to help in the educational process of the gifted student.

Myth: If gifted children are grouped together or given special programs they will become an elite group.

Reality: By derivation, elite means the choice, or the best, or superior part of a body or class of persons.  However, time and an overemphasis on egalitarianism have imparted a negative connotation to the word, implying snobbishness, selectivity, and unfair special attention.  Like a Jazz band or a Basketball team, we often group children according to their talents.  We expect children will achieve their best at their own level.  We should provide some grouping for gifted children, not so they can learn to be snobs, but so they can experience working with children most like themselves. In fact, gifted children are elite in the same way that anyone becomes a champion, a record- holder, a soloist, an inventor, or a leader in important realms of human endeavor. Linda Silverman adds that it is stressful raising a child with any type of exceptionality, but parents of gifted children have the added stress of being continuously discounted.  There are great emotional risks in going to the principal and saying, “I believe my child is gifted and has special needs.”  Too often they hear the patronizing reply, “Yes, Mrs. Maxwell, all our parents think their children are gifted.” Parents of disabled children do not receive this kind of treatment. Therefore, parents have a distinct responsibility to challenge those who cry “elitism” and explain to them the true meaning of the term.

Myth: Programs for gifted children are good for all children.

Reality: Possibly true if only content is considered.  We often hear that all students should be exposed to the topics taught to the gifted.  However the pace and depth of understanding and exploration is different for gifted children and is not equal or the same for all learners.  In many cases mainstream students would not want and would not be able to handle the issues addressed in a gifted class.

Myth: Gifted children must learn to get along with their peers

Reality: A great goal —  but which peers? social peers? chronological peers? economic peers? intellectual peers?  We should look at all sides of a societal goal. Many times all provisions for the gifted student — ability grouping, acceleration, pull-out programs, full day programs, special schools — are held suspect on the grounds that they will “prevent the children’s social adjustment.” Indeed, the remarkable emphasis on the school as an agent of socialization makes one wonder if anyone really cares about the development of these children’s abilities or if all that is important is whether they fit in! Gifted children find their intellectual and talented peers stimulating and should be allowed some time to get along and work in their atmosphere as well as in a regular classroom. Studies by Feldhsen, Kulik and Kulik and Oakes confirm what…educators have known for years: gifted students benefit cognitively and affectively from working with other gifted students.


Myth: Everyone is gifted

Reality: True.  And we are all athletic and musical to a degree.  But we cannot all achieve at the same level all of the time.  If we could, Olympic medals would be as common as dollar coins and we could all hold concerts to draw international audiences.  Let us be realistic, we cannot believe that everyone is at the same learning in the classroom all the time.


Cognitive and Affective Characteristics of Giftedness


The following list has been gathered from James Webb, Barbara Clark, and The Queensland Association for Gifted and Talented Children.  These characteristics may be strengths but potential problems also may be associated with them.


Cognitive Characteristics

 Learns quickly and easily. Acquires and retains information quickly

Inquisitive: unusually varied interests and curiosity

High level of verbal ability

Unusual capacity for processing information.

Accelerated thought process and high energy level

Seeks to organize things and people.

Examples of Needs

 To be exposed to new and challenging information: to acquire early mastery of foundation skills.

To be exposed to varied subjects and concerns: to be allowed to pursue individual ideas as far as interest takes them.

To share ideas verbally in depth

To be exposed to ideas at many levels and in large variety.

To be exposed to ideas at rates appropriate to individual pace of learning

To use and to design conceptual frameworks in   and problem solving: to seek order and consistency: to develop a tolerance for ambiguity.


Possible Problems

Boredom with regular curriculum: impatient with others and “waiting with the group.” Dislikes basic routine.

Asks embarrassing questions; overextending energy levels, taking on too many projects at one time.

Dominate discussions with information and questions deemed negative by teachers and fellow students: use of verbalism to avoid difficult thinking tasks, has difficulty with listening skills: exhibit manipulative behavior

Resents being interrupted: perceived as too serious:

dislike for routine and drill.

Frustration with inactivity and absence of progress: needs less sleep

Constructs complicated rules; often seen as bossy; frustration with inability of others to understand or appreciate original organizations or insights.


Emotional Characteristics

Large accumulation of information about emotions that has not been brought to awareness

Unusual sensitivity to the expectations and feelings of others

Keen sense of humor

Unusual emotional depth and intensity

High expectations of self and others; perfectionism

Heightened self-awareness, accompanied by feelings of being different.


Examples of Needs

To process cognitively the emotional meaning of experience, to name one’s own emotions, to identify one’s own and other’s perceptual filters and defense systems, to clarify awareness of the needs and feeling of others.

To learn to clarify the feelings and expectations of others

To learn how behaviors affect the feelings and behaviors of others

To find purpose and direction from personal value system.  To translate commitment into action in daily life

To learn to set realistic goals and to accept setbacks as part of the learning process

To learn to assert own needs and feelings nondefensively, to share self with others, for self-clarification.


Possible Problems

Information misinterpreted affecting the individual negatively

Unusually vulnerable to criticism of others, high level of need for success and recognition

Use humor inappropriately or to attack others; feels rejected by others

Unusual vulnerability: problem focusing on realistic goals for life’s work

Frustration from high levels of self-criticism; feeling inadequate: fear failure

Isolate self, resulting in being considered aloof, feeling rejected: perceive difference as a negative attribute resulting in low self-esteem and inhibited growth emotionally and socially.


Addressing the Social and Emotional Needs of the Gifted

Pat Schuler ( Gifted Kids at Risk: Who’s Listening?) says,

“Research consistently shows that many gifted children and adolescents have the capacity for intensified thinking and feeling, as well as vivid imaginations.  Whether they are gifted athletes, artists, musicians, intellectuals, or highly creative, they may have higher levels of emotional development due to greater awareness and intensity of feeling.  “Being different” in ability and personality characteristics may lead to higher expectations, jealousy, and resentment by adults and peers.  Specific problems that may result can be external or internal:

•Difficulty with social relationships

•Refusal to do routine, repetitive assignments

•Inappropriate criticism of others

•Lack or awareness of impact on others

•Lack of sufficient challenge in schoolwork

•Depression (often manifested in boredom)

•High levels of anxiety

•Difficulty accepting criticism

•Hiding talents to fit with peers

•Nonconformity and resistance to authority

•Excessive competitiveness

•Isolation from peers

•Low frustration tolerance

•Poor study habits

•Difficulty in selecting among a diversity of interests


For some gifted students, acceptance by their peer group is the major source of stress in their lives.  Repeatedly they hear the message, “It’s okay to be smart, but it’s better if you are something else we can accept as well.”


So what happens when a gifted student is “just smart” and is trying to survive in a perceived anti-intellectual environment?  Options may include: conformity (working hard to be ‘average’ or ‘normal’), withdrawal (isolation or alienation), depression (blaming themselves), aggressiveness (blaming others), or continued nonconformity.  Higham and Buescher call this the ‘cultivated weirdness act’ whereby a gifted adolescent makes individual statements which say, “Okay, I’m different–just let me show you HOW DIFFERENT I can be.”


An Overview of

Common Social and Emotion Issues of the Gifted



The ability to see how one might ideally perform, combined with emotional intensity leads many gifted children to unrealistically high expectations of themselves.


This is the discrepancy between potential and performance or ability and achievement. When a gifted student is not working up to his or her potential this is called underachievement.

Avoidance of risk taking:

 In the same way the gifted see the possibilities, they also see potential problems in undertaking those activities.  Avoidance of potential problems can mean avoidance of risk-taking, and may result in underachievement.

Uneven development:

Motor skills, especially fine-motor, often lag behind cognitive conceptual abilities.  These children may see in their ‘minds eye’ what they want to do, construct, or draw: however, motor skills do not allow them to achieve the goal.  Intense frustration and emotional outbursts may result.


Gifted children often have advance capabilities and may be involved in diverse activities to an almost frantic degree.  Though seldom a problem for the child, this may create problems for the family, as well as quandaries when decisions must be about career selection.

Peer relationships:

 As preschoolers and in primary grades, gifted children attempt to organize people and things.  Their search for consistency emphasizes “rules” which thy attempt to apply to others.

  They invent complex games and try to organize their playmates, often prompting

resentment in their peers. Gifted students find that they often have social

and intellectual peers and they need to develop relationships with both.

Excessive self-criticism:

The ability to see possibilities and alternatives may imply that youngsters see idealistic

images of what they might be, and simultaneously berate themselves because they see

how they are falling short of an ideal.

Emotional intensity and stress:

Because of the areas stated above and the uneven coping abilities, gifted students may feel deeper and may experience intense stress.


To take a closer look at the specific issues of…




Avoidance of risk taking

Uneven development


Peer relationships

Excessive self-criticism

Emotional intensity and stress



There are many wonderful articles and links on the Internet.  These are two great ones to begin with.


-Eric Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education at

-Hoagies Gifted Education page at

Here are some great books for the Gifted and parents to read together…

-The Gifted Kid’s Survival Guide by Judy Galbraith and Jim Delisle

-Perfectionism: What’s so Bad About Being Good by Adderholt-Elliot,M


What can parents do to help gifted students succeed?


Pat Schuler Ph.D. suggests

Become more aware of the characteristics, needs and issues of gifted children.  They need help in “being different.”   The lack of empathy and rejection of others, including adults and peers, is commonplace for many of these children.  Too many gifted children and adolescents suffer in silence, or seek negative ways to express their frustration and anger.  Empathy and intimacy are needed so that emotional sensitivity doesn’t become emotional disturbance.


All of us must advocate for appropriate services to address the lack of challenge and issues so many gifted children and adolescents face.


Develop an awareness of your gifted child’s characteristics.  Let them know that they are more than their achievement or academic ability.  Find a counselor who has training and experience in working with gifted children and adolescents to help you.

Practical Hints to Help Your Gifted Student


Gifted Needs

 To understand how they differ and how they are the same as others; achieving an identity that includes their giftedness

 To develop social skills that enhance relationships, reduce conflict and avoid loneliness without selling out

 To appreciate and protect their sensitivity and emotional well-being

 To determine best talents and talent parts of a future whole; realistically assess abilities more than once; discover how primary, secondary, and lesser talents cen be nurtured

 To cope with perfectionism traits such as setting unreasonable and impossible goals for themselves, not satisfied with even a great result.

 To provide the best education for my child and to be sure that my child’s intellectual and emotional needs are being met



 Nurture them with literature about gifted children.  There are many great novels, biographies, stories and films about gifted people; Group counseling and one on one valuing discussions.                      

 Practice problem solving; role play; exploration of options for self and others

 Discover channels for open expression, community volunteerism and social change; journaling, constructive outlets for the expression of intense feelings such as the arts                                                                    

 Sensible testing and evaluation; lessons in talent areas; obtain opinions of professionals; mentoring; help focus time and energy; exploration of ‘odd jobs’ and ‘dream careers.’                                                                                                                    

Appreciate the trait of perfectionism and understand that it serves a useful purpose; help them set priorities; help them maintain high standards but keep striving even when first attempts are unsuccessful


Understand that the maintanance of a gifted program is from parent advocacy; get involved in your child’s education by building relationships with teachers, volunteer in their classes’ begin a parent advocacy group


Formula for the Successful Gifted Family

Successful Families of the gifted…….

Listen without criticizing

Explore together ways to cope

Develop a set of useful ‘script lines’ for support

Inquire about the person inside of the high potential

Provide an atmosphere that is emotionally safe, accepting, stimulating,

full of resources, and motivating

(Van Tassel-Baska, 1989)



Specifically, they:

Monitor the family context

Allow broad freedom

Establish clear rules and expectations

Offer challenging opportunities

Invest time and effort toward excellence

Separate the act from the person

Do not make Giftedness become the central focus

Express love and care openly

Encourage and model self-control and inner-reward

(Cskiszentmihalyi, 1987)

Model Families Also

Place high value on learning (not just schooling)

Cultivate the joy of learning; support the need to create

Recognize and respect their gifted child’s talents

Maintain strong social values and convictions

Are intolerant of excessive childhood rebellion

Have stable family environments

(Seeley, 1989)







2 responses

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