Do you tell them that they’re gifted? Let’s think about what can go well — and what are the pitfalls.
First, decide on a developmentally-appropriate definition to share. If you say that gifted means that you are smart, they could feel both proud – and intimidated. Either response has problems. If they feel proud, how do they understand that being smart is no more of an accomplishment than having curly hair or big feet? After all, giftedness is a way of processing the world that is innate. Let’s save pride for accomplishments. If they think of themselves as smarter than others, they might think that means that they are better than others. They are not better, just different. Playing the smarter card plays into the unfortunate perception of giftedness as elitist or arrogant. Anti-intellectualism is rampant, in part because giftedness seems anti-egalitarian. We don’t need to feel any more antipathy toward giftedness.
So how can say that gifted means you are smart lead to feeling intimidated? They may think that it means that everything must come easily and quickly to them. Being gifted does not mean that you can do anything and everything. But they feel the pressure is on to know all and do all. “If you’re so gifted, why can’t you ___?” They go on to think that they are not gifted because they can’t do ___. They doubt the integrity of the adults who gave them the label: what do they know? Those adults, therefore, are not to be trusted. They can’t see that I am really dumb. I am an impostor; I pretend to be gifted, or they think I am gifted, but I’m really just average.
Instead, try explaining that gifted means that you learn differently. Sometimes that difference may mean that you learn some things very quickly. Some things qualifier matters because it heads off unrealistic expectations. You could explain that gifted means that your brain has a large appetite. Your brain may be taking in more information than other people’s brains are, just like some of your friends can inhale five pieces of pizza while others never make it to the crust. When you are gifted, your senses may be more sensitive, sending lots to your brain for processing and connecting. Your brain may hunger for even more. Yes, a hungry brain can be a very useful metaphor, if only a partial definition for children. It explains their curiosity and it explains their ready boredom if lessons are not presenting new or challenging material.
So what if your child moves beyond a simple definition of giftedness as being able to learn differently and to learn some things very quickly, to then ask “Why? How?” You can explain that their hungry brains gobble up sensory information and send it around in their brains to make many connections. That connecting may be remarkably fast or surprisingly slow. Those connections can come up with answers or come up with more questions. Those connections may inspire creative responses or demand a response. Those connections may provoke strong emotions. Their gifted brains may work faster, but not necessarily; you can be gifted and be a slow processor. That slowness can come from that brain following many more connections than the fastest route. It may come from distractibility. It can come from sensory overload or from glitches like dyslexia.
Now that you have talked about your child’s gifted identification, it is good to talk about how they and you see them learning differently. It is good to affirm that every new experience, each new lesson, gives them an opportunity to learn more about their gifts. What comes easily to them? What is difficult? And what can they do about it?
Next month, I will talk about one of my pet peeves: “Every child is gifted.”