I write this in response to a valid question from a reader: “Is a gifted kid better off if they are told that they are gifted or if they figure it out themselves?”
Gifted kids know something is up; others have written about gifted identity development in a way that parallels racial identity development. If you are in a minority for any reason, it is helpful to know what challenges and assets you have. Identification is often a first step for finding true peers and engaging mentors.
I asked one of my favorite clients ever, a seven year old significantly gifted boy, “Is it fun to be you?” He responded glumly “I don’t like how my mind works. It is like there are a thousand train cars that need to pass through, and I can’t focus on just one.” He knew that something was happening, and he was not figuring it out on his own.
I value self-discovery, and I would like kids to have support as they discover how they are different. I was selected for a specialized class in fourth and fifth grade, a stand-alone gifted program in a public school system. Although immensely grateful for those two years, I know I could have benefited from even more. I wish I would have had a competent, caring adult ask “What is it like to be you?” I had a loving family and competent teachers. I was identified as gifted, and I still needed more. I wanted acceptance, to be known, to explore how some interactions with classmates were challenging for me and why. My father provided consistent intervention of telling me “Don’t be an a**hole”, but nobody explored with me what abilities and propensities led me there in the first place.
Gifted kids may face bullying because of difference. This difference may include asynchronous social-emotional development, either advanced or delayed, that causes them to stick out and become targets. It may include such an optimistic sense of what is possible that the meanness of children is confusing to them. The result of being targeted, whether for precocity or challenge, can be confusion and isolation. Gifted anger, gifted passive aggression, and gifted hurt feelings show up in both subtle and strong ways. A gifted kid’s family may benefit from understanding their intensity. I say this knowing that some people do not benefit from school programs that identify them and only give additional worksheets. Some families don’t fully understand and support their children. Whether the resources available to a gifted child are abundant or limited, I would want that child to know who they are and what they are facing.