Many parents wonder if their intellectually gifted children are more prone to behavioral issues than their peers. There are some common myths and misconceptions around gifted kids and behavior problems. In this article, we’ll explore the evidence around whether gifted kids truly have more behavioral challenges.
What does it mean to be gifted?
Giftedness refers to having exceptionally high intelligence and ability in one or more domains. Gifted children tend to learn faster, have advanced critical thinking skills, and be very curious and imaginative.
There are a few ways giftedness is defined:
- Having an IQ score in the top 2% of the population – around 130 or higher
- Scoring in the 97th percentile or higher on standardized tests
- Being identified by experts through IQ testing paired with observational methods
Gifted children may excel in academics, arts, leadership, or any domain. Many have intense interests in certain subjects. Their asynchronous development means they tend to develop cognitively faster than socially or emotionally.
Common myths about gifted kids and behavior
There are some pervasive myths that gifted kids are more likely to have behavioral issues:
Myth: Gifted kids are prone to disorders like ADHD
Reality: There is no evidence that gifted children are significantly more likely to have attention deficit disorders compared to non-gifted kids. ADHD occurs in the gifted population at approximately the same rate as the general population. Stimulating gifted kids intellectually may help them focus.
Myth: Gifted kids are antisocial or have trouble socially
Reality: While some gifted kids prefer solitary activities, most are just as socially adept as peers. Those that struggle socially may have asynchronous development or feel bored/frustrated by the social environment. Supporting their needs tends to improve social skills.
Myth: Gifted kids have more learning disabilities
Reality: Gifted children are not more prone to learning disabilities like dyslexia. Their high cognitive ability often helps them compensate for challenges and mask disabilities. But twice exceptional children do exist.
Myth: Gifted kids are emotionally and psychologically weaker
Reality: Gifted kids may be intensely sensitive, but they do not tend to have more psychological issues inherently. Emotional challenges tend to stem from poor environmental fit, lack of intellectual peers, overwhelm from talent development, or lack of understanding from others.
Potential social and emotional challenges
While the common myths around gifted kids and behavior issues are untrue, gifted children do face some particular social-emotional challenges:
Asynchronous development: Gifted kids tend to develop cognitively ahead of their physical and social-emotional maturity. This mismatch can make it harder to relate to same-age peers and manage emotions.
Perfectionism: Gifted children may hold unrealistically high expectations for themselves, leading to perfectionism, criticism, and frustration.
Boredom/frustration: Gifted kids require constant intellectual stimulation. A bored, underchallenged gifted child is more likely to act out.
Overexcitability: The heightened sensitivity and intensity gifted kids bring to intellectual, imaginational, emotional, psychomotor, and sensory experiences. Without support, overexcitabilities can be exhausting.
Social isolation: It can be hard to find true peers. Gifted kids may feel alienated from same-age peers and struggle to form friendships.
Adult pressures: Adults sometimes have unrealistic expectations for gifted kids to be high achievers. This pressure can contribute to anxiety and distressed perfectionism.
Questioning norms: Gifted kids like to question rules, norms, and traditions. This can come across as disruptive behavior without guidance on more constructive approaches.
Positives of giftedness
Giftedness also comes with many cognitive, social, and psychological strengths:
- Advanced cognition and rapid learning abilities
- Excellent memory and concentration skills
- Insightful, critical thinking skills
- Creativity and imagination
- Curiosity and love of learning
- Ability to understand complex concepts
- Enthusiasm for interests
- Advanced verbal skills
- Problem-solving abilities
When nurtured in the right learning environment, gifted kids tend to thrive socially and emotionally.
Do gifted kids have more behavioral problems?
Overall, research suggests gifted children do not inherently have more psychological, social, or behavioral issues than their non-gifted peers. Let’s review some key research findings:
|Terman’s Genetic Studies of Genius (1921 – 1959)
|This landmark longitudinal study on over 1500 gifted children found they were comparable to the general population in terms of social adjustment, family relationships, and general psychological well-being.
|Suzuki and Valencia’s Four Corners Study (1997)
|Compared gifted 8th graders to average students. The gifted children had equal or better school attitudes, educational aspirations, academic self-concepts, and lower depression.
|Neihart’s review of gifted child psychological literature (1999)
|Concluded no higher incidence of psychological issues compared to the norm. Problems stemmed from giftedness not being accommodated for.
|Martin, Burns and Schonlau’s mental disorders literature review (2010)
|Found no excess risk of mental disorders in gifted youth in well-constructed epidemiological studies.
|Foley-Nicpon’s 40-year review (2011)
|Concluded no credible empirical evidence exists that gifted children have an increased risk for psychosocial disorders compared to typical children.
Research consistently shows gifted kids do not demonstrate higher rates of mental health, social, academic, or behavioral issues when their abilities are recognized and nurtured.
Rather than inherent tendencies, behavioral and emotional problems tend to arise when gifted kids’ advanced development, intensities, and needs are not adequately recognized or supported by their environments – homes, classrooms, or communities.
Poor environmental fit can manifest in:
- Boredom and understimulation
- Lack of intellectual peers
- Insufficiently challenging academics
- Overexcitabilities viewed as problems vs strengths
- Asynchronous development misunderstood
- Bullying, teasing, or rejection
- Perfectionism and intense self-criticism
The onus is not on gifted children to fit themselves to unsupportive environments. Rather, parents and schools must adapt the environment to meet gifted kids’ needs. When mismatches are accommodated, gifted children show positive psychological adaptation.
Signs of issues
While not inherently prone to problems, gifted kids can develop behavioral challenges that require attention. Watch for:
- Withdrawal, isolation, or declining interest in socializing
- Perfectionism and self-criticism
- Underachievement at school
- Dropping extracurriculars they used to enjoy
- Voicing sadness, losing interest in priorities
- Self-deprecation and comments about not fitting in
- Acting out behaviors like tantrums or defiance
- Talking about feeling overwhelmed or highly anxious
Seek help from school counselors, educational psychologists, or therapists if challenges persist over weeks. Rule out learning disabilities, anxiety, depression, bullying, or school pressures as potential contributors. Keep communicating that the child is not the problem – the environment needs to better adapt to nurture their strengths.
Strategies to support gifted kids
Here are some key strategies parents and teachers can use to support gifted kids’ social-emotional development:
- Schedule time with intellectual peers through advanced classes, clubs, or meetup groups
- Be empathetic regarding the challenges of asynchronous development
- Expose them to enriching subjects they are passionate about
- Give them intellectual outlets like books, debates, and family discussions
- Encourage interests without overpressuring achievement
- Appreciate their intensities, sensitivities, and question-asking as strengths
- Connect them with gifted role models
- Ability group students by achievement levels for more peer learning
- Create individualized education programs with continual academic challenge
- Teach organizational and time management skills
- Offer subject acceleration and advanced classes
- Encourage creative and critical thinking
- Allow independent study and Genius Hour passion projects
- Train teachers on the social-emotional needs of gifted kids
With the right supports, gifted children can thrive and excel in all domains.
In summary, gifted kids do not have inherent behavioral or psychological issues simply due to their high abilities. While they face unique social-emotional challenges, these stem from poor environmental fit rather than giftedness itself. When their advanced development, intensities, and needs are nurtured – at home, school, and as a society – gifted children tend to flourish and demonstrate positive psychological health. Supporting gifted kids to reach their potential benefits us all.