being gifted: burden or blessing?

Created with Sketch.

being gifted: burden or blessing?

March 10th marks the beginning of the week of the highly gifted, so some attention is appropriate.
A widespread prejudice is that high intelligence in children automatically makes them successful in development and learning. Research and practice show that this is not always true. Moreover highly intelligent children are not always recognized or acknowledged as such. In this scenario gifted children may develop a negative self-image, fear of failure or inadequate learning strategies under the influence of alienation, isolation or lacking challenges. This is how underachievers are born. I call this the paradox of the highly gifted.

High intelligence is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for giftedness. You may compare it to a Ferrari in a traffic jam, or a child with wings that is not allowed to fly. In order to develop successfully the child needs to be challenged at its own level, needs to develop emotional and social skills, and needs to express these skills, or rather: interact. Successful interaction doesn’t come automatically, it has to be learned (in Dutch: interacteren moet je leren). Smart kids have the disadvantage of using mainly cognitive strategies, smart thinking will be their first choice of coping, which may lead to underdevelopment of other skills. Their talents will not fully be expressed and the parents will feel rather worried than proud. The children will have to deal with problems at school, and the parents will see the risk of their child becoming a lonely and strange nerd. More a burden than a blessing. The great promises of giftedness will wither.

In my coaching practice I meet some very intelligent students. Sometimes they are not aware of their exceptional intelligence. They show false modesty, they act ‘normal’, to avoid exclusion or being regarded as stuck-up or arrogant. They have no realistic self-image, they may be insecure or cannot develop a positive connection with others. They may be ambitious but they lack self-confidence, skills or learning strategies, which causes stress. I have also seen students with feelings of shame or depression. In these cases recognition and acknowledgement from the coach and the student are important for a successfully balanced development. To balance out qualities and personality traits in a safe environment may make the giftedness develop and manifest itself as a lifelong personal and societal treasure.