Know Your Gifted Child — Find Your Gifted Self

“My ten-year-old, Christopher, is getting failing grades. I think he has ADHD. He may be in the principal’s office more than he’s in the classroom. His camp counselor told me that he might be gifted but how’s that possible? If he were gifted, he’d be getting A’s, wouldn’t he? I don’t know what to do anymore. I get so angry with him but it doesn’t help. He just withdraws or acts out and I feel like a jerk. I hear my father’s words coming out of my mouth and then I hate myself. What can I do?”

William came to see me for counseling because he was frustrated and discouraged. He felt lost and alone. He was a single dad whose alcoholic ex-wife came and went in their son’s life. Christopher was smart, highly sensitive and confused. He felt abandoned by his mother and misunderstood by his teachers. Achieving in school was the last thing on his mind.

It became clear to me that Christopher was indeed gifted. William described him as an early reader, extremely curious and extraordinarily perceptive. He had difficulty controlling his intense emotions and showed sensitivity and empathy when he wasn’t feeling threatened by the bullies at school.

As I described the traits of the rainforest-minded and convinced William that his son fit the bill, I asked William to tell me more about himself. I suspected that he was also gifted as I experienced his articulate descriptions, depth of sensitivity, creative ideas and broad range of self-taught abilities.

Here’s the thing: When you find a gifted child, a parent who is gifted isn’t far behind. Not always, of course. Sometimes it’s a grandparent or your wild Aunt Nellie. But I see this phenomenon again and again. The more you recognize and understand your rainforest mind, the more you will understand your child. 

William was a rebel in high school. Skipping classes, smoking pot. His father was an abusive alcoholic and his mother was ineffective. He dropped out of school his senior year yet managed to teach himself enough about computers to land a good job designing video games. But because he’d been unsuccessful academically, he didn’t believe that he was gifted. It took some convincing.

After we spent time looking at ways William could problem solve with Christopher’s teachers and communicate more effectively with his son, I knew we had to look at William’s childhood experiences if we were going to make any lasting change. William was ready and able to handle a depth approach.

Using relaxation techniques and gentle guided visualizations, we discovered a sad, lonely young boy in William’s psyche who needed his compassion, attention and love. It’s a complex process that takes courage and sensitivity but, over time, William connected with this child, saw his sweetness and vulnerability and accepted him into his heart.

photo from flickr, National Archives
photo from flickr, National Archives

Not surprisingly, once William accepted himself, he could see Christopher more clearly and appreciate his struggles. William’s anger was less easily triggered and he was able to recognize his son’s giftedness. Christopher then relaxed enough to cooperate more in school and begin to excel. The two of them spent quality time hiking, telling stories, laughing and playing video games. Enjoying their rainforest minds.

And connecting with their sweetness, their vulnerability, and their loving hearts.


This post is part of a collection of blog posts on the topic of giftedness over the life span. Click on the link to read more great posts by parents and professionals: 11097995_10154012610923475_856443240806577068_n

To my blogEEs: As I’m sure you know, names and identifying information are changed when I talk about clients. What do you think of this post? Do you see other gifted individuals in your family? Have you had similar problems with your child? What questions does this bring up? And, as always, I love hearing from you. If you don’t want to comment publicly, you can contact me via the About page.




Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

31 responses to “Know Your Gifted Child — Find Your Gifted Self”

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  1. Gifted at Different Ages & Stages GHF

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  3. jofreitag Avatar

    Such a great post, Paula! I became a bit tearful because it is so true and you told it so beautifully.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh thanks, Jo. I appreciate hearing from you.

  4. Janine Avatar

    Often when I do case conferences involving parents of gifted students, the mystery is unraveled. A parent will say “I was like that in school” – even though I probably already picked up on it. I find it’s not just the quality of being gifted that they have in common – it is usually a whole package of quirkiness and nonconformity that I find intriguing but many teachers find frustrating.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, “a whole package of quirkiness and nonconformity.” That’s one great way to describe a rainforest mind! Thanks for the comment, Janine.

  5. Paula Prober Avatar
    Paula Prober

    Thank you for sharing.

  6. Old Soul, Lonely Soul Avatar
    Old Soul, Lonely Soul

    Very familiar. It wasn’t until I set out to help my son with his stress and anxieties that I discovered who I was, and why I had felt this way all my life.

  7. Marsha Johnson-Schmid Avatar
    Marsha Johnson-Schmid

    Thank you for your lovely post. This is much needed encouragement for us parents!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks for letting me know, Marsha.

  8. Rebecca Avatar

    Another fantastic post. It is hard to find resources in New Zealand to help my gifted son and our family. I truly appreciate all the advice and wisdom I can get.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Have you read other posts from Gifted Homeschoolers Forum? They aren’t just for homeschoolers and there’s lots of wisdom from parents. They’re a great resource.

  9. Ro Avatar

    This is such a beautiful, hopeful story. Thank you for sharing, Paula. I’m very happy for your client and his son. Beautiful photo that you chose for this article, too. For me, learning about my daughter’s giftedness has lead to some retrospective insight regarding my own childhood. I was a member of a high IQ society before I had my daughter… but still didn’t know what ‘gifted’ was, nor anything about the implications of giftedness. It was a shock to me when my daughter (who I figured would probably be ‘smart enough’ to get through school ok) started experiencing some serious difficulties at school. On another note, last year my daughter was provisionally diagnosed with ADHD after in depth testing and observation by an educational psychologist. I think I have the same tendencies – and so does my mother. In fact, talking with my mother about some trouble my daughter got into at school one day (fidgetting) – we simultaneously cracked up laughing as we realised we were both dancing our feet around and tapping our hands as we discussed my girl’s ‘fidgeting problem’. Not just hers, as it turns out! Anyway, acknowledging the ADHD tendencies has helped me understand myself better – and why becoming severely physically restricted was so tortuous for me. I think the ADHD stuff adds an extra layer of torment to that situation. Regarding my daughter and the ADHD… since she was tiny I instinctively knew how to help by teaching her certain coping mechanisms. She started high school recently, and at the first parent-teacher interview evening over and over teachers politely mentioned my daughter’s ‘over excitement’ in class sometimes. I was able to give them a couple of hints/tips of tried & true ways to quickly remind my daughter to calm down a bit. Also – my daughter is a drummer & actress, which helps with energy expenditure. I’ve read a bit online and there seems to be a theory that many drummers have ADHD. This year my daughter started with a new drum teacher, and I specifically selected one who I thought would understand her energy. One teacher wrote that as a child he loved Animal from the Muppets; I thought ‘A-ha!’ and chose him. By the end of the first lesson he had my daughter pegged; said she reminded him a lot of himself when he was her age. After only a few months my daughter has advanced so much with her drumming, and I think it’s largely thanks to her having a teacher who ‘speaks her language’. I hope that over the years I’ve been able to help my daughter in some important ways too, thanks to us speaking the same language. I think one of the best things a parent can do is try not to forget how they felt as a child.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I love the idea of gifted kids with ADHD learning how to play drums! And so important to find the right teacher. Thanks for sharing your story. I always enjoy hearing from you.

    2. holbart Avatar

      Oh, goody, goody, goody! 🙂 I get to share my favorite Muppet’s video on conformity vs. individuality.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Ha!! Thanks, holbart!

      2. Ro Avatar

        That’s fabulous! 😀 Thanks for sharing Holbart

        1. holbart Avatar

          Glad you enjoyed it!

  10. Gail Post, Ph.D. Avatar
    Gail Post, Ph.D.

    Such a wonderful description of how adults often cannot see themselves as gifted until they are “forced” to confront their own child’s giftedness. Even then, it can be hard to believe. Great post.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I wonder why that is, Gail. Could be that gifted people know how much they don’t know? Or that the giftedness seems normal to them and they assume others have the same abilities but aren’t trying hard enough? Or if they didn’t do well in school or didn’t achieve “greatness” they think they’re just average? Maybe we should write a post on the topic. Do you have one already written??

      1. Mark R. Avatar
        Mark R.

        I wonder if the hesitance in acknowledging giftedness might be linked to society’s associating the term gifted with elitism. I’ve struggled for most of my life(47yrs) with what I call being dysfunctionally gifted, or too smart for my own good.
        ‘Gifted’ just never sat well in my mind, even though I pegged 99th percentiles on standardized test of all kinds in school.
        By the way, I find your articles extremely clear, concise, and enlightened as well as enlightening.
        Thank You!

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          There are definitely concerns about elitism. I run into that a lot. Often from the gifted themselves. Love your feedback! Thanks, Mark.

  11. thecardinalhouse Avatar

    Have you blogged about familial interactions when one is not gifted? Or perhaps, gifted differently? I’d love to read about that too.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      No, I haven’t. I’ll think about it, though, and see what might come up. Thanks for the idea.

  12. thecardinalhouse Avatar

    “Here’s the thing: When you find a gifted child, a parent who is gifted isn’t far behind. Not always, of course. Sometimes it’s a grandparent or your wild Aunt Nellie. But I see this phenomenon again and again. The more you recognize and understand your rainforest mind, the more you will understand your child.”

    I am daughter, sister, niece, cousin, wife and mother to gifted people, but I don’t see myself as gifted. They are so much more of everything than I am.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Hm…I know so many gifted folks who say the same thing. It seems that it’s so hard to see it in oneself. Would you say that you have a rainforest mind???

  13. KtCallista Avatar

    While this isn’t my story, it is my path. As I’ve accepted that my daughters are rainforest minded (school testing throwing that in my face as well), this blog has helped me to accept it in myself as well. It helps us connect and talk out some troubling coping behaviors, instead of just disciplining. I can share stories about my boredom in school while we push the teachers to do something to help provide an option for those 6 hours they are at school each day. Because we can share this we have something I never had growing up, a connection and understanding.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Connection and understanding. So important. I always look forward to your comments. Thanks!

  14. Atlas Educational Avatar
    Atlas Educational

    🙂 It’s a journey no matter how you look at it.

  15. Cait Fitz @ My Little Poppies Avatar
    Cait Fitz @ My Little Poppies

    Love this! That proverbial apple does not fall far!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      That’s right! Thanks for reading, Caitie.