Your Kids Are Gifted. Should You Tell Them?

photo courtesy of London Scout, Unsplash, CC

What do you do when your little darlings think fast, feel deeply, and ask questions you can’t answer. What do you do when they correct your mistakes, ruminate about the meaning of infinity, and prefer Beethoven to baseball?

Do you tell them that they’re gifted?

Do they need to know why the other four year olds ignore their lectures on the life cycle of the butterfly? Do they need to know why no one else is crying when the trees are cut down? Do they need to know that other first graders don’t really want to read the dictionary every day?

You betcha.

But it’s tricky.

What do you say? How do you say it?

I know what you’re thinking: How do I explain this without implying that they’re superior in some way? How do I explain this without putting pressure on them to achieve greatness or  get straight A’s all of the time? How do I explain this without using a label that I dislike? How do I explain this and not sound like a pushy parent? 

Didn’t I tell you that it’s tricky?

Here’s what might happen if you don’t tell them: They’ll find other labels. Weirdo. Freak. Dork. Nerd. Loser. Crazy. And they’ll believe that something is wrong with them because they can’t communicate with their same-aged peers and they’re crying when everyone else is laughing and they’re overwhelmed at birthday parties.

Here’s what not to tell them: You’re so smart! If you’re so smart, why did you get that B? You’re so much smarter than Bobbie. This should be easy for you, why are you struggling? Smart kids don’t make mistakes. I expect you to always do your best. You don’t have to listen to your teacher. Stop asking so many questions. Don’t be a show-off. Don’t think you’re so smart. 

So what do you do? Here are some tips:

  1. Explain the rainforest mind analogy and ask them to draw a picture of their rainforest mind and tell you how it works.
  2. Talk about the word “gifted” and how you feel about it. Explain that it describes people who are advanced in certain areas (sports, arts, intelligence) and, yet, people are uncomfortable with it when it applies to mental/cognitive abilities. Tell them they are gifted intellectually.Talk about how to talk about it, including using the analogy. Make a list of areas in which they’re gifted and areas where they aren’t, so they understand that they don’t have to be advanced in everything.
  3. Discuss how all people have strengths and weaknesses. What are yours? What are theirs? Do they feel pressure to be smart all of the time? Are they afraid to disappoint you? Show them how you try activities that aren’t easy for you and encourage them to do the same.
  4. Explain that because rainforest-minded people think a lot and quickly, ask many questions, love learning, are emotional, empathetic, and highly sensitive, they may have trouble in friendships and at school. Listen carefully to their experiences and help them find solutions.

Your little sweeties need to know why the other seven year olds aren’t in love with the library and why they don’t care to save the spiders. They need to embrace who they are. And they need to learn how to thrive — in a world that doesn’t always understand or appreciate its rain forests.


To my blogEEs: It’s taken me forever to write this post. Thanks for waiting. And thanks to the mom who shared her ideas with me. Let us know how you talk to your kids about giftedness and if these ideas worked for you. What I wrote is just the beginning of the story. Your comments will add the depth.











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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.

76 responses to “Your Kids Are Gifted. Should You Tell Them?”

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  1. The Purple Goldfish Theory: What Your Child Already Knows about Being Gifted | Global #gtchat Powered by TAGT

    […] Your Kids Are Gifted. Should You Tell Them? […]

  2.  Avatar

    Playing baseball was much more stimulating than sitting at the piano for an hour everyday practicing.

    Find gifted to unwrap gifted. Only they can comprehend the unlocking of potential.

  3. Most Popular Posts of 2016 — Plus A Special Podcast Interview | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] Your Kids Are Gifted. Should You Tell Them? […]

  4. Perrianne Brownback Avatar
    Perrianne Brownback

    I have a unique story. My mother had me tested at age 5 and I was categorized as “exceptionally gifted” by the Stanford-Binet scale, BUT, the prevailing wisdom (my mother was a master educator in special education herself and had many psychology contacts in the field) was, “Don’t tell her; it will make her feel like she is different!” At age 25, degreed, married and having born one child, I discovered the I.Q. letter hidden in a drawer at my parents’ house (dated 1965) and ONLY THEN did a plethora of things begin to make sense. When I asked her, only then did she reveal that she was heeding the psychologists whom she had consulted. I really laughed then at the notion that some how “not knowing” could have precluded “feeling different,” when in my mind, it actually made “feeling different” take wings and fly! But I understand now–to use your terminology–that the strategy of keeping it a secret was the product of a system that was a different ecosystem! The rainforest is DENSE—it can handle the overgrowth and humid press of constant energy flow! It is a resilient system (like the air currents that produce chaos theory)–and an important bit of identity-based knowledge inserted into that dense rainforest ecosystem can go a long way toward organizing the wild and wooly life within! My understanding of identity–and it’s twin cousin PURPOSE–is marked by the discovery of that letter!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you, Perrianne. Love, love, love the way you put this: “The rainforest is DENSE—it can handle the overgrowth and humid press of constant energy flow! It is a resilient system (like the air currents that produce chaos theory)–and an important bit of identity-based knowledge inserted into that dense rainforest ecosystem can go a long way toward organizing the wild and wooly life within!”

      1. Perrianne Brownback Avatar
        Perrianne Brownback

        Thanks so much for your return comment! I can’t stop musing on the analogy in the light of this post and it seems to me that having a rainforest mind but not being told about it could be biphasic: On the one hand, the ecosystem has its own life and rhythm and with the right protection and encouragement, it will grow and thrive whether or not it is understood! (I did a lot of this–auto-didacticism was alive and well to a decent degree in my only child wonderment). However, the problem (and the other “phase” of effect) comes when or if the rainforest is told that the meadow or grassland–or desert—is “normal” or–worse—“better”. So in that case, it’s like imposing arid conditions on the most humidity-dependent of all environments!!! It threatens to change everything! It seems that your life has been spent helping people re-permission their humidity! (And I will definitely be downloading your book)!

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          Ha!! I’m here SMILING! So glad to have you here Perrianne. Did you just find us? I’d love to hear how you experience and articulate what you learn in my book!!

  5. Susan Van Vleet Avatar
    Susan Van Vleet

    Absolutely tell them! We told ours and they were both artists, intellectually gifted and Athletes. They needed to know so they could navigate their world with an intact sense of self

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you, Susan.

  6. If You Haven’t Achieved Greatness, Can You Be Gifted? | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] you wonder: What constitutes high achieving? What is greatness? Who decides? What does it mean to be gifted? Does it matter if you know that you’re gifted? What if you think you’re gifted, but […]

  7. Genealogy Jen Avatar
    Genealogy Jen

    I don’t know how I missed this brilliant post. The comments have been insightful as well. I look forward to drawing rainforest pictures with my boys, and talking about it more with them.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Glad you found it, Jen. Let us know how the drawings go.

  8. Gabi Montoya-Eyerman Avatar
    Gabi Montoya-Eyerman

    Interesting topic, someone should write a book about it. I have five daughters, three of them are gifted in obvious ways, math (the kindergartener was making bar graphs on a chalkboard last night to collect data, not sure what for yet . . .), the second grader reads at a sixth grade level and is bored by school, the oldest is attending art school in Paris. The youngest is hard to tell yet and one other is another budding artist (at age three she would get up at 5 am to draw for hours before the house was awake). We don’t talk about giftedness per se, but discuss how different people learn at various speeds and levels of interest. We also encourage all of their gifts in whatever way we can. I was never in any gifted programs and didn’t figure out my “differences” until high school and honors and AP courses. I still have a hard time with other people not catching on to things or ideas. Also when people tell me how talented I am at something, I mumble something deprecating and blush. I’m an introvert too, so yah.
    Anyway, I ramble. It’s hard figuring out the best way for our kids to maneuver through this world. Hopefully I can be a guide to help them on their way.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Gabi, for your “rambling.” Your shared experiences are helpful!

  9. Miriam Pia Avatar
    Miriam Pia

    I’ve expanded my understanding by researching and reading some of these blogs. Most of the time I did not have any big problems…or else I learned to hide them from my parents, who are both very bright and wise but not in all the same ways. Unlike some of these people, I was just informed by adults as a 9 year old that ‘the weirdness’ so to speak, was just that I was really bright and unusual. My mother and the schools made efforts to help which I appreciated very much. I don’t think I got the ideal amount of support and often it was more that I just needed more hugs from people I wanted to be hugged by…even though I liked plenty of mental stimulation an would have explored more with more money and freedom.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, Miriam.

  10. OtterlyAdorable Avatar

    I was a gifted child. My son has not been tested yet, but I know that he is. My talent was in mathematics and he’s showing the same facility with numbers and math concepts that I had. He just turned five and he’s almost finished mastering K-2nd grade skills on the Khan Academy. He only began 4 months ago. I let him do higher maths whenever he wants, to satisfy his curiosity, so we’ve also explored negative numbers, fractions, decimals, basic algebra, Euclidean coordinate geometry. He’s like me. Almost as soon as a concept has been explained to him, he comprehends it. If he doesn’t understand it immediately, he’ll comprehend it by the 2nd try. He’s supposed to enter Kindergarten next year, but he’s already too far advanced in math for his grade level. I don’t know how much he’ll have learned after 9 more months when he’s supposed to start Kindergarten. I am looking into alternatives.

    As a former gifted child, I have been trying to wait as long as possible before informing him that he’s “gifted.” I would prefer to teach him that everyone is different and to respect and appreciate everyone’s unique traits, “gifted” or not. My own label made me feel insecure, as if I was required to “live up” to something, and I frequently doubted whether I could or would. Right now, he’s unaware of comparisons between himself and others and it’s such a blissful state to be in. His experience with learning new things exists not as an awareness of what others learn, but merely as a personal experience with the material himself. I know that some day, he’ll realize that this is a talent that he possesses that other children don’t and I hope by then he’ll have formed a stronger identity outside of his talent so that he doesn’t feel like the label is his identity.

    A big problem I had with my labels is what we now call a “fixed mindset.” My labels intimidated me. I had all the baggage of a fixed mindset, such as the insecurity that a single failure meant I wasn’t gifted, and the fear of challenges that could prove that I didn’t deserve to be considered gifted. I had (have?) imposter syndrome and any perceived failure felt like confirmation that my previous successes, and the attendant burden of expectations of greatness, were merely some kind of fluke. More than anything I want my son to feel fearless, unafraid of challenges. I want him to “know” that his talent is a result of effort because then maybe he’ll feel more empowered than I felt, less afraid than me. I worry that if I label him gifted, that it would undermine my efforts to give him a growth mindset and he’ll end up with all the same baggage that I still carry with me!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It’s so hard to know how to approach this and how to help a child understand that they can have talent, where things can come easily, but that other things require effort. That it’s not “either or.” It can be helpful to find something that does require effort while he’s young and have him experience challenge and the pleasure of accomplishment with effort. Then he knows both. Make sense? Of course, there’s musical talent that does require effort to develop to a high level. This is another one of those complicated issues! No simple answers. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  11. grandreflection Avatar

    I am in ferocious agreement with this post. Children should, in my opinion, be told they are gifted, even using the G-word.

    Otherwise, as you wrote, Paula, other labels will come in. Other people will do the work of creating an identity heuristic for that child , and who knows who they’ll become when other people do the deciding?

    Plus, I think that giftedness is such an existential experience–you feel it, you think it, it shapes and colors you, that at some point the need of a name for it becomes like a thing on the tip of your tongue, you know it’s there but you just can’t find it, and then getting it can be like this WHAM! sort of relief.

    That’s how it was for me as an adult. I got the word gifted and I read all the research I could find, and I found myself in it. Now in those rare moments when I meet someone who is willing to share that they are gifted too, it’s like cue the hallelujah chorus because even though our subjective experiences of giftedness are different, we can meet in the shared category and explore from v there.

    I imagine for children being able to have giftedness as a way to understand themselves, even if they choose not to use it, might be an avenue for stronger identity development, nourishing connections, and a tiny bit of relief from the existential angst that can come with trying to figure out who you are and what your place in the world is.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you so much for your “ferocious agreement.” Hallelujah, indeed.

  12.  Avatar

    I think it can sometimes be easy to use the word “gifted” in too general of a sense. I guess, as a parent, if you are going to drop the coin to get your child tested, then why not mine the results for all the nuances within the test(s)? There are so many ways to be gifted, in terms of testing profiles.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Interesting point. I’m actually not very informed about testing, even having been in this field for so long. So, anything else you want to say about testing for my readers would be appreciated!

  13. themonthebard Avatar

    This is such a difficult topic.

    I think it’s important to know that you aren’t living your child’s life, so you can’t know (exactly) what they are facing. Their rainforest is not your rainforest, and the swamps they wade through are not the swamps you waded through. They have to adapt their rainforest to their swamps. You can’t do it for them. At the very best, you might be able to give them some general-purpose tools to work with. But if you give them good tools, durable tools, sharp and useful tools — then they can cut themselves.

    Telling them they are “gifted” is one such tool. It can help them, or it can hurt them. That’s up to them.

    My sense is that if they know that you love and support them, they won’t give themselves a mortal wound.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Well said, themonthebard! Love the analogy expansion!

  14. Sarah Avatar

    Well. If my parents had understood giftedness and could have explained it to me what a difference it would have made in my life. All of those self-assigned labels you mentioned, including the “inferior” one were my biggest fear. In fact I indulged in a number of self-destructive behaviors just to prove to myself that I wasn’t a nerd or geek. How much simpler it would have been to simply accept that I really couldn’t be anything else, no matter how hard I tried to be cool. Finally, in my 40’s, I’m at peace with myself. Somewhat. I’ve made progress. I’ve even learned to ignore the noise coming from my mom. My dad could use some help realizing he’s a rainforest mind himself. I don’t think he ever accepted himself, which seems to make it impossible for him to accept me. He’s better with my kids.

    With my own kids I’ve tried to explain, really explain to them how they are different from a lot of their peers. They’re in a TAG program, which helps. They do have some great peers and a lot of their school friends are much like them. But occasionally they’re invited to a birthday party with a group of sports minded boys and I can tell they have no idea what’s happening around them. That’s the time to remind them that everyone has gifts but that doesn’t mean we’re all the same.

    Explaining that they are different, that they were made that way on purpose, that there is a reason for their different-ness that will become clearer to them as they mature and discover what it is that calls them is my method of choice. Whether it’s right or not only time will tell.

    I also explain to my youngest that his emotional exitability is normal for him. Without excusing his behavior. He has such a clear picture of what happens to him when he gets angry that it’s fascinating to talk to him about it. The anger just takes over and paralyzes his rational self. That’s a common trait in the men in my family. I do think it’s related to intelligence. Particularly being overwhelmed with the stupidity of a situation and not being able to react in a constructive way. I’m hoping that talking through it afterward will help him to recognize what is happening with him.

    Thanks for another wonderful post. Your blog makes me feel less isolated.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Many good points here, Sarah. Interesting “overwhelmed with the stupidity of a situation…” We don’t talk much about that aspect of things, but it does exist. It can be hard to stay constructive if it happens a lot. Thanks for reading and sharing.

  15.  Avatar

    Great post and really resonates here. My 4yr old asked me at bedtime whether something is wrong with her as she so markedly stands out from her new school peers. I explained it using sensitivity rather than the gifted word and she was satisfied….. Maybe I will return to “gifted” in the future….

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I think the most important thing is to listen and to have the conversation. And to trust yourself. You know your child best. Thanks for writing.

  16. Nikki @ Through a Stronger Lens Avatar
    Nikki @ Through a Stronger Lens

    Paula, this post was just what I needed this morning. I especially like your suggestions to list areas where they are and aren’t gifted. My kiddos are both really tough on themselves and that is a straightforward way to help them understand that they don’t have to be advanced in everything. It’s rough when the perfectionism and negative self-talk starts with age 4. Thanks for the encouragement and great ideas.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Good to hear from you, Nikki. Wow, age 4. Sending you a big hug!

  17. MPeterson Avatar

    Oh man, the comments here drive home. For a while I resented my homeschooling parents for “depriving” me of the typical social experience. My mom explained how displeased they were with my K-1st primary school experience, but it wasn’t until I became a mom myself that I realized it was probably the best thing they could have done for me. A few of my neighborhood friends would laughingly refer to me as “nerd” and I would laugh it off even if it stung a little…but imagine hundreds of other kids implying the same opinion? My highly sensitive psyche would have been crushed, no doubt. My 10 yr old literature-loving self would probably have hidden away all her Dickens novels and that tattered paperback copy of War and Peace.

    Now as a working mom, my heart breaks for my 6 yr old who is quickly being labeled an “underachiever” in his kinder classroom. His abilities shone very early on, and I constantly had to reassure playgroup moms it was all just a happy coincidence. I knew right away school would be a unique challenge for a child who can read at a 3rd grade level but has the impulse control of a 3yr old.
    I tried to anticipate these struggles and always looking for ways to talk to him about thank you for this post! His logical mind demands an answer for his seeming “inferiority” when his BIG, BIG emotions and blunt questions get him consistent bad marks on his behavior, and his refusal to partake in standardized testing with no apparenT goal angers his teacher (but all A’s in a academics…of course).
    Seeing him lose motivation more and more, and the crying after school…ugh! My heart 😥 My child will gladly explain to you the relationship between the Earth’s tilt, rotation, and orbit around the Sun…and then how all of that effects the changing seasons on various parts of the globe 🌎, but none of that counts for anything in Kinder unless you copied your uppercase letter “K” 20x.

    Like another parent stated, I just want to find the tools to help him work through the confusion and feelings of being different. We can’t decide if switching schools is part the answer yet. So many questions!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      You might check the blogs I mentioned earlier to Ekay for some ideas from parents. It is so painful to see these little ones forced to perfect their handwriting when they could be doing so much more! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, MPeterson.

  18. Allison Avatar

    When your children have the label from their school testing, you can’t help but talk about it with them! We are lucky that my boys’ TAG program not only feeds their intellects, but also gives them a safe place to be different from many of their peers. I think we’ve done a decent job discussing their giftedness with them, but upon reading these comments, I now think I may need to delve a little deeper into heightened sensibilities with my youngest – he’s an intense kid, and I don’t think he quite understands why yet!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It can be such a relief when the kids understand that giftedness isn’t just cognitive ability. I’m so glad that your kids are in a good TAG program! Thanks for sharing, Allison.

  19. Andrea Avatar

    I grew up knowing I was a “gifted” child in a “gifted” family, but all I understood was that we were musical and academically advanced. But I knew nothing about the accompanying intensities/overexcitabilities (which my family didn’t possess to the same degree), so I grew up believing I was “too [fill in the blank]” in almost all ways. Only as an adult when I learned about the intensities and other facets of giftedness, did everything click, and with tears streaming down my face, did I say, “Ohhhhh….” So *absolutely* I talk to my 3 kids about being gifted. I tell them their brains often work a little differently in how they acquire and process information (and I attach no value — positive or negative, although I encourage them to be patient with those who don’t process as quickly, and I point out that those kids are likely skilled other ways mine are not), and I especially talk with them about emotions. Over and over I say that how they’re feeling (those BIG BIG feelings) is absolutely okay, but they have to learn to manage the emotions, and whatever they do, they can’t be mean to other people (when angry, for example).

    Talking about all this has helped my quirky kids to better handle the fact that they’re simply atypical (but NOT abnormal!), and as a result, it may be harder to find other kids like them or who want to play. We’ve had lots of tears in our house over the friend issue, and my eldest daughter went through most of elementary and the start of middle school with no close friends (everyone liked her because she’s sweet, but they didn’t get her). Now in 7th grade, she’s found someone just as quirky as she is, and they’re BFFs! 🙂

    Bottom line: if kids don’t understand how they’re different, and how that’s wonderful but will also bring challenges, then they’re going to internalize (because others will show them this) that there’s something inherently WRONG with them. And that will only lead to low self-esteem, depression, and other problems instead of allowing them to fully celebrate their rainforest selves!

    Thanks so much for this blog. I always look forward to your posts.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Learning how to contain BIG BIG emotions, yes! “…atypical but NOT abnormal…” love that. Thanks for commenting and following, Andrea.

  20. emmivisser Avatar


    “Here’s what might happen if you don’t tell them: They’ll find other labels. Weirdo. Freak. Dork. Nerd. Loser. Crazy. And they’ll believe that something is wrong with them because they can’t communicate with their same-aged peers and they’re crying when everyone else is laughing and they’re overwhelmed at birthday parties.”

    The only label you forgot is: inferior.

    You pinpoint exactly why I was clinically depressed for 8 years, from age 13 to 21. Eight years completely wasted. OK, I did graduate from high school cum laude and received a BA summa cum laude, but I didn’t really do much else. Only since I beat the depression, I realise how incredibly much I could have done in those 8 years. So. much. more. It makes me angry and sad I missed that and it’s why I am currently doing everything I can to prevent other kids from following in my footsteps! I write textbooks for gifted education and I occasionally teach guests lectures – things my publisher and others tell me I am really good at despite having no formal training.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh yes, “inferior.” I’m so sorry you had to go through so many years of depression. Interesting how you still did well in school. It’ll be helpful for people to know that even if a child is getting great grades, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t depressed. I’m so glad that you’ve found work that has meaning for you and that you’re out of the depression. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

      1. emmivisser Avatar

        Thank you. And yes, when I was finally diagnosed with depression, one family member told me “You were always doing so well in school, I never thought to ask how you were doing besides that.” I am a perfectionist and inherently motivated to get good grades, so I guess that masked the real situation.

  21. unnahbar Avatar

    I’d like to add a child’s perspective – I’m now in my late teens but I can remember the past 10 years and what being labeled as ‘gifted’ felt like for me.
    I guess my parents thought about this label long before I knew or realized. They never used it until I was in the 3rd grade. In kindergarden and during the first 2 years of primary school I was lucky to have teachers who let me learn in my way and as much as I wanted – when I finished things quickly, I was allowed to do more or more difficutl exercises, I would read texts to the class as they learned the different letters, basically I was a member of the class and not excluded but still I was allowed to do stuff that challenged my mind.
    In 3rd grade, things turned. The teachers didn’t really know what to do with the kid who learned fast and I didn’t want to go to school anymore, I was bored, I was crying at home a lot, and my parents talked to the school psychologist who then did an intelligence test with me and that’s when the word ‘gifted’ turned up for the first time. I know that on the one hand it sort of made me feel proud and it was calming to know why I was different and that this wasn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but on the other hand I sometimes felt pretty alienated from the people around me who from my perception were different. My parents always focused on telling me being gifted was a gift and that this didn’t mean I was better or worse than anybody else, which was a good thing I think, but this didn’t take all the pressure away.
    At times I hated the label ‘gifted’ as people used to call me a nerd or weird because I was interested and I knew things. I just didn’t work on this, it came naturally, and so I didn’t understand why people were making fun of me. I think it was worst the two years before I graduated. I had skipped 2 years of school and was way younger than my colleagues and I think it was difficult in some ways, but the funny thing is, now I don’t care anymore. I’m in my second year of university, I love being there, and as my course of studies features quite a lot of studying and you need interest and have to put a lot of energy into what you do, there are many gifted people. And there finally are people who understand how it is to be that way.

    So I guess if I had to say something to how you should talk to your kids, my parents did fairly well on the “don’t let your kid focus just on their giftedness” part. I just think it’s just as important to focus on the relationship your child has with their classmates and how they can work through the feeling of being different.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It’s so helpful to hear your perspective and experiences, unnahbar. I’m glad you’re in a nourishing educational environment now. Thanks for writing!

    2. Ro Avatar

      Thank you for sharing a bit of your experience, unnahbar. The sense of alienation can be very difficult – it’s great that you have found your fit at University. Perhaps, if one follows their passions, they will eventually find their crew. Just takes time.
      Best wishes unnahbar.

    3. radiolizner Avatar

      Great answer.

  22. Nimue Brown Avatar
    Nimue Brown

    I’ve got my lad signed up to your blog now – having been reading for a while and recognising him in so many of the things you post. I think it’ll help him hearing it from someone other than me, and seeing that it’s not just him, and its something interesting to read, and he won’t be able to resist that 🙂

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It’ll be great to have him here, Nimue. Thanks!

  23. Ekay Avatar

    Dear Paula, I’ve been following your articles for a while now. Great stuff you have there, I really enjoy gleaning gems from them. I have a question here. We have a mildly/moderately gifted child who doesn’t think he’s very smart. He’s a perfectionist, not very high achieving, not intrinsically motivated and at times, not willing to put effort in what he does. I often feel he’s not realising and achieving his potential. We encourage him, but don’t pressure him to be high achieving. At the same time, we really wish to see him realising his full potential and utilising his gifts. Don’t wish to see the amazing memory, the effortless learning (when he’s interested), the great processing abilities to go to waste. Not easy to motivate him unless its intrinsic and intrinsic motivation doesn’t com just like that. Would love to hear what others have to say.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks for sharing your questions, Ekay. You raise some issues that I’m sure many others experience. I hope some of them will respond here. I’ll also think about a post addressing some of your questions. In the meantime, you might look at Gail Post’s blog, and at the blogs at and These are all great resources for parents of gifted children. If you go to and the articles library you might find some good ones if you search “underachievement.”

    2. Ro Avatar

      Hello Ekay. Chances are your son is already intrinsically motivated in some areas. What do you have to tear him away from doing? Sometimes gifted children are not particularly motivated academically. Though my daughter does well academically (particularly well in a couple of subjects) she could technically be considered a ‘gifted underachiever’ based on test results etc. That said.. she has massive intrinsic motivation when it comes to her acting and music – to the extent that she will go ahead and sign up to what I fear may be too large a load of extracurricular activities at school (without telling me until it’s ‘too late’). She seems to always be planning an audition, a solo performance…
      In short, maybe academics are not your son’s greatest passion. Or maybe he hasn’t been sparked by the right kind of teaching yet. Has your son been exposed to many different opportunities? Musical, dramatic, artistic, dance, gymnastics, other sports… cooking, short film making, woodworking, bushcraft… Volunteering at an animal shelter… Perhaps you could ask him if there is anything he’s ever wanted to have a go at? Ekay, it sounds like you’re being a great support for your son. Maybe his abilities will manifest in a different way from that which you might have expected. You could be really surprised to see his level of motivation when he’s doing what he loves. Best wishes for you and your family.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        What we call “underachieving” can be so complicated. Thanks for sharing your particulars with your daughter, Ro.

  24. Tanya Avatar

    I’ve been wondering about this very topic recently. A lot of the motivation to talk to kids about it is related to the kids seeing that they’re different and attributing negative reasons to that. I’m not sure either of my kids does, partly because we homeschool and specifically how we homeschool. Obviously they play and have activities with other kids, but academic classes haven’t been necessary or a good fit (part of the reason we continue to homeschool) for a variety of reasons. And I know some gifted kids stand out even then, but I don’t think mine do. At some point, yes, I think I need to talk about it to them, but I’m not sure it would be helpful or relevant for them specifically right now.

    Sometimes a trait can be generally viewed in a negative way, but if we don’t know that, isn’t that sometimes a blessing? I didn’t realize until I was well into adulthood that some people view introversion in a really negative light. My parents are both quite introverted and I am too, and as a kid, I just chalked up our differences in the general category of, “All families are different,” without realizing that it wasn’t an even distribution. And I don’t want to introduce the concept of giftedness in a way that sets it up as defending against a negative external perception.

    It’s probably been on my mind because some of the reasons outside classes didn’t work in the past are fading, so it’s a possibility now, or will be soon. And especially for my younger child, I’m not sure how and when to address it in a way that’s helpful for him.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Tanya. It makes sense that timing would matter and that you need to trust yourself around when and if to bring it up. Thanks for sharing.

  25. Atlas Educational Avatar
    Atlas Educational

    I’m with you, Paula. I equate giftedness with gifted sports ability or gifted performance through art, music, etc. If your child is singing on stage at age 2, she’s going to realize that she’s different. If your child is the captain of the football team, you’re going to hear about it. Those talents do involve lots of practice and some inherited traits, but they also usually involve support. Giftedness may not be so clear cut and obvious, but when it becomes transparent, it needs recognition. We’d never dream of telling a gifted singer or artist to stop singing or painting, why would we tell a gifted child to stop doing what makes him special?

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It really does put it in perspective when we use that example. Would we tell the athlete to not run as fast so the slower people don’t feel bad about themselves? Argh!!

  26. Dragonwyst Avatar

    It can be a conundrum. I didn’t know I was gifted until I was an adult. I thought I was stupid. I wasn’t a high achiever at school. I dropped out of degree nursing and did the diploma track instead and then nearly didn’t pass that because I was so depressed at that point. It was only much later after 3 attempts at distance study failed because I chickened out every time I was faced with exams, that I finally got my act together and got a distinction for Psychology 101 – but then my career change and I couldn’t go further due to lack of funds. Joining Mensa was something I did for my own self-esteem – reminder that I do have something in my head (maybe)…

    As for my boys, Tim rambled through school hating it as I did. He took a gap year (something I could have used). He made his decisions based on my advice to follow his heart and not his head which was trying to tell him to do nursing for job security. He now has a degree majoring politics, international relations and policy and he was getting distinctions along the way from the get-go. Next boy is finishing high school this year. He wants to get as good a result as he can pull out of the bag, take a gap year and then (at present) is talking about studying law. That could change.

    The youngest has Aspergers. We shall see how socially appropriate he is on the other side of adolescence. By then he might see the need and settle a bit more. He’ll find his niche. He has a natural flare for making trailers for his Youtube channel content – even if the content itself doesn’t amount to much yet.

    Yes – I’ve told them they have ability – but I’ve also told them that it will show when it’s needed – like when they are studying something they are really interested in, and not to panic about school.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Dragonwyst. It can be hard to realize that you’re smart when you’re not achieving in school. I’ve written a few posts about that. “…it will show when it’s needed” sounds like good advice. (also to not panic about school!)

  27. Gail Post, Ph.D. Avatar
    Gail Post, Ph.D.

    Great post, Paula. So many good points about this very important topic. I completely agree that children need to understand why they are different, and since they are so bright already, they will worry and come up with reasons on their own if parents don’t help them make sense of their difference. I wrote about this several years ago, and am very much in agreement with what your wrote.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks for the link, Gail. Just so readers know, you’re a psychologist in Pennsylvania, specializing in working with gifted clients and families.

  28. Natalie Avatar

    Ive done very well skirting this issue.
    One is an underacheiver, so its hard for me to get them to see why they should use their potential.
    Perhaps we will try some of these suggestions.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Natalie. I’ll think about writing a post on underachieving!

  29. Ro Avatar

    Looking back… my daughter was tested just as she turned 6 years old. The situation wasn’t ideal; testing precipitated by a neglectful (and in the case of one teacher – abusive) school environment and resulting issues that eventually lead our family down the path towards ‘Gifted’. As a parent, I made mistakes. If I had a do-over, I’d avoid letting my daughter see the word ‘gifted’ being used in combat with school staff. Back then I felt that this label, these numbers, were all we had to aid in the fight for A’s right to an appropriate education. And it was a scrap, despite my deepest desire at the time for plans to be collaborative.
    Back then I had a 6 year old who ended the school year with a bout of existential depression. Having to comfort my fearful and crying child each night for an hour or two; fielding and trying to answer her many questions (that gave even me, her parent, pause) for months on end — it was tiring, advocacy was tiring, and everything felt very urgent. Back then I blamed my daughter’s depression on her difficult year at school, though I now acknowledge that my reaction to her predicament will definitely have contributed to her suffering – even as I was desperately trying to ameliorate it.
    I think that if I’d studied conscious parenting techniques and approaches prior to all this, I’d have been in a better position to help A in a way that didn’t also harm her. I used the word ‘gifted’ far too much back then. Even just around home. Perhaps I saw it as a kind of cloak I could wrap my daughter in… keep her safe. I remember ranting on forums about the unfairness of it all – that others didn’t pay reverence to ‘the G label’ and some even scoffed at it, or denied it (the nerve!).
    Looking back, a lot of the ways I attempted to help my daughter will have been counter-productive. We did secure a one year grade-skip for A – but the only good that did in the end was give her one less year stagnating at primary school. Next, she went off to a fantastic Intermediate school with an academic extension class and plenty of extra-curricular activities. That was when things really started turning around for A. ‘Gifted’ started fading from our family’s vernacular around the same time. A was much happier, and didn’t need the protection of the-G-word any more. She is at high school now, and the word ‘gifted’ has not been mentioned to school staff at all. I can’t recall the last time it was even uttered at home.
    If I could go back in time I think I’d explain giftedness to A without using the ‘gifted’ word. I don’t know that she really needed to associate with it. She would have seen it come up (at the one day school and gifted children’s club she attended) but I could have brought questions about ‘gifted’ back to our discussion of the practical and lived experience of it, instead of letting ‘Gifted’ stand pretty-much alone. A paragon. The word ‘gifted’ never protected my daughter the way I unconsciously expected it to. I still worry about the burden I might have placed on her shoulders, and how that could manifest long-term. As a parent, I feel like I’m having to do a lot of retraction – I dragged A up a mountain, and now I’m trying to get her safely back to ground base where she can breathe on her own.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Sometimes the label is needed so that children can get services in school. Ideally, schools would just look closely at each child and determine their learning needs. But without that, identification in schools can serve an important purpose. Try not to be too hard on yourself, Ro. Parenting is a tough job. I wonder what your daughter would say about it now, if you talked to her.

      1. Ro Avatar

        Thanks Paula. I think we did need the test results to take to the school, but after going through what we did with little positive outcome for A… what was the point, really. That said, I did speak with A a bit about her experience today, and she mentioned that she thought the grade skip was worthwhile because it got her to Intermediate school faster. Ideally she would have liked to have changed primary schools though. A is 13 years old now, and she had some interesting things to say! She quite enjoyed the One Day School she attended during her primary years. She is totally against the gifted children’s club though. She said it was ‘two-dimensional’ – as though the club was all about intellect and nobody wanted to know the kids for who they truly were. She said the parents were like the mothers from the ‘Dance Moms’ reality tv show. Ouch. This is interesting to me, as I didn’t perceive the parents that way – though I was fairly out of the loop due to illness. A also said she felt stupid compared to the kids who knew a lot of facts because they’d ‘specialised’ – and she never has. I had no idea that A ever felt inadequate in that way. She said she coped by just running around like a maniac (one of her favourite things to do) and making up little shows with her friends in the club.
        She said she barely thinks of herself as ‘gifted’ anymore, and she believes that intelligence counts for little without hard work. I asked her if she thinks she’s found out about her own unique ‘special-ness’ and she responded that she thinks High School is helping her uncover it.
        In short, A is probably more resilient than I give her credit for… and maybe I haven’t screwed up as badly as I sometimes think I have. It’s also possible that I’ve been able to reverse some damage over the past 18 months or so, since I started becoming more conscious of my own hang-ups and have been making different parenting choices.
        It’s fantastic that A seems to be at ease with herself. She’s still got big goals that she enjoys setting and working towards. At high school she’s made friends with a core group of kids who also love music and acting (and incidentally, maths & science too). A’s finding her people, and her place in the world; which as a parent, is what I always wanted for her. Overall, I don’t think the gifted label helped anywhere near as much as A following her unique passions and finding mentors and friends along the way.

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          I’m so glad that you talked to your daughter about this, Ro. Sounds like you learned some important stuff! Thanks for sharing it with us.

          1. Ro Avatar

            I’m glad we had the chat, too. It was surprising how clear and strong A’s opinions were. Perhaps some might change over time – or not.

  30. Kristi Avatar

    Thank you! I’ve told my son. Then more recently I’ve heard that I shouldn’t. But everything you say makes sense to me. Whew! (By the way, my parents told me exactly what parents shouldn’t. I still feel a bit guilty that I’m not the president, and didn’t even try to be, after they kept telling me I could be.)

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      That’s what can make this so difficult. Depending on how it’s talked about, kids can feel guilt and pressure or like failures. Or the more insecure kids might start boasting. There are really no easy answers to this one!

  31. Marianne Kuzujanakis Avatar
    Marianne Kuzujanakis

    Thank you, Paula! Such an important subject to discuss with your gifted kids.

    Present a balanced view of what it means to be gifted. Never let them grow up without knowledge of the term or what it entails. I know the negatives of not-knowing first-hand from my own childhood, as many others of of you also know of your own.

    1. Diane Kennedy Avatar
      Diane Kennedy

      Well Said Marianne! Love this post too!

    2. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Marianne. I’d love to hear any ideas you might have about how to talk with your kids about this. (and/or what not to say)

      1. Marianne Kuzujanakis Avatar
        Marianne Kuzujanakis

        I suppose I tend to flip the concept a bit on its head.

        I preferentially emphasize individuality – both strengths & differences. I have said with my own child that giftedness is simply a difference in seeing, processing, and relating to the world – all without a value judgement. I also talk of my own way (and my husband’s separate way) of seeing the world. I make a note of saying that everyone sees the world in their own unique way. Being grown up means understanding and accepting this point. I share further that giftedness offers – as you say – both advantages as well as challenges. Having self-knowledge of both one’s strengths and differences (a word I prefer to “weaknesses”) is key in the growth of self-confidence and often helpful in making wiser decisions later in life.

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          Thanks, Marianne. Readers will appreciate hearing your perspective.

        2. ummyaqub Avatar

          I really like this, this with Paula’s article is reaffirming & confidence building. I think trusting the instinct to protect, nurture and yet not create an arrogance are a fine tuned balance. Recognising the abilities of other people who aren’t rain forests helps me recognise their giftedness [for me they are in a different way – especially when they enjoy certain abilities that would feel like ‘gifts’ to me =) ]

          I think I like to find a way to always see mankind as people who do have equality – not in the same things – because then there would be deficiencies in some areas and of course a glut making some people redundant in other areas, but everyone brings their uniqueness to the table making for a wonderful platter that is perfect balanced & has something for everyone, and everything that we need. [Not necessarily desire though!] =)

  32. dmstauber Avatar

    Thank you so much for this. I didn’t understand, and I thought something was wrong with me. Here’s to the next generation of parents of gifted kids giving them better support than I got!!!

    1. Atlas Educational Avatar
      Atlas Educational

      You’re not alone, dmstauber.

  33.  Avatar

    Great sign post for the New Year!

  34. helenjnoble Avatar

    Reblogged this on helenjnoble.

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