Gifted, Sensitive, Curious Children In School — What Can Parents And Teachers Do?

photo courtesy of Les Anderson, Unsplash

You would think that kids who love literature, enjoy mathematical puzzles and scientific enigmas and who are curious beyond measure, would be high achievers in school and a teacher’s dream.

There are times when this is the case: When curriculum is challenging and engaging. When teachers are sensitive, enthusiastic, kind, creative, smart, flexible and organized. When classes are reasonable sizes. When administrators are supportive. When teachers get plenty of massages, dark chocolate, sleep.

And when giftedness is understood and appreciated.

Let me help you with that.

Meet six-year-old Ben. Eager to enter school, he was reading at age 4 and fascinated by the BBC documentaries on Planet Earth. He asked complicated questions about natural disasters, climate change, ancient Egypt and bacteria and told anyone who would listen about his discoveries. Ben cried easily when children or animals were hurt. He was bullied for his sensitivity and empathy. He didn’t understand why he had to practice his addition facts when he was multiplying fractions. Ben dreamed of becoming an astronaut-paleontologist-artist-poet when he grew up. He wanted to be Richard Feynman for Halloween.

Meet Louise. She loved reading and learning but was overwhelmed by middle school. Overcrowded classrooms, buzzing lights, strange odors, disrespectful students who didn’t care about learning, frustrated teachers, mean girls and the pressure to be perfect all triggered her extreme anxiety and her existential depression. She appeared confident and arrogant. She was neither. She refused to go back to school.

Meet Carmen. Even though she was an exceptional writer and former straight-A student, she was failing high school English and math. She’d become discouraged over the years with the repetitive assignments and excessive homework. But she wasn’t turning in her writing for another reason this time. Carmen had very high expectations for herself and spent hours agonizing over particular words and the interconnections within her research. There were so many ideas demanding her attention that a 5 page paper turned into a doctoral thesis. But no one ever knew. She never turned it in.

These are just a few of the gifted children that I’ve known.

What can teachers do?

Get to know all of the faces of giftedness and the ways gifted children might look ungifted. Don’t assume that these kids are lazy or arrogant or immature or ADHD if they’re not achieving. Make the time (I know you don’t have much time. It’ll be worth it.) to talk individually with them. Be curious and listen to what they tell you. Problem solve together. Be flexible with deadlines and curriculum. If you use the multiple intelligences model in your classroom, all students will expect that some assignments might be different for some kids. Reduce the amount of rote learning and repetition for the students who don’t need it. Fight for better funding for schools. Get enough massages, dark chocolate and sleep.

What can parents do?

Get involved at the school and be supportive of staff. Look for the sensitive, flexible teachers and bribe them explain nicely why your child ought to be in their class. Help your older children advocate for themselves by helping them talk directly to teachers about concerns and needs. Access school counselors and former teachers who loved your youngster, so they can be advocates. If you run into lots of roadblocks, there are options. Explore acceleration, charter schools, private schools, micro schools, homeschooling, early graduation, early college, online classes, part-time school, and tutoring. Join an online parent support group. Fight for better funding for schools. Get enough massages, dark chocolate and sleep.

There are more tips for teachers in this post. More suggestions for parents are here.

Gifted children like Ben, Louise and Carmen are extremely curious, eager learners. They can appear to be ungifted when their sensitivities, intensities, divergent thinking and perfectionism are misunderstood. They can appear to be ungifted when they resist certain assignments, suffer from anxiety or depression and stop achieving.

Teachers who understand this and appreciate these children? Teachers who are sensitive, enthusiastic, kind, creative, smart, flexible and organized? Well, they will be a gifted kid’s dream. They will be loved beyond measure.


To my bloggEEs: Tell us about your experiences with your kids or yourself in school. What challenges did you face? What successes? If you’re a teacher, let us know what it’s like for you. As always, thank you all for being here.

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.

44 responses to “Gifted, Sensitive, Curious Children In School — What Can Parents And Teachers Do?”

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  1. Lui, arrogant, ADHD, onderpresteren. Ah, ik begrijp het. Hoogbegaafd. – Learn From the Heart

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  5. Zuz Avatar

    I’m deeply touched… never read anything about this topic written more sensitively and meaningfully, I feel understood and accepted. Having somehow missed many opportunities in my life, still struggling how to match with the world and now facing the greatest challenge – raising a gifted and sensitive child, exploring all the options for her, trying to find the best solution… thank you so much, Paula!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober


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  8. EwaB Avatar

    only discovered this website/blog last friday 11-17. and keep going yes, yes yes. that it is scary.
    if it is so clear to so many people why is the educational system still so broken all over the world. I am from the netherlands and it really is all the same.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I have heard this, EwaB. That all over the world we’re neglecting our gifted. I’m so glad you’ve found my blog. Let’s start a movement!!

  9. Educators: What To Do About The G Word (#Gifted) | Your Rainforest Mind

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  10. Daria Skibington-Roffel Avatar
    Daria Skibington-Roffel

    You just summed up the first 10 years of school for me! I didn’t speak until I was 3 because I’m the person who won’t do anything until I’ve mastered it. My mother put me into a residential program that used Lovaas style ABA because she was convinced I was autistic. (I’ve been tested many times and I am not even close.) This was in the 1970s so you can well imagine what I went through: absolute torture.

    My mother told me that if I talked, they’d leave me alone, so I did. At a high school level. Everyone was shocked and I was tested with an IQ of 135 at 3 years old. I was also magically cured of autism. You can probably get what the next 13 years would be like for me with my mother telling all my teachers that I was diagnosed as “retarded” (clinical sense of the term in the 70s) and autistic, despite what the testing showed. I was reading high school level books at 4, and could fully write my name, phone number and address when I started kindergarten that same year.

    Naturally, I was odd. I talked about current events with adults on the bus, I explored things, I used big words, could count to a million, and could not relate to anyone close to my own age.

    My grade 3 teacher bullied me in class, called me names, and constantly punished me for even looking at her the wrong way. My grade 5 teacher was the same and the kids went to town picking on me using the same names the teachers called me. My mother ran into her at the shops years later and asked her why she was nasty to me. Her response? “Your daughter scared the crap out of me.” Wow. A little, scrawny 8 year old was scary.

    I’ve 42 now, and still have issues with imposter syndrome and self esteem, but I’m working on it!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      That all sounds so painful, Daria. Thank you for sharing. Glad to have you here.

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  13. Paula Prober Avatar
    Paula Prober

    Another excellent parent support group on Facebook is here: The parents are very knowledgeable and sensitive.

  14. Gabi Avatar

    Homeschooling is great if you are willing to do more than “school at home”. We are working on it and trying to give our three kids homeschooling the space and time to be who they want to be, including the fourth one who wants to stay in school. She is also very gifted but enjoys the social interaction at school. We miss her being with us during the day but I am trying to respect her choice, just really hope she is being challenged enough. Usually school is “so easy”, her words.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It sounds important that your daughter is able to choose her schooling option, Gabi. Extraverted kids may want to be in school for the social aspects, although the social part of school also has its pros and cons. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  15. Bee Avatar

    Thank you for this very interesting article.
    I’m wondering though, is there anything out there about gifted children at nursery schools?
    Thank you

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I don’t know, Bee. You could go on Facebook and ask at one of the parenting gifted children groups. Try hoagiesgifted or giftedhomeschoolers. Or the link in the post is a group called parenting gifted children.

      1. Bee Avatar

        Thank you

  16. Nimue Brown Avatar
    Nimue Brown

    I also found that my son’s emotional maturity was being questioned at times, because when given ‘age appropriate’ tests, he couldn’t answer them in the way that was expected of him – I think it was all so emotionally immature that he couldn’t get to grips with it, but it was hard getting that heard. Boredom is so often read as laziness, frustration is read as insubordination… and a good teacher can make worlds of difference.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Sometimes gifted kids will overthink a test so they make it more complicated than it is, then they get answers wrong that they actually do know. I wonder if that was going on, too, for your son. Thanks for sharing, Nimue.

      1. Carina Avatar

        It’s happened to me. Multiple choice questions where the answer seems so obvious that you begin to wonder. You look for the trick in the way the choices are written. You spend ten minutes agonizing over something that took you ten seconds to figure out. And it’s actually disappointing. I didn’t spend hours studying to get this easy test!

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          Yes, Carina. That’s what I’m talking about!

        2. cmd1122 Avatar

          hahaha…yeeeeah. Memories of Gr.12 physics (and chemistry and math, to a small extent): Part A: Multiple Choice!! (Part B: short answer and Part C: long answer/problem solving went well):
          Differences in answers that sometimes came down to a decimal point being moved, or differences in exponents, or little things that could result in a negative answer (say, if you forgot the direction of current, or simply a ‘negative’ sign in a formula…a formula which you would start doubting, even though you wrote it down on the page at the very beginning of the test…because you had to memorize all the formulas for unit tests, even though on the final exam, “you’ll be allowed the formula sheet, because by then, there will be dozens of formulas, so I won’t expect you to memorize them all”. Really.).
          Cheers, Carina, to reverse calculating all 4 or 5 MC answer possibilities, just to check that the one that it took 2 or 10 seconds to choose (or a bit longer, if applying a long formula) was indeed the correct answer…
          …until the last few minutes of the test, when checking over your answers…(while somewhat panicking because you just had to rush the long answer section, because you had used so much time on the MC section)!!

          MC turned me off of physics, and my disappointing ‘B’ in physics made me think that uni physics would be a disaster, so I never did study science in uni. And then came Psyc 1001 (in which, I swear, the professors designed the entire MC section to totally ‘mess with’ one’s brain, like, you know, as a psyc joke) and a few economics courses. And…thank goodness for the end of pointless MC questions.

          Now as a teacher, I fully understand the lack of time battle; MC questions are the fastest to mark, but I will never give these. You aren’t necessarily assessing ANY learning or actual skill application, and when in REAL LIFE will you have tricky MC options to choose from? Perhaps the only reason would be to prepare for some silly standardized test(s)…oh, the tragedy of the ‘education’ system. Let’s change this… 🙂

          1. Paula Prober Avatar
            Paula Prober

            Thank you for this example, cmd1122. I think teachers don’t realize how gifted kids can respond to MC tests. Yes, let’s change the system for everyone!

      2. Nimue Brown Avatar
        Nimue Brown

        Oh, he does that a lot, he’s struggled to get to grips with the idea that if someone asks him to write about his favourite animal, he doesn’t have to spend half an hour deciding which animal that really is…. He’s winning now, happily.

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          Glad to hear that he’s “winning.” People don’t seem to realize how much thinking these kids do!

  17. Pam Simon Avatar
    Pam Simon

    Every single one of your blogs speaks to me, Paula! So much of my childhood is being described in them! I LOVE the line through…so clever and funny!!


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Glad you appreciate my humor, Pam! 🙂 Thanks for writing.

  18. darleensaunders Avatar

    So glad you brought up how easily the gifted can be invisible in the classroom. I was one of those. I could do the work–but often didn’t want to, or I would spend hours modifying the assignment to something grander and way more interesting to me. Then it would be too late, so I didn’t bother turning it in.

    I’m also glad you mentioned homeschooling. It’s often a wonderful way to accommodate gifted learners. So many think they couldn’t possibly do it, but in reality homeschool is not all “home” and you don’t have to know everything in “school”. There are millions of resourses to fill in for what you don’t know.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, I think it’s important for teachers to realize that just because something isn’t turned in, doesn’t mean the child hasn’t done it or doesn’t care. Thanks for your examples, Darleen.

  19. singlemoeder Avatar

    I have 2 Bens at home (male and female). Absorbing, devouring and creating ALL the time. Nobody sees or believes it, only other like us do.
    Oldest completely broken by the schoolsystem – prison to him – and recovery is on its way after 4 years in prison followed by 2 years of legal battle. We do unschooling and tiny bit of program learning (English). Saving up for a comfy RV and travel. Like all the time. The world is our classroom.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      The world is a fine classroom!

  20. FredB Avatar

    I grew up in a factory town with a factory school system that was geared to producing factory workers. [Whining redacted]

  21. K. Avatar

    Thanks for writing this I could not agree more! Alas, the cookie-cutter curriculum is rather daunting and uncreative; it has become mechanized and stifling for most students and it does repress wonderment and curiosity. I found it rather dull and the only course I enjoyed was art class because we had a lot of freedom and creativity in that class. On the other hand, University was overtly structured and routined to the point of losing enjoyment–I like learning and researching but all those deadlines and not memorization tests were a complete waste of time; total futile and not worthy in my opinion. Gifted students do deserve to climb the ranks if the curriculum is not aligning with their intellectual capacity, emotional stamina, and inquisitiveness. Thanks for sharing this and I agree wholeheartedly on every note.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, K. I’m hoping that by supporting educators, we can change the system. Sometimes it can be as simple as grouping the gifted kids with the teacher who “gets’ them. But there seems to still be resistance to that idea.

      1. K. Avatar

        Indeed–I agree. Which is why many gifted children and teens flunk out and end up having difficult challenges later in life. Not all of course, but a lot of them do struggle with the educational system and feeling different I suppose.

  22. Carina Avatar

    I can relate to Louise.

  23. artyplantsman Avatar

    Thank you for writing this. I was basically six year old Ben.

  24. hksounds Avatar

    Oh, my! What a great topic. Thanks for this article.

    My summary of 12 years of solid hell.

    To a very large extent, especially in high school, my coping method was that I just didn’t go. These days, it would be disastrous, but back then, they had no programs for gifted students, but they were very deferential to students whose IQs were off the charts. The schools never took any punitive actions toward me although there were occasional, half-hearted threats. I came when I felt like I had better and stayed away the rest of the time. I am sure there were weeks at a stretch that I never showed up. I thought of school as a mental and physical prison. I pictured it like a cage fitted over my body with only the top of my head and fingers sticking out. Academically, I did well when I decided to and poorly when I didn’t care. Detention was the funnest class so I visited it on a regular basis. I liked the activities and the friends I made there and I am still in contact with one special friend even though we are now thousands of miles apart.

    I basically hated every teacher I had until university and thought they were unbearably stupid and I resented the fact that they were supposed to be teaching me something new but were, in fact not telling me anything I didn’t already know. They would tell us not to read ahead in the text which made zero sense to me, if the objective were for us to learn. Of course, I would read through the textbook the first week of class and be bored to death the rest of the semester. I asked questions all the time and they usually went unanswered. Sometimes they told me not to ask any more questions. The one thing they didn’t do, and should have, was to say they didn’t know but maybe that was something I or we could try to find out. I think/hope I would have respected that kind of response.

    Now as a teacher, I don’t think any better of those I had but I do appreciate how difficult a job teaching can be. But the bottom line is, super bright kids need to be taught, at least some of the time, by super bright teachers to stimulate them, guide them and to show them there are others out there who are smart like they are. Good luck with that.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Sadly, I’ve heard many versions of your story. Thank you for sharing it. It’s a good reminder to teachers that they don’t have to know all of the answers. That they can help their students by being honest and guiding them to resources.

  25. Gail Post, Ph.D. Avatar
    Gail Post, Ph.D.

    Paula, Important message about how these children are ignored and left behind. Thanks for the advocacy and reminder.