The Duality of Giftedness: Promoting the Strengths and Addressing the Weaknesses
For teachers and parents, it’s an exciting treat to witness the growth and maturation of a gifted student. Giftedness in its many forms – in sports, art, music, science, technology and so on – makes it easy to recognize and build upon a child’s strengths, but solely focusing on an area in which a gifted child excels can hamper development socially, emotionally and physically elsewhere in their lives.
Here, we present the idea that giftedness implies duality, meaning that most gifted children achieve extreme success in one category, while suffering a deficit in others as a result of extra time, effort, energy and attention to their gift. That said, it’s important to nurture the child’s gift, while also paying attention to weaknesses that may develop.
In children who are gifted in a particular subject or scholarly endeavor, often, the deficit manifests socially. Gifted children may feel isolated from their peers when given special attention from teachers, accepted into advanced programs or placed into classes with older students. To help parents and teachers ensure balanced development for their gifted students, we suggest the following this rule: Promote the strengths. Address the weaknesses.
Promoting the Strengths
Promoting the strengths in students – gifted or not – is our natural inclination. As humans, we find pleasure in doing things that come naturally, so we apply that same impulse to our children and students.
When identifying a gifted student, we look at the ways in which they learn differently and stand out from their peers, which can include assimilating new material more quickly, displaying abstract or complex thought beyond their developmental stage, displaying a strong passion for one subject or hobby, among other characteristics.
Without exposure to specialized classes, resources and instruction, gifted students can actually struggle academically, due to boredom, lack of interest or lack of motivation. The National Association for Gifted Children suggests that enrichment or accelerated programs are necessary for gifted students to challenge them, ensure continuous progression and promote long-term interest in their field or area of expertise.
Aside from these specialized programs, parents and children can promote the strengths in gifted children by instilling a growth mindset, providing them with opportunities for self-exploration within their gifted field, connecting them with other students with similar or complementary gifts and teaching them the value in using their gift to help others.
Addressing the Weaknesses
On the flipside, perfectionism can be a real issue for gifted individuals. As a child gets used to excelling in one area – and constantly receiving praise and/or special treatment for this excellence – any failure or even minor challenge can be a major disruption.
In addition to nurturing a child’s gift, it’s important to encourage balance. Though most school systems are constructed to punish and condemn failure, it’s critical that kids learn to see value in failing and responding with resilience. Raising a child to never give up in the face of failure is a challenge to begin with, but perfectionism can lead to severe anxiety when a child views their worth in terms of academic or scholarly success.
Encourage gifted children to play, to get messy, to create. Depending on their gift, children can develop rigid constructs of what they are capable of and allowed to do. Provide them with creative outlets, mindfulness exercises and opportunities to socialize with children of all intelligence levels.
Gifted or not, children benefit from specialized attention and environments that foster emotional and social maturity, as well as intelligence and academic growth. Balance is key in any case, but it is especially so with the gifted to prevent burnout, ensure consistent progression and, most importantly, allow kids the freedom to just be kids.