Understanding the Unique Characteristics of Gifted Children

Raising gifted children is an extremely important parental challenge. Many parents wonder: How can I challenge my children to use their gifts? How do I support my child emotionally? How do I pick the best school? How do I get teachers and administrators to care about my child’s special needs? And what do I do next to develop my child’s potential?

While it can be rewarding to raise a curious, sensitive and introspective child, it is also a difficult task. Parents need a great deal of stamina, patience, introspection, fearlessness and endless support.

Raising a gifted child is similar to trying to get yourself out of a maze--you are never sure what obstacle you are going to run into, but you assume there is most likely one around the next bend. The key to success is following several important ground rules.


Do learn about the unique characteristics of gifted children

It is important to educate yourself. There is a great deal of information online and in books on the identification of giftedness. While your child will not display every behavioral characteristic of giftedness, successfully identifying five out of 12 characteristics most likely means you have a gifted child.

Understand that not all gifted children are alike. In fact, there is a wide variation in definitions of giftedness and types of giftedness. Not all gifted children manifest traditional giftedness as measured in an IQ score. A child can be gifted in science, mathematics, language, music, art, leadership or athletics.

Investigate gifted associations, such as California Association for the Gifted (CAG) and Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG).

Do seek support from other parents with gifted children

It is extremely beneficial to find peers who will support you. Other parents also raising gifted kids can empathize with your struggles and successes.

Because some gifted children are very intense and have difficulties in school, other parents with the same types of problems are helpful in solving the issue of how to develop your gifted child’s potential. Just knowing that another family is struggling with know-it-all behavior, intense separation anxiety or problems making friends--and listening to how they deal with their child--can be calming and helpful.

Do search for schools that have experience with gifted children

Do not listen to friends and family who tell you that any school will suffice. You need to find the right school that can understand and challenge your child. Finding a school that has a developmental approach and plenty of creative activities is essential. Schools that look at whole-child development and work with parents will be the most supportive of your child.
Consider the realistic and affordable options. Investigate what kind of learning environment will challenge your child.

Do openly discuss diversity and uniqueness

Teach your child about diversity and model respect for other people’s uniqueness. Parents often think that talking about their child’s giftedness will feed into the child’s arrogance or sense of elitism. The opposite is true. You should talk to your children about what they think it means to be gifted, and how they feel about being in “special” classes. You will be surprised to hear their reactions, and they will be relieved to have parents who are concerned about their thoughts and feelings.

Do set clear limits for acceptable behavior

Gifted kids are intense and demanding of their parents’ energy. They have problems with transitions and tend to throw temper tantrums if they don’t get their way. While being rigid and authoritarian is not effective, giving in to every demand is also counter productive. Establish clear limits and create advance warnings that prepare your child for upcoming transitions.


Do not push your child

Children deserve a childhood, no matter how advanced they may be in science, mathematics, art, music or athletics. Every child needs to learn social skills. Make time for children's friendships. If they complain to you about being pushed, set goals together that are easy to achieve.

Do not leave your child’s socialization to chance

Because the social–emotional development of gifted children can be quite difficult, it should be a primary concern for parents. Besides school, gifted kids need lots of social activities to teach them social skills and keep them busy with new learning adventures.

Keeping your children at home--watching tv or playing video games--will limit their interests and play time, which is important for the development of imagination. Gifted children need to learn how to socialize with other children. Coaching your child on how to develop friendships is very useful and effective. In addition, gifted children often do better if they have other gifted children to play with, as well as adults who encourage their interests. Be sure to set up social situations or excursions where your child must interact with peers and adults.

Do not overlook the need to manage your child’s boredom

Boredom in gifted children is often a “cry for help” to parents and teachers. This boredom can present itself as problematic behavior at school. Ask for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) so you can better understand how the school environment is not meeting your child’s academic and social–emotional needs. Your child may need more challenges and more meaningful friendships. Behavioral interventions, such as family counseling, should be given the chance to resolve problem behaviors. Medication should only be considered as a last ditch effort.

Do not underestimate the importance of developing realistic challenges

The most up-to-date educational research on meeting a gifted child’s need for challenges indicates the use of a differentiated curriculum. A differentiated curriculum is more complicated and comprehensive than giving a child an extra workbook in the back of the classroom. Ask your child’s teacher if he or she has any experience with this innovative curriculum. Remember not to be bossy or insistent. Rather, try to work with your child’s teacher on developing realistic challenges.

Do not ignore academic problems

Social and emotional issues can be as important as the development of motivation or achievement for gifted children. If gifted children are having problems with homework or they complain of boredom, they may be struggling with emotional issues related to anger or feeling like a misfit. Academic problems for gifted children are often rooted in unhappiness with themselves or others.


Raising gifted kids is a challenge, which requires informed parents who can recognize their children’s strengths and weaknesses. Understanding the unique characteristics of gifted children is the first step in developing your child’s potential. Finding a school and support group to help you be the best parent you can be is critical.