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Behaviour, emotions, social development: gifted and talented children

1-16 years

If your gifted child has advanced intellectual ability, it’ll probably affect his emotional and social development, as well as his behaviour. Here are ideas to help you handle your child’s emotions and behaviour, and guide his social development.

Emotions and emotional development: gifted and talented children

If you have a gifted and talented child, you might notice that your child seems to have very strong feelings compared with other children her age. Your child might be intense about interests or issues that are important to her. Or your gifted child might get anxious about new things.

This is all pretty normal for gifted and talented children.

It’s because they think about things more deeply, and their thoughts spark intense feelings. Sometimes they can’t work out these feelings, so they act out the feelings in difficult behaviour. Sometimes your child’s strong emotions might even lead to behaviour that looks like the behaviour of a younger child.

For example, a young gifted child might be very upset when an insect dies. A school-age child might worry about friendships or not getting things ‘right’ in class. Older children might feel anxious about not being able to fix climate change or help asylum seekers.

Strategies for handling strong feelings in gifted and talented children
Good communication is the key to supporting your gifted child’s emotional development and helping your child learn to manage emotions.

It’s all about talking, listening and responding in a sensitive way, even when your child’s feelings seem out of proportion to what has happened. Talking and listening gives your child time to think through his feelings and gives you the chance to really understand those feelings.

If your child is older, active listening can help you stay connected.

Social development and skills: gifted and talented children

Because of their advanced intellectual ability, many gifted and talented children are good at imagining what it’s like to be in somebody else’s situation. They often have a strong sense of – and opinion about! – what’s fair, just or right.

Sometimes these qualities mean your gifted and talented child gets along well with others. Other times, it might seem like your child doesn’t quite fit in with children her own age.

In fact, you might have noticed that your gifted child prefers to play or be with older children – brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbours. This is normal too. It’s because your child is thinking at a similar level to older children.

Strategies for helping gifted and talented children get along with others
Like any child, your gifted child will sometimes need your help to learn about getting along well with others.

A great starting point for getting along with people is understanding that different people have different strengths. You can help your child learn this as part of your everyday family life.

You can also give your child opportunities to build and practise social skills through:

Behaviour: gifted and talented children

Like all children, gifted and talented children can behave in challenging ways sometimes. But their challenging behaviour can have particular reasons, including focus and curiosity, frustration and lack of learning opportunities.

Focus and curiosity
Your gifted child probably has an excellent memory, so he’s likely to remember rules and routines well. But it might be hard to get him to follow and stick to them.

For example, it might be hard to get your child to go to bed if she’s reading a book she’s really interested in. Or she might come up with some very good reasons why reading is more important than going to bed!

Frustration
Gifted children often set very high standards for themselves and get frustrated when they can’t meet them. This can sometimes result in tantrums and other difficult behaviour.

It’s great for your child to work towards high standards. But your child needs to understand that he can’t have high standards for everything. It’s OK to fail at times and make mistakes. You can talk with your child about how mistakes help us learn what to do differently next time.

One of the most powerful ways to help your child learn this lesson is to be a role model for her. For example, you can calmly point out to your child when you make a mistake and show her how you work it out.

Lack of learning opportunities
If your child isn’t getting the chance to be a learner, you might see signs of this in his behaviour, particularly his behaviour at school.

For example, your child might distract classmates instead of doing the work her teacher sets. She might get bored and stare out the window. Or she might seem fine at school but be very upset and sad at home.

First, talk with your child about what’s happening at school. Listen for any clues that he needs new learning opportunities. For example, your child might say something like, ‘I already know the work but my teacher keeps giving me the same thing’.

The second step is to make a time to talk with your child’s teachers about your child’s behaviour and learning needs. If you can work with your child’s teachers to support your child’s learning needs, these difficulties will probably go away.

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Last updated or reviewed
25-06-2015

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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