Gifted Children Challenging Authority - A Parent's Perspective!
By Michelle Stafford
My son and I had just finished up a particularly aggressive exercise in
mathematics one homeschooling day some years ago and he was still hyped
when I handed him his next assignment. Naively, I thought it would be a
cake-walk for him...a basic language arts practice sheet of context
clues. Boy was I WRONG!!
It wasn't the assignment that started the intellectual wrestling match -
but the directions! "Mom, these directions don't make any sense!" was
the first thing he bellowed. My response only triggered more rapid-fire
questions from him. Instantly, three sentences of publisher instructions
turned into a thirty-minute discourse delivered with bewilderment and a
near threat of banishment of privileges for the rest of the day!
After I perceived that my son wasn't obnoxiously poking holes in the
directions just for kicks - it hit me square between the eyes that this
kid really was a "different kind of thinker". The first time I learned
this was during our teaching moments when he creatively found ways to
solve Algebra equations at age six! What I took for granted as mere
basic directives meant something entirely different to him. It wasn't as
if he was trying to be difficult and when the storm clouds cleared and I
simmered down, I noticed that his questions were actually valid! Thank
goodness the examples given with the assignment as well as those (and
explanations) from other sources brought him round to the publisher's
Many of us with children of "gifted" ability will definitely find
ourselves waging verbal battles with our children and it can be a
disheartening experience. Try to realize that the children typically
don't mean any harm at least not in every instance. It's just their
nature to question anyone and everything in their quest to make sense of
the world. In fact, the more you understand your gifted child, the more
you'll gleam his/her INTENSE need to fully comprehend the ideas and
suggestions of authority figures, especially if the logic is more
subtle. As reported with many gifted children, failure to receive
adequate responses to assist in their mentally processing what's
required of them can lead to profound aggravation.
As expected, parents and teachers are on the front lines in managing
these talented minds decked in super hero pajamas. The more educated we
are about "why" they question everything, the better equipped we will be
to handle their burning curiosity. In educational settings, children
with gifted ability are often labeled as difficult, arrogant
know-it-alls who ask too many questions and dominate conversations. Yet,
when they are paired with educators certified in gifted education the
outcome can be quite different. Certain behaviors are understood to be
consistent with children with high ability yielding more rewarding
experiences in the classroom.
Parents on the other hand, can readily make the connection between the
mind of their gifted children and the need for them to understand their
surroundings. It's the experiencing of challenges to parental authority
with "adult level of reasoning and articulacy combined with tantrums and
physical limitations all at the same time..." (Gifted Children - A Guide
for Parents and Professionals) that causes utter grief. In turn it
becomes problematic for parents to accept their highly intelligent
children's intrinsic need to revert back to behavior more appropriate
for their chronological age, ignoring the fact that they are still
children after all.
This catch-22 is precisely why I, along with other parents and experts,
advocate the need to give attention to nurturing the whole child.
Meaning...be conscious of where your child is on each developmental
scale. Intellectually, your child may indeed be able to carry on
discussions with adults but he/she may also have the emotional or social
make-up of his/her chronological age or younger! Many parents in our
situation fall for the illusion of assigning adulthood to their children
simply because mature philosophical conversations can be sustained with
them. Frankly, it is also this line of reasoning and the ensuing
behavior that has given birth to socially inept and emotionally crippled
geniuses. The focus mustn't be placed only on the child's intellectual
Don't automatically assume that questions from your children are a
deliberate intent to question your authority. View it as their intent to
understand the logic behind what you are proposing and act accordingly.
When your children asks why is a bed-time required; why do they have
to do homework even if it is stupid; or why can't they have a T.V. in
their bedroom, use this time as an opportunity to teach them rationally.
Use your perception to gleam whether or not your children are
questioning you just to "get what they want" or to genuinely understand
There will be times too, when they will just have to accept that you
are the adult - and though you respect them as the little people they
are - you have the final say! Every little thing can't always be
explained until they are old enough to understand. Let this occur less
often than delivering explanations. These minds are constantly growing
and experiencing cognitive leaps. Remember you also aiding their
emotional and social development.
If your child's teacher, who may not understand gifted children, make
remarks about behavior that are consistent with gifted ability, try to
explain that though you will talk to your child about the matter, you
will also like to present them with information about children with high
ability. Even if your child isn't enrolled in the school's gifted
program, if the teacher sees consistency with your child's behavior and
those listed as being identified as a gifted trait, (include your
evidence of the school work at home I'm always encouraging you to have)
it may result in a recommendation for your child to be tested for
participation in a gifted program.
Taking the time to explain things to kids only takes a few minutes but
the affects are long-lasting. Before you know it, your children will
develop the ability to discern what behaviors make sense to them and
they will seek out guidance in instance where further clarification
might be needed. Their social skills and emotional development will
benefit tremendously as a result.
Michelle Brown-Stafford, is an acceleration coach, entrepreneur and parent to both an 11 year-old child
prodigy/college student and t'ween high school freshman. She has been practicing the methods of acceleration
for more than a decade.