Gifted and Introvert
By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D
My son is 6 years old. He is 1 grader in a gifted school.
Basically, he is a smart and shy boy and like to be challenged. But he
is a bit mature than the boys at his age and always criticizes himself.
For example, I got his grade progress last week and he had highest score
at every parts like achievement, behavior, homework, effort... I was
very happy to see the progress report and told him he is a best student
and I am really proud of him. But he looked very calm and said there
will always be some one better than him and he cannot be the best. He
said he was not good at raising his hand to ask and answer the question
although he wants to ask question or he knows the answer.
He knows he is smart but he also think he is not smart enough. It is
good he works hard since he wants to be smarter. But he told me that he
doesn't want to be a leader and he doesn't want to impress the teacher and
the other students in the class. He said he just wants to be an
"ordinary" boy. Of course it is OK he is ordinary. But I know his
ability and he can do much better than he thought. I try to say every
words to encourage him all the time. But he still insists his thought
and is still quiet in the class. I wonder if his thought is changeable
and what I should do in order to encourage him to be more "aggressive".
Researches on gifted children have indicated that a good number of them
are introverted, shy and sensitive due to their heightened awareness of
self and others. It sounds like your son may be an introvert. It is
popularly believed that introverts are asocial, friendless loners who
lack social skills. But this is simply untrue. They just happen to have
different social needs and preferences. However, when they are gifted as
well, as parents we feel that they can do so much more and are simply
not doing enough so sometimes, we tend to ‘push' them a little which may
at times be a little too much for them causing them to sink into further
It is fine to be quiet in class but it is also not helpful when it comes
to socializing. You mentioned that he is shy, so I assume that he may
not have very good social skills. It is perfectly fine to have a few
friends, but he does need to have friends preferably of similar mental
age. He also probably requires a lot of personal space. You may also
find that he likes being alone in the room. This is not a sign of
withdrawing but rather a preference for introverts as they are more
comfortable this way. It is possible for him to find being around others
rather tiring and requires some “alone time” to regain energy. A gifted
child who is an introvert also uses this time to figure things out
without any interruption.
You may probably find that she chats happily with you and other members
of the family, and possibly close friends but does not talk much in
class - which may be quite puzzling. Unfortunately, in most cultures
introversion, sensitivity, and childhood shyness are misguidedly seen as
problems; and that too ones that needs fixing. The very fact is that
shyness is just a temperament. Rather than wanting him to be more
“aggressive” you may need to help him develop social skills to fit his
Go on further to help the teachers understand his traits and communicate
to them that he is just fine even if he is quiet and shy in class. In
the classroom, get the teachers to help him with a little push as he
needs time to warm up. Give him time to adjust in any new environment as
some gifted children tend to observe before indulging in any activities.
Perhaps the teacher can help him by asking him his opinion or comment on
any topic, and by further asking him additional questions to start a
discussion. He may shy in the beginning but will eventually get used to
it and perhaps become a little more participative in the classroom.
Here are some strategies by Lynne Henderson, PhD (director of the
Shyness Clinic) that parents can use to help shy children participate in
school and social activities:
Give your child a chance to warm up to strangers. Before
school starts, take your child to school and introduce him or her to the
Seek an optimal learning environment for your child.
High-stakes, competitive learning environments may give a child a good
learning experience, but sensitive children can be adversely affected by
them. If you notice symptoms like performance anxiety or sleep
disturbance, work on supportive self-talk and relaxation exercises. It
may be helpful also to consult a psychologist.
Involve your child in extracurricular activities such as
music classes, school clubs, academic competitions, or physical
activities like swimming and golf or team sports. Make sure that he or
she spends some time with other gifted children. It also helps to
associate with older friends who are not threatened by your child's
gifts or talents.
Arrange for your child to help younger children with
schoolwork, sports, or other games or to perform some other volunteer
activity to promote a sense of social competence.
Share books with your child that provide helpful role
models. Children can learn social skills through literature. Look at
Caldecott and Newbery Medal-winning books for titles. Consider
biographies of shy children who became leaders, like Eleanor Roosevelt
or Abraham Lincoln.
Role-play social situations and brainstorm coping
strategies. “What do people do when they forget what they want to say?
When they stammer or blush?” Model social interactions for your child
using humor to recover from gaffes or mishaps. Have your child practice
approaching children and speaking up in class, with you acting as the
other child or the teacher. Afterward, tell your child what you liked
about what he or she said or did.
Discuss your child's progress using self-supportive
thoughts, such as “Social skills are learned, just like anything else.”
Have your child reflect on or write about both negative and positive
experiences and savor behavior that worked well. Think aloud about how
he or she can try new things. Encourage your child to share experiences
and express emotions.
Help your child test hypotheses about others' intentions
by asking them questions or by trying new behaviors. Suggest how to
invite others to play a game or to share a toy.
"Above all, maintain age-appropriate expectations while communicating
empathy and respect for your child's natural way of being. Help set
manageable goals for your child and establish the means to attain them,
but avoid using negative labels and exerting unrealistic pressure.
Remember that shyness is a universal human experience important for
prosocial adaptation." - Lynne Henderson, PhD (2009)
Hope the above has been helpful. Good luck.