It can be very exciting for parents to discover that their child is “gifted.” Often what follows this excitement is a keen interest in creating a stimulating educational environment for the child. Parents, however, can easily get so wrapped up in trying to maximize the potentiality of their child that they neglect to develop the very thing that he or she needs most.
The most valuable lesson that parents can teach gifted children is that they have value and worth apart from how well they perform.
Sufficiently stimulating the minds of gifted children should be the least of parents’ worries. Even without their parents’ help, gifted children will find creative ways to keep themselves entertained and intellectually stimulated. Parents may try to implement incentives to help their children maximize their motivation to learn, but there really is nothing that can do a better job at that than the deep curiosity that is already within every gifted child.
Regardless of the kind of educational environment they grow up with, gifted children are born to excel. They will inevitably outperform their peers in one or more areas in their life and attract a lot of attention and praise from others. While this might sound quite promising, the constant highlighting of their performance is likely to cause gifted children to build their identity and self-worth on their outcomes, results, and achievements, all highly fallible external qualities. This is no good.
The self-esteem of models suffers in a very similar fashion. Model Cameron Russell shares in her TED talk that, despite having won a “genetic lottery” (2:50), she and many other models are some of the “most physically insecure women probably on the planet” (8:27).
Giftedness and insecurity is a dangerous combination. Gifted people (including models that are, in a way, “gifted” in their appearance) who do not know that they have value and worth apart from how well they perform will feel immense pressure to create their own value and worth in the area that they are gifted in. For those with extreme emotional sensitivity, which pretty much includes the whole gifted population, that pressure to create value and worth magnifies exponentially. So many insecure gifted people are consequently driven to workaholism and perfectionism. Success then becomes a dangerous reward that justifies their unbalanced lifestyle. Broken relationships, broken families and marriages, health complications, disease, insanity, and even early death are all consequences of this unbalanced lifestyle.
HOW TO BUILD STRONG IDENTITY IN GIFTED CHILDREN (PARENTS):
Whether you like it or not, the world will take notice of the greatness within your child. They will compliment your child for his or her performance. If your own compliments and positive words of affirmation do not outweigh and outnumber the compliments given by the world, the world will usurp your position as your child’s primary teacher in building his or her identity. You need to take that position because, unlike the rest of the world, you KNOW your child personally and you know that he or she is not just the sum of his or her talents. There will be a huge competition for your child’s attention as he or she attempts to figure out who he or she is. You as a caring parent need to win that competition. You must teach your child that he or she is amazing, regardless of what he or she does or does not do. When you are just taking a stroll in the park together, when your child is not performing, you need to tell your child that you are so proud of him or her, that you love him or her so much, that he or she fascinates you just for BEING the person that he or she is. If your gifted child performs poorly in some area, sure it is totally ok to admit and accept the reality and consequences of poor performance. But if he or she is thinking, “I am not good enough as a person” because of his or her poor performance, you need to intervene. You must teach your child that his or her performance does not define him or her. You must remind your child of who he or she is: an amazing person with incredible value. If you (parents) do not know your own value apart from how well you perform, it will be very difficult to raise your own children in this manner.
HOW I BUILT MY SELF-ESTEEM:
Despite my many achievements and talents, I was once an over-achieving workaholic who struggled with extremely low self-esteem. Despite being published in newspapers and magazines and broadcasted on TV and radio, I was once so afraid of ending up as a nobody, a worthless loser. It was when I finally decided to stop trusting my own thoughts and opinions about myself and the thoughts and opinions of all the people around me, including my very performance-oriented parents, that things began to change. Ever since mid-2011, I started to care for and listen to only what God thinks about me. Since my own idea of God was so distorted at the time, I depended on other people in my church to accurately share with me His thoughts about me. People I met for the first time that could not have known such personal details about me told me specific character traits in me that God is so pleased with. They continually told me that God loves me so much and is so proud of me, all during a time in my life when I had hit rock bottom and did absolutely nothing. As I began to more accurately understand how big God is and how small humankind is compared to Him, the significance of His opinion about me grew and the significance of humankind’s opinion about me shrank. My self-esteem now is so good! I have learned to love myself and be so proud of myself, not because of how well I perform, but simply because I am a beloved child of the Most High :)
This is one of my favourite Christian children’s books on performance and identity.
“You Are Special” by Max Lucado