One of the most common challenges of parenting or teaching an intellectually “gifted” child is to assume that because the child talks in ways that seem older than his true age, that he also is emotionally advanced. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in some cases – particularly if the child is twice exceptional – the child’s emotional competencies may be below what is typical for his age.
This dichotomy can present all sorts of challenges. For example, when reading books or watching movies, they may be interested in a topic that would normally be suited for an older child; however, there may be bits of content that are “too much” emotionally.
Documentaries and educational television
I’ve discovered this with some Curiosity Stream episodes. While from an educational standpoint, they tend to be great, my twice-exceptional nine-year-old, who is reading at the ninth-grade level, is at the emotional level of a four- or five-year-old. And previewing material is essential.
For example, about a month ago, I thought “Red Panda: World’s Cutest Animal” would be the perfect show for him, based on the name and description. The afternoon that I stumbled across it, I was looking for an episode that would address his strong desire to learn, while also having a “super cute” factor. This was particularly important that day because, even though he wouldn’t admit it, I could tell by his anxiety level that he was probably being bullied again.
So, imagine my surprise when halfway through the episode – without any notice – video footage appeared of poachers tossing red panda carcasses into a pile. (The clip before had been of a cute, very alive, red panda with no hunters in sight.) Needless to say, my animal-loving kids both began wailing.
I must take caution with documentaries about history and geography, too. While my son loves both of those subjects, I realized while previewing another Curiosity Stream episode that it mentioned very “adult” activities which, apparently, were prevalent during that city’s early history. I am so not discussing that with a kid who, emotionally, is only five – regardless of his interest in history.
As every educator reading this has probably gathered by now, such atypical growth (called asynchronous development) can have big implications at school, too. For instance, the emotional and behavioral expectations of a fourth grader are much different than the ones for a kindergartner. There’s a lot less hugging and a lot more starting to mentally prepare them for middle school.
As I continue to blog, I’m going to interview various experts and cover this in more detail, including ways to help navigate this.
My son’s difference in intellectual, emotional and true age has been dicey with neighborhood kids, too. I’ve learned, on more than one occasion, that he has seen scary images (especially around Halloween) that other kids didn’t realize would bother him – probably because of his advanced vocabulary and interests.
Two (or more) ages at once
So, parenting or teaching a “gifted” child is easy? Hardly. Tricky? You bet. Every kid – and person – has challenges. We shouldn’t assume anything else.
Please always keep in mind the child’s real age – regardless of how he talks. Because of the way his brain is developing, his intellectual development and social-emotional development won’t sync until high school or even later.
We can narrow that gap to a small extent by encouraging a healthy mindset and instilling emotional problem-solving skills. However, there’s also a strong element of brain development that’s going to take place on its own schedule. One of the best things we can do, in the meantime, is understand this.