The Imposter Syndrome and Gifted Children

Just a few weeks ago I wrote about an observation about what was happening with some of my female students. After reading some of the comments, I thought I had to educate my self about this syndrome.

So, what is Imposter Syndrome? Cal Tech has described this syndrome as:

Impostor syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.

It is basically feeling that you are not really a successful, competent, and smart student, that you are only imposing as such.

Some common feelings and thoughts that might characterize the impostor syndrome are: “I feel like a fake” “My classmates/professors etc. are going to find out I don’t really belong here,” “Admissions made a mistake,” etc.

For me, when your think of gifted children it is easy to think since they are smart they should be confident as well. I read the story from Ian byrd, and his experience with imposter syndrome. It really moved me, for the fact I know I have students who feel the same way as Ian.

Imposter Syndrome can be broken down into three categories: Feeling like a fake, luck, and discounting success.

Feeling like a Fake

Students who have this feeling are in the company of those students who feel like they are living a lie. They are afraid of trying something because they are afraid they will be found out how much they don’t know. Some students feel like they shouldn’t have success because they are deceiving others of their ability. They hide because they don’t want to be “found out.”

Success by Luck

Some students feel they only had success because they had good luck. They didn’t earn it. They don’t have the confidence in their own abilities, and they probably couldn’t have that kind of success again. Its based something that happened externally that caused them to have the success.

Discounting Success

Students who discount their success play down their abilities, and their success. They claim it “wasn’t hard”, or “not that important.” The problem is they don’t see how much they had to do to get to the point they are.

Unfortunately, I have had male and female students who fall in all three categories. I know they have abilities to succeed in just about anywhere they go, and in just about anything they want to commit hard work to. They just don’t have the confidence in themselves, or the belief they don’t deserve the success from their abilities.

The group of students that I have that seem to be affected most by Imposter Syndrome is girls. Girls work hard at hiding their abilities. Particularly in an urban setting like I am in. Gifted girls also try to give answers to teachers that they think the teacher wants to hear. They will do just about anything to keep the attention off themselves.

What can teachers do to help gifted girls or boys (or anyone with this syndrome) over come this? I think we have to show students that feelings and reality don’t always go together. For example, if a student says “I feel so stupid.” That doesn’t mean they are stupid. Teachers also need to work on showing student how much success they have, and how they got there. We need to show that the success they had or have is something to be proud of, and it has meaning. We need to get them to stop doubting their abilities and their success by realizing that when their doubts happen to shut them.

I feel like I have a long road ahead of me to help my students with Imposter Syndrome. I know it can’t be cured over night, but you have to start somewhere. Urban children have a lot of aspects to their life. They have the street personality, the school personality, and family personality to deal with. Sometimes where they are in life, or how they see their life will attribute to the Imposter Syndrome. I don’t know if I can over come that aspect, but I do know that I will try just about everything I can to help my students overcome this syndrome.



12 thoughts on “The Imposter Syndrome and Gifted Children

  1. Pingback: When you think you're an imposter

  2. Linda

    The book Mindset by Carol Dweck addresses this – the language we use with children – complimenting their innate abilities instead of the effort they put forth, makes them feel as though they have no control over their success.

  3. LeAnn

    The other thing teachers can do is appropriately challenge the students right from Kindergarten. As a person who suffered from the imposter syndrome, I can honestly say that I actually “knew” everything at such a young age. I was truly a “know-it-all” because no one talked about anything that I had not encountered before so when I hit Calculus, it was foreign and I was afraid to ask for help. No one ever told me that smart people may have to work hard. I thought working hard was for the people who were not smart. I was afraid it I said something that people would think I was not so smart.
    If teachers had appropriately challenged me from day 1, then I would have learned that smart people actually work. (My learning seemed to come by osmosis because it was truly not challenging.)

  4. Braver Believe

    Almost every parent of gifted children I work with experiences this. Sure, they’re kids are gifted and worth fighting for, but THEM being gifted?? Oh, no! Not them.

    But, from the outside, it’s like when the teachers come out of the first day of fall conferences and look at each other with comprehending expressions, “Oh, so THAT’S why the student is like that! I just met their PARENTS!”

    The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!

    Braver Believe

  5. Lori Sarver

    I need assistance from the gifted community. I have an 11 year old that has been in gifted classes since he was 7. This year he was moved into middle school and had to be retested. One of the tests showed he should be in gifted but the psychological test showed he did not need to be in gifted. Something about the program being more of an intervention for behavioural issues with the gifted children. Our child is calm and the elementary staff called him their “little gentleman”. The review panel opted to not have him in gifted. Come to find out later, he did his minimal on the test because he did not want to be in the gifted class in the 6th grade because of the negative things he heard. His middle school does not have a true gifted program but places the children in the higher grade, 6th graders go into 7th grade math with the 7th graders. I am concerned that he is suffering from imposter syndrome and has a feeling of not belonging. I also should point out that he had straight A’s all through elementary school. Should I wait and see how he progresses or should my husband and I meet with the school officials now over our dilemna?

    1. Jeffrey Shoemaker Post author

      I see your concern. If I were in your situation, I would meet with the school officials, and let them know your concerns. I would also continue to monitor his progress. You may need to educate his teachers about what impostor syndrome is and how it effects children like him.

  6. Pingback: When you think you’re an imposter

  7. Pingback: Gifted Girls Need Unique Support | Ramblings of a Gifted Teacher

  8. Pingback: Impostors!! (2) – vida morkunas

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