Taking off the Behavioral Masks that Gifted Children Hide Behind

paper_mache_plain_masksSometimes it seems so simple to identify the gifted children in your classroom. They answer all the questions, they read very well, and can make friends very easy. Sometimes they are labeled “teacher pleasers” or the “teacher’s pet.” But there are those that don’t fit this mold or the stereotypical nerdy child you see in the movies or on television.

It is my goal in this post to shed some light on some of the areas or masks that gifted children hide behind that may cause them to not be identified as gifted. This list isn’t a complete end all be all type of list. These are just a few that I feel that are most common.

Asynchronous Development 

  • Many gifted children function at a very high level in one or more areas, but socially and emotionally they may be functioning at much lower level. You may see very smart children acting what would be perceived as immature for their ability.

Lack of study skills or habits

  • As you may know gifted children are very smart. Many don’t struggle until later in high school. Passing through elementary and middle school without having to put much effort into their studying. Once that struggle comes many gifted students don’t know how to handle it. Their self concept can get damaged. Many gifted children will shut down. This doesn’t always happen in high school. It happens in the early grades as well.


  • Underachievement is basically when a child simply chooses not to perform to expectations of their teachers, peers, or parents. There could be some psychological reasons for this, some may have to do with personal preference with the subject, project, or environment they are in. This disengagement can lead to many gifted children not being identified correctly. They may be actually gifted, but teachers may see them as lazy.

Communication with Peers and Adults 

  • One aspect of gifted children have is ability to communicate. Gifted children tend to communicate more frequently with adults. Gifted children have the ability to think in the abstract, have a divergent thinking paradigm, and have comprehensive vocabularies. Sometimes this leads to less communicating with peers and more with adults. With a majority of their communication with adults gifted children can socially isolate themselves from their peers.

Social Isolation

  • Gifted children can feel very isolated from their peers. Peers may not understand their interests,  have trouble following their intricate games, and not understand them due to their large vocabulary. Finding true friends can be very difficult. Due to this many gifted children find it easier to do things on their own.

These are just a few behavioral masks that gifted children tend to wear. As gifted intervention specialists, parents and teachers we need to help our gifted children in different situations so they can be successful.

Have you seen some of these behaviors in your classroom? How are you supporting your gifted children?


4 thoughts on “Taking off the Behavioral Masks that Gifted Children Hide Behind

  1. Regarding “You may see very smart children acting what would be perceived as immature for their ability.” — In observing my own gifted son as a child, he had excellent social skills outside of school, with children and adults. He had difficulty in his public school classes because unlike most of the student population, he had so very little in common with his classmates that he was basically looked at as just a smart oddball by his classmates AND actually by his teachers as well. His problem was not a lack of social skills; it was the school district’s unwillingness to find other children like him (there is surely more than just one in a whole school district) and put them in class together so they can fly through lessons at their naturally fast pace so as to avoid learning nothing but how to utterly hate school, and this would allow them to have at least one friend they could really relate to in school. Alas, that’s a bit too much like good sense for public schools. Also, it is not elitist at all to recognize that there are different levels of giftedness and each should be respected and appropriately nurtured. The gifted programs common to public schools are not challenging enough for children in the upper levels of giftedness. My son was blessed — or as he has often felt, cursed — with profound giftedness (also was a “generalist” – far beyond what’s age-appropriate at everything he did) and was NEVER given access to appropriate education opportunities. Homeschool literally saved my son’s life (he’d be the first to say so) and allowed him to start college at age 14. Left to languish in public schools, he would most certainly have dropped out. If you as an adult were required to attend a very basic class in a field you have masters-level skills in but the class only taught the basics and the rest of the class was struggling to even learn those, you, too, would go out of your mind with boredom and frustration, and your behavior would likely be perceived to be abnormal or immature or some other inappropriate label. You would feel like a cheetah in a small cage. But as an adult, you could decide to withdraw from the class. Little school children are stuck. God help those whose parents don’t advocate for them.

    Regarding lack of study skills and “Passing through elementary and middle school without having to put much effort into their studying. ” — This is exactly why they might not develop the study skills they need for high school and college. It is not a deficiency in the children. The schools let them down by not providing classes that are challenging enough to require them to work harder for those A’s.

    Regarding “Underachievement” – This is a gross misnomer for a gifted child not measuring up to teachers’ expectations. When the child has already surpassed the class’ requirements, maybe s/he simply sees no point in having to prove it over and over to the teacher. S/he’s already going stir-crazy with the class placement to begin with. If anything, the school is making the child “non-achieve” since within the class’ limited lesson plans, the child has already over-achieved.

    Regarding gifted children’s advanced communication skills and “Sometimes this leads to less communicating with peers and more with adults.” — Gifted children do not have a problem communicating with their peers. They are denied the opportunity to be in classes with their peers!! They have no peers in average classes. Again, this is not elitist – all of us average folks came up with no real problems passing through average traditional K-12 classes. Our age peers were also our intellectual peers. Not so when you restrict gifted kids to average classes, and the higher the level of giftedness, the less the child has a chance to learn anything at all, much less communicate meaningfully with “peers.” Age alone does not make a peer.

    Regarding “social isolation” — Again, gifted children (especially highly and profoundly gifted children) have no peers with whom to socialize in typical traditional public schools stuck on age-appropriate class placements.

    Thank you very much for your article. I hope it is widely read to get people thinking about this stuff. Teachers are trained a certain way and have to follow strict expectations. I know teachers who retired early because they weren’t allowed to approach teaching using methods that they knew would work for their students. I declined to go through with becoming a teacher when I found out about all the teaching to tests that’s required. I was, however, a substitute teacher for several years, covering 1st through 12th grades. What I observed was very disheartening. Common sense would seem to dictate that the “intervention” gifted children need is simply the same access to classes where they have true intellectual peers that non-gifted children have. Instead, we force the gifted to grow up always feeling like square pegs that can’t fit into the schools’ round holes. There’s usually nothing wrong with gifted children; what’s wrong is schools denying them appropriate opportunities to learn and make real friends. What’s wrong is schools telling gifted children there’s something wrong with them “ADHD, etc) when they refuse to pretend they are happy to pay attention to lessons that keep covering stuff they already know. Public schools can’t (or refuse to) understand highly/profoundly gifted children’s energy and curiosity and NEED for higher-level learning opportunities.

    1. Parent of Gifted Child(ren)

      I agree wholeheartedly with every word of your comment. Our family has unfortunately recently experienced the same thing in a highly ranked public school district. Tragic.

  2. Pingback: Taking off the Behavioral Masks that Gifted Children Hide Behind – Ramblings of a Gifted Teacher | Gifted Child Mom

  3. Pingback: What is Giftedness? | Gifted Definition & Meaning

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