Counselling Gifted Children

Gifted children may have special counseling needs. These needs may not be recognized by school counsellors or by psychological counsellors not trained in gifted issues. NIAS-EGT plans to develop an integrated gifted counselling programme, which will involve the training of psychological and educational counsellors for gifted children, the sensitisation of parents and teachers, and general awareness of the counselling needs of gifted children. If you would like to collaborate with us in this attempt, please Contact Us. Some of the counselling needs of gifted children include:

1) Socio-emotional needs: Gifted children often experience asynchronous development, their advanced abilities and interests often make it difficult for them to make friends with other children of the same age. Gifted children may also be aware of being different, and may wonder if there’s something wrong with them. Some gifted children are subject to bullying, teasing, or rejection by peers in or outside school. Yet others – exposed to conflicting attitudes to giftedness from parents, teachers, and peers – may be struggling to integrate their giftedness into their identity. Identity conflicts around giftedness may take the form of ‘aloof’ or ‘socially isolated’ (children hide and deny their giftedness), using ego as a defense mechanism (children act arrogant and refuse to cooperate), and under-achievement.

2) Educational needs: The failure of most schools in India today to recognise and meet the advanced learning needs of gifted children consititutes these children’s most pressing need. Behaviour issues such as ‘acting up’ and inciting peers to michief, as well as boredom in class and reluctance to go to school – are frequently attributable to insufficient challenge at school. These behavioral issues are often the ‘presenting’ problems, i.e. the problems that parents, teachers, or the school counsellor recognises. These issues are difficult to address unless the other problem – insufficient challenge – is also recognised. In many cases, schools may lack the orientation or resources to meet gifted children’s educational needs. It then falls upon the parent to meet these educational needs. Unmet educational needs are, thus, often a source of behavioral issues, creating a double problem.

3) Family dynamics: Whether or not a child has been ‘officially’ recognised as gifted (e.g. by the school, on a large-scale competition, or by psychometric testing undertaken by a psychologist outside school), parents of gifted children, and the gifted themselves, frequently recognise the giftedness implicitly or explicitly. Changes in family dynamics due to this recognition may involve parents pushing the child to excel, seeking opportunities and publicity for the child, holding the gifted child up as a model for his/her siblings, failing to recognise ability in the child’s siblings, and inappropriately lowering or raising expectations for the siblings vis-à-vis the gifted child’s achievements. Some families may channel a substantial portion of resources to the gifted child, whereas others may deliberately underplay the gifted label and forego optional interventions and educational modifications – believing this to be an optimal course for the child’s development. Altered family dynamics may also be implicated in problems such as gifted underachievement and socioemotional maladjustment. As always, when counselling a child, the family needs to be explored and involved.

4) School-family dynamics: Parents vary widely in their ability to recognise giftedness in their children. Due to paucity of clear information, many parents may have incorrect views of giftedness (e.g. “gifted means scoring high marks”) or may simply not be oriented to recognising gifted behaviours in their children. Even when parents do recognise that their child may be ‘different,’ their attitudes may vary widely – some parents may maximise investment in the child’s development, while others choose to downplay the child’s ability and provide no additional support. Schools also differ in their ability to recognise giftedness and their attitude to gifted education (providing the gifted with appropriate resources). Parents and schools may enter into conflict when they have different views about the roles of schools in gifted education. Example A: Nitesh’s parents have recognised his ability in languages. Nitesh performs excellently in English and Hindi at school. Further, he has picked up several other languages mostly on his own. He also demonstrates high levels of vocabulary, linguistic sophistication, and interest in reading widely. Nitesh’s parents approach his teachers and ask them to provide additional language resources to stimulate Nitesh’s ability. The school informs the parents that they only offer one curriculum and do not encourage special treatment of bright children. Example B: Gangamma’s teacher recognises her leadership potential. Gangamma frequently assumes leadership roles in informal games and classroom activities; peers appeal to her to solve their disputes; and Gangamma has often successfully represented her class to the faculty and administration. Gangamma’s teacher speaks to her parents; she has signed Gangamma up for in-school and out-of-school leadership activities including camps. Gangamma’s parents demand that the teacher cease to focus on Gangamma’s leadership ability. They want Gangamma to focus on studies and be a scientist. They tell the teacher ‘not to put it into Gangamma’s head that she is special.’

Counsellors of the gifted need to recognise school-family conflicts and be able to work with both to optimize the child’s access to resources.