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Bright Child Is Challenging to Teachers

Gifted and Talented Expert Advice from Rita Culross, Ph.D.

Q: My six-year-old son is in a public-school system. He is either bright or gifted, I'm not sure which. He understands the concept of negative numbers. He knows most of the multiplication tables. He can do double column subtraction and addition. His imagination knows no bounds, and he plays well with kids two to five years older, but not with other kids his age.

Our problem is that he is a very lonely boy. Other kids tease him. His teachers get frustrated with his challenging behavior (he does not follow directions, he demands a lot of attention from the teacher, he appears not to listen, he's very strong- willed, and he challenges the teacher often). His teachers and the principal keep discussing his lack of emotional maturity.

Our son thinks he is a "bad boy" and that he's dumb -- he's obviously got it backwards. Should we have him tested? Should we argue with this school, or find a different school? In the mean time, he suffers.

A: Many of the characteristics you listed describe a gifted child. It's also true that gifted children may be more advanced in academic subjects than in their social skills. Because of their advanced intellectual abilities, we sometimes expect them to be gifted socially, too. Gifted kids can also be argumentative, demanding, strong-willed -- in other words, a handful. Problem behaviors often surface when they become insecure or are bored in the classroom environment.

There are several strategies you might pursue.
1. Ask if the school has a gifted program. If it does, ask that your son be referred for testing. Be prepared to describe the kinds of advanced skills you have observed in your son. As part of that screening process, the school psychologist or evaluator can look at his social and emotional skills. Results from the testing can provide information that helps not only plan his instruction, but also suggests needed areas of work in social skills development.

2. Either as a result of this testing or as a separate plan, inquire whether your child's school has a school counselor or school psychologist. These professionals can consult with his classroom teacher on strategies for addressing his social and emotional needs. School psychologists and counselors frequently meet individually with children as well to help them develop more effective coping skills.

3. There are many good after-school and weekend activities that provide opportunities for your son to interact with other children. Group sports, play groups, and fun activities centered around arts, science, or music can provide additional opportunities for him to develop social skills while simultaneously challenging his mind.

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Rita Culross is Associate Dean, College of Education, and Adjunct Professor of Psychology and Curriculum and Instruction at Louisiana State University. Culross has served as the consulting school psychologist for a public school elementary gifted program, and has written a book and several journal articles on gifted education.

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