Why Brilliant Children Often Appear Slow, Part Six

Yet another slowing-down force in the life of a gifted child is over-stimulation. Where a student of normal IQ walks into a classroom and is reasonably comfortable, gifted children are hit with multiple waves of sensation. The light may hurt their eyes. The noise level can be hard for them to shut out. But the more likely distractions are from the thoughts and emotions of those around them.

Gifted children, known to be highly sensitive and receptive to stimuli of all kinds, feel strong emotions floating or even hammering at them from all sides when they are in a group. Only long experience can show them the difference between their feelings and another’s, and grade school is too early to expect them to cope. So they struggle to pay attention in class, yet are swamped in the contradictory and confusing sensations that surround them. No wonder they lose track of what the teacher is saying and then lag behind in mastering the material.

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Why Brilliant Children Often Appear Slow, Part Five

Part of my problem in math class, in addition to divergent thinking, was my need to work things out for myself. I had to explore, to my full satisfaction, all those ramifications and implications about language. I didn’t want any help.

Observing this same trait in my own two profoundly gifted children, and battling it when they were in grade school, I finally concluded that it was hardwired in. I had to learn to work with it.

I did this in their cello lessons by a “hands-off” approach, as much as I could tolerate, given that I was their teacher. Working things out for themselves, and not according to the usual sequential music-lesson curriculum I’d used throughout my career, slowed their progress noticeably. However, they were happy and learning faster than they would have if I’d been fighting them.

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Why Brilliant Children Often Appear Slow, Part Four

Complex thinking is just one example of a force that can take the attention of gifted children away from their schoolwork. Divergent thinking can exert an equally powerful pull. A divergent thinker, unlikely to listen to the teacher, may fall behind—for the usual reason.

Those thoughts are more compelling than anything else. For example, in grade school math, I was thinking about numbers, but not in any way that helped me pay attention in class.

When we studied division, I heard “one divided by five,” and began speculating on what those words implied. Cut one sheet of paper into five pieces: one divided by five equals five pieces of paper. Cut one sheet of paper five times: one divided by five is six pieces of paper. And so forth. Picturing all the possibilities, I enjoyed my personal inquiry but grew up thinking I was slow in math because I missed so many of the teacher’s useful instructions on how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide fractions.

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Why Brilliant Children Often Appear Slow, Part Three

As noted, thinking is a favorite pursuit of gifted children, one that takes their minds away from class activities and sometimes the whole curriculum. And if thinking is a problem, complex thinking is even more so.

The complex thinker loses himself in a maze of fascinating possibilities, all inside his head, and to get the attention of a child like this is a major feat. Typically this success doesn’t last long, either, because the magnetic pull of hundreds of ideas is so much stronger than any outside influence.

So the young complex thinker, often caught between internal and external demands, struggles with basic tasks like brushing teeth or getting to breakfast on time. In addition, even if he has the freedom to explore his voluminous thoughts, his progress on almost any project will be slow because he’s working on too many concepts and possibilities at once.

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Why Brilliant Children Often Appear Slow, Part Two

Highly gifted children are always thinking. It’s a fascinating activity, more interesting than what the teacher is saying, so why should they listen?

Then, what the teacher taught is on the test and these students get bad grades. Not because they lack ability but because the material never compelled their attention.

The only real solution is to ask these children what they like to think about, and then just keep asking questions. You can gain a surprising amount of information this way, and by inviting yourself into their inner worlds, can begin to make sense of the compelling pull their thoughts exert on them.

After that, it might be possible to open a conversation about how they can pursue what’s most interesting to them, and this in turn could lead to success in that area.

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Why Brilliant Children Often Appear Slow, Part One

We all know the stereotype: gifted children get good grades, achieve ahead of their age-peers, and in other ways are academically successful. Yet this isn’t always true.

The unusual learning styles and thought processes of so many gifted children are more likely than not to sabotage them in a typical classroom. The higher the IQ, the worse the fit between what these children need and what they’re likely to get. Then their grades are average or worse.

But what’s behind that high intelligence? What are the traits that are so prone to crash these children against traditional education, or sometimes against any structure at all?

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Creativity and Your Gifted Child, Part Five

To help gifted children achieve flow, parents and teachers need to understand that state and if possible, experience it themselves. Flow requires an absolute release of normal attention and this means you have to trust the process first, and later on discover whether or not it goes anywhere.

A common obstacle to flow, as we have seen, is the standing aside from one’s work while in the midst of it. The purpose of this division of attention is self-evaluation, but in flow we know we’re performing well. No separate evaluation is needed.

In addition, gifted children seldom need prodding to evaluate their work because they so often hold themselves to an impossible standard. Therefore, in the rigors of music lessons, art class, drama productions, or any other creative activity, we should encourage our children to spend time in dreamy explorations or in the fun, easy engagement with that activity which probably inspired them in the first place.

That same dreaminess that floats their attention away when they’re supposed to be brushing their teeth or studying will likely enhance their best work for a lifetime; if only we can put ourselves in “hands-off” mode as much as possible. Let them enjoy their violin playing, or their drawing, or their science experiments, and in that total absorption their skills will thrive.

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Creativity and Your Gifted Child, Part Four

There’s more than one way to solve technical problems in music performance, writing, and other disciplines—a better way than the traditional route that divides the mind between the experience of performance and evaluating that performance. That way is flow.


Total attention, the state in which you’re 100 percent absorbed, creates its own special momentum that induces your best work. This is the state of mind we must nurture in our gifted children, and if it means the apparent sacrifice of quality because we’re not requiring the traditional division of attention, we need to understand the value of that perceived sacrifice.


In reality, nothing is lost, because perfect flow elevates our ability so that former problems are flooded out; twigs in the torrent of creative energy.

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Creativity and Your Gifted Child, Part Three

High-level skill in music, writing, and other disciplines requires hard work and close monitoring of your progress. The object is to hold yourself to a high standard, and compare your own performance with that standard. With the resulting information, you can then work to elevate your ability.

This process seems inescapable, yet it divides our attention between the experience of creation and the ongoing evaluation of our work. Then we lose the wholeness of attention that gifted children achieve so easily but that we have somehow lost.

We don’t want them to lose it, yet a high standard is necessary if they are to develop their talent. So we have to find a way to help them preserve their total focus while also building their skill.

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Creativity and Your Gifted Child, Part Two

Gifted children are typically whole in their attention when their interest is engaged. They don’t often suffer from the adult tendency to stand aside from an activity, observing their work while they are also performing it. Thus, at their deepest moments of focus, they are not divided.

Sooner or later this enviable state produces best-ever creative work, and adult artists crave it, seek it, and know that too often it is a chimera. What happens during or after childhood to destroy that natural state of focus, and how can we prevent this loss in our children?

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