A trait parents of gifted children often struggle with is the incredibly strong will within their sweet and thoughtful child. This trait, an intensity often associated with giftedness, can make a gifted child appear distressingly oppositional and defiant. This type of behavioral issue is often misunderstood.
Typical strategies, such as removing a beloved object or a time-out, are less likely to work with strong-willed gifted children because the underlying reason for the negative behavior usually relates to perseverating upon a personal value. In other words, the reason for the refusal to comply is often based on a combination of cognitive dissonance along with a perception of injustice.
When the tried-and-true strategies don’t work, try a different take on supporting your child’s emotional development. A technique called scaffolding can be especially beneficial for fostering emotional growth in your strong-willed gifted child because it demonstrates a pathway to positive understanding, and thus there is less countering against a behavior.
Teachers often use scaffolding as a way to enhance learning. Literal scaffolding is used in construction, where the scaffolding is a temporary structure built up on the outside of a structure in order to create the desired building. In this way, scaffolding is used as support for growing a building. The scaffolding does not take over a building, nor does it become the building. When it is no longer needed, the scaffolding is removed, and it can be built up again if needed later.
Scaffolding with gifted children promotes improved self-esteem and self-efficacy, and feeling you are good at what you do, which in turn can have a long-term impact on reducing negative behaviors, anxiety, and depressive symptoms.
Scaffolding support allows you to figuratively come up alongside children in support, where you are at their level as opposed to towering above.
Scaffolding also addresses asynchronous development, which is when a child is more mature in some ways and less mature in others. Cognitive dissonance is common in asynchronous individuals because of the disparity in their development.
Keep in mind that scaffolding is a type of support, and is not about taking over your child’s learning tasks. Scaffolding support allows you to figuratively come up alongside children in support, where you are at their level as opposed to towering above. To avoid dependency, be consistent with support at first, and then adjust and diminish your support as your child gains confidence.
When using scaffolding, pay attention to the small details, especially your own voice. Speak in a tone of voice geared toward the youngest emotional age presented by the child, while not speaking down intellectually.
This takes some practice, but can be very effective. The following tips delineate ways to creatively work with your gifted child’s strong will, promoting growth and offering an alternative communication style for conflict resolution:
- Provide support for who they are. This means you help your children discover their own traits, and help build their self-concept of who they are (not yours).
- Do not assume gifted children know their strengths, skills, and especially their efforts, just because they are gifted. No one comes with an owner’s manual.
- Promote self-understanding in more than one venue. For example, you might help gifted children better understand themselves by having them do projects that reflect their particular characteristics. The activity could be making a collage or gardening—the activity itself does not matter, as the important thing is to make sure the focus reflects their characteristics.
- Comment on strengths at every opportunity. Some strengths are easy to spot. For example, “I noticed how kind you were to that child who fell down. You are caring.” Also, look for strengths in characteristics that might not be so obvious. For example, “I heard you say you felt shy, and I also saw how you paid attention to things others might not have noticed.” Pointing out strengths helps create an environment of acceptance. As your child notices and feels your acceptance, you are helping them to accept themselves.
- Gently point out challenges along with hope and positive guidance. This includes identifying feelings, if applicable. For example, you could say, “Sometimes I notice you struggling with anger. It doesn’t look comfortable, and this is something you can change. I have some ideas for you to try.” Identifying challenges while planting seeds of hope not only helps your child learn to identify needs, it demonstrates to them you notice and accept them with an understanding of their traits, including their most challenging ones.
- Pay attention to your tone of voice. Use a tone of voice that is geared toward the youngest emotional age your child presents at a given time, while your vocabulary meets them where they are at intellectually. In this way, you are also taking into account asynchronous development.
- Acknowledge and celebrate their efforts. This does not mean you should throw a party. Instead, positively remark on effort and identify the accompanying feeling. For example, “You really put a lot of effort into practicing the violin. That must feel good!”
Offering scaffolding support can help your gifted child learn to utilize their strengths while building confidence and self-understanding. These are essential for effectively managing conflict in a precocious, strong-willed child, and can provide a solid foundation for mitigating perseverant convictions. Never hesitate to seek support from a licensed mental health professional if you need help.
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