7 Ways to Help Your Strong-Willed Gifted Child Thrive

parents helping child ride a bikeA 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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Grace Malonai, PhD, LPCC, Parenting Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • nEd

    April 26th, 2016 at 8:18 AM

    If you don’t watch it it can be very easy to break their spirit. One wrong word, one wrong action and that might completely break their will. Same with any other child I suppose.

  • Alyssa

    April 26th, 2016 at 10:19 AM

    The hardest thing with many gifted children is that they are so book smart that they then have a hard time understanding friendship and having relationships with their peers. I think that they just have a hard time relating to them because the interest is not there in some of the same things that actually make them so gifted. This is why I think that it could be good for them to be more exposed to more kids who are like they are and they might find some commonalities that they do not have with others in their peer group at school.

  • Cat

    April 26th, 2016 at 2:16 PM

    haha oppositional and defiant? Yep I see, so this means I’m gifted, I always knew I was special lol

  • jeffrey

    April 27th, 2016 at 7:39 AM

    Sometimes I see that the gifted child needs just as much help as those who struggle a bit more on an academic level. It doesn’t seem like this would be the case but they could be weaker in other ways and as a child they too deserve to have that same sort of support system that can allow them to do their very best and succeed. There are times when I feel they are neglected just because they are super intelligent and many of us think that they will figure it all out on their own. But in the end they are just kids.

  • Ryan

    April 28th, 2016 at 6:42 AM

    Love this! We employ a method called Precision Teaching to help us take these steps and place some data around them.

  • Ben

    April 28th, 2016 at 6:48 AM

    Does anyone have any thoughts abut sending your child to a school that is filled with nothing but other gifted children? Harmful or beneficial?

  • Patrick H

    April 29th, 2016 at 2:02 PM

    I agree that you want them to be aware that they are super strong academically. But you also do not want to do it so that they begin to think that they are up on a pedestal. I think that doing it that way will ostracize them even more form their peers making it almost impossible to ever fully fit in socially at school.

  • LeeAnne

    April 30th, 2016 at 9:23 AM

    Sounds as if scaffolding is something that we can all use a little of from time to time in our lives. I don’t think that it has to be limited to one specific kind of person or one specific need. There will always be those times when you just need a little extra support and kindness from the other people in your life. Someone to elan on when times are hard.
    Yes this can certainly help the gifted child, but I don’t think that it is a bad thing to implement into any of our daily lives. If you see someone who is hurting and needs a hand, be there for them to give it.
    You might not ever know when you may could use the same.

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