Is Your Gifted Child Being Bullied? 5 Ways to Help

Blonde preteen sits on school steps reading while kids behind pointGifted children may be at a higher risk for being bullied than their more neurotypical peers. The risk factors for bullying victims are similar to many traits prevalent within the intellectually gifted population.

Risk Factors for Bullying

First, let’s look at the risk factors for being bullied. According to StopBullying.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children are more likely to be bullied when:

  • They are perceived as different from their peers, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses, being new to school, or otherwise considered “uncool.”
  • They are perceived as weak or unable to defend themselves.
  • They are depressed, anxious, or have low self-esteem.
  • They do not get along well with others, or are seen as annoying or provoking, or antagonize others for attention.
  • They are less popular than others and have few friends.

Bullying in Gifted Children

Now, let’s compare the risk factors above to some of the attributes commonly found in gifted children.

Gifted children are usually perceived as different from their peers. They often stand out as “quirky,” “strange,” or “weird,” and they may have unusual interests for their age (such as a 7-year-old who seems obsessed with DNA sequencing). Even gifted children often feel that they’re different and may separate or isolate themselves because of this.

Depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem are also risk factors. Gifted individuals are more often diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety than the general population, elevating their risk of being bullied.

Gifted children may have trouble getting along well with others, or can be seen as annoying or provoking. They might even antagonize others, though not necessarily for attention. In addition, sensory processing issues are prevalent in the gifted population, and responding to excessive (or insufficient) stimuli can be seen as annoying or antagonizing to others.

Twice-exceptional children are described as both gifted and coping with special needs. The special need is usually a type of disability, such as a learning disorder (such as dyslexia or dysgraphia) or a mental health condition (such as attention-deficit hyperactivity/ADHD, depression, or anxiety). This population displays traits that have multiple commonalities with the risk factors for bullying, such as feeling anxious, appearing to be weak (and thus not capable of self-defense), or being annoying, different, or simply viewed as “not cool.”

Parental Involvement Makes a Difference

Parents often feel helpless when they realize their children have experienced bullying. However, being empowered to address bullying is not only excellent modeling, it means you can change the situation. Parental involvement is essential when supporting a gifted child to end bullying.

If your instincts are telling you that your child might be bullied, it’s time to ask some questions.

First, you need to recognize when bullying is a problem. If your instincts are telling you your child might be experiencing bullying, it’s time to ask some questions. For parents who need more than a gut feeling, you will have to both pay attention and have frank conversations.

Not all children show obvious signs that they have been bullied, and if a gifted child doesn’t want you to know something, then they may utilize their intellect to creatively hide the impact of bullying or distract you from asking about it.

Bullying is not typically something a child wants to bring up, nor will they necessarily know how to talk about it. This might be especially true for a tween or younger child.

Is Your Child Being Bullied?

Identification is the first step. Signs that bullying might be a problem include:

  • Isolation, avoiding social situations (including play dates), spending time with friends.
  • Faking illness in order to avoid school or social activities.
  • Showing signs of stress, including a reduced passion for primary interests, headaches, stomach aches, appetite changes, or irritability.
  • Being more hungry than usual due to missing lunches or snacks (or eating greater amounts as a way to cope with stress).
  • Cuts, bruises, or other injuries that can’t be explained (or your child’s explanation doesn’t make sense).
  • Losing personal items, including jackets (or other clothing), school supplies, toys, electronics, or even jewelry.
  • Sleep problems, including nightmares.
  • Signs of reduced self-esteem, despondency, anxiety, depression, or self-harm.
  • Attempts to run away.

5 Steps to Mitigate the Impact of Bullying

Follow these steps to help diminish the effects of bullying:

  1. Help your child to develop a stronger self-concept and better self-understanding. This will help to counter the damaging effects that bullying can have on self-esteem.
  2. Use both modeling and scaffolding to teach your child to recognize their strengths and positive traits. Most children don’t know or recognize many of their strengths, and gifted children are no exception.
  3. Point out positive traits. This is different than praise. Simply describe their strength, such as, “You are a boy who enjoys building complex creations out of Legos.” Even if your child dismisses your words, hearing about one’s own strengths has a lasting, positive effect and increases resiliency.
  4. Teach your child self-compassion. To be kind to oneself is essential to healing from bullying. A good way to teach self-compassion is to model it.
  5. Get support when appropriate. It’s both OK and important to seek professional help if a bullying problem doesn’t subside or worsens.

Reference:

Risk Factors. (n.d.). StopBullying.gov. Retrieved from http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/factors

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Grace Malonai, PhD, LPCC, DCC, therapist in Lafayette, California

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.

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  • Mike

    Mike

    August 7th, 2015 at 3:15 PM

    Thank you for this. I was a gifted child who was bullied, and I never got help as a child (and my parents were such judgmental and irritable people that they wouldn’t have been able to put your suggestions into practice), I did get help later through therapy. It warms my heart to read this and know that there is some expertise in this field and today’s children stand a chance of getting help.

  • frannie

    frannie

    August 9th, 2015 at 5:21 AM

    I have a granddaughter going through this very same thing. She is so brilliant and wants to truly be friends with everyone but she is never accepted for who she is and the other children in her school pick on her relentlessly. It makes me think that she is going to give up on school, but thankfully that is still very important to her, but you know, s he is a child and of course having good friends is important to her too. You feel like your hands are tied because there is nothing that we can do to make other people be friends with her, so you just have to do what you can to assure her that she is strong, she is brilliant and one day the other kids will come to their sense and see how wonderful she really is.

  • Elisa

    Elisa

    August 9th, 2015 at 9:55 AM

    There are many parents who love the fact that their child is so gifted and smart but they see very little seriousness in the fact that they then have a hard time relating well to others and maintaining friendships with others.
    I think that it is great to have a child who is so intelligent but on the other hand it is nice when they have also been able to learn the social skills that are required to get through school unscathed.
    It is sad, but these are the kids who are most likely to be picked on so it is nice when you see those children who have that great balance of being able to manage in all the different little worlds that school gives them.

  • Helen

    Helen

    August 9th, 2015 at 9:14 PM

    Thanks for an interesting, practical article. The suggestions for helping the children are very useful. The idea of modelling the strategies is so important.
    I was also interested in this comment that I’ve copied below. Do you have some references or articles about this research as it is an area I’m very interested in reading more about.
    Depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem are also risk factors. Gifted individuals are more often diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety than the general population, elevating their risk of being bullied.

  • racine r

    racine r

    August 10th, 2015 at 10:24 AM

    It does not matter if your child is gifted or not, these are great tips for any parent who has a child who is going through the ugliness of being bullied by others. The one thing that I would love to stress is that we have to make sure that the child understands that this is not his or her fault, that it is the narrow mindedness of others that is doing this, nothing that they can do or should feel like they are responsible for. I hurt for those who have to experience this because let’s face it, kids can be too cruel at times.

  • Helen

    Helen

    August 10th, 2015 at 4:36 PM

    I totally agree Racine R and your comments regarding not feeling responsible are so important. However, I’m interested to find out if gifted individuals are more often diagnosed…… I often hear people say this but I’m interested to know if there is actually research that supports this. If gifted people do experience a higher incidence of these mental health conditions I think it is important for those of us working with them to know that.

  • hollis

    hollis

    August 11th, 2015 at 4:09 AM

    be involved and stay involved
    don’t leave your child to battle these things on their own

  • Tonya

    Tonya

    August 12th, 2015 at 10:40 AM

    Hollis- I agree with you! But I also think that it is our responsibility to teach our children how to stand up to bullies as well. That does not have to be done in a violent way, but they have to know that they are strong and that it is no way wrong for them to take up for themselves and kick the bullies out of their lives.

    So I know that it isn’t always quite that easy, but I think that there are going to be many instances where if a bully sees that they don’t have control over the person anymore they will give up and move on.

  • Ellie

    Ellie

    August 14th, 2015 at 8:02 AM

    You know what I really hate to hear? That there are people who will say things like well, this child brings this on themselves because they are different than everyone else. Excuse me, but since when did being different mean that it is then ok to pick on or bully someone? Those kind of remarks make me crazy!

  • stan

    stan

    August 16th, 2015 at 11:11 AM

    Amen Ellie! Why is being different being wrong?

  • Whitney Cratty

    Whitney Cratty

    September 1st, 2015 at 3:01 PM

    They are not fine on their own and the statistics for depression, underachievement, delinquent behavior and suicide among the gifted proves this. These are children; is there ever a situation where it is acceptable to neglect and ignore the needs of a child?

  • Elize

    Elize

    November 19th, 2019 at 1:45 AM

    I was an underachiever at school I now know. Did not have parents that were interested and supportive. I knew my 2 kids were smart but they seemed to underachieve. Then I read an article on the book Why bright kids underachieve. My son I have identified as a dependant underachiever (he is very shy and introverted, but an incredible good problem solver and critical thinker) my daughter is a domineering underachiever. She was from a young age very self-reliant and independent as well as a very good problemsolver, BUT she in being bullied, because of her hair colour and she came second at a beauty contest at school. She battles to find a friend(girls) and it normally does not last long(she has high standards and is also a bit domineering and not in the least desperate for their friendship, she is however rather competitive and very mature for her age(so not interested in doing the silly things teenagers do like smoke, drink, sex and dating or drugs) So she is a social anomaly as all the kids in her school are into this. She said she does not want to go back to high school next year because of the “people” there. This I feel is not a great option as in the little private schools she will only be bunched with ackward kids( learning problems, ADHD, social problems and such) I believe she is right but the other teenagers not. She finds them boring and irritating. Lots of the boys want to date her and that makes it worse for having girlfriends. People tell me all the time she is very beautiful and of course that creates jealousy on top of her being gifted but underachieving a lot to hide it. Me as a parent is sometimes overwhelmed. I also think my son has trouble making friends (gr3) as he is sensitive and smart and not the boisterous and noisy type like other kids. He is an angel but in the wrong world.

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