Being Gifted at Home


Johnson, T.F. & Roth, H. (1985). Being gifted at home. G/C/T, (37), 7-9.

In my studies, I have often wondered why most of the research I came across deals purely with classroom issues, in regards to gifted children. Personally, I find that some gifted children are actually beautifully behaved in the classroom but hard to deal with at home. I decided to then find more information on discipline and the gifted child, and how to instill restrictions and rules at home. Surely as a librarian in a public library, discipline would come up – as a parent coming to them in need of assistance on the matter.

“Being Gifted at Home,” by Tanya F. Johnson and Henry Roth explores three strategies for parents to use at home to deal with problem behaviors. They begin the article with a wonderfully appropriate quote, “Someone once said that gifted children can be difficult to teach, hard to live with, but impossible to raise.” That resonated with me. They state that traditional techniques are not viable options because the children are often frustrated with relationships within the family, all stemming from their intellect being so advanced and sometimes out of sync with their emotional needs. Parents surveyed were interested in knowing how to:

  • set behavioral limits
  • communicate with their child
  • help the child adjust to the outside world

There is a “special understanding” needed, on the part of parents, to help gifted children mesh their high-ability intellect and emotional development to take their place in society and perform well. “One of the central concerns for parents of gifted children is not so much when to say ‘no’ but rather, how to say ‘no’.”

Johnson and Roth suggest three ways to set limits on children at home: focusing, contracting, and structuring.

Focusing – Born out of Adlerian psychology and the democratic problem-solving method, parents schedule family conferences to start discussing behavior problems from both sides of the equation. Everyone involved discusses the behavior problem and the emotions that go along with it, and it gives the child a feeling of being treated fairly, and “more grown-up.” This also allows the child to understand the consequences of their behavior, and in order for this approach to work, they have to be old enough to grasp it.

During the conference, it should follow a similar framework:

  • specifically identify the problem
  • explore feelings and attitudes each family member is having
  • seek reasons that there is a break in communication
  • explore the feelings that the child is having, and why they might be having them
  • lay out a number of solutions to the problem
  • arrange for all of the family to know what has been arrived at as the solution
  • later evaluate whether the solution has worked, and tweak it if necessary

Contracting – To deal with a behavior problem, the parent and child comes up with alternatives, both positive and negative that will occur, and it is written down and signed by both parties. This is effective way of dealing with surface behaviors during “transient conflict situations.”

  • both parents and child meet to come up with behavior limits
  • these limits are written down and signed by both parties
  • consequences for fulfilling the written contract are spelled out
  • a time to evaluate the contract and its effectiveness is agreed upon

Some argue that this approach is not effective. They think that setting limits makes the child dependent on being rewarded for good behavior. Also, it doesn’t take the emotional aspects of the behavior into consideration. Contracting problems also does not benefit other problem behaviors at home. It does help children become creative problem solvers, however, by coming up with solutions to their own issues.

Structuring – The parents and child come up with a number of structured activities that can aid in good behavior. They use designed and creatively structured activities than can establish good behaviors. This is helpful when the child does not understand their own impulsiveness. They do not consider the consequences of their actions. When they are frustrated or bored, their behavior problems may surface, acting in an unacceptable manner.

This structure can:

  • allow the parent to  model appropriate responses
  • help the child look objectively at his/her behavior
  • examine alternative ways of behaving
  • encourage the child to explore the feelings of other children who may learn at a slower rate
  • modify the inappropriate behavior by helping the child anticipate consequences in frustrating situations.

To provide this structure, parents can read stories to children where the characters have issues with impulsiveness or low frustration tolerance. This gives a non-threatening look at the behavior. Parents could also create a log of the child’s behavior to monitor trends in their attitudes. They can sit down and discuss it weekly with them. There is also a creative solution where the parent and child draw a picture or develop another activity where they depict the child in a situation where, “frustration can be handled in a helpful way.” Lastly, parent and child can look in movies, TV, online where they find people who have mastered their feelings when faced with a difficult task that presents as a stressful encounter.

By addressing behaviors in a positive way, it allows the child to move beyond frustrating hurdles and develop creatively and intellectually.


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