Thoughtful Parenting: Understanding the gifted child |

Thoughtful Parenting: Understanding the gifted child

Tina Harlow
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — I get it. The word “gifted” is taboo. It sounds elitist. I wish it were different, but, for now, it’s what we’ve got. When people hear the word, “gifted,” it conjures up images of child prodigies headed off to university at the tender age of 12 to fulfill their dreams of curing cancer.  

There are some kids whose intellectual giftedness reaches that level, but that is not the vast majority.

So, let’s do a little giftedness 101. Contrary to popular belief, giftedness does not fit within the narrow confines of academic prowess. Giftedness is a way of experiencing the world.

There are several definitions, but the one I think that sums it up best is this quote by gifted education pioneer, Annemarie Roeper. “Giftedness is a greater awareness, a greater sensitivity and a greater ability to understand and transform perceptions into intellectual and emotional experiences.” It isn’t the amount of stimuli or speed in which we take it in, but more in how we interpret, integrate and apply it to our lives.

My colleague, Paula Prober, refers to the gifted individual as having a “rainforest mind.” There are many different ecosystems on earth. None is better than the other. They are different. The rainforest is just super complex and difficult to navigate. That being said, parenting gifted children is really challenging; not just because of what they bring to the table, but because of how their intricacies interact with our own. 

If you have a child who is highly sensitive, anxious, has intense emotions and seems to feel the weight of the world, I offer up some simple suggestions that I hope will provide some reprieve.


Gifted children are taking in massive amounts of stimuli all day with each input pinging their emotions like a pinball machine. Directly after school, refrain from asking them questions. Give them plenty of time alone to decompress before asking about their day. 


Kids need time to integrate the information they take in and reflect upon it. They do this through unstructured play and creativity. Our society leaves little room for this. Focus on the needs of your child rather than the pressures of society to have your child involved in a myriad of activities. Exposure will come as it needs to — all in due time.

Step into their world

We are constantly pulling children into our world instead of gently venturing into theirs. When you step into a child’s world, it is not to educate, lead or offer suggestions. It is simply to be, observe and learn. They are our greatest teachers. 

These strategies aren’t going to solve everything, but they are a wonderful place to start. For more suggestions from a number of experts in the field of giftedness, go to my website at and download my free collaborative ebook.

Tina Harlow, MSW, LCSW is a child and family therapist specializing in giftedness in Steamboat Springs and the founder of Guiding Bright. She speaks nationally and internationally on the social and emotional aspects of gifted children.

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