Monday, December 03, 2007

Gifted Kids, Bad Behavior

A few newspapers run education Q&A columns, often written by educators, parents and the like. I came across this interesting one from InsideBayArea. A little girl, who is ahead of the rest of her class in various subjects, is humming, daydreaming, etc., as the teacher goes through her lessons. What should be done?

It's a good question. One of the big myths about gifted children is that they are well-behaved teachers' pets. Many get bored in class, and while some bored children just get quiet, others act out or call attention to the fact that they find class boring. Some whose social skills are less well developed may ask obnoxious questions, call the teacher or other students "dumb" and otherwise make general pains of themselves. It's hard to imagine anything more annoying than a kid who persists in humming while other children are trying to work.

Yes, gifted kids need to be given tougher work that challenges them. But bad behavior can't be tolerated, even if there is a reason for it. I'm curious how parents who read this blog have dealt with discipline challenges.


InTheFastLane said...

I have had issues with my 2nd grader and his behavior. This is the first year we have had any problems. He seems to have grown a little to big for his britches and delights in showing off his knowledge to the class and being goofy. The other issue we have is that he is not doing a great job on his work because he says it is boring. So, this does not make the teachers feel like accelerating him in any way. We have been trying to get across to him that if he wants work that is not "boring" then he needs to do a good job on the work he has. I am actually a little bit stuck on what the best direction is for him.

His test scores are through the roof, but his classwork does not always reflect this. He went through a period of time where every time he had to write, he would use the words "Weapons of mass destruction" some where in the writing. We said that this was not ok. So then he started writing the minimum. He will get really excited about some assignments. Like his essay that had to contain five spelling words in five sentences and he wrote 3 pages. But, other work is like pulling teeth.

Anonymous said...

My son’s teachers incessantly complained about his “disruptive” behaviors, such as spacing out, daydreaming, and occasionally humming (which was not a conscious decision) in the lower elementary grades. His mind could not conform to fit the box for the expected simplistic answers to simplistic worksheets. He did not talk back to the teachers or imply that they were dumb, but he was often frustrated with the grade appropriate limit put to subjects that he understood too well.

He was finally offered subject grade acceleration. The receiving teacher was surprised that his behavior in her class was so contrary to his “reputation”. He was quiet and engaged while learning something new. Any decent educator should try this approach before labeling a child as ADHD or disruptive!

The expert response to this question is weak. The parent’s instinct is probably correct; the girl is most likely bored. The inappropriate education is the cause of the problem, not the bored bright child who is likely doing her best to conform. Let’s see if the teacher can go through a day of mindless filing without a tune going through her mind!

Anonymous said...

That's funny that you bring this up. My oldest was actually identified by her 1st grade teacher as being potentially gifted because she daydreamed and hummed so much in class. Her schoolwork was not stellar (partially b/c of the daydreaming) and she was scatter-brained, but this teacher had the experience, talent and intuition to see what was actually going on. We didn't know that our child was gifted ourselves because she isn't the typical "gifted" student. Her IQ scores were very high though with her creativity index being through the roof.

Her second grade teacher was not so high quality and actually said to me, "Your daughter is the dumbest gifted kid I know." I just looked at her and, following a pregnant pause, responded, "Then you must not know gifted kids."

My middle child is in this teacher's second grade class this year. She is also gifted ID'd but is a more stereotypical "gifted" student (high achieving, organized and well-behaved). This same teacher actually told my middle child how much smarter she is than her older sister. Needless to say, I will be taking this up with the principal.

These examples prove how important quality gifted programming is.
Gifted children do have far higher than average IQs, but they are not necessarily great students. They often have behavior issues related to boredom and inability to relate to same age peers. They also tend to be absent minded and disorganized. Gifted services not only provides challenge to these kids, but also helps them with social and other issues that arise with a divergent thinker.

Thank goodness for good teachers. They are few and far between, but when your child finds one it can change their life - at least at school.

Anonymous said...

The flip side of daydreaming in class is when gifted children can't sit still and keep quiet because of their pschomotor overexcitability. Not very fair for a teacher to want the students to be excited about his/her teaching, and yet disallow that excitement to be expressed beyond a big smile and a few nods, is it? Or to expect them to have all the right answers and yet not to show off or make other students feel bad.

Tony said...

This behavior is not "bad" it's a symptom of boredom. An excellent reason for acceleration!! Or as our family has chosen, homeschool.

bloggin' mama said...

Today, my son's Kindergarten teacher sent home a note... he had been humming and distracting others. Coincidentally, he has complained of being "bored" in class recently. I'm hoping to have him tested sooner rather than later, as I'm sure his behavior is a coping mechanism. Don't get me wrong, we are addressing the behavior issues, but I'm hoping an advanced curriculum might help. My concern is that the teacher leans toward labeling the behavior as "bad", and it feels as though there is a fine line between a gifted and an ADD label (or I suppose a combination of the two). Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Gifted and ADD are independent phenomena. You can have one, both, or neither. Humming in class could be indicative of giftedness, ADD, or neither---it indicates a minor level of inattention, but is hardly diagnostic of anything.

Anonymous said...

True. However, if the behavior ends when the child is given more difficult work, the humming was quite possibly a symptom of under-challenge.

MeAndConnor said...

My son was a hummer....we moved him to a gifted school and now that he is challenged, he rarely hums but now we have another problem. He is what is best termed as a kinetic learning style. The harder he thinks, the more physically animated he gets. When doing something that he is deeply concentrating on, he rocks in his chair, bounces up and down, taps on the desk.

His teacher and I are STILL trying to find a way to channel this and I am more than welcome any suggestions.

I also sympathize w/ inthefastlane because my son is obessed with WWII right now. (He is 7 BTW)

Heather, Queen of Shake-Shake said...

My son is a gifted hummer. He hums a LOT. He is behind in his social development, but still within a reasonable range so we simply try to teach him when it's appropriate to hum and when it's not. We have to remind him and I'm sure his teacher does too.

When it comes to other forms of misbehaving (and I don't count daydreaming as one), we have consequences at home. I think each parent would have to decide which consequence would motivate their own child. For us, it was putting away his very favorite toy that did the trick.

Queen of Shake-Shake

Anonymous said...

Would a child with special learning needs on the slower end of the specturm be denied services because of their behavior? I hope not.

I also am amazed that a early elementary kid could be though of as "bad" when their behavior is clearly linked to having been cheated out of working at their readiness level. Every other child in that room is learning to work hard at learn, this girl is learning to put up with being left behind...why should she?

I'll tell you another thing, learned the hard way - one can, with carefully scriped rewards and punishment improve behavior and spend years doing it. But is this in the child's best interest? NO! Much better to take learning into one's own hands on weekends and in the afternoons, find out for yourself what your child's learning needs are, and then insist that you find a schooling situation where some of that child's needs are being met. Time is so precious. Please don't waste it on smoothing over the symptoms while ignorning the cause.

Find an online community where you can vent, and get support and ideas for parenting these kids. It can be a long and lonely road.


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to have found this blog entry. My son is six, is gifted and in first grade - traditional (non-gifted) private school. We received another note today about his inappropriate behavior at school. My son gets in trouble for pushing, talking back and etc. He speaks frankly and is clearly rude to his teachers at times. They take away things that he enjoys, gym class for example, as a consequence to his behavior. Then, they (and we) get frustrated that he doesn't learn from the consequence and the behavior repeats itself. We're at the end of our rope. We're finding it near impossible to find the appropriate method/action to curb his behavior. I need some advice. Do those of you reading this think his poor behavior would improve if he were in a more mentally stimulating environment? Is there really something to this? We have the opportunity to send him to a full-time gifted school (K-12) taught by full-time gifted teachers. It's a small school, which concerns us, but we're willing to try anything to help our son become a productive, peaceful adult.

HomeworkBlues said...

Do those of you reading this think his poor behavior would improve if he were in a more mentally stimulating environment?


Oh, My God, yes! Don't go the punishment/reward route. Instead, I believe, get to the core of the problem.


Is there really something to this?



>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> We have the opportunity to send him to a full-time gifted school (K-12) taught by full-time gifted teachers.


MUCH better. Make sure, though, that it is not traditional and not a homework overload school. Often, gifted teachers who themselves are not gifted erroneously think gifted kids need much much more work than "regular" kids. Furthermore, this faulty thinking goes, if they don't do all their homework they are either not gifted, ADHD or both. The truth is the reason so many highly gifted kids chafe at homework is because it's too prescribed. I have an EG/PG daughter who is incessantly creative. She needs time for self-directed pursuits but instead has been in Homework Hell for eight years.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> It's a small school, which concerns us,


Why? Small would concern me only with regard to cliques, exclusion and bullying. But if your son is with his intellectual peers and doesn't have some social catching up to do (I shied away from "social deficits"), he'll do just fine in a small school. In fact, he'll get individual attention, something so rare in public school.


Anything to help our son become a productive, peaceful adult.

Amen. But word of caution. Please don't worry too much about your son's adult future right now. He's still a little guy and childhood is an end unto itself and not just preparation for adulthood.

Good luck.


Anonymous said...

I wonder what the readers of this blog would think about our solution to bad behavior in my son's kindergarten class? Our teacher quality was not great in kindergarten. We talked a lot to our son about expectations in class and sympathize with how hard it was to stay interested. His teacher suggested a laminated page that gave us a daily “snap-shot” of how things went. All the teacher had to do was check some boxes. Holding him accountable did help him become more self-aware.

This year we don’t have an accountability sheet. He has a wonderful teacher and is very engaged in class. I attribute much of the bad behavior last year to teacher quality. The ADD stuff even stereotypically came up. We are in public school. There is a gifted pull-out program one day a week and they offer extensions and special projects in the regular classroom. The kindergarten teacher would not even really offer extensions regularly; she would shovel him off to the first grade room for certain subjects. It was like she did not know what to do with him. He knew it. And in turn would act out quite a bit in a very normal 6 yr old fashion. It was rather pathetic. It is amazing how far you can get with any child if you just engage them and challenge them. Rather than teach to the bottom- teach to the top. Are there any public schools doing that?

bean said...

My daughter went from Montessori into a Public school. She was years ahead of her class. My parent teacher conference was aweful. The teacher said, that my daughter raised her hand too much, and then she tried to help everybody in the classroom. They shut her down, and she really became such an emotional wreck. I took her out and put her into a Private school and all of the emotional problems went away after two days. She just needed to be noticed and challenged. I was very disappointed in the public school.

Anonymous said...

I came across a reference to an article related to "problem behaviors" arising from the overexcitabilites of gifted children. According to the information provided in the article, an excess of energy, rapid speech, impulsiveness and restlessness appear to be the strongest indicator of giftedness, when the mean scores of gifted and non-identified children are compared:

Before anyone wags a finger at bad behaviors in gifted children, one should ask first whether the behavioral problems are "developed in response to inappropriate curricula and instructional methods, or the social climate created by the teacher and classroom peers".

Corinne said...

I could be one of those kids you are talking about. I am now 18 and have been making this "humming" sound since before I was able to talk. It's not really a tune, just a bunch of mono tone notes, usually one. When I was little I would do it while flipping through books, stirring or pouring while helping with the cooking. When I first went to school I did it. My teacher said it was distracting so I had to stop. It was hard since it's an unconscious thing, and it took me a while to actually hear myself making the noise. Now I'm better at realizing it, but I still do it while crocheting, playing a game on the computer, or anything that involves a sort of peaceful/easy concentration. I have yet to find out what it means. If anyone knows anything about this please let me know!

Anonymous said...

I agree that children who are gifted and not challenged will have more behaviors. However it is important to pay close attention to all the variables on weather to determine if the child is having bad behavior or are they being misunderstood. Are they having processing delays. Are they having too many demands placed on them. Do they have sensory issues? Those are all things that need to be considered when trying to determin what is good or bad behavior. My child is a visual learner. His school has not been able to teach him math. I have used a visual method at home and I reward him with his favorite video cartoon to watch on youtube after completing so many problems. He is successful and getting better every day. He comes and asks me to do math because the reward is important to him. So now we worked out a system where 5 math problems buys him 1 transformer video. Reading a short story buys him a Mario Kart video etc. It works great and he loves to learn. Alot of depends on who is teaching the child and how they are teaching them. I would rather the child be happy and have a strong desire to learn that is true success. I think the old ways - you will conform is stinkin thinkin. It was designed for factory line workers.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the UK and my daughter 16 has just failed all her exams, traunted and is defiant and arrogant. This once talented girl (violinist, debater) was thought to be a shoo-in for Oxford. Has any one come across this and what did they do?

Anonymous said...

I'm the mother of a gifted 7th grader. He has had behavior issues in school since early on. He's disorganized and never does his work. I tried telling his teachers time and again that he's bored but they convinced me that since he doesn't do well with regular work he wouldn't succeed at anything more challenging. They labeled him as a troublemaker and kept him from many activities that he would have been truly interested in. I feel like I've failed him. His teachers in the Jr. high where he is now figured out the problem right away. I'm just hoping it's not to late for him. He thinks school i9s a joke and is used to getting by without doing any work. I don't know what to do for him.

The Gump Family said...

My son is in Kindergarten and though they do not formally ID kids here until 2nd or 3rd grade, they moved him from one room to another because they feel he is AG. His first classroom was full of kids who were behind, but the teacher had good classroom management. His new class may have more kids on grade level, but the classroom management is awful. My son now not only finished his easy work quickly, but when he is done he is free to mess around and get wound up. He has been coming home very hyper and remains that way until bed time. He has also begun biting his nails. I have never seen him this wound up or anxious. I wonder if his boredom in the classroom and lack of any challenging work could be the cause. There is no way our family can take these changes in his behavior/personality for the rest of the school year. The teacher is not bending over backwards to challenge him more and soon I will be THAT mom the school does not want to hear from. Ideas? Comments?

Anonymous said...

Parents, please do not excuse your child's anti-social behavior or explain it away by saying they are gifted. It is a real cop out, and you will be sorry later.

Anonymous said...

well,I am a mother of a normal student and my child never hums ,she alway self studies by herself when she's done with the assignment the teacher gives her and when she's bored.Is she gifted? please reply

Davidson Institute Staff said...

In response to the last post by Anonymous -

The best way to determine if your child is gifted is to have him tested with an individual administered achievement test or and IQ test.

In regard to individually administered achievement and intelligence testing, you will need to make an appointment with a private tester or testing center. The tester will be the best person to talk with you about the appropriate test for your child and the details of the test. We often refer people to a list of professionals posted on Hoagies’ Gifted Page (, which has a list of testers by state (see You can also contact your state gifted association to see if they know of testers in your area who are familiar with gifted students (see and click on your state). You may also wish to check with state professional associations for licensed testers, such as psychologists ( or (, your yellow pages, and asking friends or other parents for recommendations.

Hope that helps!

Anonymous said...

Would disruptive behavior be looked at the same way from a child on the other end of the spectrum? Seems to me that even gifted kids need to learn to follow the rules. Not all schools have gifted programs. Some teachers poor as they may seem to you folks are doing their best but it is hard to find time to enrich the child whose disrupting you and his or her classmates constantly. If it were only just humming I could see having some leniency but constant disruptions from a child who is not respectful is unacceptable and creates a poor environment for all the children. I've just felt that pulling the "gifted card" seems to get some kids out of trouble when pulling the "learning disabled card" gets them nothing in terms of leniency.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you're considering the other children in the class, or the teacher. Rules are rules and gifted or not, children need to follow them. Being gifted is not a license to do what you what in school! Parents making excuses for their children means the child does not learn to manage their own behaviour. For this to be blamed upon the teacher is too easy. Parents need to parent their children instead of arming them with excuses.

Anonymous said...

My 7th grade son sounds the same. Where do I go, who would be able to help me find the right setting for him?? Any help would be appreciated!! My email is

Anonymous said...

My comment is in response to this comment from anonymous:

"I don't think you're considering the other children in the class, or the teacher. Rules are rules and gifted or not, children need to follow them. Being gifted is not a license to do what you what in school! Parents making excuses for their children means the child does not learn to manage their own behaviour. For this to be blamed upon the teacher is too easy. Parents need to parent their children instead of arming them with excuses."

I agree that rules are rules but you have to understand and to accept that there are certain traits that gifted students have that affects their behavior in class, for instance, their overexcitedness or oversensitivity. A regular student can keep themselves calm, without any problem, however a gifted child, unconsciusly become overly excited and may affect his behavior. They may not be able to sit still on the carpet because it bothers them. Trust me, my son gets bothered by that, even putting in a lotion really bothers him a lot. When you don't make accommodations to gifted students, it the same way as not giving accommodations to sped students, right? So it is also rightful to say that students who have learning disability should be taught the way regular students be taught? There is no excuse with their disability? Rules are rules?meaning, lessons are lessons?take it or leave it?whether you learn or not?is that what you mean? I agree with following rules, don't get me wrong, but unless the teachers embrace the fact that gifted students have needs that they need to address, they will forever have problems with gifted students' behaviors.

mml said...

I have a 9 y/o with an above average IQ test from when she was 7, done with a battery of neuropsyc testing. The neuropsyc testing showed her language section was in the 98%tile. Is she gifted without having the superior IQ test. Is it worth repeating the IQ now that she is 9 and participation in tesing is sometimes a question with her?

Anonymous said...

I have an 8y/o child who is most definitely gifted. She has had disruptive classroom behavior from kindergarten to now the 2nd. grade. I totally agree that pulling the gifted card is wrong. We have decided to get tough and put an end to this defiant behavior. She needs to and we will see to her learning that just because you are so very smart does not exempt you from behaving appropriately and following the rules. And, yes, she is in the proper gifted program.

Anonymous said...

I am a bit sick and tired of parents trying to excuse bad behavior with " oh he is just bored!" for whatever reason this has become quite acceptable - how would these same parents feel if suddenly the bad behavior of low students were to be excused as " of this poor child is so over his head - no wonder he is disruptive ... " - both behavior patterns are very understandable but nevertheless not acceptable. I was a gifted child in a system not made for my needs - my brother was the same way - my father too - and I did not act out out of boredom - it was hard sometimes - I felt isolated at times but my parents instead I respect the teacher and classmates and kept reminding me that I am the one having the " not so normal" brain - and that I would have to deal with " normal" my entire life. My professors in college were often slower than me, my first boss was certainly not the smartest person there is and even now I work with perfectly average thinkers. I learned to cope, I learned to conform and I learned to fit in and I am a pretty decent team player now - I have friends and a family - smart people CAN learn to be socially smart -we just much rather spend our time soaking up knowledge. However I believe that it is maybe even more important for a gifted child to learn respect, discipline and control than for an " average" person. We live in a " normal" world ... No matter how much you wish that your gifted child will become some kind of super scientist ... most of us end up with perfectly " normal" professions. You are not doing your children a favor if you give them the feeling that humming in class is acceptable or that any kind of disrespect can be justified with boredom... Low kids have to work hard to improve their spelling ( which leads to a LOT of frustration!) - some gifted kids have to work on their boredom tolerance, and control and sometimes social competence... Of course it sound so much better to say " my kid is acting out because he is smart" rather than admitting that the little genius is acting disrespectful - there are plenty of very bored but well behaved gifted kids out there - stop making excuses and get your children the help they need to improve heir behavior- nobody will make allowances for your child later on in life because they are smart!

Evan Adams said...

I was never conventionally disruptive in class due to boredom, but I would take out my book and read if I already knew what was being taught.
I handle boredom extremely well. Not everyone does, and I don't go around assuming that everyone could do what I can do if they tried harder or were punished more. I don't know how any gifted adult could think that.
If a kid is acting out due to boredom, than punishing them or not is a less important question than seeing to it that their educational needs are met.

Evan Adams said...

Also, there's no obligation to respect people you aren't interacting with of your own volition.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Anonymous (posted at 8:14 am) might I suggest you do a litte more reading on the highly gifted? It is attitudes like yours that keep our most able students from reaching their fullest potential. When kids act out, it is a symptom. You have to address the problem to relkieve the symptom. For a gifted child who is not being challenged by the curriculum, they need the mental stimulation of advanced curriculum. The humming or daydreaming is their brain's way of dealing with the problem. The way to address it is to meet their need. My son was once in an enrichment class with a child who whistled at a VERY high pitch when the instruction became too tedious for her. It was irritating, but when the instructor moved on to something else that engaged the child, she would stop the whistling.

Think about it this have a child who breaks out in hives when exposed to certain allergens. When the child is exposed to that allergen and begins scratching to relieve the symptoms, would you advocate restraining the child's hands and teaching them to stop scratching so they don't irritate the rest of the class with their constant scratching? No, you determine what the offending item is and separate the child from the offending allergen.

Lack of rigor in curriculum for a gifted child is their "allergen".

Hopefully this helps you to understand that the gifted children aren't acting out to irritate, they are trying the best they can to deal with an intolerable situation.

Maria Trotter said...

Change him from school, you will see diference.

Paul Smith said...

genius can'be ordinary, of course, his/her behavior differs! I propose you to follow post and see what reasons can lead to this!

Anonymous said...

Iam currently going through this with our 2nd grade son. :( Iam looking for help anything at this point. His anger is another problem. He is also now stealing little objects from his class. He got told on for taking icecream from the cafeteria. He was put in In School Suspension! He also punched the child classmate that told on him from the icecream. His father and I are very upset with him. We just talked to him about taking from his class but it never crossed our minds that he would punch a student!! I need help now!!

crystal walker said...

I seen something earlier that said some children need to ba able to move to think