Who Colors in-between the lines?

top angle photo of child holding pencil while drawing female angel playing wind instrument
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What does a nobel peace prize candidate, one of the top ten of the FBI’s most wanted list, an artist, a mechanic, an entrepreneur, neurosurgeon and even a unique homeless person have in common? They could all be gifted…or they could all be not.

Giftedness is not what you think. It’s not just achievement and success. Giftedness is more about WHO the person is then WHAT the person can choose to do. Oftentimes high-achievers are recognized as gifted, but most of the time they are just high achievers. Statistically speaking, only about 25% of gifted children are high achievers. The other 75% do what they want. They are avid readers, but they only read what they want to read. It’s pulling teeth to get them to read their textbooks, unless they are interested in the subject matter. The high achievers know all the answers to the questions. They raise their hands with excitement. They WANT the teacher to know that they know the answer. The other 75% don’t know the answers, may not care to memorize them, but they will ask the most interesting questions during class discussions.

Our society has been so focused on trying to nail down giftedness into “Spearman’s ‘g’ factor” that they have forgotten what giftedness truly is, it’s aptitude. Giftedness is aptitude, not necessarily achievement. Think of it as a box of map colors. Some people are born with five and some with nine different map colors in their box. Let’s say the one born with five uses all five on a weekly basis, keeps her colors sharp, and colors beautifully–always staying in-between the lines. Well, that child is likely to be labeled as “gifted.” The child with nine colors lets her colors dull out, only uses two or three regularly, and has a hard time “coloring within the lines” (following the rules) regularly. This child is not labeled gifted. Then, they go to college.

In college, Nine Colors stumbles upon her passion. Literally overnight, she is engaged. She is in love with what she’s learning. Her heart craves to learn more and more, and all of her map colors are sharpened and in continuous use. She knows that in order to proceed within her passion, she has to study the boring stuff so she cracks open the textbook and begins to read about other studies too. She’ll read and learn anything in order to be able to pursue her passion. She’ll make the grades to get into grad school. Without even caring about it, she finds herself continuously on the Dean’s list and being offered scholarships. Eveyone back in her hometown are scratching their heads. Is that the same girl?

Meanwhile, Five Colors is struggling. No longer on the dean’s list, this girl is starting to doubt her abilities. She’s surrounded herself with gifted people who can easily digest information they’re interested in. Girls who sit in class, take a few notes, and then play on their phones while the professor is lecturing. Five colors is in a constant battle against time to either learn or memorize enough material to make an A or B on her test. She’s recording lectures, frantically taking notes, and continuously stressed…as an undergrad student. She’s wondering if she’ll make it into grad school. She’s on the brink of an identity crisis, likely self-medicating (whether it’s food, drugs, alcohol, or prescriptions), and worried.

The day of truth comes, both Nine and Five Colors open their acceptance letters to grad school. Possibly, both are scholarshipped too. However, their experiences along the way have shaped their personalities. Nine Colors is likely thrilled and excited to learn. Five Colors is happy (and possibly relieved even) that she made it into grad school, but is cautious to prepare herself for the mental challenges. Nine Colors is ready to ask even more fulfilling questions. Five Colors wants Nine Colors to shut-up with all her questions, because she just wants to memorize the test questions’ answers. Nine Colors floats through grad school while Five Colors fights. Nine Colors stays curious. Five Colors stays exhausted.

I think you get the point.

When parents tell me about their gifted kids, I always listen for the who. However, I oftentimes only hear about what the child can do. I listen for the child’s heart. I need to know what the child loves and feels in order to motivate him/her. Yet, what I most often hear about is his/her accomplishments or honors. Parents stress the do. I know that they are proud of their children. I’m proud of my children. Yet, please, please remember this one thing: Giftedness is not something to be tossed around as a label. It’s deep. It’s holistic. It’s how a person is born and will live their entire lives. It’s just as much social and emotional as it is intellectual. It’s aptitude, not achievement. It’s intensity and self-awareness. It’s being both engaged and bullheaded. Giftedness comes out more in a child’s attitude than on a standardized test.

Please don’t label your children. Wait and see what happens in adulthood. It’s always better to smile and say, “I always believed in you. I’ve always known you were smart.” Instead of, “Oh, little Johnny, you’re so gifted” his whole life only to find out later that he’s not. High Achievers are not necessarily gifted. Gifted children don’t necessarily display it. Thus the reason why it’s so important to educate yourself about giftedness. You may have a gifted child and not even realize it. Maybe the kid with a better reason to not do something than you have for him/her to do it is gifted and will one day be a hot shot attorney. Maybe that kid who’d rather doodle than take notes will be an architect. Maybe your daughter has nine colors.

Maybe you’re gifted yourself.



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