Dear Dr. Sylvia

Some Highly Gifted Children Are Obsessive

November, 2017


Our 3-year-old granddaughter is very bright; her vocabulary and comprehension are off the charts. She has this habit of putting everything she plays with, including books, dolls, balls, and play dishes all in a straight line. So when you go into a room where she’s playing, all you see are perfectly straight lines. She gets very upset if any of these things are touched, picked up, or put away. These toys are also arranged from smallest to largest.
Is this something I shouldn’t worry about and she’ll outgrow? She’s very loving, but at times very self-centered. Does this come from her being so bright? Both parents are attorneys and very bright people. Are there any books for me to read about young children with this obsession? I’d appreciate any information you could give me.



It’s true that some highly gifted children can be quite obsessive. Apparently their ability to organize information is also helpful to their learning a great deal, or perhaps vice versa. While I can’t tell you whether your grandchild is extraordinarily gifted, too obsessive, or has any kind of disorder, I can tell you that I’ve seen that combination frequently. Most children outgrow their need for so much order, but other people’s response to that order can make a difference. Helping your granddaughter to be more flexible, change orders, or comply with picking up toys appropriately will gradually assist her in becoming more flexible. If her wish for organization begins controlling the family’s behavior, it will give her too much power and become worse; so her parents shouldn’t worry about complying with her insistence on organization, even if she loses her temper afterwards.

An evaluation by a psychologist of both her obsessive tendencies and her giftedness could give her parents a better understanding of their daughter. It would be best if she could go to a psychologist who specializes in gifted children and who will also be willing to guide her parents. They can find that psychologist by contacting their state association for gifted and talented children, the National Association for Gifted Children, or the State Department of Education. My book, Keys to Parenting the Gifted Child (2006), would also be helpful.

Dr Sylvia RimmDr. Sylvia Rimm is a child psychologist and clinical professor at Case University School of Medicine, author, newspaper and magazine columnist, and radio/TV personality. For free newsletters entitled So Your Child is Gifted!, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for each newsletter and a note with your topic request to P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI, 53094. Read Dr. Rimm’s articles on this topic and submit family questions online at All questions are answered.

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