Dear Dr. Sylvia

Gifted Child Needs Challenge

March, 2018


I need your help with my kindergarten son before his behaviors become so ingrained that he’ll have a difficult time changing. He’s reading beyond the fourth-grade level and is extremely interested in science. He makes electrical circuits, experiments with “invention,” and has known all the planets since he was able to talk.

The problem is his behavior. He has difficulty interacting with other children. He tells them what to do, hugs them until they fall down, hits them at times, and then walks away to do his own thing.

My son loves and is very gentle with his one-year-old sister, but “hates” his three-year-old brother and is very vocal about it. He can be quite mean to him, but at other times he includes his brother in what he’s doing. He’s told me that he doesn’t want to live in the same house with his brother and that he was going to leave. I told him his family loves him and he can’t leave. He said he can leave because he knows how to get out of the house and we won’t see him go. He can be extremely defiant.

My son can be the most delightful, fun boy you would ever want to be with. One-on-one time can be extraordinary! But I’m very concerned about his actions and what they’re teaching his younger siblings. We’re seeing some of the same disheartening actions in his brother toward his sister.
We are at the end of our rope and don’t know where to find help to deal with our bright, defiant boy. We’d be grateful for your opinion.



Most children have both strengths and problems, and your son also has both. One of the risky issues with highly gifted children with adult-sounding vocabularies is that they’re often given too many choices, too much power, and treated like little adults. The result of early adult-like treatment can be that they expect others to take orders from them instead of sharing in the give-and-take of relationships. Your son may also have feelings of rejection that he can’t express and some anger at his brother, who has stolen attention away from him. In my book, How to Parent So Children Will Learn, I refer to severe sibling rivalry as “dethroning.”

Your son would benefit from a counseling group directed specifically at learning social skills. At home, if you or his dad can manage a little special one-to-one time with him daily, it will help your son to cope with his extreme rivalry. Because he is so advanced in his skills, he truly needs some experiences in school that are interesting and challenging so that he feels good about his strengths.

One consistent mistake in helping gifted children who have behavior problems is to prioritize assisting them with their problems. While their problem behaviors do require immediate attention, if parents and teachers assume that their strengths can go unattended until they’ve coped with the problems, children produce more problems to gain continued attention. Actually, if you make efforts to be sure he is challenged and can get some positive attention for his reading and science in school while simultaneously working on the social skills, the social skills will improve greatly because his learning needs are also being met. For some gifted children, advancing them a grade helps them meet their academic and social needs because they frequently get along better with older children than with their same-age peers.

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 a free newsletter entitled So Your Child is Gifted!, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope and a note with your 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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