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Gifted Children/gifted but low self esteem?


QUESTION: Dear Dr. Coleman,

I have a 6 year old grandson who is gifted, but seems to have a fear of failure or perhaps low self-esteem. He is capable of doing many things, but he says he doesn't like anything. He won't try. He doesn't try because he can't stand being mediocre or not the best. This is already affecting his enjoyment of life and that of his siblings (because it limits what they can do). He is also not doing as well in school as he could be.

He is very bothered by the possibility of being labeled as "bad" or being blamed for things. His parents yell, are easily frustrated, and blame him for what he does wrong. He internalizes this where his siblings let it roll off their backs.

Any suggestions on what can be done to help this child overcome his fear or low self-esteem? I'd love to see him enjoy life more and succeed.


ANSWER: Your grandson is blessed to have such a caring, concerned grandmother to step up to the plate for him  You writing, rather than a parent, tells me the problem must be quite severe. I want to think very carefully about this, and would like you to answer a couple questions to help me give you a more useful answer, You are not required to respond, but it would be helpful.

Will his parents get angry/upset or resentful that you've expressed your concern to a professional outside the family? Are they willing to admit things need to change?

Please tell me more about his home life; how his parents react and treat him, and his siblings

Is their physical punishment used on your grandson, or on anyone in the household?

Is drinking alcohol, using prescription drugs inappropriately, or using street drugs a problem?

Is the marriage in trouble?

Tell me about your role in the family.

I will check this again this evening.  It may be very late tonight or tomorrow before I get an answer back to you.

You did the right thing by contacting me.

Dr. Coleman

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------


Thanks for the quick turn around and request for more information.

His parents will not get upset about my concern or my reaching out to you. Mom has seen the same things in him and doesn't know what to do. She knows that things need to be different. Dad is kind of oblivious, but Mom tends to see every little thing that goes wrong, so I guess this balances things out.

Home life is a little chaotic right now, but this isn't a new situation. His parents are contemplating separating so things are touchy. The older child is incredibly sweet and compliant. He's not a great student and may have dyslexia. He is easily frustrated with school. He's had a lot of extra attention (tutors) for this. He plays sports and is doing well with that. He's small for his age. Younger sister is the baby in all ways. She is a bit spoiled and is cute as can be. She's the one that is the most "normal." She has no special problems or abilities that are evident yet. Mom wants to be super mom. She pays attention to everything. She hates it when the kids do something to embarrass her. Dad is a good-time dad. He wants to do the fun things, but not necessarily the dad things. The grandson in question has celiac disease.

All the kids have age appropriate chores. They don't do them very willingly at home, but have no problem doing them here. Every day is a struggle to get them up and out of the house for school. They don't do their homework without being told and watched over either.

No corporal punishment. Mom is a yeller and threatener. They stand in the corner mostly.

Both parents can get drunk with their friends, but as far as I know they don't do this in front of the kids. Mom is very careful about exposing the kids to anything she doesn't think is appropriate, but has complained at times of dad drinking too much. Not sure if this is in general or in front of the kids.

I live a pretty good distance away, so I have no day-to-day involvement in the family. The kids come stay with me when they can for a few days. We are close and loving. I stay out of the marriage. If the parents are present, they are the caretakers. When the parents are gone, their rules still apply. I don't tend to offer advice or opinions unless they are asked for.


ANSWER: How did it get to be the 10th of April already?

You're a wise woman, the way you encourage but don't interfere. I'm sure the kids love being with you.

Your answers were valuable. It's been researched and validated - even with just one remark expressing concern about alcohol as a problem, it's a problem.  The tip of the iceberg, with almost always much more alcoholic behavior below the surface. Even though I'm not a direct observer, it's the way it is.  One of my roles as a physician was to design and administer the substance abuse and addiction curriculum, which includes alcohol.

It's true also that in a situation in which parents are considering separation or divorce, there's much more going on than observers can perceive. Kids know what's going on, parents are foolish if they think they're hiding the tension and anger and problems that have raised the question of separation.

Almost always, kids blame themselves. Gifted or not.  They need to be told over and over and over that it is NOT their fault.  Gifted kids are already their own harshest critics, and the family dynamics on top of that have a lot to do with how your grandson is doing right now.  It sounds like there's some blaming of him, such as in activity choices.

Without firm intervention, things are going to get worse, and worse get the idea.  All the kids should get professional counseling. If money is an issue  preventing counseling, it is usually available free of at reduced costs.  You can ask your public health department about that.  Also, one of the parents should ask the kid's doctor for recommendations, or you can see what social agencies or church can offer in terms of counseling.  I feel compelled to repeat - it will get worse without help.  I'm not saying it's true in your grandsons or granddaughter, but things like this tension can lead to kids cutting themselves, use of alcohol and drugs at younger and younger ages, and especially for your granddaughter, it's correlated to early sexual activity and teen pregnancy.  One of the most powerful risks of teen sexual acting out and teen pregnancy is the father's disinterest in his daughter. There is potential for suicide.  The kids don't embarrass their mother. It's her way of looking at things, not them. They don't know how the world works when they're born.  If they do something like make mistakes or bad choices, she needs to understand that they are learning, and teach them, not shame them.  It's amazing how well a gentle voice works, much better than yelling. She needs to hold herself accountable for her own behavior. Her yelling is far worse than whatever the children do that she thinks is wrong.  She want's the kids to have self-control - while she's completely out of control!


YELLING MUST STOP. It HURTS KIDS. It can cause scarring that never heals. With your son already having little or no self-confidence, its catastrophic. One parent knowing every detail and the other oblivious don't balance each other; moms and dads make  different and unique contributions to the family.  You did a very caring thing by writing, and even little encouragements from you help the kids and family.  Look up Free Spirit Publishing - It has wonderful resources such as books, DVDs, games and other types of information and encouragement for kids and families with all sorts of different issues.

Summary:  Alcohol needs to stop.  Everyone in the family needs counseling, some much more than others. Your grandson, all the kids, everyone in the family needs help for change to occur. Your grandson will also benefit from individual counseling. Yelling must stop.

Continue what you're doing, you're the firm rock for them to stand on when it feels like they can't get their bearings in the chaos.

Contact me anytime. Mom is welcome to write to me too.  Thanks for your patience.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------


Thanks for the follow-up. I didn't take it as a "mind your own business" comment. :) I know that it's the parents' job. I was just wondering if there was something more that *I* could do that I was unaware of. I agree that the yelling contributes. Mom is in therapy already, so hopefully that will help with that. I did check out the website. Mom's all for anything that the "experts" recommend, so I may get something from there for the kids.

Thanks! I appreciate your time.

I've been letting your concerns simmer in my mind, hoping new ideas would suddenly strike.  You're in such a difficult time for your family, and you have the anxiety-provoking position of seeing the problems, loving your grandchildren, and feeling like you don't have much power to do anything about the situation.

I respect very much your ability to maintain some boundaries, rather than jumping in with determination that you'll fix it.  That gives the children a sense of safety about being able to talk about their difficult situation. Some ideas:

If you and the children have or can get cassette recorders, you could read stories to them, and the kids could listen to them at anytime, and listen over and over to the same stories.  That would be extra-soothing to your 6 year old.

If you can call them daily, or at least three times a week, you can establish rituals that will be uplifting. Young kids aren't very talkative on the phone.  You can get a book of lessons for kids, a daily type, and read the passage for that day.  For example, set a time daily, usually evening works best.  There are books which have a daily safety lesson of just a paragraph or two.  Actually, you wouldn't even need to buy anything; you could find that on the Internet.  There are sites which have clean jokes for kids.  You can do a joke a day. Either of the ideas just mentioned give kids a break from even thinking or talking about the situation preying on their world.

Public libraries have materials of many kinds you can borrow, books, toy's, DVDs and more.  There is often a children's librarian to help you make a selection.

Kids LOVE getting mail. That's a way to share jokes and brief passages.  If it's within your means, dollar stores are great. A $1 thing from time to time, what your budget allows, can be exciting and fun for them.

If you are a person who prays, pause for a moment, twice a day, to take your needs and those of the children to God in prayer.

Thank you for your patience. Please let me know how things are go.

Dr. Coleman  

Gifted Children

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Faith A. Coleman MD


No questions are off-limits. My strengths are understanding what questioners are really trying to ask, knowing the right questions to get to useful answers, and putting complicated, subject-specific words and concepts into language accessible to lay-persons. The topic is fascinating and can be surprising, the opposite of what might logically seem expected of giftedness. I am skilled in identifying giftedness at any age, including very early in life.


Children constitute about one-third of the patients in a Family Medicine practice. I was Director of Children's and Women's Public Health Education Programs with the Northeast Texas Public Health District. I have two highly gifted children, one of whom attended Roeper School, listed first in this site's Sponsored Links. I was the health expert for Roeper's board of directors; I maintain contacts there. I'm on the board of directors of several organizations of which I'm a member. I spent a summer as the Medical Director of a camp for kids with ADD, ADHD, and psychiatric disorders. Editor, Medical Economics Publishing Co. licensure to teach K-12 in Oklahoma, with added qualification in Journalism

Champions for Children: Advocacy, resources, quality assessment, for early childhood daycare (Board of Directors). American Academy of Family Physicians. Michigan Academy of Family Physicians Society of Teachers of Family Medicine. READ: Advocacy, education, resources for teaching and encouraging literacy in adults. East Texas Network for Children (Planning Board).

Journals: Medical Economics, Contemporary OB/Gyn, Diagnostic Medicine. Albuquerque Journal Daily, Tyler Daily News, New Mexico Daily Lobo, New Citizen Weekly, Alpena News, daily.

BA, Journalism MD University of New Mexico School of Medicine. Internship, Detroit Medical Center. Family Practice Residency, Top-100 Hospital - Beaumont. Clinical Faculty appointments to three medical schools. Faculty, Family Practice Residency, Detroit area.

Awards and Honors
Two official commendations awarded by United States Army for service and contributions to young soldiers and families. Publishing Internship, Medical Economics Publishing Company. Research Internship, Hastings Institute of Society, Ethics, and the Life Sciences. Woman Medical Student of the Year. Numerous others.

Past/Present Clients
As above in experiences, publications and awards. Many thousands of patient/family encounters.

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