The Hidden Costs of Having a Gifted Child

Exceptional talent in children can be a source of financial and emotional stress for parents who don’t feel equipped

child at chalkboard
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Every parent believes that their child is special, but some kids actually are exceptional and deserve the label gifted. When this news is confirmed to parents, however, "[m]others frequently cry, and fathers often question the validity of the test results," write Linda Silverman and Kathi Kearney, two experts on gifted children, at the online resource Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page. What may seem like a cause to rejoice, they continue, can actually provoke financial trouble and stress. 

It’s a source of anxiety long recognized. Silverman and Kearney reference a 1940 report by the psychologist Leta Stetter Hollingworth, who wrote:

To subsidize a young person through a first-rate preparation for a learned profession, and to establish him or her therein, costs thousands of dollars. A great many highly gifted children are at present shut out from the careers appropriate to their powers, for lack of money.

But the prevalence of problems among families of gifted children is poorly understood, largely because experts don’t agree on one set definition for giftedness. (The U.S. National Association for Gifted Children, however, points toward the kids who perform in the top 10 percent.) This fuzziness also means that many gifted kids may be slipping under the radar, especially if their parents don’t have the education or means to recognize giftedness or the confidence to advocate for their children to be tested.

Fortunately, experts are increasingly recognizing such challenges and are trying to devise methods to help. For BBCKate Ashford reports on tips for parents of gifted children, with particular attention to finances. "Set a budget," she advises, and "keep your own savings on track." Ashford also cautions against getting too carried away, quoting Ellen Winner, a psychology professor at Boston College and author of Gifted Children: Myths and Realities: "Do everything possible to nurture and stimulate the gift, whatever the domain. But there’s a difference between enabling the gift and pushing the child to become a public spectacle."

Parents of gifted children who are divorcing can also face unique problems, such as how to divvy up extra costs associated with the exceptional support their child requires. Some states recognize this. New Jersey and North Carolina, for example, include "extraordinary expenses" in their calculations for child support, which accounts for expenses related to gifted children or for special and private schooling "to meet a child’s particular educational needs."

Ashford’s article at BBC also emphasizes that gifted children are still children, physically and emotionally, and that pushing too hard can lead to trouble as the child matures. Especially in creative areas, children can burn out if their precocious interests are indulged to the expense of experiencing life. As Karen Monroe, a psychiatrist at Boston’s McLean Hospital who works with prodigious children, told Andrew Solomon for The New York Times Magazine: "When you have a child whose gift is so overshadowing, it is possible for parts to be distracted and lose track of the child himself." 

In other words, gifted children still require just as much time to just be kids as their more typically talented peers do.

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