What Are the Causes of Behavioral Problems in Very Intelligent Children?

Highly intelligent, or gifted children, usually learn concepts more quickly and are naturally inquisitive and curious. But those traits might sometimes cause behavior problems, especially if gifted children don't receive the emotional support and intellectual challenges they need. Effective parenting strategies and educational programs can reduce the risk of behavioral issues.

Asynchronous Development

Gifted children do not develop all skills at the same rate. For example, emotional and social development often lags behind cognitive growth. Gifted children are usually painfully aware of the realities of life, yet lack the emotional skills to process complex issues such as death and war. Relationships and daily frustrations can prove taxing. At the same time, adults often have higher behavioral expectations for gifted children. An increased awareness of life's struggles, combined with the stress of inappropriate expectations can lead to meltdowns and outbursts.

Social Lack of Fit

According to the Gifted Development Center, 60 percent of gifted children are introverts, while 30 percent of the general population could be classified as such. In a culture in which collaboration and conviviality is valued, gifted children often feel misunderstood or out of place. When teachers or other well-meaning adults try to force social participation, children might misbehave out of frustration. Gifted children tend to behave and perform best when placed in classrooms with other gifted children.

Hidden Learning Disabilities

Many children are doubly exceptional, meaning they might have a learning disability in addition to advanced skills in other areas. There seems to be a higher incidence among gifted children of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and spelling or handwriting disabilities, according to the Rhode Island State Advisory Committee on Gifted and Talented. This combination causes emotional fatigue and frustration, which increases the likelihood of behavior problems, if left undiagnosed. (ref. 2)


Very intelligent children often are seen as a behavior problem in school because of their intense focus and curiosity. A child who constantly raises her hand to ask questions or seems to know more than the teacher might not be appreciated. When intelligent children are continually offered work that is not challenging, they might refuse to do school work, act out in class or seem disrespectful. A program tailored specifically for the needs of gifted children usually solves these issues.

Unidentified Giftedness

The incidence of behavior problems goes up when gifted children are not identified as gifted. In fact, Rita Dickinson, founder of gifted education in Colorado and author of "Caring for the Gifted," reported that half the children she tested with IQ scores above 132 were referred to her for behavioral problems and had not been identified by teachers or parents as gifted.

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