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Tips for Parents: Differentiating Giftedness from Achievement and Mitigating the Risks of Each

Highlights from Expert Series

The following article shares highlights and insights from one of our Expert Series events, which are exclusive for Young Scholars and their parents.

Authored by: Dr. Chris Wells and Nicole Mattingly

Is giftedness who you are or what you do? In this session, we introduced three phenomenological definitions of giftedness from Annemarie Roeper, Michael M. Piechowski, and the Columbus Group.

“Giftedness is a greater awareness, a greater sensitivity, and a greater ability to understand and to transform perceptions into intellectual and emotional experiences.” Annemarie Roeper

“One of the basic characteristics of the gifted is their intensity and an expanded field of their subjective experience. The intensity, in particular, must be understood as a qualitatively distinct characteristic. It is not a matter of degree but of a different quality of experiencing: vivid, absorbing, penetrating, encompassing, complex, commanding—a way of being quiveringly alive.” Michael M. Piechowski

“Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.” Columbus Group

We talked about the reality that there are levels of giftedness, and that at the upper ranges there are few people who truly understand this difference. The highly and profoundly gifted often feel so different that they wonder if they’re aliens or worse, suspect that there’s something wrong with them.

Next, we talked about the risks of achievement pressure. A number of studies reflect both a dramatic increase in incidents of psychological struggles (including suicide; hospitalization; and diagnosis of anxiety, depression, etc.) in academically high-performing children; but the data also reflects that we can build children’s resilience via relationships, metacognition, and load balancing. Development (an achievement) does not occur independently of the family & school environments; so mitigating risks requires an evolving understanding of a child’s needs.

We shared three things that can help mitigate the risks for PG children:

  1. Respect their autonomy. Help your child connect with their inner authority, or internal compass. Let them direct their own development as much as possible. Guide them, of course, but let them lead the way.
  2. Allow them to be who they are without your interference. Allow them to follow their passions, even when these passions don’t make sense to you.
  3. Provide them with the conditions to flourish and trust them to find their own paths.


  1. Talk with your child about what it means to be gifted beyond academics and test scores. Let them know that there is a body of literature in the gifted field that helps make sense of their lived experience that’s outside the norm.
  2. Giftedness and Achievement are not the same—families must weigh the value of personal development with external accolades in an ongoing self-reflective manner.
  3. Interpersonal relationships are KEY to resilience, stability, and a healthy self-concept.
  4. Parental presence and Teacher sensitivity can mitigate many of the risks associated with Achievement.
  5. Intrinsic Motivation can be cultivated in the midst of struggle.
  6. Metacognition (reflecting on acts of struggles and learned resilience) scaffolds for future resilience.
  7. Be aware of and avoid “toxic positivity”—simply using encouraging words without metacognition feels insincere to children, can damage relationships, and undermines motivation.
  8. Children’s resilience beliefs predict their actual resilience—metacognition and self-concept matter.
  9. The Big Fish Little Pond Effect is real; and can be overcome with metacognition and empowering children to choose their own pond.
  10. Load Balancing is essential (emphasis on self-regulative skills, deliberate practice, and goal-oriented practice).
  11. Requires constant re-evaluation of priorities/goals and alignment of practices with these goals.
  12. Keeping a Child-Centered philosophy central to all decisions fundamentally shifts our mentality/priorities; shaping our relationships and how children perceive themselves.
  13. Help your child find true peers. We talked about Camp Yunasa, but other gifted-specific programs and camps are available.


For community:

Books we recommend:

  • Living with Intensity by Daniels and Piechowski
  • “Mellow out,” They Say. If I Only Could: Intensities and Sensitivities of the Young and Bright by Michael M. Piechowski

References from our presentation:

  • Aldrup, K., Klusmann, U. (2020). Reciprocal associations between students’ mathematics anxiety and achievement: Can teacher sensitivity make a difference? Journal of Educational Psychology, 112(4), 735-750.
  • Baudson, T.G., & Preckel, F. (2016). Teachers’ conceptions of gifted and average-ability students on achievement-relevant dimensions. Gifted Child Quarterly, 60(3), 212-225.
  • Bronfenbrenner, U. (1994). Ecological models of human development. International encyclopedia of education, 3(2), 1643-1647.
  • Cross, T.L., Cross, J.R., & Anderson, L. (2021). Suicide and students with gifts and talents: Advice for counselors. In T. L. Cross & J. R. Cross (Eds.) Handbook for counselors serving students with gifts & talents (2nd ed., pp. 775-800). Routledge.
  • Cross, T. L. (2013). Suicide among gifted children and adolescents: Understanding the suicidal mind. Prufrock Press.
  • Dai, D.Y., & Rinn, A.N. (2008) the Big-Fish-Little-Pond effect: What do we know and where do we go from here? Educ Psychol Rev, 20, 283-317.
  • Dai, D.Y. (2019). New directions in talent development research: A developmental systems perspective. In R.F. Subotnik, S. Assouline, P. Olszewski-Kubilius, H. Stoeger, & A. Ziegler (Eds.), The future of research in talent development: Promising trends, evidence, and implications of innovative scholarship for policy and practice. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 168, 1-21.
  • Daniels, S., & Piechowski, M. (2009). Living with intensity: Understanding the sensitivity, excitability and emotional development of gifted children, adolescents and adults. Great Potential Press.
  • Faber, I. R., Sloot, L., Hoogeveen, L., Elferink-Gemser, M. T., & Schorer, J. (2021). Western approaches for the identification and development of talent in schools and sports contexts from 2009 to 2019: A literature review. High Ability Studies. Advance Online Publication.
  • Grant, B.A., & Piechowski, M.M. (1999). Theories and the good: Toward child-centered gifted education. Gifted Child Quarterly, 43(1), 4-12.
  • Jordan, J. V. (2018). Relational-cultural therapy. American Psychological Association.
  • Laberge-Côté, L. (2022). Resilience training in dance: On toxic positivity, attentional focus, and playful discomfort. International Journal of Arts Education, 18(1).
  • Lee, T., Kwong, W., Cheung, C., Ungar, M., Cheung, M. Y., & L. (2010). Children’s resilience-related beliefs as a predictor of positive child development in the face of adversities: Implications for interventions to enhance children’s quality of life. Social Indicators Research, 95(3), 437-453. doi:
  • Luthar, S.S., Shoum, K.A., & Brown, P.J. (2006). Extracurricular involvement among affluent youth: A scapegoat for “Ubiquitous Achievement Pressures”?. Developmental Psychology, 42(3), 583-597.
  • Luthar, S.S., Kumar, N.L., & Zillmer, N. (2020) High-Achieving schools connote risks for adolescents: Problems documented, processes implicated, and directions for interventions. American Psychologist, 75(7), 983-995.
  • Marulis, L.M., Baker, S.T., & Whitebread, D. (2020). Integrating metacognition and executive function to enhance young children’s perception of and agency in their learning. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 50, 46-54.
  • Masten, A. (2014) Ordinary Magic: Resilience in development. Guilford Press.
  • Meyer, M, & Mattingly, N. (2022). Conceptual identification of the active and passive characters of bullying, and their roles in the act of bullying. In F.H. Piske, & K.H. Collins (Eds.), Identifying, preventing and combating bullying in gifted Education (pp. 51-54). Information Age Publishing.
  • National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). Vibrant and Healthy Kids: Aligning Science, Practice, and Policy to Advance Health Equity. The National Academies Press.
  • Neville, C. S., Piechowski, M. M., & Tolan, S. S. (Eds.) (2013). Off the charts: Asynchrony and the gifted child. Royal Fireworks Press.
  • Pangestu, Y. P. D. A., Aliifah, J., Jati, P., Amalia, C., & Situmorang, D. D. B. (2022). Analysis of the Generation Z’s Viewpoint from the Faith-Based Educational Institutions on the Toxic Positivity Phenomena: How and Why?. Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling, 76(2), 97–104.
  • Pekrun, R., Murayama, K., Marsh, H.W., Goetz, T. (2019) Happy fish in little ponds: Testing a reference group model of achievement and emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Personality Processes and Individual Differences, 117(1), 166-185.
  • Piechowski, M. M. (1992). Giftedness for all seasons: Inner peace in time of war. In N. Colangelo, S. G. Assouline, & D. L. Ambroson (Eds.), Talent Development. Proceedings of the Henry B. and Jocelyn Wallace National Research Symposium on Talent Development. (pp. 180-203). Trillium Press.
  • Roeper, A. (1982) How the gifted cope with their emotions. Roeper Review, 5 (2), 21-24.
  • Vygotsky, L.S. (1997). Educational psychology. St. Lucie Press (Originally published in 1926)
  • Vygotsky, Lev. (2012, 1934) Thought and language. (Ed. Alex Kozulin) MIT Press.

Permission Statement

This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit


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