"Many parents as well as educators are completely unaware of the social, emotional, and academic needs of gifted children," says Dina Brulles, Ph.D., director of Gifted Education in the Paradise Valley Unified School District, in Arizona. "These kids often feel alone and out of step with everyone else." Unless they're challenged by teachers who know how to help them learn at their own pace and level, they can quickly become bored, stop paying attention, misbehave, or clash with others.
"My daughter's brain works 24/7, and when she's bored she gets agitated and develops tics," says Miranda Jeffries, who concedes that Austen has been harder to raise than her 4-year-old and 2-year-old combined. "She was so excited about starting her new school, but even in its gifted program she felt frustrated at first because the work seemed too easy."
A child whose knowledge far exceeds that of her peers may have her enthusiasm squashed by teachers who aren't prepared to deal with persistent questions and comments. At 3, Annapurna Chitnavis attended a small private preschool in Phoenix because her parents thought she'd get more support than in a public school. Instead, she was reprimanded and given time-outs for correcting her teachers. "She's always been a demanding, high-energy child," explains her mother, Pradnya. "If she doesn't agree with us, she'll grill us like a litigator." Though she says Annapurna was reading the encyclopedia at age 3, the school refused to acknowledge that she might benefit from skipping a grade. "Basically they told us, 'If you're not happy, leave,'" says Pradnya. "But we didn't know where to go."