The Purple Goldfish Theory: What Your Child Already Knows about Being Gifted

gtchat 08232018 Goldfish

Jamie Uphold, Gifted Youth Programs Manager for American Mensa, joined us at Global #gtchat Powered by TAGT to chat about her “The Purple Goldfish Theory: What Your Child Already Knows about Being Gifted.” She described her role at American Mensa, “I’m a (recovering) educator with a passion for gifted youth. Now, I create programs, curate resources, and perform outreach for gifted youth.”

Jamie wrote an excellent follow-up blog post describing the theory on Mensa’s blog. In the post, Jaime writes, “Gifted kids are like purple goldfish. They spend all day swimming along in school with all the other goldfish. But unlike the other fish, they are purple — and they swim backward! They know they’re different from the other kids. No one has to tell them; they realize it on their own. And while purple goldfish know they are different, they don’t necessarily know they are gifted.”

Gifted children learn what it means to be gifted in many different ways. Many do not question the concept until they are identified at school and enter their school’s gifted program. They know they are different from other students around them. How knowledgeable their parent is about what it means to be ‘gifted’ and how they share what they know can have a powerful impact on their child.

Parents sometimes wonder if they should even tell their child they are gifted. Dr. Gail Post, Clinical Psychologist, stated emphatically, “Yes – it validates, provides clarity and perspective on what they already suspect and don’t understand. [Parents] need to explain it carefully, ensuring they [the child] don’t assume they are better than others, or take on undue burdens.” Jamie explained, “The value is in understanding how their brain is wired differently; not in an assessment received from a test. Information, for them, is received and perceived differently than their peers.” Telling a child they are gifted and/or talented should be accompanied by the ‘perspective’ as related by Dr. Jim Delisle that they at ‘better at’ rather than ‘better than’ their age-peers . Jamie believes that “early and honest communication about giftedness can mean the difference between arrogance and understanding.”

How should information about a child’s giftedness be shared with their educational team? If a gifted IEP is mandated, a formal process for sharing information through formal regular meetings with the team and a general understanding of who to contact will already be in place. The sharing of information is highly dependent on the personnel with whom you were sharing the information. Some teachers are more receptive and knowledgeable; making the whole process smoother. Jamie implored parents, “Don’t assume that teachers know what your child needs. They often don’t get the information necessary to make those assessments until later in the year. Simple outreach sparks dialogue.There’s no one-size-fits all approach. Every gifted child is different and has different needs. Giftedness doesn’t fit into neat check-boxes.”

What are the challenges of being ‘purple’ (gifted)? Jamie stated, “It’s hard to be the smartest kid in the room. Kids want to fit in, and GT kids often don’t — they think deeper, react stronger, and don’t transition as quickly. None of these traits are preferable in traditional school settings.” Being gifted is too often about simply being viewed as ‘smart’ when it’s usually much more complicated;  it’s a ‘marching to the beat of a different drummer’ scenario. GT kids can be teased and bullied by other kids and adults to the point of wanting to hide their abilities or ignore them. This can lead to emotional challenges as they get older.

Justine Hughes, educator in Auckland, New Zealand,  warned, “the quote that “All kids are gifted they just unwrap their gifts at different times” has become a dangerous mantra leading to needs not being met. Jamie added, “How many of those kids would return that gift if they could, just to be ‘normal’?”

There are many resources to help children learn about being gifted and for parents on raising a gifted child. Great organizations include American Mensa, Mensa for Kids, Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT), NAGC, SENG, Davidson Gifted, Hoagies Gifted, Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, the Institute for Educational Advancement, the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education, and WCGTC.

Gifted children need to associate with intellectual peers whether at school or socially regardless of what anyone else says. This doesn’t mean exclusively; but it must be a major consideration. They need to be challenged in the early years academically. Without it; they will have difficulty later on and it can result in innumerable problems.

“Purple goldfish have extra challenges. Often people assume that a gifted kid, and by extension their parents, have it easy when it’s often the exact opposite. Gifted children can struggle with social norming and are sometimes in stages of development and emotional maturity that make it harder to bond with their peers. Statistically, gifted individuals are 1 out of 100; this means that 99 percent of their peers are different from them. And this is before we add any additional diagnoses. It’s hard to be a purple goldfish! And these kids nevertheless want to find other purple goldfish – their people.” ~ Jamie Uphold, American Mensa 

Check out the transcript of this chat at Wakelet to see what else chat participants said parents need to remember most about having a purple goldfish. Then, refer to the resources below which were shared during the chat!

Global #gtchat Powered by the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented  is a weekly chat on Twitter. Join us Thursdays at 8E/7C/6M/5P in the U.S. and Fridays at Noon NZST/10 AM AEST/1 AM UK  to discuss current topics in the gifted community and meet experts in the field. Transcripts of our weekly chats can be found at Wakelet. Our Facebook Page provides information on the chat and news and information regarding the gifted community. Also, checkout our Pinterest Page and Playlist on YouTube.

Head Shot 2014-07-14  About the authorLisa Conrad is the Moderator of Global #gtchat Powered by TAGT and Social Media Manager of the Global #gtchat Community. She is a longtime  advocate for gifted children and also blogs at  Gifted Parenting Support. Lisa can be contacted at:


Mensa for Kids (website)

American Mensa (website)

Inspiring Self-Efficacy in Gifted Kids

Coloring Outside the Lines – Growing Up Gifted

Jim Delisle Presentation – Parenting Gifted Kids: Tips for Raising Happy and Successful Children

Identity Development in Intellectually Gifted Students

How to Create a Gifted Individualized Education Plan

Gifted Advocacy: What’s the Point?

Improving GT Parent-Teacher Communications

Unexpected Challenges of Being a Gifted Kid

Social Emotional Needs of Gifted Students

Growing Resilient Gifted Kids

Cybraryman’s Growth Mindset Page

Should we tell them they’re gifted? Should we tell them how gifted?

Resources from Jamie’s blog post:

Pros and Cons of Telling Children They Are Gifted

Is My Child Gifted?

What to say to your gifted child…about being gifted 

Is your kid really gifted? Probably not

Should we tell them they’re gifted? Should we tell them how gifted?

Talking about Giftedness: The Elephant in the Room

Your Kids Are Gifted. Should You Tell Them?

Image and graphics courtesy of American Mensa.

Posted on August 27, 2018, in gifted, gifted and talented, gifted education, Identification, parenting and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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