Gifted Kids Need to Take Risks

Maureen Neihart is a licensed clinical child psychologist with decades of experience counseling high-ability children and their families. Whenever I hear her speak or read her articles, I am so impressed with her wisdom and her ability to articulate that wisdom. Her article Systemic Risk Taking is but one example. In it, she not only talks about the theories of risk taking (not to be confused with thrill-seeking), but she provides examples from her own clinical practice and teaching experiences.

“People who do not take risks may avoid suffering, disappointment, fear and sorrow, but they may not learn, change, love, grow or live. Genuinely secure people are risk takers.” Gifted children sometimes avoid situations where they may not do well. In their own minds, it is important for them to always achieve the highest grades, but by early adolescence this may cause them to dramatically limit their opportunities. As parents and teachers, it is important for us to help gifted students appreciate the value of taking risks.

Neihart sees six steps to systematic risk taking.
  1. Understanding the benefits—Benefits of risk taking include increasing one's confidence about taking on a challenge, increasing a sense of control in one’s life, developing skills for managing anxieties and overcoming fears, and providing practice in important decision making.
  2. Initial self-assessment of risk-taking categories— There are intellectual risks, social risks, emotional risks, physical risks, and spiritual risks. Some risks may be easy for a person and others very difficult.
  3. Identifying personal needs—The author provides ideas to help students understand and prioritize their risk levels in different categories.
  4. Determining a risk to take—After students identify their personal needs, she has them choose a risk they will take and think about what might make that risk more palatable.
  5. Taking the risk
  6. Processing the risk experience—This is the most important step of systemic risk taking and can be accomplished in many ways. Most of the change in people comes not as a result of taking the risk, but as a result of processing the risk. The processing that follows risk-taking activities provides for the expression of feelings, helps to clarify strengths and weaknesses and identify needs.
Many strategies are presented by Neihart for parents and teachers to support students with their risk-taking behaviors. My guess is that after reading this article, many adults will also look at their own risk taking. This is very important because one of the most effective steps to encourage risk taking is to model risk-taking behavior.

You may also want to check out Neihart’s book, Peak Performance for Smart Kids.

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