Killer Statements

James Webb, Elizabeth Meckstroth, and Stephanie Tolan, Guiding the Gifted Child: A Practical Source for Parents and Teachers, Ohio Psychology Publishing Company, 1982, 129-31

Killer Statements

The strong feelings and reactions of others, particularly adults, can interfere with the honest communication that should be natural to these sensitive youngsters. Siblings, peers, teachers and even parents often react to gifted children as if they are undisciplined, bossy and rude, and that they need to be “put in their place” or “taken down a peg.” As most gifted children will confirm, many of the remarks made to them are unfair – “low blows” from which it is difficult to recover. We have come to call such statements “Killer Statements,” since they have the potential of bringing honest communication to a standstill…

All of these statements tell the child in one way or another that he is not acceptable as he is, that he is fundamentally inadequate or incompetent. Repeated exposure to such evaluative comments can stunt the gifted child’s emotional growth and set the stage for emotional withdrawal, insecurity, poor self-concept and a deep distrust of interpersonal relationships.

Although few of us can be certain that we will never use one, such statements should be recognized as dangerous weapons and avoided as thoroughly as possible. Even persons with good intentions may subtly, thoughtlessly or unconsciously use variations of these insensitive statements, thereby impairing trust and the honest expression of real feelings. When a Killer Statement does slip out because of frustration, impatience of anger, it is important to explain your underlying feelings and to apologize. The expression of regret or apology by an adult, even after the passage of time, is a model for open communication, respect, trust and acceptance of feelings.

It is indeed fortunate that children are as resilient as they are. Perhaps it is the extra mental adroitness of gifted children that….allows so many of them to survive as well as they do. Because Killer Statements are used against them routinely, and because of society’s fundamental ambivalence about them, gifted children – far from being better off than others – actually need extra emotional support or “strokes.” The higher the range of giftedness and the farther the child from the norm, the more vital is this truth. It is important to teach the child what he can do to get these strokes, and to provide as much emotional support as possible.

One Person Can Be a Key

In our experience the number of people from whom a child receives emotional support is less important than the intensity of the support he gets from any one person. If the child has even one person who conveys genuine belief in him and with whom he communicates freely and feels accepted, he will be able to overcome much negativity. Having just one real haven allows the child to withstand many unjust situations and many hostile responses from others…What is essential is that your child have at least one person who validates him as a person, one person who can assure him that what he feels and believes in is reasonable and worthwhile, that he has value.


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