Maximizing the Social and Emotional Growth of Gifted Children

by Ann Smith

“Gifted people are different from those around them, which poses an immediate problem of self-identity” (Greenspon, 1998).

The concept of social and emotional learning (SEL) has been around for decades in the world of gifted education. In fact, Leta Hollingworth, almost a century ago, suggested a program of emotional education to deal with the particular difficulties that encompass gifted individuals.  Just as we know that research supports modifications to academic curriculum and pedagogy for gifted students, because of the social and affective differences gifted individuals have from their typical developing peers, the same is true of SEL.

socialemotionalSo what is SEL, and why is it important? Social and emotional learning supports development in the areas of self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

Could the intellectual differences of gifted children from their age-mates affect their social, emotional, and moral reasoning? If so, how do we ensure a positive self-concept and self-esteem as they develop? We know this is a crucial ingredient for all children in order to attain their full potential as adults.

Being stimulated by their minds, gifted children are more likely to be solitary and introverted than typical children. While they often have high self-esteem about their intellectual capacities, social and emotional difficulties can lead to maladaptation.

Gifted individuals tend to be independent thinkers who require less need for structure, and they have keen abilities to intuit solutions and synthesize complex information. They tend to have a strong intrinsic drive coupled with a “rage to master” and they derive pleasure from work in the area of their passion. Add to this a non-conforming nature, extreme sensitivity, argumentativeness, and one can see why SEL is a vital ingredient to help gifted children reach their potential.

Consider the trait of argumentativeness. It is crucial that we understand what drives gifted children to argue. There tends to be an innate need for extreme precision when gifted individuals are ordering and making sense of their world. Teaching specific skills in the etiquette of public and private debate is an essential component of SEL instruction for gifted children.

Overall, SEL can help address specific issues related to the unique problems of the gifted, such as:

  • Emotions—recognizing and understanding complex emotions in themselves and others.
  • Social relations—finding truly congenial peers, adjusting to classmates, being able to play with other children and developing leadership abilities.
  • Academic areas—finding enough hard and interesting work at school, and conforming to rules and expectations.
  • Authority—not becoming negativistic and learning to “suffer fools gladly.”
  • Origins and destinies—addressing the pressing need for an explanation of the universe.

If high intelligence affects one’s environment, viewpoint, and interactions, then it is paramount that we help gifted individuals develop these skills to prepare them for their future with confidence and compassion. While advocating for gifted children’s academic needs it is imperative that we advocate for their social and emotional needs as well.

About the author: Ann Smith is Bay Area Parent Representative for the California Association for the Gifted and the Executive Director for the Gifted Support Center.

Article References

  • Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning;
  • Greenspon, Thomas S. (1998) ‘The gifted self: Its role in development and emotional health,’ Roeper Review, 20:3, 162-167
  • Powell, P. & Hayden, T. (1984) ‘The intellectual and psychosocial nature of extreme giftedness,’ Roeper Review, 6:3, 131-133
  • Ruf, Deborah L. (1998) Environmental, Familial, and Personal Factors That Affect the Self-Actualization of Highly Gifted Adults: Case Studies, Doctoral Dissertation
  • Silverman, Linda K. (2013) Leta Hollingworth: Champion of the Highly Gifted. Nebraska Association for the Gifted

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