The Social-Emotional Needs of Gifted Children
To a large degree, the needs of gifted children are the same as those of other children. The same developmental stages occur, though often at a younger age. Some needs and problems, however, appear more often among gifted children.
It is helpful to conceptualize needs of gifted children in terms of those that arise because of the interaction with the environmental setting (e.g., family, school, or cultural milieu) and those that arise internally because of the very characteristics of the gifted child. Several intellectual and personality attributes characterize gifted children and should be noted at the outset. These characteristics may be strengths, but potential problems also may be associated with them.
Possible Problems that may be Associated with the Characteristic Strengths of Gifted Children
Attributes of StrengthAttributes of Challenge
- Acquires/retains information quickly
- Inquisitive; searches for significance
- Intrinsic motivation
- Enjoys problem solving; able to conceptualize, abstract, synthesize
- Seeks cause-effect relations
- Emphasizes truth, equity, and fair play
- Seeks to organize things and people
- Large facile vocabulary; advanced broad information
- High expectations of self and others
- Creative/inventive; likes new way of doing things
- Intense concentration; long attention span and persistence in areas of interest
- Sensitivity, empathy; desire to be accepted by others
- High energy, alertness, eagerness
- Independent; prefers individualized work; reliant on self
- Diverse interests and abilities; versatility
- Strong sense of humor
- Impatient with others; dislikes basic routine
- Asks embarrassing questions; excessive interests
- Strong-willed; resists direction
- Resists routine practice; questions teaching procedures
- Dislikes unclear/illogical areas (e.g. traditions of feelings)
- Worries about humanitarian concerns
- Constructs complicated rules; often seen as bossy
- May use words to manipulate; bored with school and age-peers
- Intolerant perfectionist; may become depressed
- May be seen as disruptive and out of step
- Neglects duties or people during periods of focus; resists interruption; stubbornness
- Sensitivity to criticism or peer rejection
- Frustration with inactivity; may be seen as hyperactive
- May reject parent or peer input; nonconformity
- May appear disorganized or scattered; frustrated over lack of time
- Peers may misunderstand humor; may become "class clown" for attention
– Adapted from Clark (1992) and Seagoe (1974)
These characteristics are seldom inherently problematic by themselves. More often, combinations of these characteristics lead to behavior patterns such as:
- Uneven Development: Motor skills, especially fine-motor, often lag behind cognitive conceptual abilities, particularly in preschool gifted children (Webb & Kleine, 1993). These children may see in their "mind's eye" what they want to do, construct, or draw; however, motor skills do not allow them to achieve the goal. Intense frustration and emotional outbursts may result.
- Peer Relations: As preschoolers and in primary grades, gifted children (particularly highly gifted) attempt to organize people and things. Their search for consistency emphasizes "rules," which they attempt to apply to others. They invent complex games and try to organize their playmates, often prompting resentment in their peers.
- Excessive Self-Criticism: The ability to see possibilities and alternatives may imply that youngsters see idealistic images of what they might be, and simultaneously berate themselves because they see how they are falling short of an ideal (Adderholt-Elliott, 1989; Powell & Haden, 1984; Whitmore, 1980).
- Perfectionism: The ability to see how one might ideally perform, combined with emotional intensity, leads many gifted children to unrealistically high expectations of themselves. In high ability children, perhaps 15-20% may be hindered significantly by perfectionism at some point in their academic careers, and even later in life.
- Avoidance of Risk-Taking: In the same way the gifted youngsters see the possibilities, they also see potential problems in undertaking those activities. Avoidance of potential problems can mean avoidance of risk-taking, and may result in underachievement (Whitmore, 1980).
- Multi Potentiality: Gifted children often have several advanced capabilities and may be involved in diverse activities to an almost frantic degree. Though seldom a problem for the child, this may create problems for the family, as well as quandaries when decisions must be made about career selection (Kerr, 1985; 1991).
- Gifted Children with Disabilities: Physical disabilities can prompt social and emotional difficulties. Intellect may be high, but motor difficulties such as cerebral palsy may prevent expression of potential. Visual or hearing impairment or a learning disability may cause frustration. Gifted children with disabilities tend to evaluate themselves more on what they are unable to do than on their substantial abilities (Whitmore & Maker, 1985).
Problems from Outside Sources
Lack of understanding or support for gifted children, and sometimes actual ambivalence or hostility, creates significant problems (Webb & Kleine, 1993). Some common problem patterns are:
- School Culture and Norms: Gifted children, by definition, are "unusual" when compared with same-age children--at least in cognitive abilities--and require different educational experiences (Kleine & Webb, 1992). Schools, however, generally group children by age. The child often has a dilemma--conform to the expectations for the average child or be seen as nonconformist.
- Expectations by Others: Gifted children--particularly the more creative--do not conform. Nonconformists violate or challenge traditions, rituals, roles, or expectations. Such behaviors often prompt discomfort in others. The gifted child, sensitive to others' discomfort, may then try to hide abilities.
- Peer Relations: Who is a peer for a gifted child? Gifted children need several peer groups because their interests are so varied. Their advanced levels of ability may steer them toward older children. They may choose peers by reading books (Halsted, 1994). Such children are often thought of as "loners." The conflict between fitting in and being an individual may be quite stressful.
- Depression: Depression is usually being angry at oneself or at a situation over which one has little or no control. In some families, continual evaluation and criticism of performance--one's own and others--is a tradition. Any natural tendency to self-evaluate likely will be inflated. Depression and academic underachievement may be increased.