Although we often define gifted students by their intelligence, their unique social and emotional needs are often a surprising challenge. As a gifted kid myself, I knew nothing about these common issues nor did my parents. I wonder if the teachers in my gifted program even knew? By having a better understanding of gifted students’ needs, we can better serve as their teachers and mentors.
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Here are a few articles addressing some specific social-emotional needs of gifted learners.
Table Of Contents
- Challenges Come Way Too Late
- Advanced Here, But Not There
- Surprisingly Intense
- When They Don’t Fit The Stereotypes
- Hard To Find Friends
Fix Instruction, Solve Many Problems
First, the easiest win is to make sure students’ brains are being fed appropriately. High-quality, actually-interesting instruction will go a long way to making a kid happy at school. I shouldn’t have gotten too bogged down with social-emotional concerns while I was still asking low-level questions, accidentally crushing students’ curiosity, or handing out ✨bonus worksheets✨ when someone “finished fast”.
As a teacher, getting better at teaching was my biggest win. Good instruction helps meet many social-emotional needs.
Onto some specific, possibly surprising, needs:
Highly-praised students can suffer from Impostor Syndrome, doubting that they’re as great as other people think. When people told me how smart I was or how great of a student I was, it added a very weird pressure. I felt like I was a fraud and didn’t deserve the praise I had received. I started to think that people expected me to be perfect and not have to work at it. Eventually, my own self-doubt led to a bit of a breakdown. Turns out that this is a common experience!
Everything’s easy for gifted kids… until it isn’t! They’ve been conditioned (often by our own well-intentioned praise) to associate “smart” and “easy.” So guess what happens when things get… “not easy”? Suddenly we have kids thinking “wait, maybe I’m not smart!” And, so often, this doesn’t happen until college, when so many supports are suddenly gone… yet students need help for the first time.
Although their intelligence is (by definition) advanced beyond their age, other traits may be slower to develop, matching grade-level peers or even lagging behind expectations. The fancy term for this is asynchrony or, simply, developing out of sync. I like to use super-heroes as a metaphor: sure, the Flash is fast, but that doesn’t mean he’s equally strong. Or smart. Or able to read minds. Just because one area is advanced, doesn’t mean other areas will be.
As part of their intense intelligence, gifted students often exhibit other intensities or overexcitabilities, including intense emotions, increased sensitivity to their five senses, lots of physical energy, and an intense imagination. These intensities don’t fit the stereotype of a “smart kid,” so students (and their parents) can start to worry that something’s up. It’s not!
Our stereotype of the gifted child is often wildly inaccurate, leading to misidentification or overlooking gifted kids who don’t fit out preconceptions. My favorite example is Calvin, from Calvin and Hobbes, who is one example of a kid who probably would have benefited from a gifted program.
Often, I hear parents say they kept their kid out of a gifted program out of a fear of some kind of social isolation. Friends. This is like denying someone water in the desert because you’re afraid they’ll get wet. Gifted kids need to be with people who are their intellectual peers. People who they can have a darn conversation with! Here’s me talking about how my own love of dinosaurs made it hard to find friends my own age (even though everyone else loved dinosaurs too).