Photo by Leonid Mamchenkov
In the article, “Personality development: The pursuit of excellence“, Linda Kreger Silverman writes:
In another study of 40 gifted children brought for testing… 39 of 40 parental reports cited evidence of emotional over-excitability. The most frequently mentioned characteristic was “sensitivity.”
Three (Sadly True) Personal Stories
I remember the day my family threw out the cardboard packaging of my action figures. Yes, the packaging. I cried in bed that night. I imagined my precious cardboard burning up at the dump. I was probably five.
As a six year old, I wept at the end of The Return of Godzilla because Godzilla fell for the humans’ tricks and was killed. This was the same beast who spent the movie trampling Tokyo’s citizens.
In Kindergarten, my mom made an amazing Halloween costume of Mr. M, my favorite of The Letter People. It was a huge hit and the attention I received overwhelmed me. Through tears, I begged my mom (unsuccessfully) to go home. I still remember clutching a Mr. M doll in one hand and my teacher’s hand in the other during our Halloween parade.
Sensitive and the Gifted
I look back and laugh at my overly-sensitive childhood stories, but if you teach gifted students, they’re probably just as sensitive as I was. Worse, they’re each sensitive in a different way, as described by LK Silverman:
Sensitivity takes many forms: their feelings are easily hurt; they are compassionate toward others, protective, and easily moved to tears; they feel others’ feelings, respond strongly to criticism, and tend to react strongly to light, noise, textures, air pollution, and certain foods. From The Moral Sensitivity of Gifted Children and the Evolution of Society by LK Silverman
In class, a child suddenly explodes at another for making a clicking pencil sound, a student shuts down for the day after making an error while presenting, a distant natural disaster effects children’s moods.
As a teacher, this layer of complex sensitivity builds on your already difficult job of tracking academic progress. Now, to be effective, you must also navigate this emotional minefield. And the younger your students are, the more help they’ll need dealing in coping with their enhanced sensitivity.
10 Minute Talks
Build ten minutes into your week to discuss sensitivity and emotional issues.
It’s a sensitive topic, so begin with yourself. Set a welcoming stage and reveal that you’re an emotional creature, just like them. Kids can join you in expressing the same problems, rather than stepping out alone and feeling open for ridicule.
For your first round, begin with something non-threatening like sleep issues.
“I couldn’t fall asleep last night! I lay there for hours of thinking about every little thing. Does anyone else have trouble falling asleep at night because you just can’t stop thinking.”
Most of my students immediately raise their hands. We laugh at our common problem. Ask for “relaxation strategies” that students use. Discuss the importance of sleep and how it affects the brain. Check in next week and see how they’re doing.
Then slowly increase the risk factor as kids get comfortable with the topic.
Have any ideas for quick conversation topics to help kids deal with sensitivity? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ianabyrd!
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