ERIC Identifier: ED372554
Publication Date: 1994-06-00
Author: Webb, James T.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Disabilities and Gifted Education Reston VA.
Nurturing Social Emotional Development of Gifted Children. ERIC
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 (Webb & Kleine, 1993). Gifted children may face the same potentially limiting problems, such as family poverty, substance abuse, or alcoholism. Some needs and problems, however, appear more often among gifted children.
TYPES OF PROBLEMS
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 (Clark, 1992; Seagoe, 1974).
Some particularly common characteristics are shown in the table.
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).
Multipotentiality. 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;
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
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.
Sometimes educational misplacement causes the gifted youngster to feel caught
in a slow motion world. Depression may result because the child feels caught in
an unchangeable situation.
Family Relations. Families particularly influence the development of social
and emotional competence. When problems occur, it is not because parents
consciously decide to create difficulties for gifted children. It is because
parents lack information about gifted children, or lack support for appropriate
parenting, or are attempting to cope with their own unresolved problems (which
may stem from their experiences with being gifted).
Reach out to Parents. Parents are
particularly important in preventing social or emotional problems. Teaching, no
matter how excellent or supportive, can seldom counteract inappropriate
parenting. Supportive family environments, on the other hand, can counteract
unhappy school experiences. Parents need information if they are to nurture well
and to be wise advocates for their children.
Focus on Parents of Young Children. Problems are best prevented by involving
parents when children are young. Parents particularly must understand
characteristics that may make gifted children seem different or difficult.
Educate and Involve Health-Care and Other Professionals. Concentrated efforts
should be made to involve such professionals in state and local meetings and in
continuing education programs concerning gifted children. Pediatricians,
psychologists, and other caregivers such as day-care providers typically have
received little training about gifted children, and therefore can provide little
assistance to parents (Webb & Kleine, 1993).
Use Educational Flexibility. Gifted children require different and more
flexible educational experiences. When the children come from multicultural or
low-income families, educational flexibility and reaching out may be
particularly necessary. Seven flexibly paced educational options, relatively
easy to implement in most school settings (Cox, Daniel & Boston, 1985) are:
early entrance; grade skipping; advanced level courses; compacted courses;
continuous progress in the regular classroom; concurrent enrollment in advanced
classes; and credit by examination. These options are based on competence and
demonstrated ability, rather than on arbitrary age groupings.
Establish Parent Discussion Groups. Parents of gifted children typically have
few opportunities to talk with other parents of gifted children. Discussion
groups provide opportunities to "swap parenting recipes" and child-rearing
experiences. Such experiences provide perspective as well as specific
information (Webb & DeVries, 1993).
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