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Nurturing Social-Emotional Development of Gifted
The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education
ERIC EC Digest #E527
Author: James T. Webb
What Are the Social-Emotional Needs of Gifted Children?
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
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.
POSSIBLE PROBLEMS THAT MAY BE ASSOCIATED WITH
CHARACTERISTIC STRENGTHS OF GIFTED CHILDREN
Strengths Possible Problems
Acquires/retains Impatient with others;
information quickly dislikes basic routine.
Inquisitive; Asks embarrassing questions;
searches for significance. excessive in interests.
Intrinsic motivation. Strong-willed; resists direction.
Enjoys problem-solving; Resists routine practice;
able to conceptualize, questions teaching procedures.
Seeks cause-effect Dislikes unclear/illogical areas
relations. (e.g., traditions or feelings).
Emphasizes truth, equity, Worries about
and fair play. humanitarian concerns.
Seeks to organize things Constructs complicated rules;
and people. often seen as bossy.
Large facile vocabulary; May use words to manipulate;
advanced, broad information. bored with school and age-peers.
High expectations of self Intolerant, perfectionistic;
and others. may become depressed.
Creative/inventive; likes May be seen as
new ways of doing things. disruptive and out of step.
Intense concentration; Neglects duties or people
long attention span and during periods of focus;
persistence in resists interruption;
areas of interest. stubbornness.
Sensitivity, empathy; desire Sensitivity to criticism
to be accepted by others. or peer rejection.
High energy, alertness, Frustration with inactivity;
eagerness. may be seen as hyperactive.
Independent; prefers May reject parent or peer
individualized work; reliant input; nonconformity.
Diverse interests and May appear disorganized or
abilities; versatility scattered; frustrated over
lack of time.
Strong sense of humor. Peers may misunderstand humor;
may become "class clown"for
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
- 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;
- 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
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
- 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
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:
- 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
- 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 &
Adderholt-Elliott, M. (1989). Perfectionism: What's so bad about being good?
Minneapolis: Free Spirit.
Clark, B. (1992). Growing up gifted. New York: Merrill.
Cox, J., Daniel,
N., & Boston, B.O. (1985). Educating able learners: Programs and promising
practices. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
Halsted, J.W. (1994).
Some of my best friends are books: Guiding gifted readers. Dayton, OH:
Ohio Psychology Press.
Kerr, B. (1991). A handbook for counseling the gifted and talented.
VA: American Association for Counseling and Development.
Kerr, B.A. (1985). Smart girls, gifted women. Dayton, OH: Ohio Psychology
Kleine, P.A., & Webb, J.T. (1992). Community links as resources. In Challenges
in gifted education: Developing potential and investing in knowledge for the 21st
century (pp. 63-72). Columbus, OH: Ohio Department of Education.
P.M., & Haden, T. (1984). The intellectual and psychosocial nature of extreme
giftedness. Roeper Review,, 131-133.
Seagoe, M. (1974). Some learning characteristics of gifted children. In R. Martinson,
The identification of the gifted and talented. Ventura, CA: Office of the
Ventura County Superintendent of Schools.
Webb, J.T., & DeVries, A.R. (1993). Training manual for facilitators of SENG
model guided discussion groups for parents of talented children. Dayton: Ohio
Webb, J.T., & Kleine, P.A. (1993). Assessing gifted and talented children. In J.
Culbertson and D. Willis (Eds.), Testing young children (pp. 383-407).
Austin, TX: PRO-ED.
Whitmore, J.R. (1980). Giftedness, conflict and underachievement. Boston:
Allyn & Bacon.
Whitmore, J.R., & Maker, C.J. (1985). Intellectual giftedness in disabled
persons. Rockville, MD: Aspen.
James T. Webb, Ph.D., is a former director the SENG (Supporting Emotional
Needs of Gifted) program which provides diagnostic and counseling services for gifted
children and their families and trains doctoral psychologists. Many of the ideas in this
digest are derived from Webb, J.T., Meckstroth, E.A., and Tolan, S.S. (1982).
Guiding the gifted child. Dayton: Ohio Psychology Press.
ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely
reproduced and disseminated, but please acknowledge your source. This publication
was prepared with funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational
Research and Improvement, under Contract No. RR93002005. The opinions expressed
in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the
Department of Education.
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