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Social – Emotional Adjustment and Peer Relations

February 10, 2012

…there are unique stresses and dynamic issues associated with a person’s giftedness.

What We Know

Classic image of “egghead” child is a myth.  Most gifted children are more likely to be healthy, attractive, active youngsters with above-average emotional stability, personalities, and social competence.

Continuing to expect excellence from these children without taking into account the emotional and social facets of their lives exacts a cost in the development of healthy self-concept and in family and peer relationships (Buescher,1987; Gross,2004).

Family and Self-Concept

 Family is the first place where gifted children build their understanding of who they are.

Families that function well:

  • accept their children
  • are not permissive
  • do not speak negatively about school
  • foster independence and exploration
  • hold realistic expectations for all family members

Parents need to feel strong in their ability to raise bright children.

The greatest needs that parents of gifted children report are the support of other parents of gifted children and the attention of education professionals in order to gain dependable information regarding raising gifted children.

 Peer Relations and Self-Concept

  • The child develops knowledge about themselves through comparison with others, particularly peers, and then makes assertions about their own personal identity.
  • For many gifted students, finding true peers is a daunting and disappointing task.
  • Gifted children tend to be introverted and enjoy time alone, but at the same time long for peer contacts.
  • It is suggested that advanced classes help these students find and get to know others who share their need for both friendship and solitude.
  • Gifted children who take part in special programs for their interests (i.e. chess club, sports, drama) are also observed to have a higher self-concept and the discovery of true peers.
  • Problems that gifted children experience often come from their uneven development.  These children need to see that relationships with different peers groups for different activities can be healthy.
  • Other problems stem from finding age-mates with which they have common interests.  Gifted children might feel frustration with average peers who do not share their vocabulary, cannot read, do not understand their drive to succeed, etc.
  • Gender differences: Gifted girls appear to be better adjusted than gifted boys or average girls and boys, although there is evidence that gifted girls have less confidence in their academic abilities and appear to be particularly sensitive to the social impact of giftedness.
  • Exceptionally gifted children are aware they are quite different from others their age and have greater difficulties than those moderately gifted.

School and Self-Concept

  • There are persistent and significant relationships between self-concept and success in school.
  • It is common for the gifted child to relate his/her personal worth to school success and teacher’s perceptions.
  • The belief that perfection is attainable and indeed expected becomes the point at which self-esteem suffers when the child cannot be satisfied with lesser achievements.
  • While there may be a lower incidence of severe emotional problems among gifted children than the general population, there are particular and unique problems that they encounter due to their developing abilities.
  • The source of conflict gifted children face, especially at school, is “not something inherent in the traits of gifted children, but rather in the interplay between the individual and their surroundings” (p.165) Coleman and Cross (2005).
  • Kerr (1991) listed five common adjustment disorders associated with school that gifted students may experience.

◦                     Stress from loneliness, academic expectations place on them by others and those they place on themselves, and overcommitment to school activities and the stress of being asked to make decisions beyond their capacity or maturity to make;

◦                     depression that can come from many of the same situations as stress and from an existential struggle about the meaning of life and the depths of feelings for situations they cannot control (Hollingworth, 1926; Webb, Meckstroth, & Tolan, 1982);

◦                     perfectionism that is not positive push for excellence, but a compulsion to reach unrealistic goals;

◦                     unsatisfactory peer relationships; and

◦                     in rare cases, suicide.

  • In nearly all situations, counselors who are adept with and enjoy gifted children, can help guide the students in managing their differentness, finding friends, dealing with perfectionism, and setting goals.

Programming Considerations

  •  There are wide differences withing the population of gifted students; therefore it is a fallacy to think that one kind of program will meet the needs of all gifted children.  Factors to consider include:

◦                     the degree of giftedness;

◦                     the racial, cultural, and socioeconomic differences, which may alter the definition of talent;

◦                     the gender of the student;

◦                     the talent area of the child;

◦                     the emotional factors of the student’s home life;

◦                     other variables, such as learning disabilities, emotional illness, or physical challenges.

  • All school personnel must team with families and children themselves to create an environment that is supportive and conducive to building healthy self-concepts.
  • More acute-care counseling may be needed to address more serious issues, and a mental health professional who has had training to understand and treat gifted children is needed.
  • The child’s social-emotional health depends on the supports provided for healthy interactions of the child and environment.

What We Can Do

           At Home

  • Nurture the child’s talent.

           In the Classroom

  • Help the child understand their giftedness and set reasonable goals based on ability, interests, and personality.

          At School

  • Understand that much of the growth in healthy-self concept is tied in with appropriate challenge of a curriculum that is a good fit in pace, depth, and concept, and with a group of mental peers with whom the child can work.
  • Build a positive partnership between parents and educators for the mutual sharing of information  from the varying perspectives of home and school.
  • Help parents and teachers model for and instruct children on basic social skills that can ease their way in the school and neighborhood.
  • Assist parents and teachers in ways to model and instruct children to manage stress, and provide resources if they need more help.
  • Provide individual, group, and family counseling on a preventative basis, as well as counseling for crises.

Gifted children sometimes talk and have interests like adults. It can be easy to forget that they are children who have the right to be instructed in the ways of living in our society and that they need time to experience life.

 “As is the case for any minority, the social acceptance of the gifted depends in party on the readiness in society to accept, even appreciate, their unique attributes” Schneider (1987).

(Taken from: Best Practices in Gifted Education; Chapter 2: Social-Emotional Adjustment and Peer Relations)

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