I have been honored to be guest feature for the Summer Institute for the Gifted October newsletter. Read my post here.
Emotional Needs of the Gifted
As Annemarie Roeper knew, the greater cognitive awareness of the gifted often translates into more sensitized emotions.
My many years working with gifted and talented students have proven the importance of providing the social and emotional scaffolding that will affirm their intense, often deeply-experienced, difficult to handle, emotions. The gifted sometimes see the world in epic terms of black and white, right and wrong, good and evil, and their sense of justice offers little room for compromise. This intense emotion can appear at a very age, even as young as three or four. They may accept the weight of the and feel that they have been mandated to make the world right.
Along with their fast-paced mastery of materials and skills come hyper-sensitized and early development of:
They see life as a mission. The child who gathers earthworms from the street after a storm to prevent death by auto whispers to an anguished mother, “Do you think I want to do this?” There is a sense of obligation to bear the weight of the world on their thin, little shoulders.
There are few peers and teachers who understand the anguish of the gifted child who must walk a tightrope between being accepted and doing what he or she feels is right.
The gifted child is the adolescent who goes door to door giving out citronella candles to prevent neighbors from using cruel bug-zappers. The child who is taunted mercilessly during recess by children who think killing moths is funny, and that the gifted child’s pleas to stop are just hilarious.
It is the third grader whose classroom teacher thinks it’s cool to hold the child’s homework behind his back in view of the rest of the class while the child searches anxiously in his cluttered, messy desk.
It is that same third grader who whispers to his parents that he doesn’t know why he is alive and that he would do anything to have a friend. The parent, who may also be gifted, watches helplessly, or intercedes and sometimes exacerbates the situation by trying to fight the child’s battles.
The best thing a teacher of the gifted can do is to provide a safe haven where there are others who understand the deep well of feelings. It is to provide a place where the anxieties and outrage can be shared and understood. It is a place where children can unabashedly excel and explore.
The needs and desires of the gifted must be recognized, trained, and confirmed in order avoid feelings of solitude, abnormality, alienation, withdrawal, drug abuse, and possible suicide.
Gifted children are often driven to learn. The drive is emotional. They often feel too tightly structured and controlled in heterogeneous classes that move at a pace suitable for less able minds. When teachers must ensure that all students pass standardized tests, the needs of the gifted may go by the wayside. Their right to learn and progress at their own pace is violated, even though academic mastery spells safety. That is why cognitive growth is a must for the gifted. It’s their safety zone: It’s where they feel protected and affirmed. This is why a program like SIG, which offers the opportunity to study at one’s own pace to individualized objectives with other like minds can change lives. These students need flexible grouping that acknowledges their abilities and gives wings to their intelligence and creativity. To ignore this is a tragedy and a waste of the incredible potential the world needs.
The Summer Institute for the Gifted is a national program offering summer and online opportunities for gifted students at campuses across the United States. I am the director for their day program in Chatham, New Jersey. Their website provides information about both day and residential summer programs along with online courses.