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Social-Emotional Needs of Gifted Children

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Affect, and the way we display it through our emotions, shape our behavior and how we interact with the world.

Maybe you've seen the gleam in your chld's eyes when he discovered a new book at the library on a topic he's never read before. But, instantly, he knows he's got to read it. And you scratch your head and say, "String theory? Really?" Yet, before you know it, you've got a budding physicist on your hands.

Or, you've experienced the strong-willed child who refuses to do her writing assignments. She hates writing. It hurts her hand. It takes too long. The letters don't like right. You know she has a natural talent for telling stories, if only she wouldn't fight you on picking up the pencil. But, no, she's committed to not writing. Don't you know? Writing is stupid. Both of these scenarios offer examples of how affective development - the personal, social, and emotional pieces of one's life - contributes to a gifted child's desire, ability, and willingness to learn.

In some cases, a child has an inexplicable like (or dislike, for that matter) for a subject matter. You really can't explain where it comes from. But, poof, something caught their eye and now they can't get enough of it. We call that pre-cognitive affect.

With post-cognitive affect, an individual develops an affinity (or an aversion) for something based upon a set of personal experiences. You might even be able to trace it back to a single event that elicited such a strong emotional response. Even if you don't know where the idea came from, reasoning often has little effect on changing the attitude.

We see examples of this throughout many areas of life. You love beef tongue the first time you try it at a restaurant but you don't even want to see liver in any form on a plate near you. Or, the sound of country music makes your skin crawl, but the first time you hear a Japanese koto played you're mesmerized by the sound.

Discussions about affect usually include topics such as:

  • Self-image
  • Emotional adjustment
  • Perfectionism
  • Sensitivity
  • Motivation
  • Coping skills
  • Peer relationships

According to Joyce vanTassel-Baska, a noted curriculum developer at William and Mary College, ignoring the affective needs of a gifted child can lead to anxiety, depression, alienation, and social ineptness.

Take the issue of perfectionism, for example - a classic gifted characteristic.

For some students, perfectionism can result in positive motivation to excel, to keep trying, to be the best in their field. You may see some astonishing academic achievements, but what about other areas in the child's life? Does their perfectionism cause them to be cut-throat with anyone they perceive as challenging their top-spot? Do they set unrealistic goals in their personal relationships that alienates them from peers, friends, and family members?

For others, perfectionism can cripple a person. Fear of failure inhibits them from trying things and can lead to underachievement. The underachievement can lead to false self-affirmations about worth. The resulting poor self-esteem has the potential to dovetail into depression.

Understanding the intersection of socio-emotional factors with academic ability and achievement gives you greater insight for how you can best support your gifted learners.

Read More About Affective Development and Gifted Students


March 30, 2020


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