Social-emotional needs of gifted, why their needs are different.

Gifted children have so many needs when it comes to their academics. 

  • Are they being challenged in the right way? 
  • Are they allowed to think creatively? 
  • Do teachers allow gifted students to suggest an alternative assignment? 
  • How do we know if they are at the correct level of challenge that they need? 

The list can go on and on. 

While we may worry about the academics of our gifted students, they have very different needs when it comes to their social emotional needs. Many parents that I have had contact with are always worried about their students social life, emotional needs, and ability to communicate their needs to others. 

These are very valid concerns to have when you have a gifted child. Often, gifted students have a hard time communicating with peers their same age because they can’t hold a conversation about football or tv shows since they are busy working on coding a new game or collecting bugs to analyze. Sometimes gifted children look down on their peers because they can’t hold an intellectual conversation with kids their own ages, so they gravitate to adults and their conversations. 

The problem with this is while they might be able to partake in the discussion, it doesn’t mean they can cope with the emotions that conversation may bring up for them later. As adults, we have probably been talking about COVID-19 a lot in front of our children without really understanding how this might impact them emotionally. (Or we have the news on in the morning and just let it play while they eat breakfast.) Our kids, gifted or not, are absorbing this information, but they don’t know how to process it emotionally. My five year old is constantly asking about the virus and why I have to wear a mask in the store. She sees it and knows something isn’t right, but cannot understand emotionally why something is wrong. We are now dealing with being afraid of the dark and watching the Storybots episode on viruses on repeat to assure her that our bodies know how to keep us safe and healthy. So while she understands the conversations and asks questions, she still has the emotional capacity of a five year old. 

Even as an educator, I forget sometimes that gifted kids are still just kids. I work on processing big things with my gifted students when I can tell they are having a hard time with something going on in our world or our school. I allow them to ask me questions and I do my best to answer them. I do my best to create a safe place for them to express their emotions and interact with their peers on that level. 

My advice for parents is this: Set up playdates with kids their own age and encourage conversation through a game or toys. This allows them to be a kid still and learn that they can interact with kids their own ages. I would also encourage you to have conversations with them about how they should respond in different situations through demonstrating with dolls (or if you have an older gifted kid, just a scenario conversation.) Talk through different scenarios you have witnessed or teachers say they have witnessed with your student and how they interact with peers. For example: “Let’s pretend we are at the park. Your friend is there and wants to ride their bike, but you just want to sit on the swings longer and talk about bugs. Your friend starts to get mad and walks away. What should you do to be a good friend?” Now your kid may be fine with a friend’s reaction like that, but we want to encourage them to think about what would be a socially acceptable response. We would help guide them to answer something like, “I would go and see if my friend was ok and take time to ride my bike with them since we did what I wanted for a while.” Oftentimes we have to slow it down for the kids so they can see where the mistake was made and how to correct it. 

When it comes to their emotional needs, you know your student best. If your gifted child is acting out or acting out of the ordinary, there may be an underlying emotional need that needs to be addressed. Take time out of your day at night before tucking them in to ask them how they are feeling about their day, an event, or something they may have heard that is impacting them. While our gifted children might be able to solve the most complex equations, they often can’t solve what their emotions are trying to tell them. They still need us to help them process those things even if those emotions might seem silly to us, they are very real to our kids. 

The biggest thing you can do for your gifted student or child is be present with them when they are having a hard time connecting with age appropriate peers or dealing with big emotions. Find out the best way to have them share and let them share.  This can be through play, through research, going for walks, horseback riding… Kids seem to be more apt to open up if they can be busy with something else as they talk. If they need someone else they trust to share with, then they help them get in touch with that person. A licensed child psychologist that is familiar with the needs of gifted students can help and do wonders for a kid because it’s someone they trust and not mom and dad telling them what to do. Like I said, the biggest thing you can do is be present with your kids in those moments and encourage them to keep trying to socialize with their same age group and express their big emotions when they can. 

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