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. 

The Voice

I recently assigned a poetry project in my Advanced Language Arts class. Students had to find ten poems that had some significance to them either literal or figurative. I of course pre taught figurative language, stanzas, rhyme scheme, and how to interpret a poem. Then I let them have at the books of poems I grabbed from the library and poems they found online.  

The biggest part of this assignment was they had to reflect on why they chose a poem identifying it’s meaning to them and supporting that with techniques the author used to help with the meaning of the poem. This was like pulling teeth for some students because most students are not taught how to read and interpret poetry. They are simply given the poem and told how to identify parts of the poem or the figurative language. 

I personally love poetry and I write my own poems for fun. It’s an emotional outlet for me when I feel the need to scream, cry, yell, or just try to understand my own complex feelings. So when I teach this unit, I try to show students that poems are not just a jumble of words or weird paragraphs. I slow down in my teaching and really help them look at the poem on a deeper level. Students are in such a hurry to move onto the next thing and just have a straight answer in their school work, but I teach them how they can each have a different reaction to a poem. This drives some students insane, but my job is to teach them as humans we all have a different reaction to the things we read and we all bring something different to the table. 

Fast forward to grading these projects and I started to notice this poem by Shel Silverstein over and over again: 

Now just as a reminder I teach middle school students, so Silverstein’s poems are some of the more popular because they are easy to read, funny, and most kids can relate to what he is writing about. However, when I read their reflections for this poem I was impressed and amazed at what some of them had written: 

“I can relate to this poem because I feel like I  let other people’s words create the decisions I make. I feel like this is a bad trait to have but sometimes I can’t help it. This poem changed my perspective on how I look at the things I think compared to what other people think I should do. I have always been the insecure girl that lets people’s words get to her but I have come to realize that it won’t all be that bad if I just do what I think. In conclusion I think this is a very important poem because it could really teach people that they don’t need anyone else’s opinions on you.”

“No one besides you can make decisions for yourself.Only you can make your decisions because you know what’s best for you. This poem is about a voice telling you to do one thing, but you know deep down that you need to follow your heart and your mind. I have had this happen where someone is doing something that I don’t want to do, but  I feel like in order to fit in I should do it. I always follow my heart and know I shouldn’t do it though. In conclusion, I need to make decisions for myself and not listen to others’ opinions.”

“Sometimes the voice inside you is more powerful than your brain that tells you what’s wrong and right, or your parents advise. This poem is about how you sometimes have to stop listening to everyone else and start making decisions for yourself. I like the end rhyme and the imagery. I relate to this poem because sometimes I have to stop listening to everybody else and listen to what I am thinking. This poem makes me feel good inside because it is telling you a very important lesson. You have to consider what you are saying, not just take the advice of what everyone else is saying.” 

And this one is from a kid who I know has some of their own demons they are working on, but is starting to succumb to them: (edited)

 “I picked this poem because the message of it is about your conscience and I feel I have a very strong conscience. This poem is about your conscience and to listen to it…I also liked how the author used quotation marks to make it seem like the person is aiming towards your conscience speaking…” 

So what is my point in sharing this with you? Our kids are crying out for help to listen to this voice and not be influenced by others or “the cool” thing to do type of people. They are wanting to find a way to listen to their own subconscious when it comes to decision making. Yet, I know for a fact the last student lets the pressures of bad influences get inside their head and causes them to make poor decisions. That students would rather have some sort of title as a “badass” than a “smart kid.” These students want and desire a way to make their own positive decisions for themselves, but they struggle because of all the noise happening outside their subconscious- sports, school, peers, social media, constant connection to people… 

How do we help our kids disconnect from the world outside of them and listen to what is going in their head? How can we as parents and teachers help them understand the weight of their decisions? It starts with teaching them executive functioning skills. We often don’t take the time to teach our students how to make decisions or slow down long enough to make a proper choice. As adults, we just make these decisions and we make a million decisions throughout our day. Our students don’t know how to do this because we haven’t explicitly taught them how to do this. We can start out with small decisions they need to make with us and then start to add in bigger decisions to help them really understand how to make a conscious decision regarding an activity, vacation, or consequence. 

I am not suggesting you sit down with your student and say, “Today we are going to make a decision. Step one…” I am suggesting you work through the problem of making a tough choice with them, allow them to use you as a soundboard and create an open line of communication. This will allow them to feel like they can come to you and open up about issues they are having with peers or at school, and it will allow them to practice make decisions in a safe place so if and when they are in a spot where they need to make a quick decision among peers they can be confident in doing that. 

Really what it comes down to is being present with our kids in moments when they are struggling. Let them know you are a safe place to fall when it comes to making decisions and looking at the influences in their world. 

Supporting you 2e student at home

Does the thought of sitting down with your 2e student to do homework give you a pit in your stomach? It’s totally normal to feel that way because your student is unique in two very different ways and it can be difficult to know where to start and how to support your child’s unique learning needs.

Just like every child, we want to make sure are able to help them feel successful in their school work at home while still remaining in a loving, supportive parent role. It’s a daunting task to feel like you are parenting well and helping your child grow into their potential you know they have. Today I want to share a few tips on how to help your twice exceptional student at home with their school work and helping them develop their strengths as a twice exceptional student.

  • Believe in your child
    • 2e students have and will make some of the most important contributions to our world. Take a look at this list of 2e adults that have made an impact on the world.
    • Be sure to provide supports that play to their strengths. This allows them to see themselves as successful.
      • Allow them to be creative
      • Allow them to be hands on with learning
      • Allow them to try to tie in their interests within the subject
  • Understand where your child excels and where they struggle.
    • Have the gifted and talented specialist or the special education teacher go over test scores with you in detail so you can gain a better understanding of how your 2e child’s brain is working. Ask to see*:
      • Cognitive Test Scores
      • Intellectual Scores
      • Psychological Scores

These scores and understanding what they mean will help you find ways at home to help your child with their work at home.

*It is your right to see these scores and they should be included in your child’s IEP/504 evaluations. Schools do not do all of this type of testing, so there is a possibility you may need to seek out private testing.

  • Set up a learning space and time school work.
  • Knowing your child’s strengths and weaknesses will help you plan this space and ideal time for working on school work.
    • Some ideas to consider using with your 2e child:
      • Set expectations for homework time and clear consequences
        • Ex: We are going to work on homework for 20 minutes and then we can take a break. If you are working really hard for those 20 minutes we can ______. (Play to their interests and what they enjoy doing during breaks)
      • Allow them to use their preferred method of learning if possible
      • Give small to-do lists
      • Allow breaks
      • Have music available to help keep them focused
      • Divide larger assignments or projects into smaller chunks
      • Check in on their progress after 5-10 minutes
        • Provide positive reinforcement and feedback during these check-ins
      • Use a timer for task completio
  • Create outside learning opportunities
    • Mentorships in their area of interests
    • Community colleges and Universities often offer summer camps that might play into your 2e child’s interest and strengths.
    • Make sure outside challenges are set up to meet your 2e child at their level- we don’t want them to fail or feel like they won’t be successful
  • Work with their teachers to help with supports and accommodations
    • Ask the teachers what is working well in class for your 2e child, and try to use those things at home. Consistency will help your 2e child feel like they are capable of learning anywhere if they can use the same supports at home and at school.
    • You may even have some strategies that work well at home you can suggest to the teacher. Do not ever be afraid to help your 2e child’s teacher out with ideas to help your child feel successful- most teacher’s appreciate know what works well at home so they can try it in the classroom

This is just to get you started. I would also encourage you to join other parenting groups of gifted and 2e parents in order to gain more insight into what they have done with their child at home to help them feel supported and successful at home while working on school work.  

Resources for 2e:

http://www.2enewsletter.com/

https://www.world-gifted.org/WCGTC17-Presentations/3-4-5-Handout.pdf

https://www.davidsongifted.org/

About Me

My name is Lindsay Bohlinger and I am a Gifted and Talented Specialist in Colorado, a PhD Student and an advocate for providing opportunities to empower parents to know what their student needs in the classroom and how to advocate for those needs.

I am also a wife and mom. I am an avid hiker and reader. I am always trying to learn more about myself and gifted education. I have worked in the public school setting for five years and in a charter school for one year. I have a BA in English Education for Secondary Education (2011), a MA in Special Education with an emphasis in Gifted Education (2013), and my PhD will be in Special Education with an emphasis in Gifted and Talented Administration.

In my time as a gifted and talented specialist, I have started to see how much work our gifted programs need across the state of Colorado and the nation. Every state and district is different in their requirements for gifted education and the requirements for programming, but there is one common theme I see in getting things accomplished with gifted and talented programming changing in a postitive directions. That is helping empower parents to know they have the ability to ask for things for their gifted child. I have also seen the lack of understanding from administration and teachers across grade levels about what gifted education is and how to work with gifted students in their classrooms.

This is where the idea for “Elevated Giftedness” came to me. I want to provide you with the tools and resources to feel empowered when working with gifted children. I want to encourage parents and teachers to fill up their tool boxes in order to feel confident in their own knowledge of asking for support with their gifted students needs. I want parents to know they have the right ask questions and give input on their child’s learning plan. I want teachers to feel confident in working with gifted students in their mixed level classrooms. I want administration to feel like they have access to a knowledgable person who simply wants what is best for these unique students.

I want to empower you.

Thank you for checking out my site and I encourage you to like and subsribe to keep up with the latest happenings in the gifted world!

L. Bohlinger