Social and emotional development

One of the factors that can adversely affect the performance of the gifted child is the socio-emotional development. Social development is the way a child learns to relate to others and the way these others approach the child. Questions like “What can I expect from the other?” and “Who am I in relation to my classmates?” play an important role. The emotional development of the child is based on the question “Who am I?” and “Where am I?” The answers to these questions can be found by looking to themselves in relation to the environment. Emotional development means that the child is mentally able to develop feelings that are appropriate in the circumstances and for his age. In general it can be said that the social and emotional development is optimal if the child is in an environment with peers that are on the same level of development.

Many talented children have a normal social and emotional development. Where reference is made to their abilities and when training has been adapted, they do not experience more social and emotional problems than ordinary talented children.

Extremely talented children have an increased risk of developing social and emotional problems. They have few opportunities for reflection on developing peers and can therefore develop a sense that they are different. This makes it difficult to develop a realistic and positive self-image. Because these children with high intelligence often talk about other subjects than their classmates, they risk being ostracized and bullied. Because of their (often) perfectionistic attitude they have a rather high likelihood of experiencing a feeling of failure. These children may also have a strong sense of justice, and are sensitive for the suffering of others and mark-up of classmates. In behavior, social-emotional problems are manifest in seeking contact with older children or avoiding contact with other children. In addition, the child can either be rebellious or behave withdrawn.

There are many talented children whose social and emotional development is not keeping pace with the cognitive development. Often these children are regarded as having a social-emotional retardation. A more positive approach where it is determined that the child has a cognitive advantage and functioned as normal for his age is a better approach.

How can a teacher deal with the social and emotional development of talented children?

Talented children with cognitive advantage need extra attention. Attention should be paid to the classroom environment and attitudes towards talented children. To prevent bullying and isolation, it is important that, for example through a class discussion attention is paid to these problems and to feelings of the children. To teach children the values of respect for others and tolerance affects the manner classmates meet gifted children. The teacher plays an important role. Exemplary behavior where equality for all children is emphasized, can help reduce bullying and acceptance of the talented children in the classroom. Sometimes it helps when the teacher has an individual interview with the talented child where emotions, expectations and frustrations are discussed.

It is important that the talented children are in touch with peers on the same level of development and give them the opportunity to do an activity together (e.g. philosophical conversations, games, projects). This contributes to the social and emotional development of the child. This contact with other talented students may provide greater motivation for the children to perform well and contribute to a positive development of their self-image. It is important to bring these children in contact with other talented children outside school. The interpretation of leisure (e.g. library visits, membership of drawing or music clubs) can contribute to this.

It is important that you as a teacher recognize the talent of the children and support and encourage them to perform well. All too often the motivation and enthusiasm of the child is suppressed. This can lead to demotivation, underachievement and boredom. A rich learning environment should be offered, with appropriate and challenging materials, appropriate guidance and encouragement. If too little attention is paid then chances are high that the child can develop anxiety, low self-esteem and later complete aversion to (high) school.

All of these initiatives require close cooperation between teachers and parents. The home situation can also exert a major influence on the social and emotional development of children. It is important that the teacher (maybe the remedial teacher) and parents discuss the approach and keep each other informed of any problems/successes.

It is important that teachers/remedial teachers and parents take each other seriously and remain open to each other. If parents or school are merely convinced of their own rightness it is likely that the communication is going to degenerate into a struggle to achieve the same. A struggle that does not benefit the child and in most cases will end up in that the parents and child are forced to look for another school.

Schools can continue to take the parents and their feelings about their child seriously and make a significant contribution to keep the communication open because of proper guidance and realization of a safe and educational place for the child within the school.

Parents, on their part, need to understand that teachers and schools must comply with rules and are controlled by politics. Various “safety nets” such as special education and outpatient counseling for children who fall out the bottom side have been established in the past. Assistance and financial support for children who drop out or threaten to fall out of the ‘top’ is still not or at best sporadically available.