Developing the Social-Emotional Needs of Gifted Learners at Home and School

Developing the Social-Emotional Needs of Gifted Learners at Home and School

Elissa F. Brown, Ph.D.

Hunter College-CUNY New York, NY


In the absence of sufficient emphasis on the social and emotional development of gifted learners, students cannot fully grow cognitively. It might seem that gifted students should have an easy time with social and emotional development, yet that is not always the case. Teachers and parents need to understand that while, for the most part, gifted students are as well-adjusted emotionally as their peers, they are prone to some potential social and emotional stressors such as perfectionism, self-criticalness, or peer relationships, to name a few (Cross, 2005). Silverman (2000) noted that “Giftedness has an emotional as well as a cognitive substructure: cognitive complexity gives rise to emotional depth, “(p. 3). When social and emotional problems do occur, they most frequently reflect the interaction of an ill-fitting environment. Concerns for stimulating, motivating and responding to the social emotional wellbeing of the gifted child appear to be paramount, yet these concerns are not typically addressed by actual interventions or programming. Perhaps it’s because of an emphasis on content standards; perhaps it is due to teachers and parents focused on academic outcomes; perhaps it’s due to a lack of understanding of the social-emotional needs or perhaps it’s due to not really knowing what they are and how to address them.

Strategies which promote a holistic development of gifted learners allow for balanced attention to cognitive and personal. Educational modifications are one of the most effective ways to prevent social and emotional difficulties. Gifted students need appropriate levels of academic challenge every day with other students of similar abilities, interests, and drive. Parents need ways to support their child’s development in the home. Special efforts are often needed to make parents feel comfortable in discussing the attributes of their child. Educators can help by developing a continuum of services from early childhood through high school to enable parents and students evaluate their assets and risk factors. Studies are needed to compare the effectiveness of a variety of supports and interventions. A national advocacy association, Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted ( is a good place to get started in understanding the needs and providing effective strategies. Additionally, the National Association for Gifted Children ( has avenues to assist educators and parents with nurturing and developing the social and emotional needs of gifted learners. The table below lists suggested personal and social developmental tasks for personal and social development tasks for K-12 gifted youth:

Elementary School (Ages 5-10) ·       Developing self-regulation abilities

·       Developing a strong work ethic

·       Building friendships and prosocial skills

·       Developing self-confidence

·       Developing resilience when encountering obstacles or failure

·       Managing long-term projects

·       Expressing and labeling feelings

·       Resisting the “just get by” attitude

·       Coping effectively with teasing and/or bullying

·       Middle School (Ages 11-14) ·       Negotiating affiliation and achievement conflicts

·       Building a positive identity around giftedness

·       Managing more complex and volatile emotions

·       Increasing time management skills

·       Building friendships with a wider variety of people

·       Exploring career fields

·       Beginning long-term educational and career planning

·       Resisting anti-achievement and/or anti-social peer pressures

·       Resisting cultural stereotypes

High School (Ages 14-18) ·       Differentiating from family while remaining close to family members

·       Making autonomous decisions

·       Completing college and career planning

·       Choosing challenging course work

·       Maintaining motivation in more demanding academic classes

·       Balancing extracurricular activities with school work

·       Developing a sexual identity

·       Making good relationship and sexual choices

·       Resisting cultural stereotypes

Moon, S. (2008). Personal and social development. In F. A. Karnes & K. R. Stephens (Eds.), Achieving Excellence: Educating the Gifted and Talented (pp 82-98). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education


Cross, T. (2005). The social and emotional lives of gifted kids: Understanding and guiding their development. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press

Moon, S. (2008). Personal and social development. In F. A. Karnes & K. R. Stephens (Eds.), Achieving Excellence: Educating the Gifted and Talented (pp 82-98). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education

Silverman, L. (2000). Counseling the gifted & talented. Denver, CO: Love Publishing




About the Author:


Dr. Elissa Brown is the Acting Admissions Director for the Hunter College Campus Schools, Director of the Hunter College Center for Gifted Studies and Education and Program Coordinator of Hunter’s Advanced Certificate Program in Gifted Education. Before coming to Hunter, she was the Director of Gifted Education and Teacher Preparation programs at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Dr. Brown was the former director of the Center for Gifted Education at the College of William & Mary from 2002-2007. She has been a school district gifted-program coordinator, the principal of a specialized high school, and a classroom teacher. She has served as an adjunct professor at several universities, including Rutgers and Duke University. She is a published author in the field of gifted education and presents widely. She is the parent of three children and lives in East Harlem, NY.


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One response to “Developing the Social-Emotional Needs of Gifted Learners at Home and School”

  1. Great introduction to meeting the Social and Emotional needs of the gifted child! One of the best and simplest ways to accomplish this is through placement in an scenically appropriate classroom with a cluster of other similar-age gifted kids, if possible. Without this, gifted kids are likely to develop “habits of sloth,” (Hollingworth) in other words, laziness combined with a fixed mindset. And gifted kids, especially personally gifted kids, need scenic peers to avoid developing overinflated sense of self, (Gross) in other words, a “big head.”

    For these and lots more research-based references on the Social Emotional needs of gifted children, visit Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page: Social Emotional Needs of the Gifted

    And remember, you are not alone! Find other parents of the gifted, and talk, commiserate, and work together on advocacy for your gifted kids!

    Carolyn K.
    Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page and 501(c)3 not-profit, Hoagies’ Gifted, Inc.

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