“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
As the parent of a Davidson Young Scholar, you may know all too well how difficult it can be for some highly or profoundly gifted students to fully embrace their sense of “self” when they constantly receive the implicit or explicit message from others that they need to tone down their intellectual curiosity, a vital part of who they are, in order to be accepted. As noted in A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students, one reason often cited by teachers for not advancing a bright student who needs to be academically accelerated is that it will “diminish the self-esteem of other students” (Colangelo, Assouline, & Gross, 2004, p. 9). The self-esteem of the gifted and talented student does not seem to be factored into the equation.
In my view, minimizing or altogether overlooking the self-esteem needs of gifted children is a grave mistake. By jeopardizing their self-esteem, society pays a steep price; high ability and low self-esteem can be a dangerous combination. At the very least, by failing to develop their own talents and work to their potential, gifted individuals miss the opportunity to make contributions or discoveries that can change the world for the better. In the worst case scenario, pathological distortions of the self, whether deflated or excessively inflated, can lead gifted persons to put themselves or others in harm’s way (Muratori, 2010). While most gifted individuals will not act out in such extreme ways, it is important to consider the feelings of devastation and low self-worth that can potentially result from assaults to their self-esteem.
While you cannot control the actions of others (e.g., your children’s classmates and school personnel), there are some steps that you can take to bolster your children’s self-esteem. The first step is to gain a clear understanding of what self-esteem is and what influences it. Self-esteem is defined as “the attitudinal, evaluative component of the self; the affective judgments placed on the self-concept consisting of feelings of worth and acceptance which are developed and maintained as a consequence of awareness of competence and feedback from the external world.” (Guindon, 2002, p. 207). To be even more specific, one’s self-esteem system is composed of two parts:
Since your children’s self-esteem is affected by their academic, social, and emotional experiences, here are a few suggestions you can follow to promote healthy self-esteem in them:
As discussed in the parent seminar, one way to be an excellent role model for your children is to attend to your own self-esteem needs and take care of yourself. Modeling is a powerful tool for teaching your children about how to care for themselves. Actions often do speak louder than words. So make time to read a novel, learn a new skill, or simply relax. Self-care for parents is not a luxury. It is a necessity. And taking the time to rejuvenate your soul will give you more energy in all of your other roles and pursuits.
Colangelo, N., Assouline, S.G., & Gross, M.U.M. (2004). A nation deceived: How schools hold back America’s brightest student. Iowa City, IA: The Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development.
Guindon, M.H. (2002). Toward accountability in the use of the self-esteem construct. Journal Of Counseling & Development, 80, 204-214.
Muratori, M.C. (2010). Fostering healthy self-esteem in gifted and talented students. In M.H. Guindon (Ed.), Self-esteem across the lifespan: Issues and interventions. New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor and Francis Group.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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