The social and emotional development of gifted children: What do we know?
Neihart, M., Reis, S., Robinson, N. & Moon, S.
ISBN: 1882664779
National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC); Prufrock Press, Inc.

BOOK REVIEW (Davidson Institute) - This review describes the main points of each of the four sections of The social and emotional development of gifted children: What do we know? The topics of each chapter are briefly commented on and high points are brought to the reader's attention. The book explores what research has told us about the social and emotional development of the gifted and summarizes the findings and provides resources and suggestions for working with the gifted in developing these areas.

Reviewed by Davidson Institute for Talent Development.

Much more than just a compilation of resources, The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children, highlights essential research on the social and emotional well being of gifted young people. This book is comprised of four independently reviewed sections. The purpose of this review is to highlight the important information in each section.

Issues Deriving from Student Advancement Compared with Age Peers

The initial section of the text presents summaries of existing research in the context of educating parents and professionals about issues pertaining to exceptionally bright young people. In addition, this section defines several key terms relative to educational options that promote positive social and emotional development of these young people.

A significant strength of this section is the completeness of the literature review. Chapters include: Effects of Acceleration on Gifted Learners, Peer Pressures and Social Acceptance of Gifted Students, Social and Emotional Issues for Exceptionally Intellectually Gifted Students, and Asynchronous Development. The authors of these chapters present best practice solutions to maintain positive social and emotional well being. For example, Karen B. Rogers offers a clear argument supporting grade-based and/or subject-based acceleration options throughout the educational career of exceptionally bright young people. Rogers adds further insight to this section by explaining how to make good decisions regarding acceleration and other options.

Additional strengths of this section include Sylvia Rimm's chapter on Peer Pressure and Social Acceptance of Gifted Students and Miraca Gross' discussion on Social and Emotional Issues for Exceptionally Intellectually Gifted Students. Rimm illustrates why exceptionally gifted young people often feel out-of-sync with their chronological age peers and how those differences may lead to social isolation and underachievement. Not only does Rimm address these concerns, she also offers concrete options on how schools and families can help avoid these potential pitfalls. In chapter 3, Gross reiterates the fact that people prefer companionship with like minded individuals. Because of this, ability grouping will help these students flourish cognitively and also socially and emotionally. To allow these students to reach their full potential in these three areas, Gross believes that schools should seriously consider the concepts of ability grouping and radical acceleration.

The chapters comprising this section are tied together when Linda Silverman brings to light the theory of asynchronous development. With "the intelligence of an adult, the emotions of a child combined with the physicality of a childish body," (p. 34) it is no wonder why these young people have difficulties finding a place to "fit in." Each author in this section makes the case that exceptionally bright young people need considerations and accommodations due to their differences. Similarly, Silverman argues that twice-exceptional children need the most protection because they have the greatest degree of asynchronous development.

In summary, this section is a must read for parents and others wishing to make a difference in the lives of gifted young people. These authors provide a wealth of research results formatted in short, easy-to-read chapters that will be influential to any individual wanting to understand the social and emotional development of a young EG/PG child and how to counter possible negative effects of misplacement of the child in educational settings.

Common Areas of Psychological Response

The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children offers a thorough overview of existing research and knowledge in the field of giftedness. Section II, The Common Areas of Psychological Response, covers a broad range of topics related to the emotional development of gifted young people. Topics include affect regulation, Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration and Overexcitabilities, attributions of academic performances, perfectionism, underachievement, depression, delinquency, and risk and resilience. Throughout the various chapters in Section II, it is repeatedly brought to the reader's attention that the psychological development of gifted children is a subject area that has yet to be researched adequately and extensively.

Much of the research in the social and emotional realm of gifted students is conflicting. According to Margaret Keiley, differing views exist in regards to affect regulation. Some find gifted students to be highly motivated, well adjusted, and mature, while others see them as high risk for emotional problems, isolation, and low self-concept. Optimal development in this area seems to greatly depend on the individual and the family structure.

Similarly, Maureen Neihart reports that many researchers debate whether the characteristics of gifted children are risk factors or protective factors for depression, suicide, and delinquency. Although depression and suicide rates are climbing for children and adolescents in general, there is no empirical data which supports gifted children being more susceptible. As for delinquency, studies consistently show that gifted children are underrepresented within the juvenile offenders and delinquency populations. Neihart also indicates in her chapter on risk and resilience that these factors can be further examined within a conceptual framework that emphasizes better understanding of interrelational aspects of person and environment. Such a framework may be used as a tool to help address the social and emotional needs of the gifted.

Another theory that may assist with the understanding of gifted children and adolescents is Dabrowski's Theory of Disintegration and Overexcitabilities. Kevin O'Connor applies Dabrowski's Theory to understanding the developmental potential of gifted youth. O'Connor seeks to increase the practical application of Dabrowski's theory.

With regard to gifted students and their attributions for academic performances, Nancy Robinson found that most research conducted to date is problematic due to the fact that the majority of the studies focus on gifted children already being served within a gifted program. Although results favor gifted students having positive self concepts and intrinsic motivation, more comprehensive studies are needed to have a true understanding of the attributions gifted young people make regarding their performance.

In general, research in the field of giftedness concludes that we simply do not know enough and confirms that much more research is needed to understand these complex matters. Underachievement is one example of these complex issues. Sally Reis and D. Betsy McCoach indicate that individual student needs and numerous causal variables make it difficult to come up with one solution, and thus most interventions have not been ultimately successful. Potential causal variables for perfectionism are just as abundant. Perfectionism tends to be a major counseling focus for gifted children and adolescents. In her chapter on this topic, Patricia Schuler reports that very few empirical studies have been conducted, so most of the available data has been gathered from case studies and anecdotal evidence.

Although more questions than answers are generated in this section of the text, and few recommendations are given due to the many individual variables involved, the editors have created an exceptional compilation of the research currently available on the psychological responses of gifted students. This text is likely to be a useful resource for educators, professionals, and parents to assist in further understanding and better supporting gifted young people.

Gifted Children and Youth With Special Needs

The importance of looking at gifted and talented children as individuals is further delineated in section three. This section of the book provides a synthesis of the literature on how gender, sexual orientation, race, twice-exceptionalities and creativity influence the social and emotional development of bright young people.

Reis provides a concise overview of the external and internal barriers faced by gifted girls as they proceed from childhood to adulthood. Reis indicates that bright girls are heavily influenced by parent and teacher opinions. She indicates that many gifted girls do not realize their full potential because of loss of belief in abilities, low self-confidence, out-of-control perfectionism, concerns about social isolation, worries about balancing career and family demands in adulthood, and, occasionally, inability to find a vocational/professional niche.

To complement the chapter on the development of gifted girls, Thomas P. Hebert offers the reader an overview of the limited research on the development of gifted boys. He indicates that there are several central issues relating to the social and emotional development of gifted boys and that culture can have a significant influence on development. Mentors can play a positive role in the emotional development of gifted boys. He also suggests that allowing an outlet for the heightened level of sensitivity that is so common in gifted boys is critical. Providing opportunities to conduct community service is one such outlet.

In his chapter, Sanford J. Cohn discusses the challenges faced by gifted young people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual. He indicates that there is a tremendous need for additional research in this area and recognizes the challenges that exist in identifying young people to serve as subjects in sexual-orientation studies. The research that does exist details the importance of considerations for assisting young people who are struggling with the development of their sexual-identity. He references Lipkin who recommends increased awareness and equitable treatment for gay, lesbian or bisexual students by teachers, counselors, parents and students.

Racial Identity is the subject of the next chapter. Donna Y. Ford offers straightforward information on the issues related to racial identity for African-American students. This chapter is essentially a detailed description of the Racial Identity Theory proffered by Cross in the 1970's. This theory helps the reader to understand the importance of recognizing that gifted students from diverse backgrounds may be at higher risk socially and emotionally. Research indicates that intervention, in the form of culturally sensitive counseling, is important if gifted students from diverse backgrounds are to develop to their fullest potential.

Creatively gifted young people are the focus of the next chapter. Neihart and F. Richard Olenchak indicate that "Although creatively gifted persons share some of the same social and emotional attributes of those who are intellectually gifted, there are a number of affective characteristics and accompanying needs that creatively gifted people embody that are not necessarily attributable to intellectually gifted people."

Essentially, creatively gifted people may be more psychologically vulnerable than their intellectually gifted peers. This has specific implications for strategies that need to be employed when working with creatively gifted students. Interventions can include creating psychologically supportive environments where the child does not feel threatened and is valued for demonstrating independent thought and action: environments that offer reasonable limits to experimentation and risk taking but offer the child opportunities to explore and develop his/her interests.

The final two chapters in this section offer information about gifted young people who have learning disabilities and AD/HD, respectively.

For readers who have little experience in working with individuals with learning disabilities, this chapter is a must read. Olenchak and Reis provide a succinct chapter on how a child can be both gifted and have a learning disability and discuss the educational implications. The chart on page 186 is a straightforward, helpful tool that offers bullet point information on educational programming, recommended support personnel, regular classroom strategies, counseling strategies and information on out-of-school options.

Dr. Sidney Moon's chapter on AD/HD also provides a helpful overview for readers who have limited experience with these twice-exceptional children. She offers information on the etiology of AD/HD and talks about misidentification and how giftedness can complicate the identification process. She examines emotional and motivational immaturity, specifically looking at peer rejection, family stress and school stress. She concludes with a recommendation that gifted children with AD/HD need special accommodations, including early identification and long-term individualized support, to reduce the risks they face socially and emotionally.

Promising Practices and Interventions and Recommendations for Future Action

With five chapters addressing parenting and counseling models, as well as additional strategies for helping gifted and talented youth, Section IV offers an appropriate conclusion to The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children. Working with gifted children can be challenging in and of itself, but even more so when attempting to implement the findings of various studies. The authors of Section IV base their suggestions upon one assumption: every gifted and talented individual is unique. For that reason, it is stressed that each child's attributes must be considered when making decisions regarding educational, counseling, or personal needs.

Although research abounds regarding the gifted and talented population, several authors of this section cite a paucity of research in various areas. For instance, some authors state the need for research into the benefits of different counseling models and their effectiveness: "what works best, under what circumstances, for what types of gifted students and their families" (Reis and Moon, p. 262), and in determining whether certain characteristics do occur significantly more often in the gifted population versus the average population. Thus, the material in this section makes an important distinction between what we know and what we don't know.

As importantly, the authors included in Section IV relate what we know in this field to helping strategies. Section IV takes this crucial step in bridging knowledge and action. In Chapter 20, Parenting Practices That Promote Talent Development, Creativity, and Optimal Adjustment, Dr. Paula Olszewski-Kubilius explores best parenting practices. Several theories are examined, and the author finds that family dynamics are of the utmost importance in realizing a child's full potential.

Chapters 21, 22, and 24 address counseling strategies to be used in working with gifted youth. The chapters are complementary to each other, with Chapter 21 identifying the needs for counseling among gifted youth. As those closely involved with gifted and talented individuals may hypothesize, Moon states that the most common reason for seeking counseling is "assistance in coping with stressors related to growing up as a gifted child in a society that does not always recognize, understand, or welcome giftedness" (p. 213). Chapter 22 delves into one particular counseling area, that of career counseling for gifted youth. Dr. Meredith J. Greene goes on to explain the reasons why this particular area is so important, especially to the gifted and talented. Finally, Chapter 24 examines various models for counseling, guiding, and supporting gifted and talented students. Again, we hear a call for more research indicating what is most beneficial and why.

Identified as one of the greatest challenges to gifted students, the issue of underachievement is addressed in Chapter 23. In this chapter, one learns possible reasons for underachievement, beliefs of under-achievers, and characteristics of high-achievers.

The last chapter brings all that we've read in Section IV to one summarized conclusion. The title of the chapter accurately portrays the issues addressed -- Social and Emotional Issues: What Have We Learned and What Should We Do Now? It ties together the previous chapters of knowledge and strategies, offering a presentation of the whole picture.

Section IV offers pertinent information to those involved with gifted and talented youth. Because of issues unique to the gifted population, as well as those unique to each individual, it is crucial to work with each child based upon his or her needs and characteristics. The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children addresses how to do this and supports these claims through a vast array of documented research. Although much has been learned about this population, Section IV makes a call to continue our learning, especially through continued research efforts. Through this last section, we learn what to do with what we know, but realize we need to know more. This section is valuable to parents and professionals alike.

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