Tips for Parents: Social and Emotional Development in Gifted Children
Webb, N.
Davidson Institute for Talent Development
2010

This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Dr. Nadia Webb. She discussed the social/emotional issues that parents of gifted children deal with regularly.

2010 Seminar

A brilliant child is a child. Gifted children are still developing creatures. Even if they develop at precisely the same rate (or slightly ahead) of their age peers, their social experience will remain that of children. Their appreciation of politics, religion, romantic relationships or history will be a product of accumulated experience, readings and conversations. The only people who accurate pinned down the end of cortical maturation are the car rental companies. They learned that 24 year olds have more accidents than 25 year olds -- which corresponds to the end of cortical maturation.

Is a problem behavior increasing in intensity, duration and frequency? That suggests a learned behavior that is "working" and inadvertently being rewarded, albeit it in a sometimes oblique way. The good news is learned, behavioral problems are infuriating, but more easily addressed than true biologically driven inability. OE isn't a get out of jail free card nor does it preclude asking a child to work toward self-regulation, politeness, decency, kindness or taking out the trash.

The Worry about things being Fair. Your YS may be appreciating that the "just world hypothesis" is reassuring but untrue. Believing that it must be fair is a recipe for failure. We can prefer it be fair, work toward that aim and try to embody those values -- but children are hit by cars, jerks get promoted, etc. Without burying them in life's infinite capacity for painful experiences, it is not unreasonable to help them learn maintain their own sense of balance and purpose in the face of the reality that fairness and decency are not always the norm. Fairness is something that we cherish because of it's periodic absence.

Parents of tween daughters may want to look up "relational aggression." It is the spiffy name for how to make other girls miserable by using social tools (smearing her reputation, shunning and social isolation, trying to "steal" or alienate best friends, etc.) "Odd Girl Out" is a helpful book.

The literature on personality in general is pretty clear that aspects of our personality are there from the beginning and shape us profoundly. The very shy toddler tends to be the shy adult, BUT....there is a continuum of shy. And parents who are consistent, supportive and gently require a child to interact socially tend to have children who are much less shy. Children aren't a blank slate, but neither is their personality etched in cement. If personality and behavior weren't changeable, as a psychologist, I would be out of a job!

2008 Seminar

On poor care and feeding of friends…

Kids are not very good at taking the long term view. And their experiences with family are often that people love you even if you drop off the planet for a while. This might be one of those teachable moments. I would consider discussing it with him, but do so in a very brief fashion. "Do you worry about losing your friends if you don't stay in touch with them?" Let him start talking about it. At some point insert, "friendships don't last without regular contact." let him talk. and then see what solutions he can generate. If you talk about it too much, it will start to become your project and he is more likely to abandon the problem for you to take care of.

Fears of the dark and closet monsters…

Magical problems require magical solutions -Children will grow out of this stage, but there is no reason for them to be genuinely frightened and unhappy in the interim. A can of scented “monster spray,” wearing special bracelets or dream catchers over the bed can be helpful. At 5, this is not a fear that lends itself to reason. This is part of animism. The world of inanimate objects are alive (stuffed animals and the like) and reason has very little to do with it.

Setting limits and power struggles

Intelligence is not the same as wisdom (which is why we don't let teens vote or by liquor). it is reasonable to set limits. As a parent, you may need to be unpopular and create rules that you can stick with consistently. You have a longer view than an adolescent and are better able to evaluate risk. It is simply part of their normal developmental maturation, even among highly gifted children.

It also means that your YS may be certain they are right, your restricting cell phone access is banned under the Geneva Convention, you are the most restrictive and unreasonable parent on the planet, doing things that "none of their friends parents do" and you can quietly stick to your guns. Parenting is about making choices, and you may be wrong or right in hindsight, but you have to call it the way you see it in the moment. You're the ref. All that stomping on the sidelines doesn't need to sway your decision. They can make different decisions later when they are parents.

“Sure” and “Whatever” are rude. Rude is not OK, even to parents.

Dreikur’s book, Children: The Challenge, is a great help for working with power struggles.

Helping with coordination and physical confidence

I would suggest martial arts, but I recommend that you go to the school first and meet the teacher. Make sure that this is someone you trust who will help your child develop the values that you think are important. There are bad teachers out there who focus on medals, belts, and testosterone.


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