by Hillary Jade, Program Manager
Being gifted is not always easy. It is a far-too common misconception that gifted children are luckier or better off than non-gifted children and don’t struggle in any aspects of their lives. The natural assumption is that gifted children are academically advanced and therefore can sail through school and their childhood. What is not obvious to many is that some things that come quite easily to some may, in fact, be a source of confusion and anxiety for gifted children. One concept that can be difficult to grasp, understand and embrace is gratitude, which can be an all-too abstract idea for gifted and twice-exceptional children. The definition alone requires one to understand the concepts of thankful and appreciation – which, not unlike gratitude, require the ability to make emotional connections:
Gratitude: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
Thankfully, the science of gratitude and its effects on happiness and overall wellbeing have been studied intensely over the past decade and new strategies for helping Gifted and 2e children understand, embrace, and reciprocate gratitude have been developed. What was once thought to be a self-explanatory concept has now been broken down into manageable strategies that turn the abstract into tangible exercises.
- Break it down mathematically. For those gifted students that think concretely, linearly, or literally, breaking the concept of gratitude into measurable terms can help make it more understandable. Not unlike a mathematical equation, the following example questions can get students to think of kind and helpful acts as realistic by placing a value on them:
- How much did your sister help you on purpose? (This aims to measure intent.)
- How much did your sister give up to help you? (This aims to measure cost.)
- How much did your sister help you? (This aims to measure outcome.)
Instead of asking open-ended questions such as “Why should you feel grateful for what your sister did?” break the act up into more manageable pieces – the sum of which will then become clearer.
- Break it down scientifically. In recent years, the science of happiness has been a hot topic and countless books have been written about it. Gifted students with a passion for STEM disciplines can understand, scientifically, how gratitude leads to increased happiness and what effect that has on the brain and the rest of the body. Infographics and articles are tremendously helpful in this respect, such as the following:
For example, the fact that happiness releases serotonin in the hippocampus is something STEM-minded students can understand in a tangible way.
- Break it down visually: The YouTube channel The Science of Happiness has wonderful videos that capture the power of gratitude and the effects it has on ourselves and those around us in relatable ways. In one video, An Experiment in Gratitude, viewers see the immediate and long-term effects of being on both the receiving and the giving ends of gratitude.
- Use Your Talents! Saying “thank you” or presenting someone with a tangible token of one’s appreciation are not the only ways to express gratitude. For example, through the STEM Empathy project, a student-led initiative part of the Design for Change movement, students experience a service learning project that brings STEM education to children’s hospitals. Their talents in leadership, project design, and the STEM fields serve children who are unable to participate in traditional schooling, increasing participants’ gratitude, appreciation, and empathy through their efforts.
- Write it Down! Gifted students may feel shy or embarrassed about verbalizing what they’re grateful for, which is where gratitude journals come in handy. This can be integrated into the school day by teachers or into a daily or weekly routine by parents. Gratitude journals can be blank journals in which students practice free writing, or journals with templates or prompts that give students ideas for how to get started. The idea is simple: Your writing won’t be judged or reviewed; it is for you and you alone. You can be as concrete or descriptive as you’d like – the main thing is, put pen to paper and chronicle the people, events, and experiences that you’re thankful for. For some great gratitude journal ideas, click here.
- Think Outside the Box: Too often, students are encouraged to show gratitude only for the great things they have, for example their friends, their family, their successes, and their accomplishments. But gifted students are creative thinkers and adept at seeing things from other perspectives. Therefore, they should be challenged to think about – and be grateful for – difficulties they’ve encountered. You might ask, “What is a shortcoming you’ve experienced that you are grateful for? What has this shown and given you, and why are you a better person because of it?” By viewing failure as a learning experience, students can focus on embracing challenge and risk as part of the learning process – and something to be grateful for.
- Random Acts of Kindness: In school, club, and camp settings, Random Acts of Kindness is a great tool for giving shout-outs to students for doing everyday kind acts. When someone witnesses another person doing something kind, such as staying late to help clean up, holding the door for someone, or carrying a heavy object for a peer, they write down that person’s name and the kind act on a slip of paper, then put it in a box. During a designated time each day, one slip of paper is drawn and that student is recognized publicly, such as at mealtime or during a break in activities. This initiative works well for those students who find it difficult to show gratitude face-to-face – and the anonymity and suspense factors of this initiative create a sense of mystery and community!
What strategies and exercise have you employed to get your Gifted students or children to understand and show gratitude?
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