by Nicole LaChance, Marketing and Communications Coordinator
I have only been at IEA for six months, but in that time one of the most frequent struggles I have heard from parents is how their child does not fit in socially. This is no surprise, due to the asynchronous development many gifted children experience, which causes them to develop at a different level socially than they do intellectually. This can cause kids to feel “different” from their peers, leading to low social self-esteem.
Low social self-esteem is not just a problem for gifted children, but it can manifest differently and more intensely in them. Michelle Muratori, a senior counselor and researcher at the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, notes in an article for Counseling Today:
“Competence and achievement are generally thought to be vital elements of self-esteem and are intertwined with a child’s evaluation and awareness of his or her own worth, so people may mistakenly conclude that gifted children are exempt from low self-esteem because they appear to be very competent and high achieving.”
Muratori goes on to say that, while gifted children are not necessarily more susceptible to low self-esteem than their non-gifted peers, their self-esteem issues are more likely to be overlooked by others or hidden by the child themselves.
One of the main causes of low social self-esteem in gifted children is what counselor Melanie Brown Kroon, LMFT, calls “divergent thinking”. Kroon notes that many gifted people have a strong need for honesty and transparency, yet many of those considered socially successful are good at knowing what is expected from them to fit in with the norm. They will often choose to protect themselves socially rather than doing what is “right”, which is at odds with the way many gifted children think.
This can make fitting in socially difficult, since belonging to most peer groups requires some conformity. It often leads gifted kids with low self-esteem to believe they have to choose between being accepted by their peers and being true to who they are. Additionally, Kroon notes that, due to the Dabrowski overexcitabilities often present, gifted kids tend to be more intense in their feelings. Often, this causes them either to stand out or try to be unnoticed, making them easy targets for teasing and bullies.
“These students may unfortunately internalize the message that it is not OK for them to be who they truly are, which may damage their global self-esteem,” said Muratori. Furthermore, a study from the University of Washington, notes that gifted children are not always taught to use their many capabilities to solve the problem and need help obtaining a balanced view of their self-worth in both a social and intellectual context.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help your gifted child improve their social self-esteem.
- Find opportunities for them to interact with intellectual peers. Friends are an essential component to boosting social self-esteem. Start by talking to your school’s gifted coordinator, or connecting with a gifted advocacy group in your state. (IEA’s Gifted Resource Center has a state-by-state list.) Ask them about social or interest groups that would fit your child. Also, consider inquiring about parent groups, where you can foster connections for both your child and yourself. If there are no groups in your area, some parents have recommended searching online resources and connecting your child with a pen pal. Keep in mind that gifted children may not always find close friends in their age group.
- Help them recognize their contributions. Kroon notes that it is important to remember that your child is a complex person with both intellectual and emotional needs. Help them recognize their contributions in all facets of their life by making a list of accomplishments they are proud of beyond just academics.
- Don’t let them think everything is easy. “Gifted Guru”, Lisa Van Gemert, M.Ed.T., points out that some gifted children develop the idea that, if they are smart, everything will come easily to them. This makes them more likely to quit when something, such as finding a friend group, becomes difficult. Remind them that even the best performers practice a lot and help them develop a manageable plan for overcoming obstacles.
- Seek counseling if the need arises. Sometimes, even with the best parental and teacher support, a gifted child may need counseling to deal with issues related to low social self-esteem, notes Davidson Gifted.
Hopefully, with a little help and lots of patience, your gifted child will develop a healthy social self-esteem and be able to reach their full potential in all areas of life.
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