Social Self-Esteem and Gifted Kids - Institute for Educational Advancement
Social Self-Esteem

Social Self-Esteem and Gifted Kids

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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Social Self-Esteem

13 Comments
  • Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley
    Posted at 05:55h, 01 August Reply

    Thank you for this. I know I see a huge spike in my son’s well-being when he has been around intellectual peers. It’s amazing when you find your tribe.

    • Nicole LaChance
      Posted at 15:34h, 01 August Reply

      Yes! We wish that for ALL children. But, as you are undoubtedly aware, it can be a difficult task for the gifted.

  • Alessa
    Posted at 07:12h, 01 August Reply

    It is hard to teach that balance that a person is not selling out their true essence when they compromise in a social situation – while also not coming off as condescending to the other person.

    • Nicole LaChance
      Posted at 08:23h, 01 August Reply

      Yes, it’s a hard line to walk for many gifted kids. That is why finding intellectual peers is important, although not always easy.

  • Emily
    Posted at 15:16h, 01 August Reply

    “their self-esteem issues are more likely to be overlooked by others or hidden by the child themselves” — wonderful point! Thank you for a helpful post and great advice.

    • Nicole LaChance
      Posted at 15:33h, 01 August Reply

      Thanks for reading, Emily!

  • Paula Prober
    Posted at 17:25h, 01 August Reply

    So important to help gifted kids see that not everything will come easily! Thanks for the post.

    • Nicole LaChance
      Posted at 08:25h, 02 August Reply

      Thanks for reading!

  • Linnea Pyne
    Posted at 16:04h, 03 August Reply

    I love this. Honestly, I believe gifted adults often also have some of these same issues. Finding the fine line where conformity does not feel like a rejection of values, passions and ideals can be difficult. The art of compromise can feel like the loss of a limb! But adults have the freedom to seek out like-minded and other passionate (my grown up word for excitable) people in their lives – this is not as simple for young gifted people. Thank goodness for IEA!

    • Nicole LaChance
      Posted at 10:47h, 04 August Reply

      I completely agree, Linnea. As adults we definitely have more options for finding companions, but it is still difficult. Hopefully we can help gifted individuals cultivate friendships when they are young that will last into adulthood!

  • Vibeke Hjelm
    Posted at 13:37h, 10 August Reply

    I think another possible explanation for the low self-esteem is that the gifted child see other children getting grown-ups (teachers, parents etc) possitive attention for mastering new skills (reading, math etc) and when the gifted child do exactly the same skill he/she doesn’t get any credit at all because “that kid masters everything so easy anyhow”. Getting ignored when doing the exact same thing as other kids your own age quietly tells you that when YOU do something, it isn’t even worth noticing, but everyone else is. And told that over and over again, you’re bound to get low self-esteem…

  • International School in Chennai
    Posted at 00:06h, 16 August Reply

    The challenges faced by gifted children are immense. The tips to improve their self esteem is a great effort in this direction. Interacting with their peers and understanding their contributions can pave the way to self esteem in gifted children, a good point explained.

  • ram das
    Posted at 01:46h, 30 January Reply

    A classic annoying symptom of low self esteem: constant reassurance of love. Well, love is surely going to evaporate into thin air every time you ask them the same question. Even they have bosses and deadlines breathing down their neck.A low self esteem often leads people into isolation from the rest of the world. Their anxiety and jealousy slowly makes them abandon your friends, and theirs too. If you feel you’re in a relationship with someone who suffers not because of the kind of person you are, but because of the their own self-esteem, you should seriously consider addressing it to them, and helping them address what’s wrong.

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