An Interview with Christine Fonseca: Social and Emotional and Other Needs of Gifted Children

Question by Michael Shaughnessy: Christine, you occupy a very special place in the school in that you may screen for gifted, test for gifted, and then perhaps follow up with counseling when needed. How do you cope with all these different chores?

Answer by Christine Fonseca: School psychologists do wear many hats on a campus and in a school district. Sadly, those hats don’t always include gifted education. For me, I am fortunate enough to be able to work in a consultative capacity with our district director of gifted education. My role is predominately to educate parents and teachers about the social and emotional aspects of giftedness, as well as be a resource to kids, parents, and educators. At times, this can be daunting. But, it is one of the things I love most in my day job, so I find ways to make time for it.

Coping with the plethora of things I am required to do throughout the course of the day is really about planning and organization – as long as I stay organized, everything gets done!

Question: As a school psychologist, you probably have a good deal of insight into the learning styles of gifted kids. How do their learning styles impact their social or emotional lives?

Answer: Learning style really comes into play with regards to the school setting and performance. For our students who learn in ways conducive to typical forms of traditional teaching, school is a fun place to be. They experience success, at least academically. If they are well developed in their emotional domains (something I focus on in my books), school is socially positive as well.

For some GT students, however, school is difficult. Teaching is out of sync with how they learn. As a result, the GT kid experiences failure and frustration, resulting in potential problems with self-efficacy and esteem.

The natural intensities present in GT kids add another dimension to the conversation, magnifying the emotional reactions in situations and adding to the potential frustration with learning, school, and peers.

Question: Let’s take a quick peek at some of the text messages of gifted kids. What do you suppose they are tweeting about right now?

Answer: I can tell you they are NOT Tweeting! Most kids in general do not use Twitter. They are, however, texting and using Facebook. In my experience, Facebook is used socially – talking about what are people doing, where people are going, etc. Texting is that as well. However, many GT kids also use texting as a large virtual study hall, communicating with each other about homework, projects, and upcoming tests.

Question: In this age of texting all the time, what happens to the social and emotional needs of gifted? How are they met?

Answer: I think the age of texting and social networking has actually helped many of our more introverted GT kids connect in ways previous generations have not been able to. They are talking more, connecting with other kids who have similar interests, and are able to reach out in ways that may be too difficult in person. Although the face-to-face time may be lost, these children ARE developing meaningful friendships. This, in turn, does meet certain social and emotional needs.

That being said, social networking is not a substitute for connections in real life. I think, as with anything, balance is the true key to all of this.

Question: Underachievement and perfectionism seem to be two big problems of gifted kids. What have you found in terms of the major problems?

Answer: These are definitely the biggies – along with explosive behaviors. In my experience, they are also interrelated. For many of our GT kids, being gifted somehow means they have to excel at everything. If they don’t, if they don’t master something on the first attempt, they think they have failed. Failure means they aren’t gifted, at least in their minds. This attitude, left unchecked, develops into perfectionism. That can they lead to an unwillingness to take academic risks, which then leads to underperformance. Add a little emotional intensity to the mix, and explosive behaviors – usually triggered by prompts to complete homework or chores – typically occur. It is one big cycle.

The key, I think, lies in helping the child understand what the learning process actually is, teaching them that growth comes from “failure,” that it is a necessary part of learning. This is something I focus on with parents, educators, and kids.

Question: How well prepared are the regular education teachers to assist with the social and emotional needs of gifted?

Answer: In my opinion and experience, they aren’t. The majority of teacher preparation classes include one class related to giftedness. Only one. Since it is not included in teacher preparation programs, individual districts are left to provide teacher training. In our current economic climate, that can prove very difficult. It is a source of frustration for most educators, parents, and children.

But teachers aren’t the only ones ill prepared. Most programs for school psychologists, school counselors and mental health professionals do not include an understanding of the emotional attributes of giftedness. Professionals in a position to assist our gifted populations are not being trained to look at this population through the unique lens that is necessary if one is to understand and support these kids. As a result, mislabeling and inappropriate educational programming can occur.

Question: Are there any books that you recommend to help students navigate the turbulent years of adolescence? And what seem to be the biggest challenges?

Answer: I think the biggest challenges have to do with a) peer interactions (bullying, developing friendships, etc.), b) school performance (underperformance and perfectionism), and c) dealing with existential depression. Our gifted adolescents often face and deal with hard, adult-like issues (Who am I? Is this all there is to life?) much earlier than they are developmentally ready for. As a result, they can become frustrated and depressed as the world around them disappoints them.

There are a few books to help with some of the harder aspects of giftedness. Lisa Rivero’s book The Smart Teens’ Guide to Living with Intensity is probably my favorite, followed by Judy Galbraith’s A Gifted Kids Survival Guide: A Teen Handbook. Both books offer encouragement and support, along with practical tips for living with the emotional aspects of giftedness.

For preteen (ages 8 – 12), my upcoming book 101 Success Secrets for Gifted Kids, provides strategies and an understanding of the typical problems most gifted kids face – at school, with friends, and at home.

Question: What about mentors. Are they sorely needed, or are they out there and not being used?

Answer: I think there are mentors out there, but we don’t access them. Heck, I think it doesn’t occur to us to access them most of the time. Our gifted kids need mentors – both peer mentors and adults – that they can connect to and learn from. These connections can help our kids feel less alienated and learn that they can figure out how to live a fulfilled life – even if their intensities are getting the better of them. Developing a strong mentorship program is an inexpensive way for schools to improve performance and catch those gifted kids that go underground before they become too disenfranchised and drop out.

Question: What are some of the real intense emotions that are problematic for gifted kids nowadays?

Answer: The most impacting emotional issues I see typically involve extreme anxiety bordering on social phobias, and explosive behaviors. Growing up is hard – more so as the pace of our society has quickened. More and more, our kids are dealing with bigger issues at younger ages. For our gifted kids, the emotions around the pressures to achieve and fit in can be overwhelming, usually resulting in anxiety, explosive behaviors, and other difficulties.

Question: It seems with all these computers and iPods and iPads and Kindles and Candles, that there is not much about emotions going on. Your thoughts?

Answer: I don’t think the digital age equates to a distancing of emotions. Nor do I think one precludes the other. As I mentioned earlier, some of the technological advances have helped our kids connect in ways not previously possible. As with anything, though, balance is the key. Hanging on the computer or chatting via iPads, etc. at the expense of living life is never a good thing. We are social beings by nature, connecting in real life is important. Technology doesn’t have to hinder this – it can help.

As for emotions, the teens I deal with are as emotional as they ever were. Just look at some of your best selling young adult books – nothing but emotions!

Question: My good buddy Sal Mendaglio once wrote, “It’s All About Feelings.” Was he off on this?

Answer: No, I think understanding and managing emotions is huge! That said, I am all about balancing our heart and our heads – learning to use the cognitive strengths of giftedness to help understand and manage the emotional side of things.

Question: You have written a good deal on this topic. What books of yours would you recommend and what books by other scholars would you suggest?

Answer: I think both of my books are helpful. Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students is specifically for parents and educators. It presents foundational knowledge followed by strategies to help gifted students learn to manage their emotions. The tip sheets, checklists, and “Notes to the Teacher” sections are all designed to bring evidence-based strategies into practical layman terms, usable in home and school settings.

101 Success Secrets for Gifted Kids is the kid version of Emotional Intensity. Designed specifically for gifted kids ages 8 to 12, this book is filled with literally 101 strategies for living life as a gifted kid. The book is filled with tip sheets, checklists, projects, quizzes, and quotes from gifted kids and parents. I interviewed hundreds of gifted children from several countries as I developed this book, and truly feel it brings the best advice for the most typical kinds of things facing our gifted kids.

As far as other books, I highly recommend James Webb’s titles A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children and Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults. Both offer fabulous insight into giftedness and all that it means.

Susan Daniels’ and Michael Piechowski’s Living with Intensity is another great addition to a “gifted” library, along with Jan and Bob Davidson’s Genius Denied and Deborah Ruf’s 5 Levels of Gifted.

Christine Fonseca has worked in the field of education for more than a decade. Relying on her expertise as a school psychologist, behavioral consultant, speaker, and parenting expert, she has been a resource for parents and children in understanding the social and emotional needs of gifted children. She is the author of Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students and 101 Success Secrets for Gifted Kids. Learn more athttp://christinefonseca.wordpress.com.

 

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