by Sheri Plybon

I recently began a new SENG Model Parent Group of ten parents. In preparation for our discussion of chapter four ofA Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, Motivation, Enthusiasm, and Underachievement, I wanted to be able to present an additional short piece about Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow was a psychologist who studied, among other topics, healthy personalities, peak experiences, and the journey to self-actualization (being all one can be). The authors of A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children explain Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory as “a sequence of eight needs that reflect human development from infancy to adulthood. These needs evolve from the most basic human needs to the most advanced, and those needs that are the most basic almost always take priority over the more advanced ones” (p. 68). Here are some thoughts on his theory as it applies to the four advanced levels.

Motivation is driven by both external and internal forces. We personally choose to follow these to accomplish a task, and this may lead to what some call underachievement. Yet, in A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, the Need to Know and Understand (Level 5) describes the intensity that children (and adults) have regarding learning. It has moved from extrinsic school / work related learning to the exploration of topics of personal (intrinsic) motivation. Approval or acceptance from others is no longer necessary. From an educational standpoint, a child may appear to be stubborn and non-cooperative, and seen as a problem. Clarification of motivation may help teachers and others understand the difference between an underachiever and a non-producer.

This personal sense of inquiry follows to Level 6 – Aesthetic Needs. Passion is a key term at this level, and an individual’s sense of the aesthetic flows to passion, and this in turn becomes the change from “doing” to “being.” To this point, all six levels of the hierarchy have begun the assimilation of a personal change which Maslow describes as the development of Level 7 – Self-Actualization, or self-fulfillment, realizing one’s potential.

Finally we come to Level 8 – Self-Transcendence, moving from personal development / gratification to the need to help others reach their potential, and to improve the world.

Assume you have a special visualization tool that allows you to watch a gifted child’s growth from infancy through adolescence to adulthood, and that you could clearly see Kazimierz Dabrowski’s intensities overlay upon the Maslow Hierarchy.

First, you would see an infant so alert to the world around him that you would believe that this child has a personal communication with nature. Early reading or hands-on experimentation drives a passion for learning. In adolescence, the cognitive processes of the content – the “what” – then are replaced by the intellectual and philosophical drive to understand the “why,” which ultimately becomes the realization of potential in the “what if” (adolescent / adult). Intermingled in all of this growth is the understanding that knowledge is power: the ultimate is power for good, and a sense of high moral judgment. If gifted individuals accept the knowledge of their power, and find the balance of sensitivity experienced in the Dabrowskian intensities, they will move towards self–transcendence.

A new door to personal understanding can be opened. The following is a short list of thoughts and exercises that one can walk through, which will enlighten the path to understanding the gifted.

Developing Self-Actualization
Moving towards Transcendence

  • Experience each moment fully, vividly and with total concentration
  • Think of life as a process of choices, your choices
  • Listen to your Self; trust your inner voice
  • Take responsibility for yourself
  • Dare to be different, nonconforming, real
  • Do what you do with joy, and do it well
  • Set up conditions that will allow more peak experiences, perceive the world and life positively
  • Experience life with awe and wonder
  • Seek periods of privacy for intense concentration and meditation
  • Open up to yourself, identify your defenses, and find the courage to fire them up
  • Make your goal to have access to all of your life, all of your potential, to be who you are

References & Resources

Maslow, A. H. (1970). Motivation and personality (2nd. Ed). New York: Harper & Row.

Webb, J. T., Gore, J. L., Amend, E, R. & DeVries A, R. (2007). A parent’s guide to gifted children. Arizona: Great Potential Press.

Sheri Plybon is a SENG Model Parent Group Facilitator and Trainer, and she has been a Gifted Specialist for 28+ years in public education, K-12. She has worked on curriculum development and staff development at state and district levels and served for 8 years on the Texas Association for Gifted Board of Directors. Ms. Plybon has presented at both national (NAGC) and state (Colorado & Texas) Gifted Conferences. Her passion for understanding giftedness was inspired by her three gifted children and by her own personal experiences in gifted education. Ms. Plybon earned her Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Science from Loretto Heights College, and a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration from Colorado State University.

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