The Elephant in the Room: Talented Children Have Social and Emotional Needs Too!

By Tiombe Bisa-Kendrick

When was the last time you read SENG’s mission statement?  The mission of SENG is to empower families and communities to guide gifted and talented individuals to reach their goals: intellectually, physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.

 When I attend professional conferences related to my field of work (school psychology) or those related to gifted children, I am surprised at the paucity of sessions and workshops offered addressing the social and emotional needs of talented children. The Merriam-Webster On-Line Dictionary defines talent as the “natural endowments of a person, a special often athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude, general intelligence or mental power, and a person of talent or a group of persons of talent in a field or activity.” This very definition of the word talent reflects how diverse talented people are. Talented children often include artists, singers, dancers, writers, speakers, athletes, creative problem solvers, designers, musicians, and spiritualists, all of whom are often ignored in gifted/talented literature. The term gifted/talented in the academic community is often synonymous with high IQ scores and often excludes those individuals classified as talented. There is a huge myth in the gifted and talented community and among educators that talented children often have their social and emotional needs met while academically/intellectually children do not. When speaking to many colleagues, parents, and people in my community, I am awed at how many of them believe talented children do not experience any challenges or those who simply believe these children do not have any special needs. 

For example, I have worked with talented athletes at the high-school level who experience challenges with handling injuries, coping with stress related to playing sports and carrying a heavy academic load, and those with time management issues just to name a few. I have counseled extremely talented dancers at the middle-school level who lacked the finances, guidance and master training required to ensure they would have a chance at a professional career in this field.  I have consulted with parents of talented musicians and listened with a heavy heart about the many concerns they had regarding their children and how to best help their children pursue their dreams. All of the aforementioned experiences with talented children and their parents showed me that these children have social and emotional needs that may need to be addressed. Many times, talented children and their caregivers experience the following problems: time management challenges, dealing with injuries, challenges with interpersonal relationships, a lack of finances needed for advanced training, a lack of training, separation from family, competition, and discrimination. I often wonder who prepares these children for the many emotional challenges they face. Have you ever wondered how hard was it for LeBron James to live away from his family of origin in high school, or what it was like for Michael Jackson to grow up as a highly talented African-American entertainer in the 1960s and 1970s?  Did you know that Beyoncé Knowles’ parents made major sacrifices so that she could be who she is today? Have you seen the Broadway musical Lion King? While watching the show, did it ever cross your mind that the children who play the roles of young Simba and Nala were required to travel the country week after week and were separated from their families for weeks and sometimes months at a time? Did you know gold medalist Gabby Douglas had to eventually live away from home to continue training in her sport when it became evident that this needed to happen if she was going to reach the next level? In addition, her mother had to make major financial sacrifices so that her daughter could train with coaches that would help perfect her talent.  Do you ever wonder about the sacrifices talented children and their parents must make to realize their dreams of being on top?

The next time you witness the wonders of a talented child or adult, I want you to also remember that they are individuals who may experience emotional challenges. My hope is that the gifted and talented community will one day fully embrace the diverse population of talented children with open arms and acknowledge they, like intellectually/academically gifted children, have unique social and emotional needs.

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