Definition of Social and Emotional Needs

Being high ability doesn’t just mean that children are “smarter” than their peers. High ability children not only demonstrate a greater cognitive understanding of academic concepts, but they also exhibit a heightened awareness of their environment and surroundings. From an early age, they understand and internalize abstract concepts that do not directly impact them, which they process and translate into intense emotions and feelings.

Without experiencing something first hand, a high ability child may develop personalized fears based upon their observations. For example, they may see an injured professional athlete and may then refuse to engage in sports for fear of getting hurt themselves. Alternatively, a young child who has been exposed to news stories of war and bloodshed in a distant country may suddenly develop a fear for their safety. Similarly, other emotions may manifest extreme behaviors due to the high ability child’s greater empathy at an earlier age. A child who is passionate about animals and learns of a species’ long-ago extinction may become depressed over the welfare of animals that haven’t roamed the planet for hundreds of years.

This is not to say that high ability children are alone in making these connections, but they do tend to develop these emotions earlier and stronger than their non-high ability peers. Moreover, it is often this difference that separates high ability kids in social settings and can make them uncomfortable in same-aged environments. High ability children may not understand why their non-high ability classmates don’t possess the same feelings they do and may disassociate from others who don’t share their sympathies and compassions.

Conversely, appearing to be “different” than the rest of the class because of their academic or out-of-school interests can result in children being singled out, ostracized, or teased by other students. High ability children can feel alone in their environments without like-minded friends who share their same interests or passions. It is important to provide high ability children with environments where they can interact—socially and academically— with their emotional and intellectual peers, and this often does not equate with the same-aged settings that schools and other organizations tend to use as a model. High ability children frequently blossom in an atmosphere where they can interact instead with other high ability children, older children, or interested adults. It is not unusual to hear high ability children express how they finally felt comfortable with themselves after going to an academic summer camp with kids who are just like them.

It is precisely for this reason that we need to focus on these specific needs of high ability kids, for the very nature of who they are depends on their social and emotional well-being. High ability kids are inquisitive and driven learners because it is essential to who they are. For them, learning is an emotional experience. They don’t just learn because they can... they want and need to learn. Knowledge is their passion and what excites them. To help them thrive, we must ensure that they can mature in a secure and supportive environment that nurtures their innate inquisitive nature.