An Interview with Adam Blatner: Social and Emotional Needs of Gifted Children, Adolescents, & Adults
By Michael Shaughnessy.
Question by Dr. Michael Shaughnessy: Dr. Blatner, what would you say are the main social and emotional needs of gifted children??
Answer by Adam Blatner: On one hand, these kids need to learn to balance tendencies towards inferiority for being different and tendencies towards grandiosity for being special. Different temperaments and family environments tend to weigh the balance one way or the other. The task, then, is to help them recognize their gifts as special, rather than merely weird; to break away from the cultural framework of mistaken egalitarianism, and the sometimes unconscious jealousy or envy of anyone who seems “better.” This needs to be balanced with a degree of reality about how others excel in other fields. Often gifted children are mediocre or even inferior in certain other skills. And always, to ground kids in generally positive but also appropriately humble awareness of temptations to grandiosity, entitlement, etc.
Question: What would you say is the most important information parents and teachers need to have about gifted children?
Answer: Get a good diagnosis, which means more than a label. Discover the actual profile of what is a strength and what weaknesses may be present. A child may be excellent in skill area A and B, very good at C and D, but also marginal at skill E.
The other point is that children even if they are gifted in some ways may not be ready to understand more subtle concepts of ethics or emotional intelligence until they’ve matured in other lines.
Question: In your practice, have gifted girls different needs from gifted boys?
Answer: Only that girls have a number of pressures that boys don’t in general, which is to be attractive, intelligent, cool, etc. There can be more subtle forms of bullying by mean girls in school for peers that are teased for being brains, geeks, grinds, those that do well, even if in fact gifted kids don’t have to grind or try that hard to do well.
Question: What have you found to be the main complaints of gifted children?
Answer: It varies. The pressures on kids today lead to pseudo-ADHD because they’re bored in class; subtle passive-aggressiveness and school failure because they don’t do the work; depression and delinquent acts because of boredom or wanting to be accepted by peers. The main point I would make is that it might be misleading to make any generalizations about these kids, other than it is important to identify either high or low intelligence as a potential source of stress.
Question: How should parents and teachers address these concerns?
Answer: First, detection: keep the possibility in mind that a kid may be quite gifted, at least in one or two areas, if not more, and that this has not been noticed or commented on by previous teachers because they (the teachers) may have been too busy, the child may have been just getting by and avoiding attention, or for other reasons. Suspicion, then testing. I favor just getting the history. Some parents are alert to this and have been trying to tell the school about the child’s needs. Other parents are unable to make such distinctions and it’s never occurred to them that their child is brighter in any special way. Some parents are actually afraid to draw any attention to a child for any reason lest it draw the jealousy of peers and relatives.
Question: Gifted kids seem to have specific problems, like perfectionism and underachievement. What do you see as the main therapeutic issues in working with these concerns?
Answer: There are many factors that can determine a child’s attitude—so many that it’s difficult to make specific recommendations. The key is to develop a way of evaluating strengths and weaknesses not only in the child, but also in the school(s), peer groups, church, home, among siblings, and so forth. The culture and ethnicity of parents’ families can make a difference. In some cases, temperamental variations count for more than intelligence.
Question: Still, the questions asked are important: Most adults and many school personnel are themselves confused about the goals of activities, with the general idea of “do your best” truly being confusing. How would one know what is doing one’s best?
Answer: Then there are kids who love to develop an interest and seem perfectionistic to others but really are enjoying their more demanding standards. It’s as if they are playing with a higher skill-level and also goals than peers. What to call this? Pseudo-perfectionism? A few are miserable with their worry, and then it’s a problem. But as with other aspects of this situation, we might want to ensure that what might be viewed as a problem for most kids really is a problem for the gifted kid with side issues.
Question: Many very intelligent students are not identified as gifted, and as such seem to wander through school and through life. What seem to be their emotional concerns?
Answer: few of these kids know they’re smart or good at least at some things, and some kids don’t know it. (I didn’t know I was smart until well into my college years—always thought I was just odd. Even then, it took me another 35 or more years to begin to realize what that meant—that without meaning to, I could end up confusing many people when I talked to them about ideas.)
Often they aren’t concerned per se, but this issue of being smarter plays into other problems. It’s harder to deal with standard dating, as girls tend to feel they’re supposed to “dumb themselves down” to get a guy. This is less so than fifty years ago, but still not uncommon. Smart guys may confuse beauty and brains and it can take years before they realize that a pretty girl may not really be able to understand their interests.