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

By Michael Shaughnessy.

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