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Fortifying Emotional Resilience in Gifted Students

Ayanwole Boluwatife Joshua.

We are drawn to and fascinated by those who "defy the odds" to attain extraordinary heights, and throughout history, there have been many notable and distinguished people who rise in the face of adversity. As an illustration, consider Ben Carson, a writer and surgeon who rose to prominence via resiliency, and Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, who was raised in poverty before launching his well-known career in the computer business (Isaacson 2011). Before becoming a globally recognized writer, J.K. Rowling, the author of the popular Harry Potter series, struggled with depression and was a single mother with a meager income (Smith, 2001). However, what is most fascinating may not be their actual achievements as much as their capacity to overcome hardship and emerge on top. These stories exemplify resilience, the quality that allows people to achieve more than they might otherwise. 

Since every success has its share of obstacles, resilience is a critical and significant factor in determining academic achievement, emotional instability, and mental stability. The capacity to overcome these obstacles is what defines achievement. According to Masten and Coatsworth (1998), resilience can be characterized as demonstrated competence in the face of hardship or major obstacles to growth and development. This phrase implies two key conclusions: first, that there is or was a substantial risk or adversity to overcome, and second, that the person has favorably adapted. Mueller (2009) proposes that there are two opposing viewpoints about the resilience of young, brilliant individuals. According to Pfeiffer and Stocking's (2000) proposal, young people who possess certain qualities of giftedness, including oversensitivity or perfectionism, may be more susceptible to psychosocial adjustment problems. The other viewpoint holds that because they have more resources at their disposal like optimism or greater self-assurance, being gifted serves as a protective factor. Giftedness is the process and result of effectively adjusting to demanding situations in life, particularly by exhibiting mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjusting to both internal and external demands. The ability to overcome adversity and develop into a stronger person physically, emotionally, cognitively, and holistically are additional aspects of resilience. In all parts of daily life, resilience is a multifaceted quality. To grow academically, emotionally, and cognitively, one must possess the spirit that battles against mental instability, attitudes, and culture. 

Conversely, giftedness is frequently associated with extraordinary intellectual prowess, inventiveness, and scholastic success. However, under the surface, talented people frequently struggle with a unique set of emotional issues that might affect their resilience. It's possible that talented children are more prone to stress, anxiety, and perfectionism because of their increased sensitivity, complex emotional landscapes, and high cognitive capacities. For their long-term success and general well-being, they must develop emotional fortitude and resilience, which will allow them to face problems head-on and prosper in a world that is getting more complicated by the day. This is essential to keep gifted students or individuals from underachieving and establishes the strength and commitment to study and learn. It should be highlighted that a gifted student who lacks resilience will underachieve, and a gifted learner who exhibits resilience is more likely to achieve at higher levels.

Understanding the Emotional Landscape of Gifted Students

Emotional resilience refers to the ability to adapt to adversity, cope with stress, and bounce back from setbacks. For gifted students, emotional resilience is particularly important due to the pressures they may face academically, socially, and emotionally. Developing resilience can help them navigate challenges more effectively and maintain a positive sense of well-being. Gifted students often experience intense emotions and heightened sensitivity from an early age. They may be acutely aware of their differences from their peers, leading to feelings of isolation or alienation. Additionally, their advanced cognitive abilities can result in overthinking and perfectionism, further exacerbating their emotional challenges.  Here is a case study of these points:

In Africa some years back, a student teacher finds herself in a classroom with a gifted child.  This boy was inquisitive and clever and whenever he asked questions, they weren't ordinary.  His critical thinking questions threw the student teacher off balance, but she didn’t know how to help the situation or how she could meet the emotional and academic needs of the child, as he is gifted and talented and she found it difficult to understand his level of comprehension. She started ignoring the presence of this boy in her classroom. She ignored this boy's questions in class to the extent that it became obvious. She let the boy be on his own and, at first, his intellectual capacity and curiosity were not hampered. But along the line, the boy started losing attention.

One faithful day, the student teacher’s supervisor came to this school and asked her to prepare a 10-minute lesson for him to assess. The student-teacher’s heartbeat began to race like a sports car as she taught "Means of Transportation". After the whole lesson was taught, the teacher asked if there were questions. No students raised their hands except the gifted boy. The student-teacher tried to ignore him and even pretended as if she didn't see his hand.  But the supervisor standing in the back of the classroom told her that a student had his hand up, and she had no other option than to let the boy speak. He asked "Miss, you taught us that we have three means of transportation which are by air, water and land.  But what category is a submarine which is underwater?” As soon as the boy finished his question, the student-teacher burst into tears.  The supervisor too did not know what category this should fall into.  However, the supervisor turned out to be a gifted education professor, and he understood the peculiarity of this child. He went straight to the boy and squatted down to reach his height. He told the boy, “That's a brilliant question, and what category do you think a submarine is?” The boy himself answered the question, and the professor was perplexed about why the boy asked the question when he knew the answer. The boy then narrated how the student-teacher hadn't been meeting his emotional and intellectual needs.  Despite this treatment, he persisted in being curious and asking questions.  The boy overcame the limitations that were posed to him by the student-teacher through resilience.

The boy persevered through the hurdles of learning in that environment, but not all gifted students will be able to scale through in the same way. His mental health would have been more impacted if the supervisor hadn't come to the school and noticed the situation.

Building fortitude in gifted students entails the following:

  • Cultivating Self-Awareness: Gifted students can better comprehend their emotions, strengths, and limitations if they receive assistance in growing their sense of self. They can better control their emotions and make wise decisions with this self-awareness.

  • Promoting Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Gifted kids can better control their stress and anxiety by learning healthy coping mechanisms like deep breathing techniques, mindfulness, or creative outlets.

  • Fostering a Growth Perspective: Talented kids who are encouraged to adopt this perspective are better able to see hurdles as chances for personal development rather than as insurmountable barriers. Their resilience and openness to accepting new difficulties can be strengthened by adopting this mindset.

  • Fostering Supportive Relationships: Talented children can get the emotional support they require during trying times by developing strong, supportive relationships with mentors, teachers, and classmates.

  • Providing Access to Mental Health Resources: To treat any underlying emotional or psychological problems, gifted students may benefit from having access to mental health resources like counseling or therapy.

In conclusion, the development of emotional resilience, healthy mental health, and the ability to tolerate hardship are crucial for the success and general well-being of exceptional students. We can assist talented students in overcoming obstacles and thriving in all facets of their lives by understanding their distinct emotional terrain and offering the resources and assistance they require. A gifted learner who is not resilient will underachieve, and a gifted learner who is not underachieving is resilient.


Ayanwole Boluwatife Joshua is a passionate Social Inclusion Advocate who is interested in sharing the experience of gifted education in Africa, most especially Nigeria. He is a seasoned speaker, consultant, an advocate for neurodiversity, as well as a gifted education specialist. He currently works as an administrator and research assistant in an NGO in Lagos, Nigeria.


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