Fostering The Social And Emotional Development Of Gifted Children Through Guided Viewing Of Film

By Thomas P. Hébert and Kristie L. Speirs Neumeister.

Manuscript submitted April, 2001.

Revision accepted September, 2001.

Abstract Teachers of gifted elementary school students seek strategies appropriate for fostering healthy social and emotional development in children. The authors propose guided viewing of film as a strategy through which teachers and counselors may assist young gifted students in gaining helpful insights to deal with problems they face. This article presents a theoretical foundation for this approach, a variety of strategies for implementation, and a collection of films appropriate for use with gifted students.


Ryan McCarthy, the gifted education resource teacher, had recess duty early one morning. As he sipped his strong morning coffee, he noted a familiar scene. As usual, Caitlin was sitting alone next to the school building with her head buried in a paperback book. A short distance away, the rest of the children were involved in a game of kickball. Although she was a pleasant, sensitive child, the other second graders did not seem to appreciate Caitlin. Mr. McCarthy noted that Caitlin was never invited to join in the other students’ playground games.


As the father of a precocious young daughter, Mr. McCarthy could empathize with Caitlin. He had watched his own daughter struggle to find friends. Ryan McCarthy sipped his coffee and began thinking about a number of other students in the gifted education program who seemed to have difficulty developing friendships. As he blew the whistle calling the children back into school, he thought back to the film Matilda that he had recently rented from a video store and enjoyed with his family. He knew this would be excellent material to share with his students in the gifted resource room, including Caitlin, in order to help them reach self-understanding and consider ways of developing relationships with others.


Social and Emotional Issues Facing Gifted Children The scenario painted above is an example of one of several social and emotional issues that many gifted children face. In Caitlin’s case, she felt different from her peer group. The intellectual and creative abilities of many gifted children like Caitlin make them feel isolated from their peers. These children may feel alienated and alone in a classroom of peers with different interests. Along with feeling misunderstood by their peers, gifted children also experience difficulty being understood by adults. On one hand, adults seem to appreciate, value, and reward gifted children’s talents, yet these same people sometimes ridicule the child or perhaps make the child conform to a more normal mold (Delisle, 1992). Young children may begin to question their own worth or the worth of others who are less intelligent or less creative. As a result, they experience feelings of sadness, anger, and anxiety (Webb, Meckstroth, & Tolan, 1982).


Another issue gifted children confront is precocity. Many intellectually advanced children experience frustration as they wait for others to catch up. Precocity may lead to boredom in school, as gifted children wait for their peers to learn skills they have mastered earlier (Clark, 1997; Gross, 1999). Many gifted children must also cope with perfectionistic tendencies. According to Adderholdt and Goldberg (1999), young children plagued with this trait avoid risk-taking activities in which failure is possible, denying themselves opportunities conducive to the development of their potential.


Gifted children also face difficulties surrounding gender role expectations. The culture, media, and schools send messages to boys and girls regarding what toys to play with, what clothes to wear, what length to wear their hair, and how to play on the playground. Going against traditional gender specific behavior may be more problematic for gifted children because of their sharp perceptual abilities and their increased sensitivity to the nuances of sexist language and culture (Silverman, 1993). One of the traits most often associated with gifted children is their heightened sensitivity, the depth and intensity of feeling with which the environment and other people affect them (Lovecky, 1991). They may experience more concerns about ethical and moral issues than their peers. Their heightened emotionality may overwhelm them, unless they are able to find appropriate outlets.


Finally, preserving their creativity is challenging for many gifted children. Children who at one time enjoyed imaginary playmates are suddenly confronted by friends on the playground who begin to laugh at the absurdity of imaginary friendships. As they progress through school, the desire to conform and be accepted by their peers and teachers causes many of these children to leave their originality behind (Torrance & Safter, 1999).


Addressing the Issues through Guided Viewing of Film The focus of this article is to deliver what Ryan McCarthy needed that day following his observations of Caitlin on the playground: a way to help gifted children in his resource room better understand the social and emotional issues in their lives and learn strategies to address their concerns. One strategy that elementary classroom teachers, gifted education specialists, and school counselors may consider is the use of guided viewing of film. The theory behind guided viewing parallels the rationale underlying the guided reading of literature commonly referred to as bibliotherapy. The effectiveness of literature and biography in addressing the social and emotional development of gifted students has been recognized by both researchers and teachers in gifted education (Frasier & McCannon, 1981; Halsted, 1994; Hébert & Kent, 2000). Bibliotherapy is defined as the use of reading to produce affective change and promote personality growth and development (Halsted; Lenkowsky, 1987). The therapeutic value of the experience happens when children identify with a literary character, reflect on that identification, and experience emotional growth as a result of the bibliotherapy process.


The bibliotherapeutic process involves a number of consecutive stages, initially identified by Shrodes (1949). The initial stage, identification, occurs when readers recognize similarities between themselves and the story’s characters. In the second stage, readers experience catharsis, an empathetic, emotional reaction similar to what they imagine the characters were feeling. Insight, the third stage, involves readers reflecting on their identification with the characters and their situations. Insight may occur either while reading the book or later in follow-up discussion. In the final stage, application, individuals apply the insights gained from reflection and discussion to