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Are Gifted Children More or Less Emotionally Intelligent?

By Yvette Vignando - 11th August 2010

Sorry, I can't answer the question posed in the title of this post. I'm fairly sure that the question can't really be answered at all. And the more research I read about this issue, the more convinced I am that it's important not to generalise and stereotype on the topic of giftedness and social skills. I do believe that often giftedness in children brings with it many social and emotional challenges but I do not believe that giftedness equals lower levels of emotional intelligence.

To emphasise the importance of teaching and parenting each child without stereotyped assumptions, I'm sharing some research with you.

We've all heard the terms "nerd" and "geek" and most of us know a child or two that is very smart but less socially at ease than their peers. I also know many kids with high levels of intelligence that fit in well in the playground and are well-liked by their peers. So, is it true that along with giftedness comes a high risk of social isolation and difficulty fitting in with friends of the same age? Is it true that social and emotional competencies are lower among gifted and talented children?

According to a piece of research I have just read called Emotional Intelligence and Gifted Children, maybe not. In summary, the research indicated this:

- The levels of Emotional Intelligence of gifted children in this study did not show any significant difference from the "normal" levels found in the population.

- The levels of Emotional Intelligence of gifted children in this study did not show any significant difference from the average-performing children used as a control group in this study.

- There were some significant gender differences on levels of interpersonal, intrapersonal and general Emotional Intelligence levels; overall, among gifted and non-gifted kids, the females and their parents reported themselves more highly.

- The gifted children who chose to remain in the normal curriculum stream (as opposed to those who chose the program for gifted children) scored slightly but significantly higher on their self-reported levels of adaptability.

Firstly - as I am often reminded - please take all research results with the proverbial grain of salt. Secondly - as I often remind others and myself - treat your own child as the unique young person that they are.

Having followed my first and second reminders, you may wish to view my video discussion about this piece of research and add your own views about the topic.

If you're not keen on listening to me chat about this on the video for 5 minutes then perhaps you could share your views on this question only...

Do Gifted Kids Need to Improve Their Social Skills?


Is it the reaction of parents, teachers and peers to the intellectually gifted child that is more of an issue than that child's innate level of emotional intelligence?

My response to this question is that many gifted kids, particularly the profoundly gifted, communicate and react to life in ways that are challenging, unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable for their peers, parents and teachers. But is this their problem? Yes and no.

With apologies for fence-sitting, I think the gifted child does need to learn, for example, that determinedly correcting every error made by a peer in a conversation is socially jarring. I think the gifted child that has a wealth of knowledge about their special subject of interest does need to learn that other children may not be as interested in, for example, the intricate inner workings of 1935 steam engines.

On the other hand, the "average" child also needs to appreciate and value diversity in their peers. Schools and parents teach children about racial, cultural and religious diversity and tolerance and about integration of children with intellectual disability but rarely talk about tolerance for different personality styles, varieties of intelligence or intellectual approaches. I'd like to see more teachers and parents talking openly about the value of having gifted children in a school and less of the 'tall-poppy' mentality that often accompanies our approach to "smart kids".

If, as I suspect, it's true that giftedness does not equal lower levels of emotional intelligence - let's focus more on celebrating the diversity in all children and improving our own parenting and teaching skills to better cater for the range of wonderful and precious children in our schools. I know I am learning more every day about this with my own children and still have far to go!

Comments (8)

YvetteVignando's picture

You are So Right - Dumbing Down

I've seen this too - smart kids and extarverted kids have so much to say on everything and it can really rub teachers and their friends the wrong way - being precocious can be a real liability. It's hard to teach children about how to display their knowledge, skills and interest in the right way. It's also hard to teach their peers to accept and value the sometimes over-enthusiastic contributions of their "gifted' peers.

The whole term "gifted" opens up another minefield anyway - that's a conversation for another time ....

Not saying who or when but a teacher told me that a smart young man had his hand up in class for 5 minutes just to point out that the teacher had left a parenthesis off a phrase (on a science classroom blackboard)!

YvetteVignando's picture

Higher Expectations and Gifted Children

I agree Sarah and Susan that thinking about the social/emotional expectations we have of our children is a salient point.

Gifted kids do tend to talk about issues that children of the same age would not even think about; they also engage in more debate-style conversations and I'm sure that some of this subconciously raises our own expectations of their 'moral compass' and their behaviour.

It's often said that gifted children tend to have a strong sense of right and wrong - but that does not necessarily equip them with all the skills needed to be strong in emotional intelligence skills. Perhaps gifted children (which we have to remember is a very broad term for a very diverse group of children) are better able to make good decisions in certain circumstances - and that is part of being emotionally intelligent.

Here are the 5 main areas of social and emotional competence that are usually looked at when delivering this education to children:

Self Management
Self Awareness
Social Awareness
Relationship Skills
Responsible Decision Making

SusanW's picture

Gifted children

As a mother of 3 gifted children, I can comment that emotional intelligence seems to be more influenced by personality than giftedness. My 11yo son is not particularly emotionally aware, my 9yo daughter is very good at reading the emotions of others and empathising and my 6yo son is a master at interpreting the emotions/behaviour of others and adapting his own behaviour accordingly.

I love your comments in the second last paragraph. I agree that gifted kids have something special to share in the school environment, as do all children, and that this contribution is often under-acknowledged and not supported well by the general school approach to gifted children.

SusanW's picture

higher expectations

I agree Sarah that it is sometimes easy to have higher expectations of gifted children in all areas and to forget their actual age. It is a hard balancing act at times - challenging and dealing with gifted kids on an advanced level on so many fronts while keeping their actual age and abilities in other areas firmly in mind.

SarahLiebetrau's picture

Gifted children and emotional intelligence

This is an interesting topic. I wonder too whether sometimes gifted children are held up to higher standards/closer scrutiny than their average peers, perhaps there is an assumption that because they are gifted in a certain area they should have emotional skills beyond their age, too. Sometimes it's easy to forget that a child is, say, 5, when they are displaying the mathematical ability of a 7 or 8 year old. Perhaps when children struggle in general more leeway is given (usually by adults) for the potential concurrent emotional issues? Just a thought.

ZoeyMartin's picture

Dumbing Down

I think there can be a real risk of gifted children dumbing themselves down to fit in. In fact there is a risk of 'average' children dumbing themselves down too.

It's a pretty challenging thing to teach children social skills without masking areas of intelligence or talent as a prerequisite.

Nomie's picture

Emotional intelligence, like

Emotional intelligence, like all other intelligences, is something some children have in abundance, while others struggle. The important thing is to ensure all children, gifted or not, are given the tools they need to develop.

Social and emotional intelligence, although linked are not exactly the same thing. I think it is important to note that there is a difference between the two, but that they do go hand in hand.

While traditionally social development has been focussed on, emotional intelligence has not. This is changing, and I hope, continues to do so.
For a strong sense of wellbeing and identity, all children need to be given ample opportunity to develop socially and emotionally, and as parents and educators it is our job to do this.

It's not an easy task, and it's not a quick fix... it's ongoing, like all learning, it takes place over time building on prior understanding, pushing boundaries, challenging oneself and others along the way.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that all children need the support to develop in their social and emotional intelligence. As a mother of a child who has a very high level of emotional intelligence, I can tell you that this can sometimes make social situations hard. Having the ability to recognise the emotional needs of others can make for very stressful social situations when you are a young child. It can also be incredibly rewarding to see children and adults turn to your child for support.

So really, emotional intelligence is something that all children need support in. Giving them the tools to navigate socially is a start, but it's more than that. Yes, tricky, very tricky to do, but like many things, the benefits to all are worth the time and work.

Gifted children

I see quite a few gifted children and for some reason or another they struggle with some of the life skills that other children have. Life skills such as making friends, personal space etc. I can help give them the tools to overcome these hurdling blocks and they do grasp it. I dont think you can say that all gifted children need to improve their social skills anymore than the next child. There are always children who are not gifted who find it tough to make friends or fit in with their 'peers' easily. Lets take each child as being their own being and help them with whatever social and life skills they need help with.

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