Belonging and Gifted Children

This post is by guest blogger Rebecca Howell for the UK, whose past posts for the #NZGAW bog tour have been among our most widely read. Thank you for supporting our blog tour again, Rebecca.

The desire for humans to belong is said to be such a fundamental human motivation that there are severe emotional consequences of not belonging (Baumeister and Leary 1995). The need to belong is a basic human need, something we need for survival as much as food, warmth and shelter. If our basic needs are threatened we react with the biological systems of fight, flight and playing dead. This applies to belonging and our need to protect it as much as our other basic needs, and our physiological responses are accompanied by the emotional responses of anger (fight), anxiety (flight) and depression (playing dead).

‘Belonging’ means that we feel that we play an active part in the communities we encounter; our families, our schools and our workplaces. Playing an active part in our communities means feeling that we are of value to community and have self-worth.

When we sense a threat to our belonging or self-worth, we respond biologically. Whether we respond with anger, anxiety or depression depends on many things but we experience at least one of those feelings. These feelings are there to force us into action, so we feel compelled to get rid of the feelings through attacking (if angry), running away or withdrawing (if experiencing anxiety) or shutting down emotions (if playing dead).

However, we also know that there are long-term consequences to short-term behaviours, both generally and in protecting our belonging and self-worth, so we can choose to rationalise these feelings. When children have these strong feelings they are less able to rationalise them or see the long-term consequences of their actions.

Gifted children often suffer from a lack of understanding for them and their situation. A gifted child who is misunderstood by parents, teachers or peers is likely to feel as if they don’t belong and their self-worth will be challenged. This will be a threat to their basic need and they will experience anger, anxiety or depression. These feelings may, if they cannot yet rationalise them, result in inappropriate behaviour attempting to protect this need.

When teachers don’t get the measure of gifted children, when the tendency towards rules and justice is cast aside, when actions are misunderstood, gifted children’s sense of belonging and self-worth are threatened.

When gifted children don’t have access to the appropriate level of challenge, when they are routinely made to sit through basic work they already know, when the questions they ask to further their understanding are brushed aside, gifted children’s sense of belonging and self-worth is threatened.

When parents misunderstand gifted children’s sensory signals, when they aren’t consistent or fair in their discipline, when they hold their children back from accessing the learning they need, gifted children’s sense of belonging and self-worth is threatened.

When gifted children’s peers don’t accommodate their differences, when they leave them out of games or taunt and tease them, gifted children’s sense of belonging and self-worth is threatened.

These examples show that damage to many gifted children’s sense of belonging and self-worth happens frequently. Parents, teachers and other professionals need to make sure that environments are best-placed to avoid threats to their sense of belonging and self-worth by:

  • Ensuring gifted children’s individual needs are recognised and communicated
  • Recognising and supporting the individual characteristics of gifted children
  • Making sure discipline is fair, consistent and with precedent (part of the school/home rules)
  • Understanding that strong emotions sometimes lead to strong actions
  • Providing the appropriate level of challenge so gifted children can build learning skills and resilience
  • Ensuring the environments gifted children are in are accepting of differences
  • Helping gifted children to build friendships and tackling any bullying behaviour.

#NZGAW Blog TourImage Credit: Mary St George.

Find other #NZGAW Blog Tour posts at


About Mary St George

I teach in gifted education, both online and face-to-face.
This entry was posted in education, gifted and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Belonging and Gifted Children

  1. Sarah says:

    Great blog, I agree with every word. Thank you for explaining the fight/flight/play dead in terms of anger, anxiety and depression. I’ve never heard of it in those terms but it seems obvious now.

  2. Such great points. I agree completely about the importance and difficulties of helping gifted children to feel that they belong. I had also commented on an article by Kiehl a while back that highlighted the difference between helping children fit in vs. belong in the classroom:
    Thanks for highlighting this important need among these children.

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