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The Impact of Natural Disasters on Gifted Students and How They Can Help

Posted by Categories: Gifted Students, Socio-Emotional

Gifted children have a tendency toward intensities in many areas—academic, physical, and emotional. The emotional sensitivities usually coupled with moral intensities become very apparent during times of crisis and disaster. The recent barrage of the effects of hurricanes Harvey and Irma spotlight our awareness of the intensities that gifted children can experience. They are often deeply affected by the ravaging effects of natural disasters on such a large number of people. They may become depressed, nervous, anxious, or fearful when hearing disaster news and when viewing photos showing the devastation. As parents and educators we are often caught unawares of the intensity of children’s responses and unsure of the best courses of action to take to relieve their stress.

In my experience, engaging and empowering students to participate in solving the resulting problems following such disasters has proven to be effective on many levels. Engagement in problem solving processes directs the student’s energies in positive directions, provides a sense of control and satisfaction, and also helps the victims of the disaster, which is the ultimate goal. The actions taken can be small or large—either will calm the student and will help the needy parties.

There are many things you can do to help your child or student feel useful and empowered in such situations:

  1. Of course, the most apparent is to help raise money for any of the many organizations helping the vast number of people affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, or whatever causes they care about. These organizations are easily found on the Internet.
  2. They can participate in drives to collect clothing and supplies for those in emergency situations, such as in the hurricane relief efforts.
  3. For most children, concern about animals is paramount, so they might support efforts to save and relocate animals and pets displaced by hurricanes.

At our Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG) programs, we have offered several classes in the past regarding preparing for and preventing disasters, as a way to help students cope with the possibilities that disasters portend. These classes were not very well subscribed as I think it is difficult for young people to think of being prepared for something that at the time exists in the abstract.

A couple of other ways that students can deal with helping others, being prepared mentally and emotionally for future disasters are:

  1. Start a non-profit organization based around a cause or concern that the student may have. That way they are continuously working on making the world a better place and have a structure ready that can be used for emergency situations as well.
  2. Participate in programs of Future Problem Solving (FPS), and, particularly, Community Problem Solving (CmPS). CmPS encourages them to tackle a real problem in their community and learn the processes of creative problem solving that can be applied in any issue of concern. FPS encourages them to think about potential problems of the future, learning a creative problem solving process, the importance of teamwork, and awareness of how things may be different in their futures lives. These strategies help students cope with the unknown and help them bring confidence into their daily lives. (see www.fpspi.org)

You doubtless have other suggestions of ways that you have helped gifted students pair their deeply emotional feelings with addressing the outcomes rendered through disasters. We’d love to hear from you and share your ideas with others.

All the best,

Barbara Swicord, Ed.D.
CEO, National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)
President, Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG)

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