Balancing Social Emotional Needs and the “Real World”


SEL or Social Emotional Learning are buzz words in today’s educational system and recommended as a focus in the home to encourage social success. Yet it is imperative that SEL consider the existential considerations and emotional overexcitability that are often part of the gifted and twice exceptional person’s profile. While SEL can provide a cushion to help sensitive and hyper-aware 2e people move through the world in a less painful way, the typical approach needs to be tweaked to provide successful results. How does one balance protecting the sensitive soul and preparing a person for the “real world”?

What is SEL?

Social Emotional Learning is a concept that originally began in the 1960s at the Yale School of Medicine and was reinvigorated in the 1990s in Daniel Goleman’s books, Emotional Intelligence, (2005) and Social Intelligence (2006). Now explored and applied in an evidence-based school curriculum, often provided by CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) SEL goals include effective communication and social skills, constructive relationship building, and productive ways to approach interpersonal conflict. The approach and framework as laid out by CASEL includes: 

  • self-awareness, 
  • self-management, 
  • social awareness, 
  • relationship skills, and 
  • responsible decision making.

SEL and Gifted

SEL is a wonderful approach particularly to raise awareness of the need for social and emotional attention. In gifted and 2e circles, we’ve recognized this deep need in our population and even have an association founded on the importance of social emotional awareness since 1981 when the late Jim Webb founded Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG). The rub is that self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, responsible decision making often look different for the gifted or twice exceptional person than for the neurotypical person based on the depth of their interests and awareness.


For the gifted or 2e person, being self-aware means recognizing intensity as an inherent and neurological component of one’s brain. It means understanding your higher and wider emotional bell curve as something unique to you. It means finding a way to accept yourself as different than most of you peers and identifying ways to monitor, manage, and most importantly, like yourself for your unique approach to the world. 


If a gifted/2e person is incensed about something – likely those emotions are rooted in deep feelings of responsibility; responsibility to keep the planet safe, to fairness and justness, and to kindness. The gifted/2e person constantly finds herself calculating a cost-benefit analysis and unfortunately frequently masks her true feelings and thoughts, deferring to someone else’s. While this may be easier for everyone else involved, this approach is not sustainable and often leads to negative self-talk and other self-abuse. 

Social Awareness

Gifted and 2e people need interest peers more than age peers. Trying to interact, communicate, or have a meaningful connection with someone whose outlook is vastly different than yours, whose priorities and passions are significantly different than yours makes it difficult to forge deep and lasting relationships. A client’s four-year-old is teaching himself Russian. Another client’s six-year-old is drafting a letter to Putin to encourage him to stop the war in Ukraine. It’s doubtful that their preschool and kindergarten aged peers are focused on the same thing. Older gifted and 2e people who are concerned with gender politics or the environment, for example, may differ from peers who are focused on weekend entertainment or how to increase their salary. In these instances, the gifted/2e person is all too socially aware – aware of their differences.

Relationship Skills

Again, the inherent differences of gifted and 2e people sets them up for potential relationship conflict. Yet, if they are self-aware, in a productive and positive way, understanding and accepting their overexcitabilities, and if they align themselves with others who respect their priority and approach, they can make sound decisions regarding relationships. This does not mean never interacting with someone different – that is unrealistic and unfulfilling. What it means is being secure and confident in who they are, so they can decide whether they can or need to get involved in conversations and activities that may or may not align with their approach to the world. 

Responsible Decision Making

Decision making for the gifted/2e person involves understanding oneself, doing the cost-benefit analysis of getting involved, and ending up with no regrets. A 2e adult client shared with me when he became incensed at a concert because while he was taken away by the beautiful music, when he opened his eyes, he noticed many audience members scrolling on their phones. He had to decide at that moment whether to involve himself, or to retreat and allow himself to fully enjoy his experience despite the presence of others. A client’s child who prefers to dig in the dirt during recess rather than play with other kids, must make the decision whether to stay true to herself when a teacher encourages her to play with others. Responsible decision making for these 2e people is inextricably tied to their self-awareness and recognition that doing what they love – no matter how others feel about it – is imperative for successful self-management.

I am all for Social Emotional Learning and delighted that there are curricula for schools and recommendations for home. In the case of giftedness and twice exceptionality, however, the importance of recognizing and honoring difference, of learning to communicate one’s needs rather than conforming to others’, is imperative for a healthy social and emotional life. As with most overall approaches intended for a wide swath of people, using an SEL approach with gifted and 2e people means tweaking it to take into account the different experience and approach that gifted and 2e people experience in their lives.

Julie F. Skolnick M.A., J.D.
Author: Julie F. Skolnick M.A., J.D.

Julie Skolnick, M.A., J.D., is the Founder of With Understanding Comes Calm, LLC, through which she passionately guides parents of gifted and distractible children, mentors 2e adults, and collaborates with and advises educators and professionals on bringing out the best and raising self-confidence in their students and clients.

Julie F. Skolnick M.A., J.D.

Julie F. Skolnick M.A., J.D.

Julie Skolnick, M.A., J.D., is the Founder of With Understanding Comes Calm, LLC, through which she passionately guides parents of gifted and distractible children, mentors 2e adults, and collaborates with and advises educators and professionals on bringing out the best and raising self-confidence in their students and clients.

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