#5 Gifted Students Often Struggle Socially

What is Life Without Friends?

The title may be misleading because, in my experience, the social struggles of gifted children are not so much that gifted children are inept in social situations or are lacking social skills, it is more that society does not understand or accept the not-quite-average behaviors of gifted children.  This is where the struggle is.  Gifted children struggle to fit in into society’s accepted behavior norms.

Gifted students’ above-average intelligence, emotional intensities, extreme sensitivities, and their complex topics of interest can make them stand out in an unfortunate way among their same-age peers, and this often results in their peers rejecting them.  Gifted students are often unaware that while they are excitedly conversing with classmates about a highly advanced topic, they are coming across  to their age-mates as a know-it-all, or as being arrogant.  The reality is, these gifted children, especially the younger they are, are too young to be able to determine if their conversation topic is too complex for same-age peers.  It is not showing off or arrogance, it is simply who they are.  They are just being themselves.

As gifted children get older, they come to realize that their conversations and interests are too complex for their classmates, and then they learn to “dumb down”.  This is such a travesty.  Can you imagine the middle school’s stand-out quarterback having to back off from his above-average athletic talents because the rest of the football team deemed him a show-off?  Or the high school head cheerleader feeling like she can’t exhibit her exceptional gymnastics skills because the rest of the cheerleading squad felt she was being arrogant by performing her flawless standing back tuck and sticking it every time.  The truth here is that a child is never made to feel like he needs to hide his talents so not to offend others unless he is intellectually talented.  And this is when gifted children willingly “dumb down” just so they can try to fit in socially.

Not only do gifted children struggle with fitting in with same-age peers, but adults who don’t understand giftedness can get testy when a gifted child’s not-so-average behaviors become annoying or are judged as disrespectful.  Due to their larger-than-average knowledge base, gifted students often correct the incorrect information of their classmates as well as their teachers and other adults.  The gifted child is not being disrespectful; to the contrary, he is very much concerned with knowledge and information, and the correct knowledge and information is critical to them.  So, not only are gifted children finding themselves being socially snubbed by same-age classmates, they encounter adults who are offended by a child speaking to them as an adult would.  And sadly, I have witnessed and seen the devastating results of the retaliation of these “offended” adults!

My youngest gifted son, since he was a toddler, was a continual chatterbox.  More often than not, he preferred to hold in-depth conversations, mostly about Science topics, with adults.  Because these adult conversations were so highly engaging for him, he naturally gravitated towards adults at a very young age.  Subsequently, this made finding like-minded friends difficult – he communicated like an adult, and he wanted play like a child.

Finding like-minded peers is often one of the most emotionally traumatic experiences in a gifted child’s life.  With just 1% to 2% of the population being gifted, the struggle to find like-minded peers is a well-documented issue for so many gifted children.  And with the educational epidemic within our school systems of eliminating gifted programs with the financial axe, our gifted children have little chance now to find the emotional security of being able to socialize and make friends with like-minded peers.

Scheduling play dates, finding extracurricular activities, signing up for volunteer organizations, joining teams, and starting a gifted parent support group in my area all became a full-time job for me in my quest to find the other 1% – 2% of the population who are gifted.  I recently had an online conversation with a couple of other parents of gifted children and we jokingly said we were going to start a residential subdivision called “Gifted Oaks” just so our children would have a neighborhood full of gifted, like-minded friends!  Half-jokingly really, because I would so buy a house in a subdivision like that!

I think I need to change the title of this to–#5 Gifted Students Often Struggle to fit in Socially within a society who does not understand or accept their giftedness.

In my recent blog post A Gifted Child Checklist for Teachers , I listed ten basic characteristics and traits of gifted children.  It is a list intended to easily help teachers and others by providing a brief and basic listing of gifted traits and characteristics which aren’t always so well-known, recognized or obvious.  I also hoped my checklist would dispel some myths and correct some incorrect information about giftedness.  Be sure to follow all the posts in this series!

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19 Comments on “#5 Gifted Students Often Struggle Socially

  1. Pingback: Amazing Things Happen When You Find A Friend | The Grayson School

  2. Pingback: As President, What Will You Do for Gifted Education? | Crushing Tall Poppies

  3. Oh trust me I’ve been devouring everything I’ve found on the subject since I stumbled across this. There is so much that speaks to my life here and elsewhere. As always I feel the bittersweet mix of relief that I’m not alone while choking on the sorrow that anyone else had to go through what I did.

    I always understood myself and my experiences well enough, but this puts so much into context. I never understood why I was so sensitive in a way that others weren’t, why seemingly alone I found school to have crushed my desire to learn anything or why no one else thought it was a waste of effort and theft of time I could have used much more efficiently otherwise, why no one else found it so humiliating being shuffled from room to room, to have your behavior so strictly controlled to pointless rules, how degrading it was to have so little autonomy as to have to ask to even be able to go to the bathroom. I talked to so many people that have fond memories of school I had to concede I was an outlier.

    I have never spoken to anyone who had my same experience at school. Acing all the tests and never being able to force myself through the tedium of homework. Having your teacher rip your notebook in half in front of the class because she didn’t believe you could finish your work that quickly. Being called lazy and spoiled because I was obviously smart enough to do all the work, but never did. Having to choose between the actually correct answer and the answer the teacher wanted. Gods I can go on forever.

    I am not ok. I am not one of the kids that turned out ok. I have spent my entire adult life in a haze of depression and anxiety and PTSD. I have worked manual labour jobs where my co-workers have incredulously asked me why I’m there because I’m clearly capable of much more comfortable work, and finding myself at a loss how to explain that I never want to see the inside of an academic institution again.

    I am so very raw over all of this right now, you can probably tell. No sleep for me tonight. Maybe I can finally start to heal after all this.

    • Rania,

      My heart goes out to you–I get it and I understand. Many of us do!

      There are many people who have commented here on my blog who have gone through what you have, and all wonder if giftedness is a gift or a curse, or both. I can only hope that they find some solace in sharing their stories here where it can help educate parents of young gifted children on the struggles gifted children may encounter. Sometimes helping others can bring peace to ourselves.

      All the best to you, Rania, as you go through this time in your life. Hopefully, the positives of giftedness will outshine the negatives! <3

  4. It’s 4 am. It’s not the first time I’ve spent a sleepless night searching for something to make sense of why my childhood was so miserable, but this series is perhaps the first thing that really ever spoke to it.

    I remember this. I never could talk to any of my peers at school. The world they inhabited seemed to be tiny, full of concerns that seemed incredibly petty to me, and ruled by a status competition that was pointless and completely arbitrary. I felt that school was a prison, that there must be something else in life even if I didn’t know what that was, but on one else seemed to realize there was a world beyond school, and at that age I simply didn’t have the language to articulate to anyone how surreal school was to me.

    Adults were much easier to talk to, but finding one who took you seriously enough to engage was rare. Then we got the internet, the year we moved to the US. This was a lifeline. On the internet no one knows you’re 12, and for the first time I found people I could talk to. I quickly ended up spending all my free time on it. My mother thought it was excessive but I was so distraught when she tried to limit my time on it that she eventually caved and got a second phone line so that I could be on it without blocking incoming calls. I often say I was raised by the internet. It was a window to the world beyond school that I was so desperately looking for. It didn’t get any better in highschool. I felt out of step with all the other kids until the day I flunked out.

    Thank you for this, I think. I’m 30 years old now and I’ve never found validation for the trauma I suffered having to go through school. I never understood why so many people have fond memories of it, and so often when I talk about how terrible school was, I’m told I’m an outlier and that it works just fine for everyone else. I never thought of myself as gifted but all of this just fits entirely too well.

    • Rania,

      Logic tells us that we are not all the same and some of us are further from the norm than others making it more rare to find someone like us who we can easily relate to. You are not at all alone in regard to the social issues you had in school. Many, many of our gifted children struggle with finding like-minded peers because of the very reasons you describe. But, we all tend to keep quiet about it.

      Giftedness is not just about academics–wrongly, it is strongly associated with doing well in school. Giftedness has many different emotional and social traits and issues, and not all gifted children excel in school. Keep reading about giftedness and join one of the many gifted adult groups on Facebook–you will likely find many kindred spirits who have gone through the same experiences you have.

      And kudos to your mom for supporting your need to interact on the internet. What a brave and intuitive mom! Many moms would have heeded all the fear-mongering about the dangers of the internet and strongly restricted their child’s use of it and not caved!

      Rania, I’m happy you have found some degree of validation here and I hope you continue to read and discover more about giftedness!

      Thank you so very much for sharing your high school experience with us–you never know when a mom reads your comment and sees her on child going through similar and decides to work towards making things for the better for him!

  5. Pingback: Gifted Children—About THAT Stereotype | Crushing Tall Poppies

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  7. Pingback: A Gifted Child Checklist for Teachers | Crushing Tall Poppies

  8. Why not build your community? “:)

    About 15 years ago members from my church decided to group together and consciously live within a 4km radius… and it’s worked out great. As people bought houses or moved many came to live within the one area and it means we all are able to be much more supportive and helpful in our community and enjoy the benefits of being near neighbours.

    How you’d go about this I have no idea, but I believe the US has a few really strong gifted schools, so why not near one of those – you’ll be halfway there then – because a lot of people would gravitate to live near those with their gifted kids who attend.

    • It is not a novel idea. We have a Catholic homeschool group here who have had several meetings this year trying to organize a Catholic residential neighborhood. It may be a new trend!

  9. I am a teacher, a parent and a grandparent and over the last 40 years I have seen gifted children who don’t fit in with their peers, for a variety of reasons, which you have described. When I have done workshops about including children with special needs in the mainstream I usually ask the group what they wish for their children as adults. What do you want for them after their formal education is complete? The list is remarkably similar every time. Happiness, love, friends, family, fulfillment, hobbies, health are there in some way, different words maybe, but these ideas. Then we talk about what is not on the list. Since it is a workshop on disabilities we notice how being able to read, or even walk, etc., the things we are so focused on in the day to day classroom can seem less important in the big picture. The long view of a gifted child’s life should be part of the conversation.

    I agree with everyone who has spoken here about the lack of understanding and acceptance that can be painful for a child. How do you protect them but also prepare them for life as an adult who doesn’t want to be lonely, who wants to use their superior talents without alienating others, who wants to be understood and accepted? I have a few suggestions and would like to hear yours.

    1. Keep the child involved with peers on a daily basis. This is a basic need to be amongst peers. And this is the only way to learn social skills which are typically delayed in gifted students.
    2. Guide students to notice what is happening socially around them. The student with a ball she has brought to the playground: what does she do to get others to join in the game?
    3. Reflect factually (what does a camera see) what has happened, support the student to then imagine how the players feel. See if they can begin to predict outcomes of certain actions, words said, etc.
    4. Always respect your child’s feelings, encourage them to describe how they feel. Watch out for the trap: “Don’t feel that,” or “you shouldn’t feel bad…”
    5. They might be most tempted to retreat when things don’t go well. Respect that, talk about it, feel what you feel, but DO what will help you learn better how to be in the world. Scenarios can be staged; go through the motions, pretend. Jump in and learn to swim. It may save your life or your child’s future.
    6. Maybe most important of all is to let them know you believe they can do it. Malcolm Gladwell said something like the virtuoso piano soloist is only different from me in that they practiced 10,000 more hours than I. The way to get into the world is through practice.

    They are beautiful children in so many ways. Bring out all their talents. Develop all their skills. Multiple intelligences is a way to check yourself as a teacher or a parent by asking: Have I thought of every part of their being, or am I focusing only on their strengths? The peaks will get higher and the valleys flatter without a holistic view.

    • Debbie,

      Thank you so much for your words of wisdom! And you are so right about what we all as parents want for our children, and your list of suggestions are very good recommendations and reminders. I do think though that the one factor that makes raising gifted children and preparing them for the future more difficult is helping them cope with our society’s general anti-intellectualism attitude – a discrimination of sorts against intelligent people.

      Yes, we all need to be mindful of our words, actions and reactions, and how it affects others. And guiding our children using the six excellent suggestions you made above is spot on! But how do you guide and coach your child to learn how to moderate his intelligence to a degree that helps him succeed but not offend peers or adults? How do you help your gifted child understand that his gift, his talent, is also seemingly a curse that can bring about jealousy, rejection and resentment in others?

      Personally, I have coached my son tirelessly using the exact suggestions you have made because I am a strong believer that we all need to be mindful of our actions and words and how they affect or engage others. My gifted teen though, at times, gets so frustrated and upset because he feels he has moderated his gifted behaviors (dumbed down) so much that he is no longer himself. How much does he need to change himself to fit in within our world?

  10. Hi – thanks for this article – even Kaity’s GATE teacher didn’t see this as the reason for social difficulties. I met Shelagh Gallagher at the Cincinnati homeschool convention in April – it opened my eyes to my life experiences and how to help my daughter. Your article is dead on!!! Looking to read more of your work.

    • Thank you very much, Heather! Isn’t it so validating, and a relief, to meet someone like Shelagh Gallagher who really gets our gifted children?!

      • Absolutely- the knowledge has helped my daughter accept who/what she is and to understand and get less upset when those snubs happen. It also makes those few connections with other kids like her, so much appreciated.

  11. My child is gifted across the board and I have had parents tell me they are tired of my child winning everything and that it is not fair for the other kids. At his soccer game last night the other parents stopped cheering after his 8th goal. It was like when he was doing well they were happy and supportive but then it shifted. Another parent went to his coach and said he should not get to play so much, that it was not fair. Then a child from another team ran up to him and threw him on the group and kicked him. I am so upset, this happened last year and I did not want to do soccer again this year but he loves it. I do not know how to deal with it without shouting. We live in a small community and he has no peers. His teacher called him arrogant.

    • Rebecca, I understand completely. It’s like your son receives support and praise as long as he doesn’t pull away from the pack too much; when he obviously excels way above others and does so consistently, it isn’t tolerable by others anymore. So wrong. In my opinion, it is wrong that any adult should stifle a young child’s ability just so other children don’t feel bad about themselves. As parents, we should try to teach our kids that they should be the best they can be and not to compare their efforts with others – but of course that is easier said than done!

      And the shouting thing? I did that once! My oldest was gifted academically, artistically and athletically. He was an accomplished soccer forward. One year in high school, he was playing indoor soccer and the other team targeted him to be roughed up. They had this one big girl playing defense for the opposing team, and even though my son may not have had the ball all the time, she would push him to the floor after each play. The last straw came when she shoved him from behind and he slid about 10 feet across the wood floor of the gym, the squeaky sound of skin along wood echoed in the gym. My son got up, blood dripping down both arms, wrist to elbow. I lost it. While everyone was clapping and wooting because the other team had scored, I stood up, mad as a wet hen, and yelled an unsavory name to that girl. At the very second that the clapping had stopped, the derogatory name spewed from my mouth and was heard by everyone in the gym! My advice? Don’t shout at games no matter how mad you get 🙂

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