Peers–Enriching the Social Life of Your Gifted Child
What is life without friends? Children and adults alike need and want true and lasting friendships, but for the gifted child, finding a friend who she can relate to intellectually among her same-age classmates in her traditional school classroom can be quite difficult. Given the age-old method traditional schools use to divide students into grade levels by their ages, it is understandable that a gifted child who is intellectually ahead of her same-age classmates can can struggle to find a true intellectual peer—one who gets the higher level and the complexity of the content of discourse of many gifted children.
For this reason, gifted children, in the absence of finding an intellectual, similar-age peer, gravitate towards older children and adults for social interaction. “It is common knowledge that gifted children often prefer the company of adults or older children. The reason is obvious: They don’t need to explain who they are or how they know what they know. Accepted as bright, competent individuals, the stigma of being smart is not a stigma at all”, explains Dr. James Delisle in his book, Parenting Gifted Kids.1
Traditional schools, by their very nature of segregating students into grade levels based on age and then teaching the same level of course work, en masse, to each child in the same grade despite the varying achievement and aptitude levels of the students, can make the social life of gifted children awkward. And many times, the social life of gifted children can be emotionally painful.
We all know that intellectually gifted children are too often miseducated and unchallenged in their regular classroom of same-age classmates. Subsequently, the regular same-age classroom creates an unintentional emotionally and socially ill-suited environment for gifted children—the regular classroom becomes an inopportune place for gifted children to easily find friends. With the varying achievement and aptitude levels of same-aged children, age-based school segregation really just makes finding an intellectual peer a crap shoot for any child the further away they are from the norm—at either end.
My experiences with gifted children and their need for friendships is multifold—from remembering a classmate I grew up with in grade school through high school whose only social interaction at every recess was with the words on the pages of her book she was reading, to recalling my years as a teacher and seemingly having at least one student each year in my class who was a loner, but loved engaging in lengthy conversations with me which made her light up, and then of course with my own gifted sons. And although there are no easy solutions to helping a gifted child find true, intellectual peers, there are ways to help your gifted child find like-minded friends.
Groups, clubs, classes, activities and teams which focus on your gifted child’s passions, strengths and interests are all opportunities to meet like-minded peers who have the same interests in common. Volunteer opportunities are also a rich resource which can further your child’s interests, enrich his social and emotional development. and extend his learning. Enrolling your child in after-school, weekend and summer gifted programs is another way to boost your child’s social and emotional growth and provide an opportunity for your child to make lasting friendships. All seem practical enough, and they do provide workable solutions, but be prepared for some of these opportunities end up not being a good fit for your child.
I offer this caveat—be prepared to try a few or even many to find the one that works for your child. I’d have to say, it seemed I was always in search of an opportunity for my gifted sons to be able to find strong, lasting friendships, not just acquaintances. We have moved many times over the years and the minute we would land in each new hometown, my priority was to find the right social opportunities for my gifted children. This has given me well-earned experience and I have two take-away bits of advice when searching out an activity or opportunity for social interaction for your gifted child:
- Be prepared for what can seem like a never-ending search with some opportunities not working out as hoped. Don’t give up! This was never more true than with our last move. Although the opportunities for a good social environment for our gifted son were out there, many did not turn out as we had hoped, so we had to continue our search for quite a long time—nearly two years. It was important to keep reminding myself as well as my gifted son not to give up hope and to accept that it may take some time. This was also a time where I had to take numerous steps out of my comfort zone to continually email, call and ask others for information to the point where I began to feel like a unwanted pest. But, our long search was finally fruitful. Our youngest gifted son found a highly-engaging robotics team with team mates and mentors who are all on the same page.
- If you can’t find what you need, create your own. I’ve had experience with implementing this tip, too. When my search for groups of like-minded kids didn’t seem to be turning up much, I created my own group. The many avenues of social media make this easier than you might think. As to my comfort zone doing this? I felt like I had jumped off a cliff, but you may be less apprehensive than I was.
The North Alabama Parents of Gifted Children Facebook group was created one morning after an anxious night of tossing, turning and worrying about the struggle to find a social environment for my gifted son to blossom in. With little forethought, but a huge payout in the end, I created the Facebook page for NAPGC (North Alabama Parents of Gifted Children) hoping to gather other local parents of gifted children for support and fellowship for the parents and their gifted children. Things just snowballed from there.
Within a month of forming that little Facebook page with LIKES slowly trickling in, I was asked to help create the North Alabama Association for Gifted Children in conjunction with the state organization, Alabama Association for Gifted Children (AAGC) and national association, National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC). What I learned from this worthwhile and rewarding experience was, if you build it, they will come (paraphrased quote from the movie Field of Dreams, 1989).2 These two groups essentially became one, filled with parents of gifted children with one commonality—improving the lives and education of our gifted children.
In the end, my family truly received more than we had expected in the way of empathetic support, sharing of resources and lasting friendships. So, go ahead and form your own group of teens who want to code, or girls who are interested in science, or families who love geocaching. You can never predict the many rewarding experiences and relationships which may result in the end!
Yes, for a gifted child, finding true peers can seem elusive, and traditional schools are not often a field of opportunities. As a parent, it may take effort on your part to seek out ways for your gifted child to connect with like-minded, intellectual peers. Be persistent, remain positive and reassure your child—finding three-leaf clovers is easy, and finding five-leaf clovers will take some time, but they are there.
1. Delisle Ph.D., James R. (2002-04-06). Parenting Gifted Kids (p. 22). Prufrock Press.
2. Field of Dreams. Dir. Phil Alden Robinson. Perf. Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, Gaby Hoffmann, Ray Liotta, James Earl Jones, Burt Lancaster, and Timothy Busfield. 1989.
This is the third post in my Gifted Lagniappe Series. Be sure to check out the other posts in this series: