Tips for Parents: The Role of Friendships in Life Challenges for Gifted and Talented Children
Frankel, F.
Davidson Institute for Talent Development

This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Dr. Fred Frankel, director of the UCLA Children's Friendship program, who discusses the important role of friendships for gifted and talented children.

Children’s social status in school:
By about second grade, children start to become acutely interested in each other. They start to organize games which involve more than one other child. They depend upon each other for fun and games, begin to talk about and evaluate each other. This is when a child's begins to have a "reputation" with peers.

Some friendless children have a negative reputation. They may not be aware of it, since few children talk to them. The only way it is communicated by the teasing of a few. But ask any other child at school and she/he will give clear reasons for the bad reputation. Once a negative reputation takes hold, the other children remember the negative things a child has done but, are unaware or disbelieve appropriate things the same child has also done. If the child with a negative reputation were immediately to stop all negative behavior and begin to act with social skill, other children would not notice or believe it right away.

One "quick fix" might be to change the child's school. This may work if the child has identified his negative behavior and is able to change most of it. Most likely a child rejected in one school because of social ineptness will be rejected in the next school. Another "quick fix" might be to try to arrange play dates with children at school. Again, if the child doesn't know any better and is left to his/her own devices, this will not help either.

Measuring social status at school:
Children in an elementary school classroom are provided with a class roster and a picture of each child in the class. While looking at this roster and picture, they are asked to list the three other children that they would most like to play with and the three they would least like to play with. The psychologists count how often each child on the roster is listed by another as "most liked" and "least liked." These tabulations result in four categories of social status:

  1. Well-liked - These children are selected by many other children as one of their "most liked" playmates and are not selected by any as a "least liked" playmate.
  2. Average Accepted - In this case average is nothing to be ashamed about. These children are selected by some children as "most liked" but by no one as "least liked." Most children fall into this category.
  3. Neglected - These children are overlooked by their classmates. They appear on almost no one's "most liked" or "least liked" list. Being neglected by classmates may last for a short while. However, when a neglected child is also shy, highly withdrawn, or sad, he/she may be Chronically Neglected year after year. If your child has been Neglected for more than one year, you should be concerned, as this may indicate your child does not have the skills to be noticed by others.
  4. Rejected - This category is always indicative of significant problems in peer relationships. Rejected children are on many or all of their classmates "least liked" lists and on no one's "most liked" list. They are social outcasts with highly negative reputations. They are not simply overlooked, but actively avoided by their classmates.

Between 10% and 20% of school-aged children are actively rejected by their classmates. Being rejected by peers is as persistent across the years as a child's IQ. Psychologists have returned several years later and repeated these evaluations on the same children. They find that most of the children who were Rejected before remain Rejected years later.

How to effectively treat social problems:
Our program focuses on what to do in key social situations, rather than the mistakes children make. Evidence-based social skills treatment (ones demonstrated to work):

  1. Involves a group of kids the same age
  2. Has a syllabus (not open-ended) which teach skills
  3. Teach skills which are ecologically-valid: they are done by children who are socially successful and not done or done incorrectly by children who are unsuccessful.
  4. Prohibit play dates and after-session social contacts between group members.

The skills that should be taught include:

  1. Having a 2-way conversation (sharing a conversation)
  2. Joining others at play in a respectful manner or taking being turned down (I call this "slipping in" in my book)
  3. Being a good host on a play date.
  4. Resisting teasing

My book "Children's Friendship Training" is a therapist manual for how to run such groups.

How to handle being teased:
Teasing (70% of all victimization) - is defined as disparaging remarks directed to another child. Younger boys tease primarily by name-calling. Older boys tease by disparaging the victim or the victim's family. The dominant motivation reported by perpetrators of teasing is their pleasure at the discomfort of the victim. Well-liked kids get less teasing. Teasing is meant to be degrading and sometimes the perpetrators magnify this by teasing in front of spectators. Ignoring or walking away can be doubly embarrassing in front of spectators.

Studies show that children who are onlookers see a humorous response by the victim as the most effective response to teasing and tend to attribute more social skill to the child who can use this. Coming back with a different snappy reply for each tease may actually embarrass the perpetrator (the victim will only need 2 or 3). Teasing back will not do this. The most effective way of decreasing teasing is to show the perpetrator that it doesn't bother you by not teasing back but making fun of the tease (My "Good Friends.." book has a chapter on this you can read with your child). Several stock replies like "Tell me when you get to the funny part" and "so what?" and "I heard that one in first grade" said with an indifferent tone of voice (boys) or an "attitude" (girls) are usually effective. This may turn the tease from an embarrassing situation into an opportunity to be humorous and have some fun at no one's direct expense.

Your child is more likely to use a well-rehearsed response in a tight situation than to have to think up something on the spot. So practice with your child may help.

Parents may make it difficult for their child to respond appropriately to teasing by having them "defend the family honor" or may focus on the child’s feelings about being teased (and may suggest, "Just tell her that it hurts your feelings when she says mean things to you"). This tends to validate the teaser (he really is hurting you, you are quite vulnerable) and has the victim focus on the hurt rather than an effective response (a big mistake).


Contributed by: DITD Team Member on 6/23/2005
This is a brief article that discusses teasing and social status for children at school. Dr. Frankel lists four individual ways to measure social status for children. His list includes categories such as "well-liked", "average accepted", "neglected", and "rejected". This is a valuable article for parents and teachers of not only gifted children, but all children who are having difficulty in this area.

The appearance of any information in the Davidson Institute's Database does not imply an endorsement by, or any affiliation with, the Davidson Institute. All information presented is for informational purposes only and is solely the opinion of and the responsibility of the author. Although reasonable effort is made to present accurate information, the Davidson Institute makes no guarantees of any kind, including as to accuracy or completeness. Use of such information is at the sole risk of the reader.

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