Tips for Parents: Friendships of Gifted Elementary School Children
Frankel, F.
Davidson Institute for Talent Development

This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Dr. Fred Frankel, who explores issues that gifted and talented children have in regards to making and keeping friendships and in getting along with peers.

Several important changes have taken place in the last 10 years. The field of clinical psychology has also undergone a metamorphosis. A new evidence-based movement in therapy has taken hold. The basic philosophy is that treatment programs should be standardized and should be evaluated and modified based upon the outcome of treatment. The UCLA Children’s Friendship Program has been in the forefront of this movement. Over 1,100 elementary school aged children and their parents have been helped in our Children’s Friendship Training classes (outside of our research studies, we have conducted over 140 of these classes since 1989). An important part of the intervention is homework assignments given to parents and children. On subsequent sessions we hear about the experiences of parents and children in following through with these assignments. This process has been important in helping me modify and adapt the program.

The results of clinical trials for Children’s Friendship Training have also been gratifying: Improvement on our outcome measures ranged from 70-91% of children. The classes are open to all children, but journal editors and grant reviewers insist upon us reporting results for children with specific diagnoses. We have demonstrated effectiveness of our treatment in controlled studies for children with ADHD, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum disorders, autism spectrum disorders. In some cases we were able to follow-up for 16 weeks after the end of treatment. In these cases our group members showed continued improvement. Our clinic groups also help children who are gifted and talented.

The most important finding has been that one-on-one play dates are the best way to build close friendships. A one-on-one play date happens when your child invites only one guest over and plays with him in private. One-on-one play dates are the only time when children can get to know each other intimately without interruption. One-on-one play dates help your child to develop and maintain intimate relationships with his friends.

These are features I and other researchers have found in children with friendship problems in general. None of these are known to be associated specifically with giftedness.

Problems in social currency –
Mutual play activities and common conversational interests – some of the children with friendship problems don’t know how to play anything but video games and only have very restricted areas of conversation. Friendships start on a basis of common interests (what are you going to do together when you get together?)

Sports is a common social currency –
a common language, mostly for boys. I personally have not been talented in many of the common sports Handball is an interesting game that is played commonly on playgrounds at school. Very little time is actually spent playing. Much time is consumed waiting on line to play and negotiating the rules (no Americans, poppies are allowed...). It is more social than athletic.

Problems in sharing a conversation -
The first type of shared conversation is the search for common ground activities (what do you like to do? Here’s what I like to do. What should we do together?). Some of the children with friendship problems can’t share a conversation – either they dominate the conversation or don’t maintain its flow.
This is not only a conversational skill, but represents the start of the give and take necessary to establish a mutually rewarding relationship. One should not only consider one's own needs to have true friends but should also be willing to listen to the needs of others and defer to them.
A second type of shared conversation involves moderating personal disclosure as you get to know someone. Revealing things that are too personal too soon in the relationship and bragging (rather than more subtly disclosing) are common social errors among children with friendship problems.

Problems in resolving conflict -
Studies show that lack conflict during the first three play dates predicts that children will not go on to be best friends (thus “rules for a good host” I present in my book). In contrast to the effects upon new acquaintances, studies show that best friends are able to quickly resolve conflict, move on to have fun and become more socially competent in the process.

There are other problems that we’ve seen (e.g., aggression, defiance to adults, violations of the golden rule -- "do unto others as you would have them do unto you") but these are the most common in the formation of best friends.
Some of these problems are addressed by my parent self-help book (Good Friends are Hard to Find). Others I have covered in my therapist guide (Children’s Friendship Training).

Social skills programs that effectively teach children skills they will actually use:
1. be time-limited, with detailed plans for each session to teach specific skills
2. involve parents as part of the treatment in separate parent sessions
3. give homework assignments bearing directly on making friends in the community
4. follow-up on these assignments and discuss obstacles to implementation
5. prohibit friendships between group members

I find that many gifted kids are gifted in personal relationships also. I knew 2 school valedictorians who were very sweet, accepting, gracious people and were well-liked by their classmates. Friendship-making is a skill just like riding a bicycle and can be mastered the same way by a determined pupil. The minority of gifted kids have friendship problems. They commit many similar social errors to many other children who come to us for help. Their additional handicaps are that they need to survive in social climates where most others are as smart as they are, and finding other children with similar interests may be somewhat difficult for them.

A negative reputation at school has a life of its own and will last for a while even if a child doesn't do anything to cause further injury. There are two ways to deal with this:
1. Have the child lay low and not actively try to make friends in school (instead try a new situation where no one knows him). Eventually peers will forget. However if he tries to approach others with friendship overtures too soon, he may get shudders as other kids see him coming instead of a second chance.
2. Older kids (who have changed their behavior) might be able to say, when the opportunity comes up, "that was the old me, I don’t do that stuff anymore. " The may shorten the time it takes for their negative reputation to abate.

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