Tips for Parents: Gifted Children and Friendships
Sheely, A.
Davidson Institute for Talent Development

This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Annette Sheely, who shares her observations and tips about helping gifted and profoundly gifted children make and keep friendships.

Helping Gifted Children Make and Keep Friends


Early Childhood- Gifted boys and girls tend to play with each other more than more average children generally do. Many characteristics common among the gifted and profoundly gifted (pg) children, such as intensity, sensitivity, sensory issues, and perfectionism can interfere with making and keeping friends. How can parents help?

  • Provide opportunities for your child to meet potential friends (playdates with classmates, going to events designed for gifted and pg children, etc.)
  • Teach and support social skills and friendship skills (i.e. introducing one’s self, giving people “personal space,” eye contact, smiling, asking other people questions about themselves, etc.) They don’t have to all be mastered right away but gradually built up.
  • When possible, model good social and friendship skills. Tell stories from your own childhood and life about friendship experiences. (Don’t be afraid to share your mistakes if you learned something from them.)

Pre-Adolescence and Adolescence- During these years, gender issues tend to become more relevant, which can be a challenge for gifted students who tend towards being more androgynous. Being a member of a “tribe” is a critical task of this period of development and some gifted and pg teens will go underground with their giftedness during this time to be accepted by a group. Band/orchestra and theater arts/drama tend to be two safe havens for gifted students.

Young Adulthood- Many pg people do not make a close friend until college or graduate school. Sadly, some are jaded about close relationships by then. Parents can help keep their children open to friendships by speaking about and modeling the importance of close relationships in their own lives.

Adulthood- It can be extra challenging (but not impossible!) for gifted adults to form emotionally intimate relationships (whether for friendship or a committed relationship) if they have not had the experience of having at least one close friendship in childhood. Some of the same issues can interfere with adult social relationships that impact gifted children’s friendships: perfectionism, intensity, lack of skills related to compromise and conflict management. For adults who struggle with forming or maintaining close relationships, working with a counselor familiar with issues related to giftedness can be beneficial.


Real and Virtual Places to Meet Potential PG Friends-

  • The Davidson community: The children can meet each other online or at the in-person gatherings.
  • Various Online Resources for G/T and PG- I once heard of two moms from different states who met online, became friends and on a lark they planned a joint family vacation for the summer. Their two boys became best friends. Here is a link from Davidson to a list of socially networked advocacy groups  
  • Here is a list from Hoagies, also about social networking among the gifted
  • The PG Retreat, a family conference for PG families with sessions for parents and simultaneous sessions for children/teens. They also schedule plenty of free time for family fun. Typically held in Colorado around the 4th of July.
  • Gifted summer enrichment programs such as George Bett's program at the University of Northern Colorado (in Greeley) are designed to encourage social bonds. Some gifted adults say they met their best friends there when they were children.
  • NAGC's Resource Directory lists all kinds of Summer Camps and activities appropriate for the gifted  
  • The National Talent Search program- Duke’s Talent Identification Program, the University of Denver’s Rocky Mountain Talent Search, Johns Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth, Northwestern’s Center for Talent Development
  • Duke's Talent Identification Program (TIP) used to offer a small printed book full of summer enrichment and year-round opportunities for gifted students and now it's an online database.  
  • Mensa is an international organization designed to help gifted people meet each other. In many places, it's a great way for adults to meet each other. For children and families, activities and events can vary from city to city.
  • Some school districts offer highly gifted (hg) programs. Parents have shared that they can be a way for very gifted students to meet each other.
  • Museum classes and other enrichment classes.

Different Friends for Different Parts of One’s Self- Many gifted and pg people have found that they need different friends for different aspects of their lives. One teen boy had his football friends who were the same age and size, philosophy friends who could be any age or size but needed to intellectually engage the young man on philosophical issues, and chess friends who also could be any age or size but ideally were slightly ahead in chess rankings, so as to challenge

Age Differences Between Friends- Gifted children do often choose to have older friends and they typically work out well for both people. Being older, alone, does not guarantee the other child will be a good friendship match for your gifted child. PG children are more likely to have high level expectations of their friend, such as deep loyalty. (Miraca Gross has a wonderful article about gifted friendships:  

Help your younger child learn friendship skills and social skills (with your everyday stories, examples, and modeling) to help your child more equally match the older child's skills if you think there is a gap. Don't be overly afraid of the influence of the older friends. Parents can help prepare their child for the adult messages he or she may be getting from school, the media and other sources by sharing the values important to them and why they hold those values.

Introversion and Extraversion- Whether someone is an introvert or extravert will affect their friendships. For those unfamiliar with the concepts of introversion and extraversion-

ENERGY: Introverts tend to re-energize themselves alone or with a person they trust. They tend to feel drained of energy after they are with a crowd or a group, especially people they don't know. Extraverts tend to feel energized when they are in a crowd or a group. If they are alone for too long, they tend to feel low on energy and crave getting out with others.

INHIBITION: Extraverts tend to have low inhibition and say what they are thinking as they are thinking it. Many introverts think ahead of time about what they are going to say.

TRYING SOMETHING NEW: Extraverts tend to be comfy joining in an activity they are new to, trying it out and seeing what it's like as they go. Introverts tend to want to observe an activity for a while first, to better understand it, before joining in.

QUANTITY OF FRIENDS: Introverts tend to want and be happily satisfied with one or two close friends. Once they have those friends, they tend to not be interested in making new friends unless something disrupts their current friendship. Extraverts are always on the lookout for more friends, often great networkers, enjoying friendships with many people at various levels.


Conflict Management- I've found that some gifted children have remarkably mature and even idealized notions of friendship. They want to have and to be a loyal friend forever. Other gifted children can be perfectionistic about friendships and question whether the relationship was ever "meant to be" if there are conflicts or flaws in the relationship or the other person's friendship skills. Some gifted children, just by virtue of how intense and deeply caring they are can scare other kids away. At any rate, lots of gifted children can use some coaching and support when it comes to keeping friendships going (and even growing!)

I've found that it helps a LOT to teach kids (through talking with them little by little, telling our own stories and modeling) about working through conflict. (When I use the word conflict, what I mean is dealing with differences, misunderstandings, disagreements, hurts, things that -if ignored and left to fester- can grow into bigger problems that cause people to over-react later on to small things.)

I think that the most important thing to teach children about conflict is that it's natural and not a big deal, but just something to be worked through when it comes up. One way that I teach gifted children and teens to deal with conflict is to think of a specific situation (one specific incident, NOT saying something like, “you ALWAYS…” or “you NEVER..”) and then separate out the facts, the feelings and what might improve that situation for the future. For example, perhaps one child frequently tells the other child how they will play, what they will do, what rules they'll follow, etc. The child could be coached by mom or dad to tell the other child, "Yesterday when you told me today that we were going to play Transformers at my house and which characters I could be and which you were going to be, I felt like I was being bossed around and it bugged me. Next time, I'd like it better if you would ask me which characters I'd like to play and let me choose for myself."

For a lot of children (and adults, too!) that, alone, can be challenging enough to try and practice and eventually, master. If that seems easy or if the other person doesn't seem to try to make the requested changes, setting a boundary can be a good next step. We can't force someone else to change their behavior but we can tell the other person what we will do if they do or don't do something. For example, "When we play next time, if you keep making up all the rules and telling me how it's going to be and you don't let me make some choices, I will remind you that I'd like some choices. And if you still don't let me make some choices, then I'll head home and we can try again another day."

Speaking specifically about a conflict with someone else, asking for what one wants that would make things right, and setting a boundary- those are all pretty simple things to do and yet they are incredibly difficult for a lot of people to do with ease. Especially for people who have intense feelings. Managing conflict goes a long way towards helping gifted children keep, and not prematurely end, friendships.

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