Davidson Institute for Talent Development
In this article, Jim Delisle provides information on the peer relations of gifted students, the differences between an “agemate” and a “peer”, and resources on forming social relationships.
1. Most common peer issues
Although most gifted kids don’t have serious problems with peer relations—contrary to popular myth—they do encounter some unique situations due to their advanced intellects and (often) intense levels of observation and insight. One particular social issue that gifted kids often deal with (although it is seldom discussed openly) is the difference between an “agemate” and a “peer”. Let’s take this example: if you are a 10-year old with the intellect of a 13-year old, you may find you have little in common with your classmates—your so-called “peers”. However, when this same 10-year old has the chance to interact with older kids (or adults), s/he may find him or herself more engaged in conversations and social banter. This is the distinction I make directly with gifted kids: an “agemate” is someone who shares your chronological age, while a “peer” is someone with whom you interact because you have common interests or ideas, whatever their age. I also remind them that the only time they will be so pigeonholed according to their age is in elementary through high school classes. Once the real world begins, age is seldom the most relevant factor in selecting friends. I mean, really: when you, as an adult, are hosting a party, do you call people first and ask them how old they are? How absurd! The same is true for gifted children: they use common interests and intellect as the barometers of social engagement.
2. Teachers’ concerns about peer relations with gifted kids
My response to this relates directly to the situation I just mentioned: the agemate/peer distinction. Teachers often fear that if they allow a younger gifted student to interact with older kids--say a third grader moves up to 5th grade for math instruction—that the child will be in a social wasteland, accepted by neither the 3rd nor 5th graders. Most often, though, those fears are unfounded, as the gifted kid who interacts intellectually with the older students will begin to fit in after the initial shock from the older students that “a kid so young can know so much.” In fact, if the younger student begins to act inappropriately with a group of older kids, these “elders” will let the young student know that “we don’t act that way in this grade.” Social skill development for the gifted child can actually be enhanced in this situation.
The other groups of peers that gifted kids are often attracted to like a magnet is other gifted kids who are their same age. Time and time again, I have had gifted kids of all ages tell me that when they are with classmates who are as smart or smarter than they are, they actually find an unexpected haven of intellectual and social comfort. As one of my gifted 8th graders wrote to me not long ago, “Before starting in your gifted program, I always felt isolated knowing that many people didn’t understand what I was thinking or saying. But these barriers were stripped away as I found other people who thought and spoke as I did. I no longer had to think my ideas through before I spoke for fear of being misunderstood. I could speak freely…I found a refuge.”
I would suggest that teachers look at their gifted students when they are most engaged in their studies or play—and consider with whom these gifted kids are interacting. Water seeks its own level…and so does intellect. Any chance we can get, as educators, to fill the social void by providing true peers to our students is a gift beyond measure for them.
I find that gifted kids often are most often willing to talk about social relationships when you start from the outside and work in. Huh? In other words, using historical characters, people in history, or even fictional characters like the kids in the Harry Potter or Narnia series, investigate the triumphs and hardships that these individuals encountered in their intellectual and social interactions. You’ll be surprised how quickly the conversation turns to something much more personal…much more real.
A specific resource I’d recommend is actually a publishing company for whom I’ve written several books. Free Spirit Publishing (http://www.freespirit.com) began in 1983 with a Company motto of “Self-Help for Kids.” Today, the Company has become one of the most respected distributors of books and other materials that instill positive social interaction skills in gifted kids…and others. I suggest perusing their website to find some resources that fit your particular niche—early childhood through young adulthood.
Jim Delisle, Ph.D. has worked with and for gifted children for 33 years. He is the author of 16 books, including the newly-released 4th Edition of “The Gifted Teen Survival Guide”, which we co-wrote with Judy Galbraith.