As a parent of a highly gifted child, have you ever felt like you were talking to a mini adult? Many gifted students tend to grasp advanced concepts, participate in conversations well beyond their years, and hit developmental milestones early on. Their advanced abilities can apply to their social development just as much as they apply to their intellectual development. As surprising as it may be for you as the parents to observe your child trying to converse with adults about advanced topics, imagine how puzzled your child feels when their classmate does not want to discuss constitutional law at the age of 9. When it comes to gifted friendships, there is a notable discrepancy between classmates, or age mates, and someone that they consider as a true peer.
Gifted children may have unique expectations from their peers or find it difficult to navigate neurotypical friendship dynamics. In Writing Your Own Script: A Parent’s Role in the Gifted Child’s Social Development, the authors Corin Barsily Goodwin and Mika Gustavson explain that a gifted child’s idea of friendship may also be accelerated like their intellectual path. Gifted children tend to seek out more mature friendships that are built on trust rather than merely wanting a play date. A friend who can serve as a confidant and share their unique interests is generally beyond what most same age peers are able to provide. As a result, many highly gifted children feel as if they don’t have true peers or a “real friend,” even if they generally seem socially accepted.
To help your gifted child find true peers versus age mates, some of our Young Scholar families have found success in:
Find others who share similar interests. Highly gifted students often have a social life similar to that of an adult’s, meaning they can have a diverse friendship group dedicated to specific interests. You may have to go beyond the school and get creative to help your child make connections with others who share their passions. This could include exploring volunteer opportunities with a museum, finding afterschool program in neighboring school districts, joining a D&D group, or using online forums.
As stated in the article, Social Issues and Asynchronous Kids, “If you can’t find a community, grow your own.” With Zoom, Discord, YouTube, Facebook, and more online options than ever, there is no reason you and your child can’t try to build the community you want to see in the world. Local groups are also worth a shot and can help bring together scattered gifted families in your area for a day at a Science Center, a nature trial, or other gifted-friendly social opportunity. The Davidson Institute and other gifted organizations can often help you spread the word!
Because highly gifted students often gravitate towards older peers, a mentor can provide the double benefit of being a figure who really “gets it” and help your child pursue their interests. Mentor relationships can spring from diverse sources, such as a professor at a local community college, an undergraduate student, or even a high school student who many be further along in their studies and can help your child carve out a path for themselves. Please check our Mentoring Guidebook for insights into how to develop a mentor connection.
Look for enrichment and true peers through summer opportunities. Socializing in a structured environment with a group of peers united around the same interest can help take a lot of the initial pressure off of gifted children who may be unsure how to create connections. Some parents of gifted children say that these summer events can be the difference that sustains their child throughout the school year if friendships have been hard to come by. If you are unsure of where to look for these opportunities, feel free to check out our residential summer program list to explore what’s available to you and your student.