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Tips for Parents: Socialization and the Highly Gifted Child

Highlights from Expert Series

The following article by Dr. Jim Delisle shares highlights and insights from one of our Expert Series events, which are exclusive for Young Scholars and their parents.

One of the hardest things to contend with as a parent of a highly gifted child is the lack of honest and worthy relationships that our children seem to be able to find among kids of their own age. There’s a good reason for that: often, highly gifted children’s best friends and relationships are formed by kids who are far different in age than they are. No worries though, as there are solutions to this perplexing dilemma.

  • Encourage your PG child to make friends with people of all ages. The only time in life when people are pigeonholed by their chronological age is during childhood. Once we reach adolescence (or slightly beyond) we come to realize that age is seldom a barometer in whether or not we want to affiliate with other people. A 35 year old having dinner with a 45 year old? No big deal. But if a 12 year old wants to dine with a 22-year old, all kinds of eyebrows are raised. Remember: age is relative, unless you’re very young…and then, it still might be.
  • There is a difference between an agemate and a peer. Just because someone was born in the same year that I was, doesn’t mean we are peers. We might have a lot or nothing in common, but age is seldom a factor in acceptance when it comes to PG kids. Let them know that if they don’t get along with kids their own age, that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with them. In fact, it might mean that something is right with them: that they want legitimate social relationships that don’t use age as the primary criterion.
  • One good friend is better than having 20 people who like you but don’t really know you. Growing up can be an arduous process for trying to fit in, especially for PG kids who wonder if they fit anywhere at all, socially. Let them know that, as adults, we have one or two close friends in our social milieu, and that is often quite sufficient. That might not be typical in middle school for most kids, but if it is for YOUR PG kid…then welcome to the adult world of social connections. I don’t want even a single PG kid to feel lesser of him or herself because they like “failures” for not being the school’s social butterfly.

Socialization of PG kids does not have to be tortuous or lonely. All our kids need to understand is that what is “typical” in social relationships among kids their ages might not be true for them. This doesn’t cast aspersions on anyone; it merely accentuates the fact that being gifted involves as much of the heart as it does the mind.

Your PG kids will be fine once they find their social niche. And trust me…with rare exception, they will find it.


Previous Version of Seminar

Editor’s Note: The following is a synopsis of an early version of this seminar.

Introduction

When this seminar began, I had hoped to be able to offer some concrete advice on how to help your PG kids get more tuned in to the socialization arena (if they needed that), continue to progress as the social beings that they are (success breeds success!), or to come to understand that the “rules” of socialization are often unwritten and are neither universally understood nor applied (by adults or kids!). What I came to learn, thanks to the many on-line respondents who shared both advice and solace, was that all I needed to do was put out a “teaser” comment or example, and the rest of you filled in the blanks with stories from your own kids’ lives. I may have been the “Captain,” but it was the “crew” who came through and did the hardest work. Thank you…and thank each other!

Tentative Findings

As I read each posting on this topic, I jotted down some notes about the more common pieces of wisdom and experience shared among those who participated. Here are several of them:

  • Socialization is more of a problem in large groups than in small ones.
    Often, these problems manifested themselves at school but not at home, or at neighborhood “free for alls” (kids everywhere), but not during one-on-ones with your PG child and another child.
  • PG kids had more social difficulties with “age mates” than “peers.”
    An age mate is someone who shares your year of birth, but a peer is someone who shares your soul, your mind, and your interests. Sometimes these groups overlap, but with PG kids, not often enough.
  • PG kids need to understand that it is OK to preserve those parts of themselves that are more introspective and contemplative.
    The term used by many parents who responded was “introverted,” but I prefer “introspective and contemplative,” as they seem to carry less baggage than does the term “introvert.” Especially in the middle school years, when loud, abrasive, in-your-face interactions are common and expected, PG kids might begin to think they are “weird” if they prefer quieter outings or relationships. They need to know they are not weird, but just operating at a social level that, like their minds, outpaces itself. Being intellectually able, in and of itself, can make a PG kid “different” enough in a regular classroom that it impacts socialization.
  • Educators and others often miss the connection between scholastic performance and social relationships.
    If non-PG kids feel they are being “shown up” by able classmates, the result may be social ostracism, even for kids who had, heretofore, been accepted by classmates.
  • Parents of PG kids often faced the same social issues that their children are now facing–and, in fact, the adults may still be facing some of these issues.
    Many a parent of a PG kid feels like a “minority of one,” the only adult in his/her social group who thinks as deeply or feels so intently. Like their children, they sometimes go underground rather than address what has been a lifelong issue of social adequacy. In such instances (and please remember that this feeling is NOT universal), parents feel powerless to help their children succeed in an arena where the did not — indeed, DO not.
  • Sports help.
    It’s blatant, it’s obvious, and it may be wrong, but athletic involvements often work to a child’s social advantage. Blame our culture, which could pay 200 University professors’ annual salaries for the cost of a one year contract in professional baseball, but the truth is still there: involvement in sports makes even the smartest kid a little more “regular looking” in the eyes of others. This does not mean that you should force your children to participate in athletics against their wills, but it does imply that the hurdles they might jump over on the track field help in the social field, too.

Tentative Conclusions (I LOVE oxymoron’s)

  • Involve your PG child with kids of multiple ages when they share common interests. The only time in life that people are pigeonholed for socialization specifically by age is during school years. If your child is more comfortable with kids older or younger — or even with adults — that’s fine. In fact, it’s common for gifted children.
  • If your child encounters social difficulties, have them “re-live” with you both what happened and who said what, and give them the chance to dissect why these hurt feelings were there — on both their part and that of the other person(s). When this is finished, ask them to discuss with you several alternate solutions, should another event like this arise.
  • Don’t let even well-meaning adults turn your introspective child into something s/he is not. Too often, adults try to “fix” kids’ attitudes or behaviors, without even asking if the child is uncomfortable enough to want to be helped! Since many adults (including teachers) have had little exposure to PG kids, they may believe “what works for one kid works for all.” Well, no. So, if you have an introspective child and someone says “She should interact more with her peers,” ask yourself these questions: “is my child isolated or simply seeking quiet?”; “is my child in a social situation outside of the context in which this person sees him/her?”; and, “who’s problem is this?” If it’s more an issue for the person trying to change your child than it is for your child personally, take this into account before you develop a plan of action.

Permission Statement

This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under.

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Please note, the Davidson Institute is a non-profit serving families with highly gifted children. We will not post comments that are considered soliciting, mention illicit topics, or share highly personal information.

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