Updated: Mar 3, 2019
By Lori Comallie-Caplan.
Last month at our local gifted parent group, I asked what they would like the next presentation to be about, and the answer was unanimously “Gifted Children and Friendships.” This week when I asked one of the children I work with what she wanted for this holiday season, her answer was “more friends.” Parents are often worried about their gifted child’s lack of friends. Gifted children often think they do not have friends or that they want more friends. More recent research and literature shows that gifted children’s smaller number’s of friends relates more to personality style than to a lack of social skills. Friendship is not simply acceptance by peers or social competencies. Rather, it is a dynamic relationship that offers more than the acceptance of others based on certain attributes (Aiken, 2012).
Gifted children do sometimes have difficulties finding friends. They generally require a “like-minded” peer both in intellect and interest. In their younger years, they can be somewhat impatient with those who are not as quick as they are. In their middle years, they struggle with whether to conform to a peer group or remain individually true to themselves. Parents can help by promoting socially healthy relationships and helping their children to understand that there is a relationship continuum from “play partner” to “sure shelter,” as Miraca Gross (2002) explains:
‘A faithful friend is a sure shelter; whoever finds one has found a rare treasure.’ The word ‘rare’ has several meanings. The writer of the book of Ecclesiasticus used it in the sense of ‘exceptional’ or ‘incomparable’.
However, ‘rare’ also means ‘scarce’. Intellectually gifted children grouped by chronological age may find that the treasure of a sure shelter is rare indeed. In the case of highly and exceptionally gifted children, it is difficult to justify the inclusion of these children in classes comprised of age-peers whose expectations of friendship are so radically different from theirs.
Another important aspect of how many friends is enough is whether the gifted child is introverted or extroverted. Introverted children may not want or need as many friends. They are not as likely to initiate friendships but more likely to sit back and observe and wait to be invited in. They enjoy their alone time and generally have only one or two very close friends. They “are private people who enjoy doing things by themselves and who reveal inner most thoughts to only a few,” according to former SENG President Sharon Lind (2004). Lind continues, “Introverts draw their energy from being solitary, and are private people who enjoy doing things by themselves and who reveal their innermost thoughts to only a few. They need to first process, plan, and react privately and internally before responding.” Gifted children, both introverts and extroverts, do prefer and have the need for alone time. That is not to say that they feel “alone”. Lego characters, book characters and other imaginative play can provide a “peer” experience for our gifted children.
Friendships between two gifted children can be intense and consuming. Sometimes one friendship can meet all friendship needs. This intensely loyal relationship can grow stronger over time. The ending of this type of friendship can cause great emotional upheaval in a child’s life. Even though it may be difficult, it is important for parents to help their gifted children develop a few less intense relationships.
The authors of Parenting the Gifted Child (Webb, Gore, Amend, & DeVries, 2007, p. 182) offer this great list of tips for parents to help their child with friendships.
Help your child to:
· Make time for friends.
· Take initiative to open doors for possible friendships.
· Learn to be a good host.
· Practice friendship skills in low stress situations.
· Be a good listener to show interest and caring for others.
· Be sincere about abilities, but avoid bragging.
· Give compliments to others to bring attention to their good qualities.
· Participate in group activities, perhaps even in areas of weakness to create friendship opportunities. Be accepting of those who think and act differently from you.
Parents can model compassion and friendship. When your gifted child sees you standing by your friends when they need you most, being a good listener, celebrating their successes, and being patient with their differences, they will truly know what friendship is all about.
Aiken, E. (2012). “Gifted Children and Friendship: Finding Balance between Research and Reality.” NAGC Convention 2012, Denver, CO.
Gross, M.U.M. (2002). “Play Partner” or “Sure Shelter”: What Gifted Children Look for in Friendship. Available online at https://www.sengifted.org/post/play-partner-or-sure-shelter-what-gifted-children-look-for-in-friendship
Lind, S. (2004). Introversion. Available online at https://www.sengifted.org/post/introversion
Webb. J. T., Gore, J. L., Amend, E. R. & DeVries, A. R. (2007). A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children. Tucson, AR: Great Potential Press. ________________________________________________________
Lori Comallie-Caplan, LMSW, is in private practice specializing in therapy and evaluation of gifted children and adolescents in Las Cruces, NM. She is a frequent presenter at SENG and NAGC and provides professional development to school districts and parent groups. Lori is also president of SENG’s Board of Directors.