Fall is here, hear the yell
back to school, ring the bell
brand new shoes, walking blues
climb the fence, books and pens
I can tell that we are gonna be friends
I can tell that we are gonna be friends

                        “We’re Going to be Friends” ~ The White Stripes

The Power of Friendship

Understanding the power of friendship and the positive influence a best buddy can have on our lives, parents begin looking for kids their child can hang out with even before he or she starts talking. The hope is, of course, that friends will yield birthday party invitations, play dates and hours of shared experiences.

But finding friends for a gifted child can sometimes be difficult. For some, the issue may be asynchronous development: they may be very advanced academically but immature socially. Some gifted learners may struggle with social skills or social awkwardness.  It may be some comfort to know that this problem is not unique to your gifted child.

With a little parent input, though, kids can find social connection, and most often it’s with someone just like themselves.

“This difficulty of the gifted child in forming friendships is largely a result of the infrequency of persons who are like-minded.  The more intelligent a person is, regardless of age, the less often can he find a truly congenial companion.  The average child finds playmates in plenty who can think and act on a level congenial to him, because there are so many average children.” 

 

Hollingworth, L.S. (1936).   The development of personality in highly intelligent children. National Elementary Principal, 15, 272-281.

Research shows that putting your child in social situations with like-minded peers is the best way to start building their companion list. In “Friendship 101,” authors Lisa Van Gemert, Gifted Youth Specialist at American Mensa and Patti Bear quote Dr. Dan Peters, co-founder and Executive Director of the Summit Center as saying: “Kids need to be mirrored — they need someone else who gets them, who values them, and who enjoys them for who they are.”

Psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore agrees. In “How Children Can Make Friends,” Kennedy-Moore asserts that similarity is the second most important ingredient to finding friends (the first ingredient in friendship is openness): “Fundamentally, friendship is a relationship between equals.” Unfortunately, in typical schools where students are grouped by age, the kind of “equal” that a gifted student can find is limited to someone who is the same age they are rather than an intellectual peer.

finding friends for a gifted child
Photo via VisualHunt

Still, parents of a gifted child may have to look extra hard to help their child find their sidekick. According to Celi Trépanier, teacher, author and a certified SENG Model Parent Group facilitator points out in her blog Crushing Tall Poppies, “With just 1% to 2% of the population being gifted, the struggle to find like-minded peers is a well-documented issue for so many gifted children.”

Finding Friends For A Gifted Child

At The Grayson School, the mother of six-year-old Jordan knows this statistic too well. Like most parents of children who learn differently, her road to finding Jordan an environment where he can be both happy and challenged, has been a bumpy ride.

“We knew Jordan was a different kind of kid from the get go,” Jordan’s mom says. “He was highly energetic with an insatiable curiosity. Unfortunately, he was curious about things that no other two-year-old was curious about, so he stuck out.”

By preschool, as Jordan attempted to connect and play with the children in his class, he quickly learned that his peers had very different interests. “His pretend play wasn’t like the other kids’ and he gravitated toward the adults who would tolerate his desire to talk about numbers, math and science,” Jordan’s mom says. “Assumptions were made about Jordan’s ability to make friends and to interact with peers, which ultimately made it more difficult for him to make friends in school. The more Jordan received the message that he wasn’t doing the right thing or acting the right way, the more he acted out and the more the other kids distanced themselves from him.” Ultimately, Jordan talked about his “friends,” but he was never invited for a play date.

Concerned about Jordan, his mom took the school’s suggestion to attend social skills groups to help Jordan learn how to make friends, a psychologist to help with the anxiety, and an occupational therapist to help manage some of the sensory issues that were “impeding his success” in the preschool classroom. All of these interventions helped to some degree, except that he still wasn’t making friends.

Eventually Jordan’s mom had him tested to better understand his needs so she and her husband could plan accordingly and get the right supports in place. “We expected to find some of what was revealed in the testing,” Jordan’s mom says, “but  to hear that your four-year-old child is profoundly gifted followed by comments like, ‘there is no good school option here for him,’ ‘he will have trouble finding a similar peer,’ and ‘it will get easier when he is about 9,’  were nearly enough to unravel us.”

Still, Jordan’s mom was grateful for the test results, and clung to a piece of hope that the psychologist handed her. “The psychologist told us that given an intellectually similar peer, Jordan did have the social skills to maintain a friendship,” she says.

It took another year to discover that the psychologist was, in fact, correct. Enrolled at The Grayson School, Jordan grew more confident, happy and comfortable in his skin for the first time in many years.

It was only a matter of months before he met Evan, a boy Jordan’s age. Together the two friends created “Number Pets,” anthropomorphic numbers with names, personalities, interests etc. “It was imaginary place on their level,” Evan’s mom says. “It’s brilliant. They just ‘got’ each other.“

“True peers are a wonderful thing to discover at any age,” Evan’s mom says. “The fact that both kids are the same age, mathy, goofy number kids, just sort of happened.”

(The names of the two boys have been changed to protect their privacy).

finding friends for a gifted child
Photo via Visual Hunt

Finding Friends In All The Right Places

Many Grayson parents share similar stories with us. Here are a few ideas that can hopefully help you uncover opportunities for your own child to find that special connection.

  • Check meetup.com for existing groups in your area, or start one of your own!
  • For profoundly gifted students, the Davidson Young Scholars and the Johns Hopkins CTY programs are a great way to connect with similarly abled learners, both locally, online and around the country.
  • Weekend and summer workshops are great opportunities for gifted students to meet and share common interests, even if held only a few times a year. The MIT Splash! program, Camp Summit overnight camps, or local programs like our own Enrichment Center are a few examples.  With email and Skype, you can encourage your child to stay in touch with the friends they make, regardless of distance.
  • Another approach that might be useful is helping your child think about having different friends for different interests or aspects of their lives. They might have chess friends, theater friends, robotics friends, philosophy friends, friends from a sports team or specific extracurricular activity. This puts the emphasis on common ground, and may allow your child’s circle of friends to expand without the pressure of having everything in common.

This post is a part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop on Gifted Social Issues.  Please visit their site to read other bloggers’ posts on this topic.

finding gifted friends

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Showing 12 comments
  • Reply

    I’m glad that Jordan’s family found you. Our story is a similar one and I am forever thankful for our psychologist and DYS.

    • Nancy
      Nancy
      Reply

      Thanks, we are too! We will share your comments with Jordan’s parents.

  • Alessa
    Reply

    So true that finding like minded peers is critical and crucial but oh so hard.

    • Nancy
      Nancy
      Reply

      Thank you for visiting our blog. You are right, it can be a difficult journey, but so worth it when a child makes that connection!

  • Paula Prober
    Reply

    Finding friends–a challenge for both gifted kids and adults! (love the photos)

    I don’t know that I’ve heard of your school before. I’m going to look check it out!

    • Nancy
      Nancy
      Reply

      Thanks for connecting, Paula. We will check out your site as well!

  • Gail Post, Ph.D.
    Reply

    Finding friends is critical – but so difficult for gifted kids who often cannot find peers who understand them. When parents help them connect through activities like the ones you mentioned, it can open up a range of great possibilities. Another great summer program to add to the list is the Johns Hopkins CTY program for kids 5th grade and older.

    • Nancy
      Nancy
      Reply

      Thanks! We will update this article and add to our Resources page.

  • Genealogy Jen
    Reply

    “Ultimately, Jordan talked about his “friends,” but he was never invited for a play date.” This is the hardest part for me to witness as a parent. I’m thankful that I have triplets, because my boys have chronological and intellectual peers. It was still hard to hear one of my boys talk about never being invited to a friend’s house for a one on one play date or a birthday party without his brothers. We were so excited when he finally had the opportunity a couple of months ago to be invited to a friend’s house to play. Having those small, ordinary parts of childhood can make gifted kids feel so much better by feeling included.

    • Nancy
      Reply

      Thanks for reading our post and sharing your story, Jen!

  • Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD
    Reply

    Friendship is such an important topic for gifted kids! In my clinical psychology practice, I’ve seen time and again how overjoyed and RELIEVED gifted kids are when they’re able to find true peers. Finally, they can be themselves! Finally, someone “gets” their intensity and hunger to learn.
    My book, Smart Parenting for Smart Kids: Nurturing Your Child’s True Potential talks about social and emotional skills for gifted kids, such as tempering perfectionism, building connections, developing motivation, and finding joy. You can read an excerpt here: http://eileenkennedymoore.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Excerpt-Smart-Parenting-for-Smart-KidsSm.pdf

    • Nancy
      Nancy
      Reply

      Thank you for your comments — we agree! I have forwarded details on your book to Jill Williford Wurman, our Librarian and Director of Research & Development, as this will be a good resource for both our teachers and parents. As you are (fairly) close to us, we’d also love to meet you in person at our upcoming Open House, specifically for professionals who work with gifted children. Hope to see you there!

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