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 they start talking. The hope is, of course, that friends will yield birthday party invitations, play dates and hours of shared experiences.
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.”
Finding friends may sometimes be difficult for a gifted child
“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.
For some children, 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. Another reason that friendships may be frustratingly difficult to form, however, is an amorphous but often pervasive characteristic of the gifted: intensity. A gifted child might not just want a buddy but a soulmate — and nothing short of that will do. It may be some comfort to know that any of these situations are not unique to your gifted child.
Parents may have to look extra hard to help their child find their sidekick. As less than 3% of the population is gifted, the struggle to find like-minded peers is well documented. With a little parent input, though, kids can find social connection, and most often it’s with someone just like themselves.
The gifted brain that wants to know all the things there are to know about something is the same brain in charge of making friendship happen: half-measures just aren’t worth the effort. And you may have to add in in the possibility of one or more overexcitabilities making an appearance in the driver’s seat (why, hello, imaginational overexcitability, able to conceive of what it would feel like to have someone who loves all the things you do just as much as you do; and I’m lookin’ at you, too, emotional overexcitability, with your heightened sensitivity and deep emotional responses to the world).
It can make for a heady — and exhausting — mix.
Ashley Freeborn, a school counselor at Grayson, characterizes this sort of behavior as being “thirsty” for friends. In a terrible irony, this very thirst can be off-putting to others who don’t live emotional lives that are quite so intense. Gifted children, who may have little to no experience with having friends their own age, may be so thrilled at the very idea of making a friend at all that they throw themselves into the relationship wholeheartedly, which might be understandably overwhelming to another child.
Talking to your child about what it means to be a good friend and helping them to practice good friendship skills can help. It’s also important to remember that we all have to learn how to be good friends by listening to others, showing interest in the unfamiliar, and remaining open to the new experiences that friendship can bring. Gifted children, especially with same age peers, can sometimes struggle with allowing others to take the lead in play, or with respecting others’ interests, especially with same-age peers whose ideas may not be as complex or mature as their own. Role-playing with your child may be a way for them to work out how to balance having fun and sharing while also acknowledging and appreciating others.
Delighting in discovering friends
Gifted children often recognize and appreciate the outlier-ness of each other — the intensity with which they live in the world — more than specific topics of expertise or interests. Yes, it is always more likely that those who share an interest or two will become friends, but the very existence in the world of other people somewhat like themselves is an astonishing and exhilarating discovery that they often do not experience but desperately want. It is no wonder that they want to embrace it with their whole selves.
It is perhaps for this reason that those who attend residential summer programs for the gifted often make friends very quickly: they are surrounded, twenty-four hours a day, by other students like themselves, who share a passion for intellectual pursuits. And as we know, the more gifted they are, the more experience they have with feeling — with being — different from their peers. Speeding from the desert to the deep end of the pool is hardly a surprise, given these circumstances.
In an all-gifted environment like The Grayson School, it can initially be a challenge for a new student to gradually relax that impulse to seize upon friendship and grasp tightly with both hands. In the company of intellectual peers, they can begin to relax and be more comfortable in who they are. The moment when our students are truly able to feel like they can be themselves and form genuine friendships with others is one of the greatest social and emotional benefits we see for them.
Finding friends in all the right places
Grayson parents share these ideas that may help you uncover opportunities for your own child to find that special connection.
- One approach many parents share is to help your child think about having different friends for different interests or aspects of their lives. They might have chess friends, theater friends, robotics 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.
- 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 Splash! and Spark! weekend programs at MIT, Epsilon Camp for students who excel in math, and Camp Summit overnight camps are a few examples. You can encourage your child to stay in touch with the friends they make, regardless of distance.
- Search Facebook for local gifted parent groups; check meetup.com for existing parent or student groups that meet 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.
Learn more about The Grayson School Community
Our school culture is one of joyful authenticity where each child’s true self is embraced and celebrated.