Guest Author - Lorel Shea
Gifted kids are often alone in a sea of age-mates. The higher their intelligence, the less likely it is that they will find a true peer in their classroom or neighborhood. They may have friends, but nobody who actually understands their jokes, reads similar books, or shares the same interests. It can be very isolating, and many gifted kids have tried to hide their intelligence in order to better fit into a group.
One way for a gifted child to have his social needs met is to have different individuals or sets of individuals fulfill these needs. They need not be of similar age, though I do believe it is important for kids to know how to get along with age-peers as well as older kids and adults. But that doesn't mean that a boy has to limit all of his friendships to people plus or minus one year of his age. It is very possible and desirable for children to have older teen or adult friends, who can act as mentors and role models as well as companions. An older peer can be found through a mixed age and interest based activity which meets regularly, such as a Civil War roundtable, chess club, or art class. It might be a Dungeons and Dragons role playing club, an Audubon society group, or community theater. Look for a group that you feel comfortable with, in an area that your child is passionate about, and see what develops. You may need to be present for meetings, but could sit unobtrusively in a corner, reading, working on a laptop, or sewing.
A ten year old gifted boy with a broad range of friends might categorize them like this:
School friends – same aged bright/gifted kids who share some common interests
Sports buddies - similarly aged teammates from soccer, swim team, etc.
Philatelist Society friends- older kids and adults into stamp collecting
Camp friends- true peers acquired at a gifted summer camp
Neighborhood pals- kids who live nearby, mostly a couple years older
Not every child has the same need for friends, but all need at least one or two people outside of the family with whom they can be themselves. I caution parents who believe that their child is content always playing alone. Don't stand still while your child loses the opportunity to learn valuable social skills. It's incredibly hard to play catch up as an adult. Be proactive, and arrange play dates with likely acquaintances. According to Fred Frankel, a psychologist who designed The UCLA Children's Friendship Program, the single BEST way to help your child make friends is to plan one on one play dates. He states, “A one-on-one play date happens when your child invites only one guest over and plays with him in private. One-on-one play dates are the only time when children can get to know each other intimately without interruption. One-on-one play dates help your child to develop and maintain intimate relationships with his friends.”
It may take several get-togethers before the children seem to bond. My daughter Artemis is celebrating her four and a half year friend-aversary this month with her best friend. When we first got the girls together, they were like oil and water! They both wanted to be boss of every situation. But the mom and I had hit it off, and it was very convenient that we both had four year old girls and seven year old boys. After a handful of slightly turbulent play dates, our girls became fast friends.