Friday, August 1, 2014

In Search of Friendship and Finding Peers



Many theories have been put forward and research papers written about gifted children and how they approach friendship; but it’s not complicated. They seek out their peers. People who are most like them. They might be the same age; or not. They almost certainly share common interests and enjoy each other’s company.

The idea that gifted kids are always socially awkward has been popularized in the media by television shows such as The Big Bang Theory where characters are constantly struggling with ‘fitting in’ which is not always the case. This isn't to say that making friends is always easy for gifted children; they simply view friendship and peer relationships in a different way.

Parents sometimes worry that their child does not have a large circle of friends. It should be noted that gifted children can be very selective in who they choose as friends. They may reject offers of friendship from other children based on their unique view of the world around them and self-concepts. In a recent study, it was determined that contrary to popular belief, they do not suffer from peer rejection any more than children in the general population. (Bain and Bell, 2004) They prefer to form relationships on their own terms.

As in any discussion of gifted children, levels of giftedness must be acknowledged. The ease with which these children develop friendships is often affected by their distance from the norm. Meckstroth and Kearney in Off the Charts Asynchrony and the Gifted Child state,

“Their intellectual and personality characteristics amplify their life experiences, and their differences from the norm tend to exacerbate their sense of dissonance with others.” (285)


High levels of giftedness more often than not are associated with sensitivities, introversion, perfectionism, and a sense of fairness; all factors that affect friendships.

The role of asynchronous development in finding friends can make life interesting for the gifted child but stressful for their parents. Age is often not a determining factor in who they choose as friends. A 10 year-old may feel just as comfortable discussing the latest developments in game theory with a high school student as they are playing a video game with an age-peer.

Maintaining relationships is another matter. Parents play an important role in guiding the choice of friends when their children are young. Christine Fonseca reminds us in her book, Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students:

“Relationships are difficult in the best of situations. This particularly can be true with gifted children, as the rigid nature of their thinking patterns and the overly sensitive emotional nature of their personality can cause conflict with both peers and adults. Typical relationship issues, including developing healthy friendships, bullying problems, trying to ‘fit in’ and handling peer pressure, are appropriate topics for role-playing and parent coaching.”  


There are times, of course, when your child may decide to be friends with someone you feel is a bad influence. You need to tread carefully and consider whether or not to intervene. It may be better to let your child make the decision in this case.

Ultimately, we want our children to be happy. As adults, we generally base our conception of what happiness means based on our own life experiences. Young children need guidance, but if we do our job right … they will find their path to happiness. Providing a strong foundation by modeling the formation of positive and healthy friendships will go a long way in assuring they can do the same.



Photo courtesy of Pixabay



This post is part of Hoagies' Gifted Blog Hop on Friendship for August 2014. Please use the link below to access the entire list of participating blogs.



References:

Bain, Sherry K. and Bell, Sherry Mee (2004). Social Self-Concept, Social Attributions, and Peer Relationships in Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Graders Who Are Gifted Compared to High Achievers. Gifted Child Quarterly, 48, 167 – 178.

Fonseca, Christine (2011). Emotional Intensity in GiftedStudents Helping Kids Cope With Explosive Feelings (p. 139). Waco, Texas: Prufrock Press.




Meckstroth, Elizabeth A. and Kearney, Kathi (2013). Indecent Exposure: Does the Media Exploit Highly Gifted Children? In C. Neville, M. Piechowski & S. Tolan (Eds.), Off the Charts Asynchrony and the Gifted Child (pp. 282 – 291). Unionville, NY: Royal Fireworks Publishing Co., Inc.




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8 comments:

  1. Lisa, Great post about friendships, and particularly about the misguided assumption that gifted kids are all nerds and misfits, popularized by the media. You make a great point, also, about how difficulties finding like-minded peers are more likely to develop the farther they are from the norm. Gail

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    1. Thanks, Gail. Both of my children preferred a small circle of friends and were selective when making them. At times I worried, but looking back feel it was best to let them make these very personal decisions.

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  2. Love to read your post In Search of Friendship and Finding Peers . IT Support Bristol

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  3. Thanks for taking the time to read it! Hope it helped.

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  4. Hi there, great blog! I'm hoping to find info to help me as I struggle with deciding to keep my gifted Kindergartener in school for the "socialization" which so far is a bust or to homeschool him. Not only does he have trouble finding peers in his class, but he is incredibly shy even with the teachers so whenever I bring up my concerns and try to advocate for him, the teacher brings up his test scores which state he can count to 7 and identify 5 letters of the alphabet--things he could do years ago! We even had troubles in daycare and ended up keeping him home. That is, he thought all the kids hated him because they wouldn't talk to him (ie. they couldn't talk yet) and he thought they were all "babies". Now, again I'm left trying to decide if I leave him in school so he can have lots of kids around or bring him home so we can solve the mysteries of the universe and go outside to play. Or maybe the real question is how to advocate for a shy gifted child?

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    1. Carla,
      Thank you! I highly recommend that you check out the excellent resources at Gifted Homeschoolers Forum (http://giftedhomeschoolers.org/) and SENG (http://sengifted.org/). hth
      Regards,
      Lisa

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  5. What a great idea for a blog - we are raising a daughter who meets the gifted criteria and are learning about what it means and how best to provide for her.

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    1. Happy to hear that you've found some value to my posts. Best wishes on your journey of raising a gifted child!

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