Gifted children and friendships – why don’t I fit in?

Making friends can be hard at any age. But for gifted children - who don't always fit in easily - they can be harder than ever. Elaine Hook from the National Association of Gifted Children, and herself the mother of a gifted child, explains more

Friendships can be difficult in many ways, however old youare. Age, personality, maturity and life experiences play a big part in determining how we respond to certain people and certain situations and each and every one of us is different. Accepting people for who they are no matter what, is a huge challenge for most of us.

So imagine the children who face extra challenges, no matter how great or small. Some may have poor socio-economic backgrounds others English as a second or even third language. Some may face cultural differences, while others may suffer from depression or autism. Add to any, or all of these needs, a high IQ and we may see children who can be very misunderstood, lonely and isolated.

Not all children and young people with high ability and one or more exceptionality have difficulties. Not all with high ability alone have difficulties. But many of them do. There are many who spend much of their lives isolated and lonely; alone even in crowded places, places that shouldn’t be lonely, but happy and fun, like the classroom, playground, lecture theatre or union bar.

High ability and/or gifted young people can find social situations very difficult. Intellectually they may be high-flyers, but socially and emotionally they often struggle to have positive and fulfilling relationships with their peers. Some are more comfortable with much older or younger people, others more comfortable with adults.

Sometimes high ability and gifted young people can come over as arrogant and precocious, appearing to know everything and acting at times much older than their chronological age - so setting themselves apart from their peer group. Some often don’t have any interest in playing the “normal” playground games - which also does them no favours when establishing friendships.

Bullying or being picked on for looking or behaving differently can be a problem and this needs to be taken seriously and nipped in the bud. Being referred to as a “geek” or “nerd” or being told you cannot play with your “friends” when you are five or six years old is hard to deal with. It’s important you have the confidence to tackle bullying of any degree head on.

It is also important from a very early age (possibly much younger than many of us are aware of) that as parents, carers and professionals we teach role model and nurture the social and emotional development of the gifted child. In this way, some of the future difficulties that we know many of them encounter may be pre-empted.

Manners, social skills, positive communication, interaction, kindness, respect, empathy and compassion are all essential ingredients for responsible young people and adults. We have to teach most, if not all, of these skills and role model them consistently and positively; we are not born with them.

1. Encourage any type of positive friendship. One good friend is okay and better than none
2. Encourage different social situations; memberships of activity groups
3. Be supportive and encourage all types of social situations
4. Have empathy and compassion
5. Be a good role model
6. Be consistent, firm but fair
7. Pick your battles
8. Give praise when it is due
9. Do not compromise your values
10. Have two way respect

Encourage your child or young person to join activities or clubs where they may meet like-minded friends. Tap into what interests them or what they are particularly gifted and/or talented in, and try to encourage them to take part in activities associated with these interests.
For example:
Theatre or dance clubs
Art clubs
Writing or poetry
Sports clubs or activities
Chess or maths
Computer or web design
Science or archaeology
Swimming or horse riding
Archery or fencing
Go-karting or cricket

Local museums, theatres and sports clubs often run workshops and activities for children to attend both in term time and the school holidays. Use the internet to search for activities and specialists, coaches and agents in your area. Contact your local Further Education College, Adult Education Centre and Lifelong Learning for courses, workshops and seminars.

Young people today prefer to communicate via Messenger, MySpace or Face Book and many high ability pupils or students may find this preferable due to their difficulties/awkwardness with social situations and encounters. This is okay, but ensure you teach safety guidelines and boundaries and monitor very young children’s use of the internet carefully. Teach them not to give out real names, phone numbers or addresses and never to meet anyone without letting an adult know about it. Pen Pal type communication over the internet or by good old fashioned letter is a healthy alternative option for friendships for children and young people who struggle with other types of social integration.

Related links

Characteristics of Gifted Children: Do you think your child is gifted? It’s very often parents who are the first to recognise that their child is bright for his or her age, and then aren’t sure what to do next, especially as “bright” is not necessarily the same as “gifted.” Here the National Association for Gifted Children helps to explain the characteristics of gifted children.

Living with a gifted child: Having a gifted child is rewarding, exasperating and very hard work. Elaine Hook - herself a teacher - tells us the story of bringing up her daughter, Sophie...

Friendship problems....... What can you do if your little one is having problems making - or keeping - friends? Our expert psychologist, Dr Victoria Samuel, explains....

Why girls bully differently - and what you can do about it: Social exclusion - “my friends won’t play with me” - is one of the most common ways for girls to bully. And although it could be seen as just a typical part of growing up, it can lead to serious problems. So what can parents do?

The world of the web - keeping your teens safe online: It’s an instantly recognisable scene: your child rushes home from school, and then sits hunched over the computer for hours. But what is she doing online? And is she safe?

Find out more

The NAGC runs Explorers Clubs and Branches throughout the UK with challenging activities for children and young people and many of which have parent discussion groups. Contact head office 0845 450 0295 for further details or visit their website where you can view a wide range of Factsheets.

Incentive Plus has resources to promote social, emotional and behavioural skills in children and young people.

Contact the Trust for the Study of Adolescence for more information on teenagers. 

Visit Gifted Books for a comprehensive selection of books and other material.

Related Advice