Children need instruction. They need to be taught how to interact in social situations. This is especially true of children who have a tendency to be intense. Emotional, physical and social intensity coupled with over-excitability are often seen in the gifted child. Which is why they have such a deep need for social instruction.
It seems that children who have gifted abilities struggle to find their place in the world. In talking with other moms, and reading through several books, I’ve learned that this phenomena is not an isolated issue but exists across the population of gifted children. Of course, there may be exceptions as is the case with any population of people, but it seems that more often than not, gifted children struggle to fit in.
I wish I could say that I have all of the answers and that I could simply spell out a formula which will work. But again, we are discussing unique individual children and even if one idea or tip might work for my child, it may not work for yours.
To be sure, you will need to offer guidance to your child.
“The adults will need to model the desired outcomes themselves to provide the consistency necessary to both stimulate and reinforce behavior in the children. In essence, I am asking for a type of ongoing engagement that is labor intensive and that may cut across the adult’s personal behavior. Stated more directly, I am asking that we become good role models for the behaviors that we believe to be important and that we become increasingly more sophisticated about societal influences on everyone.” Tracy L. Cross, Ph.D., On the Social and Emotional Lives of Gifted Children, 2011, p. 114.
Our children can’t inherently know what is acceptable behavior. They learn that through training. As parents it is our responsibility to train our children. We do this best through example, but also through setting expectations, limits and explanations.
5 Tips for Guiding Social Instruction
- Be the example. Let your child see you approach others, introduce yourself and ask about the other person.
- Don’t be a hermit. I know as a homeschooling parent it’s often easiest to stay home and focus on book work, but your child needs you to show them the world and the people who live in it. Make specific plans, make impromptu adjustments, foster a love for being with others. This is important even if you are an introvert and prefer to spend time alone, because our gifted children may tend to be introverts too and isolating them doesn’t help them prepare for their future as adults.
- Be Deliberate. Be deliberate in your efforts to find group(s) of like-minded children. One of the best things I’ve done is to join a chess club for my son. Through that chess club, I discovered a group of like-minded children, and moms and have developed some great friendships for my son and myself. It was through that first chess club meeting that we attended that we learned that some in the group also participate in a LEGO club, and all attend the same gym. By stepping out of my comfort zone, to find a niche group for my son, we both have benefited greatly.
- Find a Mentor. Honestly, I have yet to do this, however I’m on the hunt. I learned about this from the book Raising a Gifted Child by Carol Fertig, 2009, p. 116. “Mentors are individuals who work one-on-one with a student on either a special interest or a specific area of academics.” While certainly a useful tool for advancing academic study I also see this as an opportunity to help a gifted child with their social interaction. I’m currently looking for an engineer or architect who might be willing to work with my son as a mentor, so if you know someone in central Ohio… but I digress.
- Be Honest. It is not easy explaining to your child why someone else doesn’t understand them. But, sugar coating it doesn’t do them any favors. Gently but lovingly explain that all people are different. As a Christian, I tell my son that God created us all to be different and we each have unique likes and dislikes. Some people like one kind of thing and some like another kind of thing. The best thing we can do is find the people who like some of the same things we do and then spend time with them. When others don’t like what we like, that’s ok. We can still treat them with love and respect.
If we gleefully isolate them, then they will not know how to interact in society as an adult. They will not understand office politics, and friendship drama, and how to maneuver through struggles and successes with dignity.
Words of Caution:
It’s important to tell our kids the truth. We need to let them know that some behaviors make others feel uncomfortable or just look strange. Gifted children do exhibit some strange behaviors, such as; grunts, spins, taps, seemingly irrational mood swings, laughter at inappropriate times, over-excitement, jumping, the list could go on. We are the ones who love our children enough to teach them honestly and lovingly that such behaviors are not within the “norm” for most of society.
Tell them you will always love them no matter what, and that you accept them and their quirky behaviors. But also teach them and give them tools to help them and make suggestions for how to display their feelings when in the presence of others. We should do so using words of kindness, not words that tear down their spirit.
Ask others to treat your child with respect. Oh My! I could go off on a tangent here but I won’t. Gifted children can be overly mature in areas and overly immature in other areas. Because of this glaring difference I’ve seen where some well meaning people will cater to the immaturity. When possible, I suggest, speak to them and calmly but firmly ask that they treat your child in an age appropriate manner.
So there is my 2 cents regarding social instruction for the gifted child. I’m sure there are others out there who approach the subject differently. I know some who think that society should bow to the needs of the gifted. The reality is most people won’t, or don’t understand those needs. Therefore, we aren’t doing our children any favors by entitling them, or in not teaching them how to be in the presence of others in a way which will not bring undue attention on themselves. Nor is it kind to treat our children as strange within our own home. We love them for who they are, and guide them on how to manage themselves within the society they live in.
In our family teaching such behavior is best summed up by using the Fruit of the Spirit as a model. If you aren’t familiar with the Fruit of the Spirit, it is a passage found in Galatians chapter 5 verses 22-23, of the Bible.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”
These “fruit” are the character traits of a Spirit in line with Jesus Christ. They serve as a reminder of God’s love and how we should treat others. By reminding my son of these traits, it helps him to see that the world isn’t all about himself, but that he should treat others in the same manner as he wants to be treated.
Your turn. In what ways do you instruct your children, gifted or not, in their social training? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Be sure to visit each of the 5 Day Hopscotch posts on Homeschooling the Gifted Child.
Parenting Gifted Children Books to Read
*Disclaimer: I am neither a psychologist or educational expert, but I share with you information that I have learned through my own study concerning my gifted child.