Social Skills

def: Socialization (n.) -- the adoption of the values of a group.

def: Social skills training (n.) -- learning to interact with others.

Social Skills and Peer Groups

We learn to do something by doing it. There is no other way.

          -- John Holt

From time to time, the question arises as to whether or not a gifted child is "ready" for more advanced school work because, in the teacher's eyes, the child is "lacking in social skills." After listening to the teacher's description of the child's behavior in the classroom or after observing the child, many parents find themselves shaking their heads in full agreement with the teacher. And, they find themselves accepting, regretfully, the teacher's or school's decision to withhold further academic challenge from the child until he or she learns how to behave appropriately.

The problem with this decision is that it's often times made out of ignorance and misunderstanding. The gifted child's behavior typically deteriorates or regresses as a silent protest against the boredom and lack of challenge in the classroom. The problem is a poor fit between the child's needs and the classroom environment. More of the same, e.g. requiring that the child remain in Kindergarten or 1st grade even though his/her academic performance is 2 or more grade levels higher, is not going to solve the problem. More of the same is not going to help the child develop a more mature attitude.

There are two approaches which seem to be successful in handling this problem. The first is to grade advance the child to whatever grade level he or she is capable of performing the academic work in. At the same time, the child is given extra help both at school and at home in learning appropriate social skills for the new environment. This approach works well if the problem is caught early, before underachievement and behavioral problems become reality as opposed to "being tried on for size." The second approach is similar to the first. Using leading questions and an open-ended questioning technique the parent, teacher, or counselor attempts to find out what the child thinks his/her behavior is going to accomplish. Then, the child is "led" to understand how his/her behavior is keeping him/her from getting what he/she wants.

In the midst of difficulty lies opportunity.

          -- Albert Einstein

Problem Solving Checklist

  1. Ask the child leading questions about school and classroom behavior.
  2. Ask the child what he/she really wants from school or learning.
  3. Negotiate with both child and teacher to obtain a more suitable classroom environment for the child.
  4. Explain to the child how his/her behavior is not getting what he/she wants and may very well get him/her what he/she definately does not want.
  5. Work with both the child and the teacher to obtain acceptable behavior on both their parts.

The intellectually gifted child rarely finds that his/her age-mates are true peers. Restricting the child to classrooms or groups on the basis of age alone generates stress, frustration, and inappropriate behaviors which the child adopts as "coping strategies."

Friends & Peers

"Older children are not always the mental equivalents of young gifted children, since gifted children are not just children who develop more quickly than normal, but also ones who develop and think differently from others. Older children may not share the gifted child's intensity of interests and love of challenge."

          -- Ellen Winner in "Gifted Children"

Precocity unavoidably complicates the problem of social adjustment.

The child of eight years with a mentality of twelve or fourteen is faced with a situation almost inconceivably difficult. In order to adjust normally such a child has to have an exceptionally well-balanced personality and be well nigh a social genius.

          -- Lewis Terman

The term "peer" does not, in essence, mean people of the same age, but refers to individuals who can interact at an equal level around issues of common interest.

          -- W. C. Roedell

When parents or teachers insist that the gifted child "learn" to make friends with other children of the same chronological age they are often times setting up yet another situation in which there is poor fit between the gifted child and the environment. Gifted children do well when allowed to choose their own friends regardless of age or ability. Their social development is enhanced when they are encouraged to develop friendships and/or associate with individuals who share common interests or abilities regardless of age. Many gifted children are comfortable and happy interacting in multi-age groups, predominantly adult groups, and even groups of younger children.

Gifted children who are grade advanced, even radically, find that they have more in common with their new classmates than they do with their age-mates. It is unfair and unwarranted to deny a gifted child access to intellectual peers both in school and in the community out of fear that the child will feel "left-out" because he/she cannot participate in all the activities of the new group (e.g. driving, dating, etc.)

Good parenting allows the intellectually gifted child wide leeway in choosing friends and acquaintances while insuring that the child is not being exposed to activities or materials which are deemed inappropriate by the parents. Staying involved with your child in social situations, even if only peripherally, is the best way to insure that your child is not being taken advantage of due to age or being exposed to inappropriate activities or materials.

Last Updated: 12/8/2002
This webpage is maintained by Kit Finn (