Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Challenges in Meeting the Social Needs of a Gifted Child : A Parent's Perspective

I'm very excited to be a part of The National Parenting Gifted Children Week blog tour hosted by SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of Gifted).  SENG is an invaluable resource for parents and educators and to celebrate, they are offering a free NPGCW ebook - The Joy and the Challenge: Parenting Gifted Children. You can view the entire schedule of the blog tour which runs from 7/17-7/23 by visiting the NPGCW Facebook Event page or SENG's website. 
There are many challenges in raising a gifted child which made it difficult in narrowing down my topic for this post.  I had wanted to delve into the emotional and intellectual areas too, but I think that I'll let some of the other bloggers, like Christine Fonseca, share their knowledge.  I will focus this post on social challenges that my eldest son, who is now ten, has faced over the years. 
As a young child my son had an easy time walking up to complete strangers and inviting them over to play.  He would give them our address and happily say they were welcome anytime.  He craved the social interaction of children and adults.  My youngest who is five has been following in his older brother's footsteps, but seems to be a bit more shy with adults at times.  Anyway I remember when my eldest was around five and we were shopping in K-mart before the start of Kindergarten. He saw a boy his age wearing a Star Wars shirt and struck up a conversation with him.  The boy's mom was near and I got to talking with her about where the kids were going to school and we exchanged phone numbers.  We later set up a playdate and their friendship lasted a year or so (it might have lasted longer if they went to the same school).  As my son started Kindergarten, he started to realize that he wasn't like most of the kids in his class.  His interests were not typical for his age.  He loved learning about geography, flags of the world and using various symbols for secret code breaking.  The one thing that helped him deal with not being challenged in Kindergarten was an understanding teacher who set up a globe center and my son was able to share his passion with fellow classmates.  The social mismatch only intensified with the following school year when he was subject accelerated in ELA to second grade.  I think this made him stand out to his peers even more and he really couldn't connect long enough with the kids in the first grade class or second grade class.
As a result of his unhappiness at school that year, I went online searching for anything and everything I could read on giftedness and how to help my child cope.  I found SENG articles, the Davidson Institute and it's Young Scholars program, and the NAGC.  After finding an online discussion board run by the Davidson Institute, I felt that I wasn't alone and that my son needed to have that feeling as well.  I completed the lengthy Young Scholars application for my son and after he was accepted, he was able to e-mail other members, join discussions on bulletin boards and later went to a gathering at a local museum and met other kids like himself.  There are other talent development programs out there to help gifted children.  Here is a list of just a few others I know of : Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY), Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University, and Duke Talent Identification Program.
Having academic peers in school is very important.  My son finally met some when he went to a self-contained gifted classroom for fourth grade and this year in a fifth grade GATE classroom. 
You can also find social groups for your child based on his/her interests.  My son fell in love with birdwatching so I went online and found a local youth birding group- the Delaware Dunlins- where he met enthusiastic adult leaders and kids that shared his passion for birding.  Other activities such as role playing have been helpful in getting boys from our parent's group together for social interaction. 
Lastly, don't forget playdates planned by parents and/or kids!  Playdates aren't just for preschoolers!  Playdates have been very important for both of my sons, but especially for my eldest when he was having a rough time dealing with fifth grade cliques this past year.  Having friends to interact with outside of school was very important for him to feel that there were people who liked him.   
I hope you enjoyed reading this and if you want to share some ways in which you have taken on the challenge of meeting the social needs of your child, I'd love to read it in my comment section! 
Thanks for reading and enjoy the blog tour this week! 


  1. A great post. I'd like to clarify something though - did your son end up accelerated one full year across the board? I'm assuming that's what happened, and if so, it's really interesting that this proved to be the better option from a social and emotional viewpoint than single-subject acceleration.

  2. Such a great post. I love hearing how acceleration has worked out for different families.

  3. "I felt that I wasn't alone ... " These are the words I hear so often when I talk to gifted parents about using social media - one of the most important tools in the toolbox. Glad you were able to find answers and a local group for your son.

  4. There is so much wisdom here! Using interests as a way to find potential playmates and friends was something that worked for us, too, especially a local children's theater academy. Your son is very lucky to have you by his side. Thank you for sharing part of your journey.
    ~ Lisa

  5. Waikatogifted- Thanks you! To clarify, my son had subject (ELA)acceleration for 1st grade. He went in the morning to a 2nd grade classroom for ELA and then went back to the 1st grade classroom after for other subjects. He then was full grade acclerated to 3rd the next after 1st grade. My son has a Dec. birthday so he was already older than the other kids when starting kindergarten. If I was more knowledgable then, I think I would have looked more into full grade accleration earlier.
    Christine- Thanks for stopping by! I personally think that acceleration needs more positive press. :)
    ljconrad- Thanks for your comment! Social media rocks. :)
    Lisa- Thank you so much for the kind words and the opportunity to share some of our experiences on the blog tour. I really enjoyed doing it and hope that it has helped some families on their own journey.

  6. Your son is quite lucky to have a mother like you so interested in solving the problem of his socialization. My parents also had problems socializing properly growing up, so I don't think they even thought to try and get me playdates or set me up with groups sharing my interests. I can imagine an older child being reticent about being "forced" to interact with people in such a manner, but when you're ten or so that is so important.

    Unrelatedly, do you take guest posts? I'd have emailed you but I can't seem to find your contact info anywhere. Drop me an email if you do, nataliehntr86 at gmail- thanks!

  7. Thank you Natalie for your kind words and comments. I have done a guest post before with Christine Fonseca and I'll send you an e-mail to see what you have in mind.