Humans are social beings. We know that. We’ve known that for a long time. Gifted children are human (although some people do seem to question that). So it makes sense that gifted children are also social (nevermind the issue of introversion). Even though humans, including gifted kids, are social beings, we do have to learn how to be social. That is, we have to learn social skills. And since gifted kids are human, they too need to learn social skills. I do, however, have a problem with the idea that gifted kids need to learn social skills.

What Are Social Skills?

Basically, social skills are those skills we need to get along and interact with others. In many ways, social skills are rules of etiquette and the norms and mores of society. They allow us to behave in accepted and appropriate ways in social situations. For example, we know to say “please” and “thank you,” avoid interrupting people when they’re talking, and wait our turn in line.

Knowing what to say in social situations goes beyond polite phrases like “please” and “thank you.” It also includes what to say when working or playing with others – and how to say it. If you want others to do what you want to do rather than what they want to do, you won’t get very far by telling the others that they’re ideas are stupid. You won’t get very far if your words are “That’s a great idea,” but your tone really says, “That’s a stupid idea.” Good social skills include being sensitive to the feelings of others.

How Do We Learn Social Skills?

As children grow, they learn which behaviors are acceptable and which aren’t by interacting with others, starting with family members. If a child grabs a toy from a sibling and the sibling hits him, the child learns it might not be a good idea to grab things from other people. The sibling who did the hitting may, if a parent was watching, get a time out for hitting. He learns that it’s not a good idea to hit. Parents, and others, can also teach the children what is acceptable by overtly telling the first child that it is wrong to grab things from others and telling the second child that it is wrong to hit others.

When children start interacting with people outside the family, they observe more behaviors and get additional reactions to their own behaviors. They slowly learn what works and what doesn’t. What they learn, then, depends quite a bit on the environment they are in. If they are in a violent environment, for example, chances are good that the social “skills” that work are likely to include violent ones like hitting. In fact, they may learn that hitting is a way to gain higher status. It works the same way in peer groups. If mocking a classmate gets a child a higher status, then the child doing the mocking has learned a “social skill.” The fact that we adults don’t approve of that behavior doesn’t change the fact that the child has gained some status for doing the mocking.

The Problem with the Idea that Gifted Kids Need to Learn Social Skills

Generally speaking, nothing is wrong with the idea that gifted kids need to learn social skills. As I said, they are human and therefore are social beings. The problem is that they are being singled out. Why? If we believe children need to learn social skills, why do we have to add the modifer “gifted.” Are gifted children more in need of learning social skills than any other child? If you are among those who single out gifted kids, ask yourself why.

Some people say that gifted children need to learn humility. Okay. Do other children not need to be humble? Do all non-gifted children exhibit humility in all areas and in all situations? Some people say that gifted children have trouble interacting with their age mates and need to learn to get along better with them. Okay. Do non-gifted kids not have to get along with their age mates? Why is the burden placed on gifted children? Don’t the non-gifted kids need to learn to get along with gifted kids? Gifted children need to understand their non-gifted age mates. But the non-gifted kids should also have to understand their gifted age mates. In other words, if the goal is to teach children social skills, they should know how to interact with others – all others.

In many cases, gifted children wouldn’t have a problem interacting socially if they weren’t placed in classes based on age alone. At no other time in our lives are we grouped by age. Imagine being grouped at work by age and being able to interact only with those in your group. Most of the time, we gravitate toward those who think as we do or share our interests or who “get” us. When we find ourselves in collaborative groups at work with people we wouldn’t ordinarily socialize with, we all need to have good social skills. We aren’t fond of the “problem person” in the group and that person’s intelligence level is irrelevant.

My Final Word

Of course, gifted children need to learn social skills, but they are not in any greater need to learn them than any other child is. Focusing on the need for gifted kids to learn to get along with non-gifted age mates puts an unfair burden on gifted kids, particularly the young ones. It’s’ one thing to learn the social skills, it’s another to have the emotional maturity to deal with problems that arise in interactions. When you also consider that many gifted children are also intensely emotionally sensitive, you can see how focusing on gifted kids learning social skills is not just unfair, but potentially harmful. Many gifted kids already feel like misfits, why would we want to encourage that feeling by suggesting that it is their responsibility to get along with their age mates as if interactions are all within their control?

Again, this is not to say that gifted children have no responsibility. They do. But they have no more responsibility than anyone else has.

Carol BainbridgeRants and ResponsesSocial Emotional IssuesSocialization
Humans are social beings. We know that. We've known that for a long time. Gifted children are human (although some people do seem to question that). So it makes sense that gifted children are also social (nevermind the issue of introversion). Even though humans, including gifted kids, are social...