"You'll have to meet his extraordinary needs at home because we will just cover the basics at school," said the gifted coordinator.
"But isn't that your job?"
"Hm. Well, it is common for gifted children to disenroll about half-way through first grade."
There are a lot of possible reasons gifted children leave school in first grade. But the theme is that their basic needs are not being met. Discussion about how tricky it seems to meet a gifted child's emotional needs, intellectual needs, or social needs (that are intertwined) are the topics of many a blog. Today I'm going to dig in to the Social Needs of the Gifted.
I'd like to start by bringing your attention to different social aspects of adulthood so we can better understand Social Needs of the Gifted.
Have you ever been to an event and shared a table with someone you don't know? A conference, a wedding, or a lifelong learning class? Did you become friends with the people at the table? Maybe. Probably not. Probably you were cordial, made some small conversation, and enjoyed their company. At the end of the event you went your separate ways.
That is what most socializing looks like for children too. They spend time with people they don't really know. Sometimes they play at a playground; sometimes they take a class together; sometimes they play at a family/friend gathering. In a class, the children likely only share the space and not much else. They practice being polite, taking turns, and sharing resources. In less-structured circumstances, children practice important skills like how to be cordial, inclusive, and self-confident. They set limits and create rules together.
Those are all great aspects of being a social creature. What brings us together is the physical space. Our social skills help us to navigate each situation. Friendliness leaves us feeling light and happy. However, we also look for intimacy in life.
To Know and To Be Known
To know and to be known.
To care for and to be cared for.
To love and to be loved.
These three aspects of intimacy are not reserved only for adults. Our children need them too.
In much the same way we think of our most treasured confidante or life partner, gifted children want to know someone and be known by someone deeply.
What has helped me understand exactly how my children like to know and be known deeply was reading about Love Language. Even though the first book was written for marriages, I immediately applied what I learned to my children and it dramatically improved my understanding of what they need in order to feel connected, to feel known, to feel cared for, and to feel loved.*
My son's love language is Quality Time. So I've been intentional about creating opportunities for him to spend quality time with his friend talking about their interests.
My daughter's primary love language is Gifts. This one is a little harder because she gives gifts freely but I have a harder time creating opportunities for her to receive gifts from people.
The problem isn't that she doesn't acquire more stuff. It’s that she feels invisible. In absence of receiving gifts, her loneliness is palpable and I've noticed that she has begun to analyze why she seems to have a hard time feeling connected. Her brother did it at this age (7yo), too.
So what perspective can I bring to my children? I ask them to notice what makes them feel like their bucket is full? Who does that well? And I can do what I can to create as many opportunities to connect with those people as possible. Those people are Kindred Spirits.
In Search of a Kindred Spirit
Kindred Spirits are not necessarily same-age peers. They are people who make us feel fulfilled and connected. They are an important part of a social life that buoys us as we navigate the world.
My Kindred Spirits hold space for me and I hold it for them. They have an easy smile, a generous heart, and are curious and pensive about life.
My son’s Kindred Spirits are passionate people. They are deeply interested in something and love to talk about what interests them.
My daughter’s Kindred Spirits have imaginations that take them beyond this world. When they play together, they don’t pretend they are cats, the become cats. They are fierce young people who are drawn to extraordinary adventure (real or imagined).
All three of us have Kindred Spirits that are not in our age-group. Our Kindred Spirits often have interests that aren’t ours. They don’t live right next door and so we continue to seek them out. It requires that we be brave - we have to go out in public, introduce ourselves to friendly people, and risk being rejected. We also have to welcome other curious people into our lives.
Luckily, we homeschool; in the homeschooling community, where there is an abundance of gifted and twice exceptional children, we encounter Kindred Spirits pretty regularly. That’s just statistics...or is it the universe bringing us together?
Where to Find Kindred Spirits
Have you ever heard of the Laws of Attraction? It is the idea that similar energies are drawn together. If you are happy, happy people come to you. If you are a generous person, generous people come to you. If you are thoughtful about people, people are thoughtful about you.
And evidently, if you are gifted, gifted people come to you.
To me the most consistent and impressive examples of the Laws of Attraction is the erie way differently wired kids find each other.
Maybe it is because they have extraordinary energy and need to be outdoors ALL THE TIME.
Maybe it is because they communicate like bees, doing a waggle dance around one another.
Whatever it is, I have been delighted when a parent sidles up next to me and eventually one or the other of us would say some keywords: “asynchronous,” “intense,” “highly sensitive,” “differently wired,” “quirky,” “autism.” Knowingly, we smile at one another. And if we both recognize how important it is for our quirky kids to have one another to lean on, then we exchange numbers and grow from there.
Acceptance & Celebration
The Social Needs of the Gifted are a lot like the Social Needs of the Neurotypical. What makes it a little trickier is that the out-of-ordinary things that account for their giftedness sometimes makes it more difficult to be accepted, even celebrated for who they are. Such was one of the failings of our public school. But as their parents we can persist in these ways:
- FIND FRIENDLY PLACES - Find places and groups that accept and allow gifted kids to be themselves in all their intensities.
- HELP THEM TO KNOW AND TO BE KNOWN - Encourage our children in reflection on how what makes them feel connected, happy, and also how they can show others they care.
- BE VULNERABLE - Get out there! Take your children out in public and be open to meeting different people. Kindred Spirits might be different ages, have different interests, live in different socio-economic brackets, or be living with different educational plans.
- BE RECEPTIVE - Remember when you didn’t know about giftedness? Notice the parent who reminds you of yourself from that time. See their child’s wonderful quirkiness and celebrate it. Be empathetic.
The universe never ceases to amaze me. Over and over and over again my children draw Kindred Spirits into their lives. One of my roles is to help keep them there.
*The author of Love Language has, in fact, written a book for parents about children.
This was written for the GHF Learners July 2019 Newsletter. Thanks for reading!
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