Direct Teaching of Social Skills to Gifted Children

Gifted students are sometimes criticized for having poor social skills. They may be academically advanced and emotionally sensitive, yet be immature socially. As adults, it is easy to ignore the necessity for direct teaching of social skills to very bright young people. We assume that because they are verbally precocious and have a broad base of knowledge that social skills should come automatically to them. If the skills do not come automatically, we use the excuse that it is because they are so gifted. By doing so, we do a disservice to these kids. We send them off into the world ill-equipped.

Parents and teachers may need to directly teach children to:
  • introduce themselves and others
  • say hello and good-bye courteously
  • know when to listen and when to talk
  • use good telephone skills
  • display good table manners
  • use appropriate language and topics of conversation with different groups
  • understand ways to include people in a conversation or play activity
  • figure out how to get along with different types of people
Remember, people are not born with these skills. We must not assume they will develop automatically. They need to be directly taught, not only through our own examples of good behavior, but through direct words and instruction.

In How Can My Gifted Child Make More Friends? Dennis O’Brien writes that adults make it more difficult for gifted children to acquire the age-appropriate social skills and same-age friendships by encouraging a child’s intellectual growth at the expense of the child’s social development. Because of this, many children who excel in academic areas are developmentally arrested in their psychosocial growth.

He suggests that adults explicitly teach children basic social skills. One way to do this is through role-playing. Even after you have taught your child how to exhibit these most basic skills, don’t take it for granted that she will use them. Ask your child how frequently she uses these skills each day. How do other children respond? Stay on top of your child until he or she habitually uses appropriate social skills with peers.

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