My six-year-old daughter is having difficulty making and keeping friends in her first-grade class. She is very bright academically (her reading and math skills tested at fourth-grade levels), but the problem is that she is not as sophisticated with her social skills. She loves to read and prefers to do that over just about everything. She is not a "traditional" girl who plays with Barbies or dolls. She is really into science, math, and reading. I love this about her and I encourage her all the time. She has had me set up play-dates with kids she likes, but no one has reciprocated and invited her over. I also enrolled her in extracurricular activities of her choosing -- gymnastics, an art class, and science. She is beginning to make comments to me that she has no friends and it is just breaking my heart. What should I do?
This is one of the most heart-wrenching problems for many gifted children. First, we must rethink what friendship means and help kids understand the difference between popularity and friendship. Your daughter likely gets this, but next we need to think about how friendships really form, usually as shared interests. Your daughter is already into science and reading. How about a book club or a young-scientist group that she could start or join? It may be that older or younger kids with similar interests could offer her this support. Summer day-camps focused on her interests may also help. Sometimes the best friend a child can have is a mentor who understands her passions and values her -- even an online mentor at a natural-science museum might help. Continue to support your daughter for who she is and to validate her feelings without panic or overreactions. True friends are few and far between, and take time. She will find them.
- Mary Ruth Coleman, Ph.D.