While appearing mature and self assured on the outside, intellectually gifted children often feel confused, lonely and misunderstood. Frequently, their intellectual abilities are not in sync with their social abilities. The goal of bringing these kids together in groups is not to force them to conform to peer pressure but rather to help them develop adequate social skills to support their cognitive and emotional needs. Highly gifted children who are most successful socially are able to go with the flow of a group’s goals, participate actively in a give and take conversation, and accurately read the body language and facial expressions of other children. These are the kids who are less likely to become the targets of bullying and more likely to develop powerful and lasting friendships.
In Step clinicians, Mary Shuffleton, Ashley Quinn, and I spent this past Saturday afternoon leading a workshop “The Art of Making and Keeping Friends: How to Develop Social IQ” for Loudoun County Parents of Gifted Students (LoCoPOGS ) a parent led non-profit group comprised of approximately 350 families. LoCoPOGS asked me to help their children (ages 7-12) learn friendship skills by using a few of the activities, games, and role-playing we use in our Stepping Stones Social Skills training program.
Jennifer Bower, owner of BeanTree Learning kindly and generously offered us BeanTree’s absolutely gorgeous Pavilion space in Ashburn where we were able to spread out: The 4th-6th graders met with me in the gym, the 1st-3rd graders met with Ashley in the music room, and the parents met with Mary in a modern, light and airy classroom.
We tried to fit as much skill development as possible into our limited time together. Drawing from our Stepping Stones Group experience, Ashley and I worked on skills like making a good first impression, understanding the difference between going with the flow and caving to negative peer pressure, active listening and responding, and understanding and coping with teasing.
In the mean time, Mary led a group of parents who enthusiastically engaged in activities aimed at practicing some of the skills their children were working on in our groups. Parents were especially interested in how to effectively handle their emotionally sensitive child’s distress.
Coping with a child’s emotional distress is challenging in so many ways. As parents, we naturally want to save them from suffering. Rather than moving in to fix the problem, it’s best to remain neutral, empathic and, to think carefully before you speak.
One of the methods the LoCoPOGS group reviewed to handle their child’s intense emotions was the E.G.N.O.G approach:
Step One: Empathize
Let your child know that you understand and can tolerate his/her feelings by saying things like:
“You are really upset about this.”
“I’m so sorry that this happened today.”
Step Two: Get Neutral
Listen without judgment. Calmly let your child know you are there to help by saying things like:
“Tell me what happened.”
Step Three: Narrow
Be as specific as possible with the nature of the particular problem by saying things like:
“When did you first start feeling this way?”
“What upset you the most about the situation?”
Step Four: Optimize
Remind your child that there are multiple solutions to problems by saying things like:
“Can you think of ways to fix this?”
“That is one way to feel about it. Can you think of other ways to look at this problem?”
Step Five: Get Moving
Make a plan and then let it go by saying things like:
“OK. It sounds like you are ready to put a plan into action.”
“You have figured out how you want to handle this. Let’s play.”
Gifted kids need help from their parents in supporting their unique qualities while simultaneously developing the skills they need to engage in satisfying relationships with others. Our Saturday afternoon workshop was a great start and we hope to continue hosting more workshops in the future
Cathi Cohen, LCSW, CGP