Question:

My 11 year old son is very bright—he's been assessed as gifted. I don't know if this makes it hard for him to identify with his classmates, but he can't seem to make any friends. The other kids tease him because he always gets perfect scores and he's like a walking encyclopedia. We're proud of him for being so smart, but we're sad for him that he is so alone. It's been pretty much the same from the time he was in nursery school. When he was little I arranged as many play dates as I could but he's too old for that now. Is there anything I can do for him?

Answer:

There are a number of things you can do. A lot of kids don't have natural social skills. Being intellectually bright is not the same thing as being emotionally intelligent. In fact, quite a number of people with high I.Q. happen to have very low E.Q. (emotional intelligence). However, E.Q. can be raised. Your son may need to improve a number of social skills. Ask yourself (and him!) these questions:

  • Does he like his peers, or does he find them to be "beneath" him, immature, or otherwise deficient? People who like people are people-magnets. Their warm and accepting thoughts and feelings are communicated loudly and clearly to everyone around. Since everyone enjoys being swaddled in the warm embrace of positive regard, they enjoy being around people-lovers. If your son feels disdain or any other rejecting attitude toward his peers, give him some books about Jewish sages like the Baal Shem Tov, who sincerely and deeply loved every simple Jew. In the Baal Shem Tov's generation, intellectual genius was highly regarded and those who were illiterate, uneducated or unable to learn were held in very low esteem. The Baal Shem Tov made every person aware of his or her greatness as a child of G‑d, and, because of his loving attitude, became the beloved leader of the masses.
  • Is he on the same page as his peers, or is he on a different plane? People spend time with others with whom they have things in common. Are his classmates into sports, certain books, games or other pastimes? If he can join them on the playing field, he becomes a "team player"—one of the guys. Otherwise, he's out in left field alone. It may be worth it to hire a "sports tutor" or whatever is needed in order for your son to be able to join the party. Similarly, he should study how his peers are dressing and grooming themselves and do the same (whether or not he likes the prevalent style). He should be sure to be clean and fresh as far as his appearance goes. Kids who are unkempt or look different are often shunned.
  • Does your son know how to join a conversation, joke around, make people feel relaxed? Does he know how to pick up the phone and invite someone over? Let him use his brains to study the behavior of his peers. The popular business coach Tony Robbins was an overweight, unaccomplished, lonely man who wanted more in his life. He started to study – really study – the behavior of successful people. When he wanted to know what enabled someone to have friends, he would carefully analyze the behavior of popular people. He wanted to know how they stood, how they spoke, what they said, what they did. He would then copy what he saw and he discovered it worked just as well for him as it worked for these other people. Your son can use his advanced brain to make a scientific study of the behavior of the kids around him to see how they interact with each other and how they build and maintain friendships. He can then apply what he learns to his own behavior.
  • Is your son likeable? Much has been written in the business world about "people skills." Being likeable is an important key to success in the world—in fact, it is a more powerful determinant of success than being smart. You might be able to find some appropriate reading materials in the self-help business section of your library or bookstore.
  • Is your son willing to learn? There are social skills board games. These have been designed by professionals to help young people break down the skills they will need in order to be able to make a few good friends.
  • Is your son willing to try everything? A mental health professional specializing in child and adolescent psychology might be able to provide assessment and counseling that can help your son build practical skills and emotional resilience.

Although it may turn out that your son never becomes super popular, by taking advantage of some of the strategies above, he should be able to make a friend or two. This can make an important positive difference to his life.