Most gifted children/people I meet are not any good at small talk. I’ll be brutally honest—it just doesn’t interest us. Our brains are whirling at 100 mph, processing all we see around us, all the stray thoughts popping into our heads, all the while focusing on what we are really interested in at that moment.
So that’s why we seem distracted during “small talk time.” That’s why we don’t listen well during small talk. And why we suddenly cut into the conversation, without appropriate segue, and talk about something far afield from the current topic of discussion.
It’s not that we don’t value your small talk. It’s just that our brain doesn’t work that way. Actually, many of us WISH we could do small talk. We feel so awkward at wedding receptions, parties, gatherings, home groups. Everyone is smiling, chatting, laughing, and we are in the corner or up against the wall, or even in a group with two or three other people, and we are desperately wondering how to fit in. Some people don’t even notice our discomfort—they are not so attuned to others. Others wonder why we are so weird and why we make awkward comments from time to time. As for our parents, well, some feel pained when they watch our efforts. Others feel embarrassed, either for us or OF us. And yet others don’t even see our struggle to fit in.
How can you help your young gifted child in this area? For one, you might explain to him or to her that it’s okay not to be good at small talk. Validate their feelings. Affirm their value just the way they are. Start helping them to adopt coping mechanisms, like encouraging them at first to identify when they are tuning other people out and retreating into their own thoughts in the middle of a social setting. Once they begin to identify those times, encourage them to re-focus on the people around them and to tune back in to the conversation, looking for one item to comment on.
There’s one other thing that could really help your child—help them find another gifted child to be their friend. Ask them if there is anyone at school with whom they feel at ease. It might be another gifted child or a child who is comfortable around gifted people. Arrange times to have this other child over and make it easy for them to talk together. Maybe they will game together. You might encourage them to walk to the local public playground just to climb on the apparatus and talk. Especially for introverted, reticent gifted kids, talking can be challenging and unwelcome. Or, if your child is gifted in one particular area on which they fixate, it might be hard to find another child willing to talk only about that area. In this case, you might need to help them find another child with that same interest.
Although I am in mid-life, I still find small talk very difficult. I am so aware of my faults and tendencies to skip the small talk and dominate a conversation with a topic that interests me, that I leave social situations evaluating my behavior and mentally kicking myself in the head when I feel that I’ve failed. If you are the parent of a gifted child, you need to show a lot of grace to them. And if you ARE the gifted one, you need to have a lot of grace for yourself!