We hear a lot about the socially awkward gifted kids. The ones who try to talk astrophysics with their fellow first graders and receive blank expressions in return. Or the ones who are too shy to order their own food at a takeout joint. Or the ones who can’t bear to let others be wrong and keep the argument going far longer than anyone else is interested in it.
But, what about the socially advanced kid?
My youngest, Chimp, as always been a bit ahead of the curve with regard to his social skills. Maybe some of that is his natural giftings. Maybe some is due to the fact that he has 2 older siblings and one of those older siblings has autism. Whatever the case, he’s been ahead of the game.
I think I’ve shared before that he would try to play with other kids around 1 year old, at a time when other kids would just look at him strangely. My mom repeatedly tells the story of when he snuck off to play hide and seek as a 10 or 11 month old and he saw the humor and intentionality in his quiet hiding. When he was 2 he would try to play with other 2 year olds at the park and they weren’t interested in, or developmentally ready to partake in, partnership creative play. But, then he’d approach the older kids and they would just look at this tiny toddler of a thing and blow him off.
Over the past few weeks, our Chimp has been attending summer daycamp for preschoolers. We thought his 5 year old little social self would LOVE it. And he kind of did, but he also kind of didn’t. He didn’t seem to understand recess.
“Mom” he’d say, “I was playing with kids, and I thought we were friends and having fun, but then they just ran off and played something else.”
With some questioning, I learned that yep, indeed this kids did seem to actually like Chimp and like playing with him, but they were preschoolers. 4 and 5 years old. They run from pretty thing to sparkly thing to new slide to swing to wherever their fancy takes them. Usually without much thought of the people they leave in their dust. And most of those dusty kids don’t really care because they’re running off following a butterfly down a hill. But, not our Chimp. He makes a point of saying goodbye to his friends, or suggesting or new game, or telling them that he’d like to continue playing with them “at a later date” but that right now “I am interested in (fill in the blank)”. He didn’t get it. He didn’t get why kids would just leave. And his feelings were hurt.
We’ve come to the hardest part. The hurt feelings. The misunderstanding. Helping my little social networker find the people who will be open to his networking.
I think this comes easier as they age, in some ways. My 13 year old can hang out with older teens and people in their 20’s without it being much of a big deal. Though, I have recently learned that his friends (very sweetly) have opted to write down certain adult jokes to protect my guy’s young ears. Happy sigh. But, when you’re talking about toddlers, preschoolers, early elementary school, it’s hard to find older elementary students who want to hang out with sweet, little tyke who is still figuring out how to say his R’s and sleeps with a blankie at night.
So, I’ve been using this as a learning experience. Teaching Chimp how to understand himself better. Helping him learn that at the moment, he behaves socially differently than other kids. Having discussions about what those kids behaviors probably mean so he learns not to personalize others’ actions. And, especially, helping him learn to regulate his emotions. First by regulating my own (it’s so heartbreaking!) and then by helping him recognize his feelings, express them, and let them go.
Some day the other kids will be more socially aware. Probably right about the time my Chimp runs off to join the peace corps or collapses in an existential fit of sadness that the world doesn’t function as kindly as it could. But, that’s for another day.