I was tempted to simply end it there and make this the shortest article I’ve ever written, but I’ve never been a writer of few words, so I’ll expound.
Gifted kids know they are different. Whether we tell them or not. If we don’t tell them why they are different, they will create their own explanations. I’ve literally had several children come to my therapy office and earnestly tell me that they believe they are aliens. And, I suppose creating their own explanation isn’t, in itself, harmful. The problem, however, is that these stories generally involve some sort of harsh self-criticism and judgment.
Kids are wired to be egocentric. They believe the world revolves around them. This enables babies to stay alive. If babies didn’t believe the world revolved around them, they would never be fed or changed or cared for because they would never make their needs known. Being egocentric empowers them to keep crying until someone meets their needs.
The downside of egocentricity is that kids believe the world revolves around them. Therefore, if something negative happens in the world, if they somehow don’t fit in, it must be because there is something inherently wrong with them. So, gifted kids who aren’t told they’re gifted, feel different, don’t know why, create fantastical stories to explain it, and inevitably blame themselves leading to poor self-concepts.
Additionally, gifted kids need to understand the joys and challenges of having quick thinking brains. If we don’t explain the differences in how their brains work, they will never learn how to learn. Many gifted kids simply know. A teacher tells them something and they follow along and know it. And they believe that this knowing is learning. Until they actually have to learn something.
I had a college junior in my office the other week. Her words to me, “Heather, I just don’t know what’s going on. I thought I was having trouble focusing in class, but that’s not it. I can focus, but my mind is just . . . kind of . . . blank.”
I asked her to explain further and she said that she generally takes notes while a professor is speaking and it all makes sense. She’ll write down her notes and she’s got it. But, in this recent class, she’ll take the notes and understand the words, but she just doesn’t get it. “My mind just goes blank and I’m missing something, but I don’t know what it is.”
“Ahhh!” I said with a smile, “You’re learning!”
“What?!” she asked me with a quizzical look on her face.
I explained the difference between knowing and learning and that up until this point her brain has simply known. Learning involves frustration. Learning involves not knowing. Learning involves blank minds, working through it, making your brain sweat, and then understanding.
“You’re just finally having to learn something,” I said.
“So, I’m not stupid?” she asked, softly.
“You made it til your Junior year in College without having to learn anything. No, you are most definitely not stupid.”
And that’s the harm. Once again, kids’ brains fill in the gaps. If they suddenly don’t understand something, they feel they are stupid. They feel they have simply been an imposter all these previous years. If we tell them upfront and early that their brains work differently than others, it allows them to understand their learning and knowing processes. Plus, it’s helpful to give them things they struggle with so they learn how to learn early on, but that’s another article!
Yes. Tell kids they are gifted. Explain to them what that means. Explain the joys and challenges. Give them a reason for their difference. Remind them that different isn’t good or bad, it is simply different. Being gifted doesn’t make them better or worse than anyone else. But, it does, partially, make them who they are. And they deserve to know themselves. In order to be whole and well, they need to know who they are. Yes.
February. The month of pink and red, hearts, valentines, tiny sugar candies, and love. It would seem to be an understandable month to write about relationships and love languages and all those great ooey-gooey pleasant feelings. But, I’m not. Instead, we’re going to focus on being kind and loving toward ourselves.
Gifted individuals tend to arrive in this world with an innate drive and perfectionism. Their minds are often capable of envisioning perfection and they’re not satisfied until the real world mirrors those perfect images. When our less than perfect world, work, or behaviors fall short, gifted individuals can become extremely self-critical. Additionally, gifted individuals tend to have high expectations put on them and tend to receive an abundance of praise for accomplishments and achievements. We now know that praising the achievements can actually be quite detrimental as identity and worth become psychologically correlated. That’s all fine and good when someone is demonstrating high achievement, not so great the other 90% of the time when mistakes are made, failures are experienced, or mediocrity wins.
Which brings me back to Self-compassion. Self-compassion is the antidote to the poisonous self-esteem movement and our achievement-focused world. Self-compassion has been shown to be effective at decreasing anxiety, increasing motivation, improving mood, developing healthy life-style habits, and maintaining a stable sense of self-worth (see the work of Dr. Kristin Neff for the research, www.self-compassion.org).
According to Merriam-Webster, compassion is “sympathetic consciousness of others' distress, together with a desire to alleviate it.” We see someone suffering and we want to help. Self-compassion, then, is sympathetic awareness of our own distress, coupled with a kind desire to want to help.
Dr. Neff identified 3 components to self-compassion: Mindfulness, Kindness, and an Awareness of our Common Humanity.
Mindfulness: awareness of the present moment without judgment. Mindfulness is simply noticing. Noticing what we’re feeling, what we’re experiencing, what we’re thinking. There are a bazillion and one tools to assist with the practice of mindfulness. One of my new favorites is www.calm.com. Check it out – lots of great relaxing music, images, and guided mindfulness meditations. Why is mindfulness important? We can’t feel moved to alleviate our suffering if we don’t even know it’s there!
Kindness: this one is pretty self-explanatory. Self-compassion involves being kind to ourselves. Saying kind things to ourselves. Providing moments of soul-nourishment and attending to our basic needs for wellness and nurturing. Essentially, it’s choosing to quiet the internal critical voice and speak to ourselves as we would to a friend.
Awareness of our Common Humanity: acknowledging that mistakes, pain, misfortune are inevitable aspects of human existence. We all make mistakes. We all fail. We all experience pain, sadness, anger, embarrassment. Pain, anxiety, and perfectionism can be quite isolating. They deceptively tell us that we’re the only ones who’ve ever screwed up to such a massive extent. There must be something inherently wrong with us that we are experiencing such a difficult time. Of course, these are lies. And as we say them out loud we can recognize them as lies. But, these lies can feel awfully believable and true.
So, what does this actually look like? How can we actually coach our children into increased self-compassion? How can we practice increased self-compassion? Lets use a brief example of a gifted child who comes home having “failed” a test (though “failing” can mean getting an F, a C, or even an A- depending on the kid’s perspective!).
Child comes home miserable about her epic failure. Parent coaches child to take a few breathes and to be reflective on what her brain is telling her.
“That I shouldn’t have failed.”
“But what does your brain tell you it means that you failed?”
“That I didn’t know what I was doing.”
“And what does your brain tell you it means when you don’t know what you’re doing?”
“That I’m stupid.” (etc, etc, etc – and there’s the mindfulness)
“Did I ever tell you about the time that I failed my science test?” (and here’s the awareness of common humanity! Mention how everybody has bad test days or share examples from your own life of when you performed worse than you wanted to, etc)
And now the kindness: “So now you know that I’ve failed things before, too. Does that make me stupid? Does that make me a bad dad or any less funny or less of a good cook? Did that stop me from having an amazing family and job? No? So what would you tell me about failing the test? What would you tell your friend if they felt they were stupid? Can you tell yourself those things?”
It's a work in progress, to be sure. Self-compassion takes a lifetime to fully develop. Our brains are wired to pick out our mistakes and hold on to negativities. But, as you nurture this self-compassion in your child, it automatically becomes more of an impulse in yourself, as well! Win-win!
This article originally appeared on www.thefringybit.com as part of a Hoagies’ Gifted bloghop about child activists. Visit www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hops.htm for more great information on ways to support our idealist children.
Look at any list of “gifted traits” and you’ll see intense emotions, sensitive, empathetic, strong sense of justice and right and wrong. So many of our kiddos can see bigger and feel bigger and this leads to them having an acute sense of compassion and understanding of the many injustices of our world. To help our kids move from empathetic, understanding people, to people who may actually change the world, they need our guidance. Here are 7 steps that may help.
December. The time of year for parties and programs, caroling and good cheer. It is also the time of year for remembering loved ones, charitable giving campaigns, sentimental movies, and reminiscing about the past year. No matter your traditions, or lack thereof, the holiday season can be emotional. And for many of our gifted kids and youth, whose emotional lives are often deep and complex, the holidays can be even more emotionally chaotic than the rest of the year. Here are a few suggestions to help guide your child through the ups and downs of the holidays.
First, accurately identify the emotion. In order to accurately identify the emotion, we must first recognize that emotions are not right or wrong, good or bad. They simply exist. Some event triggers our emotional selves to have a reaction or response and feelings come up. That’s it. A Hallmark commercial might simultaneously trigger nostalgic mom-tears in me and groans of disgust or eye-rolls from my 11-year-old. That’s okay. Often times people believe they should or shouldn’t feel certain things, but there honestly is no should or shouldn’t when it comes to emotions. Encourage your child to simply recognize whatever it is that they are feeling, and model that same healthy emotion identification in your own lives. Yes, for some people the holidays are filled with cheer and joy, but for others they are filled with grief and anger. There’s no right or wrong.
In addition to accepting emotions as they are, we must also search for deeper, underlying emotions. We all have our emotion of choice. Some people feel most comfortable with anger, others with sadness or anxiety. Recognize that often times our go-to emotion is simply masking something different that feels less comfortable. Your teen might appear angry or sullen, when really they are anxious and nervous about the final tests and projects that are due this month. Play “feelings detective” and model curiosity when it comes to emotion identification.
Second, allow space and time to embrace and fully feel the emotion. Some of our gifted kids possess extreme empathy. A St Jude’s commercial may play across the small screen and suddenly your child feels overwhelmed with sadness for the kids who have to be in the hospital over Christmas. Watching a loved one experience pain can often be even more painful than going through the pain ourselves, so we can feel an urging to alleviate the sadness we see in our children. Unfortunately, this often comes out in ways that minimize or shut down the emotion. “Oh, it’s okay. Don’t worry about it so much.” “Those kids will be just fine.” “Focus on happy things.” We all have the right to experience our emotions, and honestly, the only way to release the emotion is to fully feel it. Give your child the gift of embracing their emotional selves and simply sit with them through their feelings.
Third, intentionally release the emotion. Yes, we need to feel it, but we also don’t need to be hijacked by it. We must find physical ways to move the emotion through ourselves. Emotions possess energy and physical sensations. If that energy is not expressed and provided an outlet, it will simply grow larger and find a different way to seep out. So, if your child experiences grief, let them write a letter to their lost loved one, or scribble wildly to expel the physical anger, or scream at the top of their lungs, or go for a run. Paint, utilize musical expression, write poetry, throw soft things in a safe place. The list can go on and on and will be extremely individualized.
And, don’t forget to release and express the pleasant feelings, as well. Many of our introverted, emotionally intense kids experience somatic expressions of their emotions because they will hold all that energy inward. Excitement, if not expressed, might turn into a stomach ache or a headache. Anticipation could turn nauseas. Allow both pleasant and unpleasant emotions to be acknowledged and expressed. Jump up and down and get silly if you feel overcome with joy. Do a little excited dance. Whatever it takes to release the energy of the emotion.
And finally, after the emotion has been released, identify what your child would like to do now. Emotions serve a purpose to prompt and motivate behavior. Help your child intentionally choose a response to their emotions. If they feel extreme empathy for homeless individuals who won’t have a warm meal for Christmas, help them move that into action and maybe volunteer to deliver or serve meals. If they feel overjoyed by the holiday season, take them caroling to let their joy be shared. If they feel disillusioned as the magic of Christmas wears off, help them find new meaning or new traditions. If they feel overwhelmed by activity, help them scratch a few things off the list and allow space for stillness.
The truth is, the holidays will be what they will be. Our gifted kids will experience what they experience. Pleasant and unpleasant emotions will be triggered. The best way to have a full and meaning-full December, is to embrace the full human experience and all the magically intense emotions that can go along with that. And so, I wish you a very merry, joyful, angry, sad, excited, anxious, eager, and delighted holiday season!
Even though the weather feels like September and not November, we are mere weeks away from the time of year that often involves several large family gatherings. Our intense kiddos and large family gatherings often collide into ooey gooey messiness. Let’s consider why this happens and what we can do about it.
Many gifted kids have sensory intensity. Their senses are hyperaware and their brains can have difficulty screening out unimportant sensory input. I’ve had kids in my therapy office complain about the clock ticking because it hurts their ears. Imagine those same ears in a crowded house with toddlers running around, great-uncle Albert shouting out jokes, dishes clinking in the kitchen, etc, etc, etc. OW!
As you prepare for family gatherings, check in with your sensory intense kiddo. Brainstorm ways to dull down the input and be willing to be flexible. Encourage breaks in quiet, calm spaces. Get them outdoors. Wear earplugs to soften sound. Maybe even allow your child to eat in a different room with just one or two other people. Respect your child’s sensory needs and accommodate them.
Many gifted kids are introverted. To be clear, introversion is not to be equated with socially inept. Introverts simply expend energy when in crowds and with other people and need solitude to recharge. Extroverts, on the other hand, expend energy when alone and need time with people to recharge. Family gatherings for introverts can be extremely fun, and extremely draining.
Again, check in with your child. Give your child permission to bring a book and read in the corner. Have a signal that your child can tell you when they’ve had enough and need to leave. Respect your child’s need for space and be willing to advocate and verbalize this to less understanding relatives.
Many gifted kids experience emotional intensity. They feel things bigger and more intensely than more typical kids. This, however, doesn’t mean they know how to manage these emotions in more helpful ways. Holidays and family gatherings naturally trigger a variety of emotions for everyone. When these emotions are felt on a larger scale, it can be difficult to regulate these effectively.
Help your child label their emotions. You can do this by saying things such as, “It seems that you’re really excited today” or “I’m noticing that you’re biting your nails, oftentimes that means you’re nervous. Are you feeling nervous about anything?” Be careful not to tell a child how they’re feeling (“You are mad”), simply state your own observations and be curious. Help your child determine how to express these emotions in helpful ways.
Gifted kids often develop asynchronistically. They are not consistently capable across all developmental areas. This can make social interactions tricky. Part of them wants to hang out with similarly aged kids, part of them wants to hang out with the little kids, part of them wants to sit at the adult table and discuss current affairs.
Be forthright and mindful with your child. Let them know why these gatherings might be difficult and help them identify a few people with whom they may feel the most comfortable. If they’d genuinely prefer to be with the adults, ask the host to make a space for your child among the adults. If they’d prefer to be with littler kids, offer your child’s services as a parent’s helper for an adult with a younger child at the gathering. If they’d genuinely prefer to be on their own, that’s ok, too.
Gifted kids generally do not fall far from the proverbial tree. Chances are, your family gathering is filled with intensely amazing individuals. Which can create amazingly intense situations. And, chances are, you have your own gifted traits to contend with. This can be fantastic, but it also can mean that your level of stress is higher during family gatherings, which makes it more difficult to fully attend to our kids’ needs.
Practice and model self-care. If you need earplugs, to eat in a different room, to take a break, to bring a book, etc, give yourself permission to do so. Identify all of your own emotions as you anticipate these gatherings, and remember that we humans are often filled with seemingly contradictory feelings and that every feeling is valid. Allow yourself time and space to release your own emotions. Share the joys and challenges you have faced with family gathering with your child.
Ultimately, know that there is no right or wrong when it comes to these holidays. Allow your family the flexibility to determine what will be best for you. Maybe that will be diving full force into all family gatherings. Maybe that will be choosing to stay home from all family gatherings. Again, there is no right or wrong. Enjoy your Thanksgiving, no matter how you celebrate it!
The word evokes images of lazy days reading in a hammock with a cold glass of lemonade close at hand. School’s out. The sun’s out. There’s not a care in the world. Unless you’re one of many gifted kids (or their parents) for whom summer isn’t so great.
The transition from school to summer can often be a difficult one for kids who crave routine and require
intellectual challenge and imaginational outlets. Add intense emotions to the mix, a low frustration
tolerance, or our overly hectic over-committing tendencies, and watch out! Those idyllic days of
relaxation can quickly flip into emotional outbursts filled with blood, sweat, and tears.
Many of our gifted kids, especially those who are twice exceptional, often struggle with the unknown.
Their brains require a sense of structure, pattern, and predictability. Summer schedules often vary from
week to week, if not day to day, and this fluctuation can trigger heightened anxiety, which can be
expressed in all sorts of complicated ways (aggression, somatic complaints, fear, clinginess, emotional
outbursts, obsessions or compulsions).
One way to help these kiddos is to provide visual schedules and inform them ahead of time what they
can expect from the next day. Lay out, in a visual format with either printed words or even pictures,
what a day’s or week’s expected schedule will look like. Review it with the child and ask the child where
they’d like to hang it so they can review it as often as they need. If every day looks different, create a
new schedule for every day, or use a hanging pocket calendar that can easily be updated. Of course,
always remind them (and ourselves!) that life sometimes interferes with our intended schedules, so we
may need some flexibility, too.
Boredom is another BIG trigger for our gifted and 2E kids. And, if a gifted child is bored, you’ll either be
at the receiving end of another emotional outburst, or you’ll find that your brand new vacuum cleaner
has been disassembled and you are now the proud owner of 5 mini robot ninjas. Being bored can be a
really helpful emotion, as it often sparks real creativity. However, for our kids without the executive
functioning and emotion regulation skills to channel their boredom, they’re going to need our assistance
to get them going.
A couple of ideas to prevent the boredom explosions:
Work with the child at the beginning of the summer, or end of the school year, to create a list of
boredom busters. Brainstorm (no idea is a bad one!) as many ideas as possible and then evaluate each
idea to create your final boredom buster list. Once you’ve developed the list and written or typed it out
in a cool-looking sort of way, have the child put it someplace that they can refer to it whenever they’re
bored. An added bonus – anytime you hear those whiny words, “I’m bored”, you can just direct them to
the list instead of having to hear it or brainstorm with them on the spot!
Another idea is to help the child select a project they want to work on for the summer. Let them choose
whatever topic they are interested in so it’s interesting, motivating, and fun for them. They are in
complete control of their project. They choose a topic, explore it in as many different ways as possible
(or at least in as many different ways as they can think of), create something related to their topic (could
be an art project, youtube video, play, poem, website, musical piece, podcast, etc), and then share their
creation with someone. Since it’s entirely directed by the child, it won’t “feel like school”, but it will
certainly keep their brains and imaginations engaged. Your role as the adult in their life is to simply
provide supplies and ask questions. Otherwise, let them fly with it!
And, finally, why not use the slower pace of summer to actually help our fast-paced kids learn how to
slow down. Help lead them in a few mindfulness moments. Our kids’ brains are generally going 500
miles a minute, which leads to overwhelm, anxiety, sleep disturbance, etc when not regulated well.
Teach them to take a few moments every day to simply be present in the moment. Help them focus
their thoughts on one of their external senses and simply notice what they notice, without judgment.
Teach them to slow down, and while you’re doing that, you might just learn how to slow down, too!
Which might even bring about that idyllic summer day of laying in the sun, relaxing on the hammock.