Kitty Ver Kuilen, WATG Board, Guest Blogger
It starts off innocently: a playdate or two for your toddler, maybe a gym class once week. By the time he's in second grade, he's taking art lessons and playing peewee baseball and soccer. A few years later he makes the travel soccer team, which conflicts at times with basketball. But he still manages to squeeze in Boy Scout meetings and saxophone lessons before tackling his homework. You cheer him on during games, even though it may mean sitting in the bleachers, cell phone in hand, as you field calls from your office. You joke that you feel more at home on the road than in your living room. In fact, you are running as fast as you can toward that elusive goal of raising a well rounded child. You are stressed and exhausted, and you are not alone.
Parenting today often feels like a frantic race in which we are forever a few steps behind. Kids today have half as much free time as they did 30 years ago, notes a national study of 3500 children, 12 and under, released by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. "Children are affected by the same time crunch as their parents," notes Sandra L. Hofferth, a senior research scientist at the institute. "As a society, we have talked ourselves into believing that we have to make every moment count, and that we have to fill our children as we would empty vessels," says Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., coauthor of Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less. Hirsh-Pasek, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, continues, "Parents feel compelled to give their kids every advantage they can afford. So they cram their days with art, music, sports, and even weekend enrichment programs."
Is it any wonder that when youngsters have a free moment, they complain that they're bored? More likely, they simply don't know what to do with themselves. "There is a myth that doing nothing is wasting time, when it's actually extremely productive and essential," says Dr. Hirsh-Pasek. "During empty hours, kids explore the world at their own pace, develop their own unique set of interests and indulge in the sort of fantasy play that will help them figure out how to create their own happiness, handle problems with others on their own, and sensibly manage their own time. That's a critical life skill."
What's more, the pile on of extracurricular activities, on top of several hours of homework as they get older, may actually backfire. "Many overscheduled kids are anxious, angry and burned out," notes child psychiatrist Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., coauthor of The Overscheduled Child. "They display a range of symptoms from headaches and stomachaches to temper tantrums, an inability to concentrate in school, and sleeping problems. In the long run, it may be harder for them to make confident choices and decisions about what they want to do on their own." More importantly, by cramming activities into a child's schedule, you deprive him of something very special: The joy of just being a kid.
The Parent Trap: Why the pressure to overbook?
In this multitasking world, in which the push to do more and do it faster is pervasive, perhaps it was only a matter of time that the effects trickled down to childrearing. Yet some experts believe parents have misunderstood the tidal wave of information on child development reported in the last two decades. "This generation of parents has swallowed whole, and in some cases, is choking on, the belief that the sooner you expose a child to learning, the more he or she will learn," says Rosenfeld. "And if they don't get it during those critical early childhood years, well, forget Harvard." In fact, there is a wealth of information that proves exactly the opposite.
"Children continue to learn and develop throughout childhood," notes Hirsh-Pasek. "But they need time to recharge their batteries and process what they've learned. Free time allows them to explore, to be scientists, discoverers, creators, and innovators. They do that when they build pillow forts in the family room, sail away in a laundry basket to a foreign land, or find the remarkable in the mundane." Then, too, kids with time to daydream nurture their inner lives. "They practice making mistakes or tolerating what can go wrong — a child calls them names, they're not picked for the school play. They figure out how to steel themselves against such possibilities," says Hirsh-Pasek. "That's self responsibility and self reliance."
Of course, letting kids just hang out sounds much easier than it actually is. We are raising our children in a very different world than the one in which we grew up. Single or working parents must rely on afterschool or summer programs to keep kids safe. What's more, there is a body of research that shows that activities outside of school foster confident kids, proud of their accomplishments and challenged by new goals, who do better academically than those who don't. But in our well intentioned efforts to give our children the best of everything, perhaps we've forgotten the importance of a balanced life.
"As parents, we have a choice," says Hirsh-Pasek. "We can groom our children to be worker bees — to take in information and it spit right back out — or we can help them be creative problem solvers, to look at a cloud and see dinosaurs or birds, to be energized by their own imaginations and curiosity." That's where doing nothing, sometimes even to the point of being bored, comes in.
Stop the Frenzy
This media savvy generation is being raised to believe that life is a nonstop rollercoaster of overthetop phenomenal fun times — and if every moment isn't filled, well, something's wrong. Now is the time to stop the madness and reorder your family priorities. Remember: Leading a frenetic life is not inevitable or enviable. Parenting is not a competitive sport. So ask yourself, honestly, what makes you think it is.
Pressure from other parents or family members? Concern that your child will lack the extra edge to get into a good college? Children, like adults, have their own threshold for stress. Some families handle a busy schedule better than others, and some kids thrive when involved in multiple activities. If you sense (by noticing her mood, grades, and health) that your child isn't one of them, or if scrambling from one activity to another is not the way you want to live your life, resist the urge to sign up for another appealing lesson.
Scholastic.com: Parent and Child Magazine
I have three wonderful, precocious daughters. I didn’t think of my girls as gifted, especially when they were young before classrooms and standardized tests, but I instinctively knew that they were naturally inquisitive learners with seemingly limitless potential. With two of the three now in college, this seems like a good time to reflect on the years they were at home and how my husband and I tried to nurture their minds and spirits. I still have a lot to learn, but there are a few things that I have gleaned along the way. So here is my list of the top 10 things that I have learned about raising gifted children, but it is really a top ten list for raising any child to remain a lifelong, enthusiastic learner with a plentitude of amazing gifts.
(1) Start with a Sign. A bright baby or toddler can become easily frustrated when she cannot communicate her needs. Before most children can speak, they can sign. I frequently used the signs for, “more,” “done,” “milk,” “eat,” and “airplane” with my children. They picked them up quickly and used them, too. It prevented many temper tantrums and was a lot of fun. Here‘s a list of some of the most helpfu signs: http://www.parenting.com/gallery/baby-sign-language-words-to-know?page=12 .
(2) Make Music. Young brains learn music like they learn a language, with a natural ease. Parent-Child music classes and Suzuki music lessons are among the programs specifically designed for teaching young children in ways that are playful and age-appropriate. Youth choirs are also fantastic as is playing music in the car and around your house! Even if a child doesn’t stick with an instrument, he will gain an ear for pitch and rhythms that is much more difficult to acquire later in life.
(3) The World is a Big Place. Children have a natural ability to pick up languages with little or no accent. Take advantage of this and introduce your child to a second language as early as possible. If you speak two languages, yourself, use both at home regularly. Also look for opportunities to expose your children to other cultures by sampling food, attending cultural events, or by simply taking the time to meet and talk with new people.
(4) Provide Opportunities to Move. It’s important to learn how to balance and control and coordinate body movements. This can be done via dance lessons, yoga, team sports, or with family sports like bike riding and badminton. Learning to control one’s body is something that doesn’t come easily to everyone. It activates a different part of the brain than academic learning and is a great life-long resource for preventing stress, anxiety, and depression--all of which are not uncommon in gifted children. Encourage your child to get involved in something she enjoys!
(5) Open the Door. There’s no substitute for unstructured time outdoors in nature. Let your kids romp and play and explore when they’re little and encourage them to go hiking, canoeing, and adventuring when they are older. Their time spent in nature will seep into their soul and teach them about the natural world around them.
(6) Inspire Greatness. Whether it’s a favorite author, activist, scientist, historical figure, athlete, or artist, seek opportunities to expose children to relevant books, plays, performances, events, or museum exhibits. If their hero is alive and comes to town, make a date to go together. There is no substitute for inspiration.
(7) Nurture Passions and Abilities. What is your child good at? What is he passionate about? Figure it out and seek out enrichment opportunities in those areas whether it is sports, science, math, dance, art, writing, or World War I history. Interest is a mighty fuel for learning.
(8) Provide Opportunities for Great Challenge. For gifted children, many things at school come easily. They may find that they do not have to work very hard to get an ‘A’ and that homework takes just a few minutes. In my experience, this can lead to frustration later in life when she eventually encounters something difficult and hasn’t learned the grit and resilience needed to persevere. I believe that it is important to provide opportunities for a child to do something that is difficult--this could be learning a musical instrument, preparing for a difficult math competition, or playing a sport. Everyone eventually encounters something that is extremely difficult. I’ve found that it’s best if that happens well before graduate school.
(9) Obstacles are just Challenges. Everyone faces obstacles in life. It may be parents getting divorced, dyslexia, ADHD, mental illness, a physical challenge, being bullied, or something else. Be an advocate for your child and be sure he knows that he is not alone in his struggle. You are there to help, as are other adults, and despite this challenge, he is smart and special and capable of great things! Let difficulty and struggle lead to creativity and innovation.
(10) Think Big. Does the universe have an end? How can we stop war or address racism? What happens when someone dies? These and other topics can be explored within a religious community, by seeking out interesting books or speakers, or in spirited discussions at the dinner table. However you do it, find a way to ignite your child’s imagination with the spark of the mystery and magic in our world. Perhaps, one day, she will discover one of the answers!
We can feel it. All of us. The muck and dirt and grime of our society has been bubbling and rising and coming to the surface. Over the past 2 years, it has become increasingly evident that conflict and strife and violence exists in this country. Regardless of religious, social, political leanings, the one thing we all seem to be able to agree on right now is that right now is a highly disagreeable time. Anxiety, fear, violence, disappointment, overwhelm, anger, rage, hatred. We live in a time of ick, and our kids are acutely aware of this.
To be clear, I am more than willing to share my own political, social, religious leanings, but you’ll have to track me down in the hallway at this year’s WATG conference to hear them. This is not an article about that. This is an article about supporting our gifted children through the tough stuff that has been plastered on the internet, social media, mainstream media, and down the street.
We no longer live in a time when we can shield our children from the tough stuff. And, frankly, I don’t think that was a helpful approach in the first place. All our kids are aware of the ick, and our gifted kids, especially, can feel overwhelmed, confused, afraid. They can see the larger connections and empathize deeply. They can sense injustice and adamantly pursue the cause of righting wrongs. They can be pushed down and flooded by feelings of helplessness and pain.
So, how do we help our children face the realities of today without spiraling into self-destruction?
First, we must talk to them. We must ask open-ended questions, to leave no space for the simple yes, no, or I-don’t-know’s that can be so common. These issues are far too complex and messy to be able to be answered with simple black and white answers. Your child may not be prepared to chat, but know that by opening with the questions, by allowing the space, you give them the gift of knowing you’re there when they are ready.
Second, we must validate their feelings. We don’t have to agree with them or even totally understand them, but they must feel heard and listened to. They need space and an accepting adult to simply be with them in the midst of all their messy feelings.
Third, in order to see our children in pain and simply sit and validate them, we must regulate our own feelings. Swooping in to kiss it all better is not going to help, and will only shut down any conversation with one of this intensely-feeling kiddos. Let them rage and scream and cry and feel forlorn. Don’t fix it. Let yourself experience your emotions and use your own tools to tolerate the pain of watching your baby in pain.
Fourth, quote Mr. Rogers. It becomes easy to see the unpleasant and hurtful things in times of hardship, but in the midst of all the hardship there will also, always, be heroes, helpers, love, compassion, kindness. Quote Mr. Rogers, “look for the helpers.”
Fifth, and finally, give them something to do. Few things feel worse to a bright and active mind than feeling helpless and overwhelmed. Help them choose one tiny pin-prick-sized action they can take to make things just a little better. Help them realize their self-efficacy and power to make a difference. Even if all the big things can’t be resolved in one night, helping a bullied kid up off the floor brings resolution for that kid in that moment. Donating dog food to the shelter brings resolution for those dogs. Speaking peace, compassion, and kindness brings resolution to all those who cross your path, and to yourself. And, really, that’s what it takes to change the world.
Given the fact that you are reading this particular article, I’m assuming you have a gifted child. And, if that child is biologically related to you, it’s a fair bet that you are gifted, as well. And I wonder, do you claim that as part of your identity? Are you comfortable acknowledging your own intelligences and talents? Have your talked to your child about your experiences being a gifted adult and what it was like to be a gifted child back in the days of your youth? I know they’d be shocked to hear that schools even existed back in your day, but it’s worth a conversation!
I once attended a gifted conference and the keynoter asked anyone with a gifted child to raise their hand. Nearly every hand in the auditorium shot up. He then asked anyone who they, themselves, was gifted to raise their hand. Only about a quarter of the hands shot up. But, seriously. A child’s giftedness doesn’t usually fall from out of the clear blue sky. There’s a correlation between parents’ intelligence and children’s intelligence. And, we tend to enter relationships with people who are within the same IQ range as we are.
For some reason, it often feels more comfortable to acknowledge our child’s giftedness than our own. This might partially be due to our own childhood experiences. It might be due to an internalized anti-intellectualism, imposter syndrome, insecurity in our own identities. Or maybe you were unaware that you were gifted until you started learning more about how to parent your gifted child and resonated, personally, with the things you were reading. Or maybe you were identified as gifted, but no one ever explained what that means, so you’ve never really claimed it for yourself.
Whatever the reason, most parents I work with will gladly discuss parenting strategies and ways to understand their gifted child, but they laugh nervously and begin to squirm as soon as I reflect their own intelligence and intensities.
Why do I bring this up? Like it or not, our kids learn more from what we model than what we say. They learn how to take care of themselves by watching how we take care of ourselves. They learn how to treat other people by watching how we treat other people. And they learn how to claim their identity by watching how we claim our identity.
Over and over parents enter my therapy office with the one request that I help their gifted child feel comfortable in their own skin, to accept and embrace their differently wired selves. And, yes, us therapists can help with this. And books and proper psycho-education and time with intellectual peers can help with this. But, honestly, the number one way to help your child claim his or her identity and embrace the good and bad of their unique wiring, is to show them how you embrace your own unique wiring. Model self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-advocacy. Stop squirming when someone points out how smart you are. Claim your intelligence and talents. Show them how you regulate the challenges of your intense life and build on the joys of your intensities. Show them that giftedness is nothing to be hidden.
And when a keynoter asks who in the audience is gifted, proudly raise your hand.
If you'd like more ways to embrace our life as a gifted adult, check out Paula Prober's book, "Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth."
I had the honor of interviewing 3 gifted middle school girls for the Fringy Bit podcast today. We simply chatted about life as a gifted middle school girl. They shared their ups and downs of being gifted, made me laugh, and vulnerably gave a peek into their lives in a way that I would never have had the confidence to do when I was 13.
While insightful comments permeated the entire conversation, I particularly wanted to share their answers to one. I asked, “what can the adults around you do to support you better?”
First, all of them acknowledged that they have really positive adult support, which is evident as they seem to be strong, courageous, insightful, and balanced girls.
Second, they all simply asked to be listened to. They said that oftentimes the well-meaning adults in their lives will cut off their verbal, tangential, flow of thought by trying to make them focus on one thing or clarify a thought. But, all 3 of them acknowledged that their brains simply work by firing from one thought to the next to the next and it may seem unrelated or as though it isn’t going anywhere, but really this is when they feel at their most productive and creative. They voiced appreciation for the times in their gt classes when they can simply riff off one another with their wild and spontaneous and sometimes manic-seeming thoughts. One of the girls observed that when they’re allowed to spontaneously run with their bouncing thoughts, this is when their most engaging, creative, and powerful work is accomplished. But, adults will often cut off this flow. So – just listen. Without trying to fix or expand. Listen. And when they’re done – then, if there’s more that needs to be expanded – then we can go back.
Third, they all wanted adults to take the time to understand them. And to understand them as they are now. As their own unique individuals. They felt many adults think they understand them, but they don’t really. Even if we’ve known these kids since they were infants, they are constantly changing, growing, and have unique minds and souls of their own. It becomes easy to fall into the trap of knowing them as we think they are, rather than really sitting back, listening, and learning who they actually are.
So, how do we really support gifted kids? Listen to them. Learn from them. End of story.
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!
Gifted @ Home
Heather Boorman, MSW, LCSW