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.