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!
Gifted @ Home
Heather Boorman, MSW, LCSW