There is no doubt that many thoughtful and intense conversations have been happening lately, and many of them center on the pandemic. These conversations are happening at so many levels in the world -- internationally, nationally, at the state, county, city, and local level, in school districts and school buildings, with administrators, teachers, and other school personnel, within families, between friends, and among those with diverse opinions. Our children are listening, even though we may not be aware of it. They are paying close attention to the conversations, mulling them over, perhaps worrying, thinking of solutions, and yearning to be included in the conversations. Because they are gifted kids, they may be experiencing a heightened sensitivity to the nuances of conversations, and yet they are seldom asked to join in on the discussion. Some children may have trusted adults to talk to, some children may not. Some children may be forthright in opening the discussion, some might be reticent. Some of us may feel comfortable and competent to have these discussions, some of us may not. Nonetheless, our children are pondering.
For the past few weeks, I have been keeping a record of questions and comments that I’ve heard coming from children, or read about, or that parents have shared with me. It’s convinced me that our children are full of great questions. Here are some of them:
“Why does the news keep changing?” “Why can’t scientists make up their minds?” “Are the numbers real?” “What is fake news?” “How do you know what to believe?” “How would sitting in the same desk all day, wearing a mask, not being able to hang out with my friends, having to eat a cold boxed lunch be better than sitting on my bed eating and drinking what I want when I want and having an actual conversation with my teachers and friends on Zoom?” “Will dad lose his job?” “Why did our neighbor get sick? Will the whole family get sick?” “Why can’t I go back to school if kids don’t get sick like adults do?” “Why do people with no children get to make the rules?” “My throat hurts. Am I going to die?” “What if grandma dies?” “Why do we have to go to virtual school anyway? It’s not helping me.” “What if we start school, and then school closes?” “I’m worried about my friend. She’s really depressed. What should I do?” “Even if we go back to school, it won’t be the same...and that makes me sad. Is it okay to be sad?” “How will we keep our classroom clean and safe?” “What if my teacher gets sick? Will we all have to stay home?” “I don’t want to miss school. It’s my whole life.” “Will we really ever get to do things again like we used to, or will it always be like this?”
Whether children pose these questions out loud, or fret about them internally and silently, the need to open the discussion remains. So how do we do this?
First of all, physical and emotional space must be made available. For our younger children, bedtime is often a time when worries and wonderings surface. The quietness, the comfort of one’s bedroom, and the let-down from the day often invite introspective conversations. For older children and adolescents, many parents report that “car time” is when many deep discussions emerge. The physical act of being enclosed, the fact that the grownup is generally focused on the road and not looking at the teen, and the fact that the conversation is totally private all seem to invite deep discussions. And for all children, deep conversations require deep listening skills, unimpeded by phones, TV, or other interruptions.
Some great conversation starters include: “So, what do you think about…” “I’m interested in your opinion about…” “What kinds of things do you think kids are wondering about…” ”You seem worried. Do you want to talk about it?” “What do you think will be the best thing about…?” “What do you think will happen?” What do you think should happen?” “What’s the worst that could happen?” “How likely is that to be true?” “What have you noticed?” “What do you wish would happen?” “Who could you talk to about this?” (To kick up the level of conversation, you may want to probe deeper by asking “why” often).
In addition to asking the questions and opening the discussions, we need to think about our next steps. We need to validate our children’s answers and feelings, and we need to regulate our own emotions while listening. Finally, we need to find ways to help our children (and ourselves) cope positively and move forward.
Some valuable ideas for these next steps include:
Above all, we need to be gentle with our children and with ourselves while we learn, and as we navigate constant change. Though it is important to open the discussion, where the discussion leads will require intuition, patience, skill, and practice. The process may not be perfect, but it is worth it. Our children are counting on us. We can do this. And if we need help, we can lean on others...now more than ever.
As always, I look forward to your ideas. Together we grow.
Past President, WI Association for Talented and Gifted
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think.