You would think that a super smart person would be cool, calm, and collected. Capable of handling emotion when it infrequently and inconveniently trickled out. Analytically above the fray. Lost in thought about bosons, quarks, and string theory. Logical. Not particularly emotionally expressive.
You would think.
But the gifted children and grownups that I know, well, they have EMOTIONS. Their capacity for intense, deep, effervescent feeling is enormous. Granted, if they are males, this sensitivity often goes underground when they reach adolescence. (For more on this, go here.) But if you are raising a gifted little boy, you know what I’m talking about. EMOTIONS. People are just a bit more understanding when our girls express emotion. But, if females are too passionate, too angry, too critical, too sad, too joyful, or too assertive, well, that is also seen as unacceptable.
You have probably heard about Dabrowski’s study of giftedness and his explanation of overexcitabilities (OEs). He said that it is part of the nature of a gifted person to have intensities in many areas, including emotion, sensation, intellect, psychomotor, and imagination.
So, you can relax. You haven’t ruined your children. And you aren’t an anomaly. Or a weirdo. There’s just a lot going on in the rainforest. A LOT.
So, what can you do?
Start with self-understanding. Your emotions are an important part of who you are. Make time to nourish yourself. Soothe your anxiety. Calm your nervous system. Find others who appreciate your depth. Remember that you have a rainforest mind which means that you are highly sensitive with high expectations and standards for your behavior. Then you can stay calmer when your child’s emotions are splashing around or bursting out in embarrassing ways at the restaurant, or the library, or in front of your in-laws.
Acknowledge your child’s emotions so that your child feels seen and understood. After that, it will be easier to problem solve with your child and to set appropriate limits and boundaries. “I see that you’re feeling frustrated right now because you can’t get what you want.” “I wonder if you’re feeling sad about that.” “I hear you when you say that you’re ‘stupid’ because you didn’t do well on the test. Can you tell me more about that?” “I see that you’re mad and want to hit someone. Hitting is not OK. Use your words to tell me how you feel. I can help.”
Try the container method. Explain to your child, during a calm period, how there are times when it is important to put big feelings into a container when it’s not safe or appropriate to express them. Then they can let the feelings out when they are safe at home. An eight-year-old I worked with decided he’d put his angry feelings into a coconut when he was in school where he was being bullied. On days when the coconut wasn’t enough, he’d reinforce it with diamonds and make it as large as a truck. When he arrived at home, he could draw pictures of his feelings and explain them to his parents.
Practice self-soothing strategies. A gifted child’s constant questions, verbal agility, and need for intellectual stimulation can be exhausting. Make a list of tools to calm your child and yourself. Tell your child that you are learning how to take good care of yourself, too. Your child can even remind you when they notice you’re stressed. Slow breathing, calming music, positive self-talk, singing, getting out into nature, exercise, taking a bath, massage, essential oils, and listening to a story or podcast can help. There are meditation apps such as Insight Timer for when you get some alone time. See the resources below for more ideas. Your sensitive child will feel and may react when you are out-of-whack so you’ll want to stay in-whack as much as you can.
Get therapy if you are frequently over-reacting to your child’s intense emotions. If you’ve grown up with any kind of abuse, trauma, or neglect, you’ll likely be triggered by your child’s emotional outbursts, particularly when your child reaches an age when you experienced a traumatic event. It can be hard to find the right psychotherapist so give yourself time to shop around. There are some suggestions here. The School of Life in the UK is also a good resource.
More resources: If you only have time to read one book, I’d recommend Eileen Kennedy-Moore’s Smart Parenting for Smart Kids. She writes about very specific issues that might not be addressed in general parenting books. If you have time for more, check out Mary Kurcinka’s Raising Your Spirited Child. Also Living with Intensity by Daniels and Piechowski. Psychologist Gail Post‘s blog. Tina Bryson and Dan Siegel’s books and websites. Tina Harlow and her free ebook: Helping Gifted Kids Thrive. Christine Fonseca‘s book on emotional intensity. Facebook groups on parenting gifted and 2e kids.
It can be challenging to be the parent of a gifted child. You might be particularly hard on yourself and extra anxious and you may feel super responsible for all children everywhere because of your own rainforest mind. So hear me when I say that you really need to understand your own giftedness and make the time to nourish yourself. You will become a better parent, your children will benefit, and all children everywhere will thank you.
To my dear bloggEEs: If you are a parent, what ideas and resources have been helpful? What challenges have you faced? If you are not a parent, what do you wish your parents had said to you or helped you with? What are your suggestions for parents of gifted children? As always, thank you for being here. And thank you to the family with the 8-year-old and the coconut.