Parenting Gifted Children

Lots of gifted kids are, well, intense. Parenting them is a rollercoaster and some days, especially the ones when you feel outsmarted by them, can be downright exhausting! So, what can you do to help the journey become a little simpler? Hopefully some of these tips may help.

1.) Stay below the emotion presented – Chances are that if you live in a gifted household there may be more than one of you who is a little on the intense side! As hard as it may be, try to resist entering into an argument with your little lawyer. Be firm but calm when trying to get your message across – even if that means temporarily removing yourself from the situation before re-engaging with your child once you have calmed down. Once their emotions are in overdrive it can be hard to bring a gifted child back down!

2.) Be consistent – Gifted kids often have memories like elephants. If you say that you are going to do something then do it. This includes when it comes to discipline. If their behavior is unacceptable and you decide on a consequence ensure you follow through on that consequence. Banning screen time or saying you are going to cancel a play date but then giving in demonstrates to your bright spark that they can wrap you around their little finger. The rollercoaster can be a whole lot harder when they’re running the show!

3.)  Let them feel involved – Consistency is important but so is compromise. If your child is partially responsible for their own discipline there is a fair chance   that they will be more likely to comply when their behaviour starts to go a little pear shaped. In a quiet moment, why not sit down and discuss what your child believes may be a reasonable consequence for poor behavior. Even at a young age it’s possible to have a discussion and throw some ideas around. Once you reach an agreement, write it down. It’s much easier to be consistent when you have a plan in place, and much more likely to work than losing your cool and yelling unreasonable punishments. It’s also much harder for kids to argue against a consequence that they have already agreed is fair.

4.)  Teach self-monitoring skills – Regulating emotions is a big deal for many of these children. They just think more, feel more – everything is more. Sometimes a self-monitoring system may help. So, you could teach a child to label their emotions and learn to recognise them before they reach fever pitch. You could try a colour scale, or even a tornado scale, running from a gentle breeze to a full scale Wizard of Oz twister. Gifted children are often remarkably capable of learning to recognise when their emotions are taking over, and subsequently learning techniques to calm themselves down.

5.)  Stay aware at parties and social gatherings – If your child is intense then take them outside to calm down at the first sign of them losing their calm, or even better just check in with them at regular intervals to gauge how they are coping. Become aware of certain triggers that you know may cause them to become over-stimulated. Take earplugs to a party if your child becomes agitated by loud noises for example, or pack your own snacks if you know that party food will likely result in your already spirited child becoming completely unruly. And if you have a little introvert, take a book and some paper and colouring pencils. Then approach the host about a quiet place that your child can go if things become too much and they can feel a meltdown coming on. Knowing there is a place they can escape to can ease an anxious or introverted child’s worries immensely.

6.) Try treating your child as if they are their intellectual instead of their chronological age – Imagine being 14 and someone talking to you as if you are 9. Of course, there needs to be a balance, but don’t forget – these kids are asynchronous. Parenting books aren’t generally targeted at helping to raise kids who are ‘many ages at once’, so may be of limited use when it comes to gifted kids. A bit like the milestones in baby books!

7.)  Listen, listen and then listen some more – Poor behavior is often a sign that something is not right in your child’s world. Frustration and anxiety can be hard for a child to articulate and what you may see may only be the acting out. Tantrums by overindulged kids are not a result of giftedness but if your child’s behavior seems out of context according to the child that you know then consider whether it could be a response to their environment, not simply them being awkward or manipulative. If there is no material gain to be had, chances are they could be feeling emotionally overwrought. Also, be aware that gifted children can also be masters at masking learning differences such as dyslexia, to name one of many. Unidentified learning disabilities can also be the cause of frustration and resulting tantrums.

8.)  Practice self-awareness – Be aware of your own emotions. Gifted kids are often perceptive. Really perceptive! Chances are if you’re anxious or frustrated you may be unconsciously projecting your own concerns onto them and they will return them in kind. Be positive and consistently demonstrate problem- solving abilities in front of your child. Try not to set-up a co-dependent relationship, and be aware of feeding each other’s worries or anger. Sacrificing yourself to focus 24/7 on your child is not healthy. Taking care of your own needs is one of the best things you can do to demonstrate the importance of self-love and acceptance to your child. A friend of mine likens this to putting on your own oxygen mask first. No matter how intense your child, you can only be an effective parent if you can breathe yourself!

If you’d like more information on parenting intense kids then Michael Piechowski’s Mellow Out They Say, If I Only Could is worth a look. For parenting ‘spirited’ littlies, Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s Raising Your Spirited Child is a useful guide to calming down and working with emotional little people without squashing their spirit. Finally, Living With Intensity (edited by Daniels and Piechowski) is a fabulous resource to help understand and work through how it feels to be different due to being gifted.