While we navigate the coronavirus outbreak and grapple with our own reactions and fears, we also have to address our children's needs. This requires more than just the basics, like managing their time, finding indoor activities, and offering reassurance. Children need direct, clear, and meaningful guidance, in line with their developmental level and their capacity to digest complex and emotionally charged information. Gifted children, in particular, may have a difficult time during this crisis, especially those who are highly sensitive, obsessive overthinkers, or who struggle with existential depression.
The following are basic guidelines for providing realistic and attuned support:
1. First, ask them
Don't assume that you know what your children are thinking or feeling. Ask them instead. You may be surprised by how calm or anxious or informed or oblivious they are. Notice their behavior - whether they seem relaxed, fearful, angry or seem to be holding back. Tailor any responses to their emotional tone. For example, if they are distraught, match that with calming reassurance rather than logical explanations that won't register. If they seem calm, but complain about missing their friends, offer sympathy, but remain firm about the rationale for distancing, and suggest alternative coping strategies. They also might have clarity about some aspects of the crisis, but harbor misconceptions and out-of-proportion fears that need to be challenged. And don't just ask "are you okay?' and accept a nod as a free pass to move on. You still need to address the crisis. Not easy - but necessary.
2. Keep your child's developmental level in mind
Your child's age, developmental level and ability to process information should direct how you convey information. What you explain to a four-year-old is quite different from how you discuss the crisis with an adolescent. Remaining attuned to your child's needs and providing developmentally appropriate support is one of the toughest challenges parents face. Young children benefit from simple, clear, reassuring statements, devoid of too much detail. Older gifted children welcome a more complex dialogue, as logic and reason can sometimes provide as much support as your reassurances. Teens will appreciate your openness and clarity. You can acknowledge their fears and uncertainty (and some of your own), but also remind them that you will do what you can to protect them.
3. Be honest, but don't overshare.
Gifted children, in particular, are masters at spotting deception. Don't lie to them in an attempt to offer reassurance. If you are worried or have financial burdens, it is okay to let them know. Just reassure them that despite your worries, you will get through this, and will try to keep them safe. You certainly can share that you also miss your friends and don't like feeling cooped up in the house. But don't lean on your children for emotional support. They don't need to know the depths of your fears or the details of your finances - it may frighten them, and they might assume that sharing their distress with you would be an additional burden. Instead, reach out to your spouse, partner, family or friends.
4. This is a teachable moment
This crisis provides an opportunity to share your values and ideals to your children. How you handle your emotions, behavior, and decisions - from managing your own fears and frustration, to whether you hoard every paper product you can find - will be conveyed to them. When you take action, help others, pace yourself, avoid too much immersion in news and social media, and find time each day for exercise, relaxation and productive efforts, you also model these behaviors for your children. It is also beneficial to help them find some meaningful outlet where they can feel productive and empowered. For example, families in our community are enlisting children to sew face masks, and high school students are delivering groceries. You don't have to be perfect. Your children will understand and accept your tears or moments of irritability. But you are their role model, and years from now, they will remember how you as a family endured through this difficult time.
5. Pay attention to mental health issues
Despite your best efforts, some children may succumb to the pressure of this crisis. This crisis is tough on everyone, and a child's psyche may suffer. Your children may worry about a family member's health, or fear for themselves, or feel lost without their friends. Fear, anxiety, and depression may arise. Teens with pre-existing drug or alcohol problems or eating disorders, for example, may experience an increase in symptoms. If you notice any new or increased signs of distress, such as changes in sleep or appetite, increased tearfulness, acting out behaviors, self-harm, or expressions of fear, hopelessness or suicidal thoughts, it is essential that you contact a licensed mental health professional.
Wishing you safe passage through this challenging time.
Some additional Gifted Challenges articles related to weathering a crisis:
Brave new compassionate world
Help your gifted child make sense of the recent news
How addressing recent hate crimes is relevant to gifted education
Helping your gifted child in the aftermath of Charlottesville
This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Blog Hop on Giftedness in Times of Crisis. To see more blogs, click on this link.
A similar article was published on Medium