Sunday, July 5, 2020

On Independence Day, 2020: Tips for families of gifted children

May we live in interesting times?

Perhaps. But for most of us, a little less drama would be preferable. Financial struggles, anxiety about COVID-19, isolation from friends and family, potential (or actual) job loss, political divisiveness, and heightened awareness of racial injustice are an overwhelming part of daily life. Schools and camps have been closed, vacations canceled, graduation celebrations curtailed, and life, as we know it, has changed. On Independence Day, 2020, we might not feel much independence, as we struggle to adapt to new rules and limitations.


Families are scrambling to find options for their children this Summer - and for themselves. It may seem like a daily challenge just to manage your child's day, find meaningful activities, ward off boredom, and address any lurking anxiety. As a parent, you may feel pushed to your limits and depleted from juggling financial worries and work commitments. With camps and classes canceled,  childcare has become scarce. Most families cannot rely on older relatives to help out - mindful of protecting them from potential COVID-19 exposure. And uncertainty about schools reopening in the Fall remains a source of stress.


Parents of gifted children face the same woes as other families. However, increased stress may arise among those gifted children with a tendency toward sensitivity, obsessiveness, or worry. Gifted children often demand detailed explanations, react intensively, and possess a heightened concern for social justice. Even young gifted children may be attuned to the emotions of family members, and may sense an increased level of stress


In the midst of quarantine, how-to lists and suggestions abound online, offering ideas for keeping busy, visiting extended family while physically distancing, and safely enjoying outside activities. I also have written previously about tips for offering your child support. During these difficult times, though, both creative strategies and a solid foundation of guidelines that build strength are essential. Relying on sound, guiding principles can help you maintain focus and resilience during stressful situations. The following principles may help as you navigate through the summer of 2020:


Pacing and balance


The importance of pacing, balance, and structure cannot be overstated. As parents of toddlers, we learn how regular nap times and meals can make or break our child's mood. We recognize the value of playtime and recess when our children are at school. We sense when they need a break from screen time, hyperfocus on any one interest, or a whirlwind of activities at home. Pacing is particularly important during this period of quarantine; children need the stability derived from structure and a predictable rhythm to their days. This creates a sense of balance and normalcy - which are needed now more than ever. Structure and stability quell the anxiety triggered by news reports, rumors from friends, and the monotony of isolation at home. Even on rainy days, when boredom easily arises, a set routine, with specific times for learning, fun, relaxation, downtime, and social engagement (even if it is virtual), is essential.


Perspective


Okay, we never planned for this. In fact, planning is out the window, since previously held assumptions... about vacations, visits with extended family, or when (and how) school will reopen are crushed. Even simple pleasures of Summer - like sitting in an ice-cold movie theatre, lingering at your favorite restaurant, or trips to the local playground, are restricted. How do we keep this in perspective - and create a sense of normalcy for our children?


As we struggle with our own frustration and sense of loss, we benefit from keeping the current world situation in perspective. While it may seem endless, there will be an eventual end to the restrictions, and we can remind ourselves that our efforts keep ourselves, our families, and our society safe. We can become informed by following guidelines from scientists rather than politicians, keeping up with the latest research, and learning more about how and where the virus is spread. We have to endure uncertainty, boredom, enormous inconvenience, and grief; this pales in comparison to what previous generations experienced, and what some societies throughout the world currently endure. In fact, Independence Day 2020 may be a reminder of our interdependence - with our neighbors, our Nation, and the world.


Empathy


It can be difficult to feel empathy for others when we are unhappy, frustrated, and overwhelmed. We may feel enraged about job loss, the insensitivity of others (from the hoarders to those who refuse to wear a mask in crowded public places), and the power this virus has wielded over us. And we all are probably tired of political in-fighting and social media shouting matches. We are better prepared to endure this challenge, and offer guidance to our children, through cultivating empathy and compassion for others' perspectives.

"On this Independence Day, let's remember that there is no "I" in "We, the people..."

We can help our children develop empathy as a skill when we discuss social woes, such as poverty, racism, and inequities. Empathy lessons also can be woven into discussions about parenting decisions, gratitude for what they already have, or any misunderstanding about others' circumstances. When your children are angry about restrictions on visiting friends, or frustrated with a limited array of activities, you can ask them to consider specific factors that led to these limitations. Help them explore possible reasons for others' choices, and how personal beliefs, family background, social pressures, and even geographic residence influence decisions. Gifted children, in particular, often have heightened concerns about what is fair and just, and directing them toward volunteer or social justice efforts may build empathy, and also provide some direction.


What you can do


The above guidelines are a start toward engendering guiding principles to weather this crisis. While we can't always make lemonade out of lemons, we are role models for our children and can convey our commitment to their health and safety, and to the welfare of others. We can share our frustrations as well, but avoid relying on them for support or overwhelming them with our worries. Keen observers, gifted children will be quite aware of how we treat others, how we speak about choices that differ from ours, and how we manage our commitments, responsibilities, and anxieties. Let's strive for balance, empathy, compassion, and keeping the situation in perspective.


A similar version of this article appeared in Medium.com.

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