Connecting with your gifted teen now is especially important. Even though they aren’t little anymore, they still need you. Most are afraid, facing uncertainty about their futures, are lonely and are dealing with considerable disappointments. Your kindness, reassurance, and commitment to keeping them safe will help them to thrive, long after the quarantine is over.
I know on a regular day, It can be challenging to manage your gifted teen’s moodiness, demanding behavior, and heightened self awareness, while providing the validation, attention and love they need. In someways, the emotional roller coasters that emerge are like those we saw when they were toddlers, except now they are 100 pound young adults throwing tantrums which can be impossible to control. On top of this, their emotional intensity, may be even greater now, while everyone is in crisis. Some may be withdrawn, while others are defiant, or lashing out. Your gifted teen may also be having an existential crisis, as they try to comprehend the global crisis they are in the middle of. It is our job to help them navigate safely through this storm to the other side.
You're likely feeling the pressure of everything that is happening as well. You are with them in their fears, loneliness and disappointment, while juggling finances, working from home and managing a household. It’s important to be aware of your own internal feelings. Do self checks from time to time, allowing yourself to take your emotional temperature. If you find you are feeling anxious, exhausted, irritated or sad, take a moment to pause. Take a break to allow your nervous system to regulate before interacting with your teen. Feel your feet on the ground, and imagine roots growing from them as you feel their connection to the earth. Place a hand on your heart and breath deeply. Look out a window if you can. This will help you to calm down, and reduce the effects of your own emotional turmoil. And, it will help you to avoid passing your stress on to your loved ones.
So, how do we maintain a connection through this turbulent time, when our gifted teens need us the most, but are actively pushing us away? Some of the hostile behavior, anxiety and chaos can be reduced by maintaining clear, realistic and fair family rules that are developmentally appropriate for your gifted teen. Here are some ideas for structuring your family life and interacting with your gifted teen, that can improve your relationship with them now.
1. After you have calmed yourself, practice regulating strategies with your teen. Teach them to take a moment to pause, ground and take deep breaths. Encourage them to place their hand on their heart while breathing deeply (with long exhales), and with their permission, place a hand on their back for support.
2. Be empathetic. Remember, your teen’s life has been turned upside down, and they are still learning how to regulate their intense emotions. Providing emotional validation, and acknowledgment of their feelings helps them to feel understood by you. The objective isn’t to agree, but to let them know you understand what they are going through and that you care.
3. Listen to their concerns, help them to process their emotions and let them know you are doing everything you can to keep them and your family safe.
4. Spend even more quality time with them doing something enjoyable. This will increase their sense of safety, by strengthening their connection with you. Playing family games, making crafts, cooking together and dancing to music you both like are all great ideas. Don’t take it too seriously. Remember, the goal is to have fun and connect.
5. Laugh with them, but not at them. Laughter can make every situation lighter, as long as it isn’t at another’s expense.
6. Give them space when they need it.
7. Don’t embarrass or humiliate them. This is a general rule, but even more important now.
8. Avoid power struggles that result in screaming matches. One way to accomplish this is to be matter of fact. Being firm (yet calm) and sticking to the facts can take the charge out of many arguments.
9. Empower your gifted teens to make some decisions whenever possible. This can promote independence, build self confidence and show you trust them. Even if they make a mistake they are learning from the process, are growing as individuals, and are gaining the autonomy we all value. Feel free to give them options to choose from which are acceptable to you instead of telling them what to do. And if they make a mistake, be kind and empathetic while holding them accountable. This will also increase your teen’s sense of control over their own life, which is especially important when so many things in life feel out of control.
10. Allow our gifted teen to to share their interests with you, even if you think you are not “in to” whatever it is. This will show them you are interested in them, and their ideas are valuable to you.
11. Show an interest in their friends. Encourage and facilitate them safely spending time together without prying, spying or criticizing. Many young people are meeting up online to work on fun projects, play games, dance and generally hang out together.
12. Avoid judgmental critical or accusatory statements like, “The problem with your generation is….”, “You know what your problem is….”, and “If you weren’t so [lazy, stupid, boring, weak, etc.]. These types of statements convey a negative judgment of your loved one which can harm fragile self esteem, will make them feel defensive, and will erode your relationship over time.
13. Acknowledge good choices, desirable behavior and accomplishments. Positive reinforcement goes a long way in encouraging good conduct, building self esteem and better relationships.
14. Have family meetings which encourage all family members to have a voice in issues that effect the entire family.
15. Reach out for support if you are your teen need it. Connecting with other parents, friends and supportive adults can help. If your gifted teen is struggling, or you are having difficulty making a connection with them, don’t hesitate to reach out to a trained professional in your area. Sometimes, all that’s needed is a little extra support to get through the rough times.
About the Author: Christy, is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, practicing in San Diego, California. She has over 10 years of experience working with children, teens, parents, families, couples and individual adults with complex psychological and relationship problems. She specializes in the needs of gifted, bright and high achieving people, as well as those who have suffered past trauma. Christy uses an eclectic approach, meeting the needs of whomever she is working with. Her work addresses the needs of the whole person, incorporating mind and body. Christy also offers online support to those anywhere in California.