2020 has been quite a year, and the challenges keep on coming. Are you feeling it? I know I am. I'm talking with so many adults who feel exhausted, hopeless and worried or aggressive, but don't know why. I also talk to many parents who are at a loss as to why their gifted children and teens seem different. Many kids have lost interest in things they once loved, are angry, anxious, non-compliant, tired and lacking in hygiene.
Think about it, this year has been full of derailed beginnings, unexpected endings and thwarted rights of passage, slowly breaking our hearts day by day. Life as we know it has changed so much in such a short time. Many have lost loved ones to sickness, lost jobs, and missed out on important moments and opportunities. There are milestones and rights of passage we plan for our entire lives that have been canceled or postponed indefinitely.
As the pandemic goes on, there are days it seems the world is burning around us. What started out as a two month quarantine has turned into many months of isolation, sickness, social distancing and chaos due to political and social unrest. On top of all of this, our kids are back in school and it is very different than before.
It makes sense if you and your family don't feel like yourselves.
Fortunately, this is not the end of the story. Remember, you are not alone. We are in this together, and we can do this! Let me offer you some support and helpful suggestions to help you and your sensitive, intelligent children through this difficult and often surreal time.
1. It’s okay to acknowledge your pain and disappointment, and to give your children tools to process what they are experiencing too. Talking to another adult about your feelings can help you to find meaning and connection especially if you are an external processor. Children who process their feelings externally, need to talk too. This is especially true for the deep thinkers and sensitive souls. Make sure to ask them how they are feeling, if they are worried, and give them emotional validation. Dismissing their concerns will not help them to feel better. They need to know you understand how they feel, and are able to talk about difficult topics without panicking yourself. Do help them to feel protected, envision safety, and focus on areas of their life they can control.
All of our children, spouses and friends will need extra patience, empathy and support as they move through different emotions, including grief. If you are also struggling, it is important your children or teens have the ability to connect with another trusted adult who can be a good listener in their time of need, as well as being able to connect with their friends.
On the other hand, those who are internal processors may not feel comfortable talking about their feelings, and have more difficulty verbalizing their experiences. That’s okay. Creative outlets can be very useful to help people who are more internally driven to process what they are feeling. Drawing, journaling or otherwise creating can give meaning to painful experiences and the ability to work through hard feelings. Allow your child or teen to have privacy in their writing or drawing. They may feel more vulnerable if you are prying into their private worlds, and may be more reluctant to use these helpful tools. You can help them by giving them access to these tools, and suggesting they use them to process their difficult feelings. Also encourage them to notice what they can control in their lives, and anything that is going right for them, and include it in their creative projects.
Younger children often express their emotions and experiences through creative play or the telling of imaginative stories. You can help them by entering into their imaginary worlds with them, and helping them to work through their pain using whatever stories the two of you can create together. When you do this, it is important to help them find their strengths, ways to protect themselves, find safety and have positive outcomes.
2. If you have lost loved ones, you and your family may feel closer to those who have passed by remembering positive experiences you shared. Looking at pictures, sharing stories and watching videos can preserve positive memories and can help you and them to feel connected to the person as well as others who loved them.
3. Many families are missing important milestones and rights of passage they have waited for their entire lives. It’s important to treat those days with importance. Don’t let meaningful moments pass without acknowledgement. Find ways to celebrate in a different way. And when possible, it can ease the depth of disappointment if you are able to continue with your original plans when the quarantine ends. It’s okay to grieve the loss of what would have been as you move forward to accept what is happening now. You can feel both sadness and joy at the same time.
4. Be patient with yourself and your loved ones. There is no set time for grief to pass, and it can come in waves. Different things can trigger a memory, that ignites a wave of grief at anytime. Being able to ride that wave and let it pass will help you and your loved ones to heal.
5. Do be aware of how you are processing your feelings in front of your children. While you may need to vent, yell or rip up paper, it’s good if you can do so in private. Your intense behaviors may be difficult for your children to understand and can put them in the position to comfort you, when they can barely manage their own feelings. Keeping this in mind, they may also need time to discharge negative feelings in a non-harmful way, without punishment or judgment from you.
6. When possible, notice the positive aspects of your life and what you can feel truly grateful for. This can increase feelings of safety, hope for the future and appreciation of the moment you are living in now.
7. Connect with others, and help your children to do the same. Talking on the phone, through video chats or standing 6 feet apart, can help us to feel loved, and calmer over all, especially when we can't be near our loved ones who live far away. If you or your children are overwhelmed with intense emotion, you can also reach out to a caring professional in your area. Many people are providing effective online therapy throughout the world. Remember, we are in this together, and can help each other through.
8. Connect and collaborate with your children's teachers to better address their school needs. This is a new and scary situation for most of our teachers as well. Be kind, and stress how you would like to work together, to help your gifted child thrive in whatever learning environment they are in.
9. Access online resources to help your gifted children and teens connect with others, pursue their interests and alleviate boredom. There are many after school enrichment programs now offered online, which can help life to feel a little more normal, interesting and fun.
10. Play more. Integrating fun into your day will help reduce stress, will help your children to feel safer, and will help you to feel closer to those you play with.
Even when times are uncertain and we’re scared, it’s important to find ways to celebrate and honor what is important to us. It’s okay if it’s not exactly what we were expecting. Feeling two conflicting feelings at once can be so difficult, yet so important. You can still move forward, and accept what is, while mourning what could have been. It’s part of the process.
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.