Inside: With intensities and strong wills, gifted family dynamics can be, well, tough. Try these tips to rock your family life and raise awesome gifted kids!
We had the best seats in the theater. You know those iMax theaters that are huge draws in science centers around the country? It was the Omnimax at the Great Lakes Science Center.
We’ve been dozens and dozens of times.
The show started, and followed a little chipmunk prepping for its first winter. My nature lover was riveted. The bigger kids (14 and 9) love any kind of documentary — especially when they’re viewing in this theater, so they were happy. And my pleasantly asynchronous four year old watched and snacked and caused the minor troubles a preschooler causes in theaters. No big deal.
And then I felt the seven year old’s fingers dig into my arm.
She was wide-eyed, tears frozen, and about to dissolve into panic. Emotional intensity had taken over and we needed to go into calm-down mode quickly. I whispered to the big two to stay put, exit the theater to our meeting place (a set of tables near the only exit) after the show ended, and underarmed the four year old while pushing the seven year old out ahead of me.
A year ago, we would have had a melt down happen in the theater and everyone would have become angry with everyone else, embarrassed by the drama. A horrible way to end a great family day.
This time, though, the big kids finished their movie, and I pulled out Spot It and snacks from my backpack. The little two and I played a fun card game and talked through what had made my anxious kiddo nervous about the movie.
We had a plan.
The Truth About Gifted Family Dynamics
Raising outliers is tough. So many people — the ones who really just don’t know what they don’t know — assume that parenting gifted kids is easy. All the time.
Gifted kiddos are neurological outliers, and when one’s wired differently, one thinks, processes, and experiences things differently.
We have four very, VERY differently wired kids living in this house — and since apples don’t fall to far from their proverbial trees, we can probably safely say that we have six differently wired brains in here.
That brings about intensities and overexcitabilities that can make family life a little… more.
On any given day, our kiddos can be the very best of friends. And then they’re not. Suddenly, they’re the very worst enemies imaginable and are sure the each is out to get the other. And then they’re buddies again, playing, creating, and dramatizing everything. Loudly.
It’s enough to give and exhausted mama whiplash.
Related: Dear Tired Mama of Gifted Kids…
And then, when you have a cognitively gifted child who looks at the world while bouncing and moving, an anxious twice-exceptional creative kiddo who sees an occupational therapist each week to help her process her world, an academically gifted sweetheart of a child who just wants everyone to get along, and a tornado of a preschooler discussing the atmospheric pressure of Mars, then lambasting the neighbor about the dangers of smoking as she smokes on HER OWN porch, the gifted family dynamics might just be a little too much to take.
And so you plan ahead.
Gifted Family Dynamics Action Plan
An action plan that works for your family is going to look differently than an action plan that works for my family, but let me give you the gist of what will help you be prepared and raise awesome kids in the process.
Get the kids all on the same team.
Our intensities, quirks, issues — whatever you want to call them — are ours. All of ours. This is the family we have and to rock family life, we have to embrace it all.
We don’t have to enjoy it all. Not all the time. But, we do have to find ways to make it work for us.
We play board games, read aloud every day, do projects, and build rapport. All while knowing that someone will eventually get mad at someone else and that a melt down may occur.
But we talk through it.
These real time exchanges allow us to remind the frustrated child of a time another kiddo was upset and talk about how he handled it. And, if another kid is annoyed at his sibling’s reactions, we remind him of the time he reacted similarly.
Solidarity in our quirkiness.
Plan ahead at home.
We’re living in a small place right now. Years ago we decided to sell our big 3500 square foot house in a planned community and buy a little bungalow that has 790 square feet of finished space because a wannabe flipper decided he wasn’t cut out to flip houses. There’s still work to be done on it, but it’s been a cool thing for our family to experience.
But when intensities are in overdrive…
It’s really small.
So we need a plan for alone time in a place that doesn’t really have space. We get creative.
Related: Discipline and the Intense Child
When the kids aren’t getting along, or just need a break (or I do), we spread out.
The basement isn’t finished, but there’s a tinkering space of sorts with area rugs and a space heater. My 14 year old goes and builds, reads, plays LEGO, or programs his Mindstorms.
My 9 year old is a reader and writer. She’s working on writing a play right now, so she goes to her bunk bed and reads or writes.
My 7 year old has a love of teeny tiny toys — Shopkins, Calico Critters, Squinkies — so she pulls out a TV tray and sets up a tiny play scene and dives into her own imaginative world for a bit.
My 4 year old either gets some time on his learning apps, watches a video while lying in his bed, or does a puzzle in the kitchen.
And I breathe for a bit.
And maybe enjoy a hot cup of coffee.
Knowing when to disconnect and respect each other’s need to recharge, can make your family super strong when they all come back together. Do what we do — when we separate, we decide which game we’re going to play together after an hour of break time. And then we do it.
Respecting each family member as an individual, then reminding everyone of the power of family, can build an amazing dynamic that just rocks.
Plan ahead for outings.
Things happen when you’re a bit quirky. Senses get overloaded, feelings get bruised, tempers flare, fights ensue… planning ahead is a family’s best defense against breaking down.
My husband jokes that I’m prepared for anything wherever we go, and we’ll always need a van size vehicle to hold extra clothes, games, snacks, and who knows what else. (Though, family never seems to mind when we have Benedryl for an allergic reaction at a picnic or sidewalk chalk for an impromptu game of hopscotch when the kids get restless.)
I bring the stroller when I can. Not because we really HAVE to have it, but because it’s nice to have if someone needs space (the big kids can sit in it like a chair and take a break while the others run around, or the four year old can get off his feet), and I can stuff it with water bottles, snacks, card games, and more.
When I can’t take it with us a carry a big, comfy backpack or purse. I have little knitted finger puppets, books, sketch pads, games, music and earbuds, and more. Usually a redirection or quick game gets anyone who is off, back on track.
Create a family motto.
Ours is simple, “Kindness Wins.” I say it to the kids every chance I get. I point out small and large kindnesses we see. And, I remind the one for whom kindness is often a struggle, that others have shown them kindness and it felt good.
Kindness, for us, transfers into most situations. That movie where the anxious kiddo was terrified about the survival of the chipmunk? It’s a pretty kind thing to ba able to leave, no questions asked, have a snack and a game, and have big brother and sister sit and get dealt in and mention casually that the cute chipmunk grew up to have a family of his own.
What’s your best tip for rocking your family life and raising awesome kids? Share in a comment!
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