As we ride out the rest of the pandemic awaiting the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine, there are two tips that may help parents and gifted students alike create a schedule that works better for them: Make time for self-care and lower your expectations.
The reality is that there are many external and internal factors that are causing chronic stress for families. Few individuals, parents and students alike, are building in the breathing room they need into their schedule to cope with these stressors and expectations. Many parents and students feel guilty taking breaks, even when we know we are reaching our limits. Our culture emphasizes being productive throughout the waking day, and as a result, we often feel any time spent outside of being productive is time wasted. This mindset can generate feelings of burnout or being overwhelmed.
During the pandemic, many parents are being told to wear more hats full-time than they may be used to – full-time parent, full-time teacher, full-time worker. It is crucial then that parents allow themselves to schedule in breaks to recharge throughout the day in order to meet the day’s obligations. The same may be true for your gifted child in many ways. These students often hold themselves to high standards and, while intellectually advanced, may lack the developmental skills to emotionally cope with the realities of the pandemic. Gifted students may have a hard time balancing their conflicting desires to do well in school while simultaneously wanting to retreat into themselves or their videogames as their means of coping with the stress of remote learning.
Tip 1: Time for Self-Care (a.k.a. emotional processing and emotional regulation)
It may feel unnatural to put parental self-care as a daily top-priority but taking time to take care of yourself may be the best possible thing for the whole family. Finding what recharges you throughout the day, such as a quite cup of coffee alone, a creative activity, or a walk around the neighborhood, may help keep your own nervous-system calm and collected enough to carry on. This kind of self-care is important to model for your children as well, who are still developing their own set of emotional regulation strategies. Taking time for you as a parent allows you to be more present for a child who is feeling dysregulated. Being present doesn’t mean you need to have all the answers or fixes for your child; however, it does mean that you can be available for your child as a calm and caring adult.
Executive functioning plays a big role in both emotional regulation and time management, and unfortunately, it is the suite of skills that gifted and twice-exceptional children often struggle with the most. The added stress of the pandemic and the remote learning environment may mean that these areas are being taxed more heavily throughout a typical week. Children may benefit from parents mapping out the week with them in a way that builds in additional “stress-buffers” between tasks or explicit periods of time in their schedule to unwind. Giving your child the structure to make time for self-care also signals your permission that they can prioritize their wellbeing over academic accomplishments.
Tip 2: Adjusting Expectations on Yourself and Others
The second major scheduling shift that may alleviate the mounting pressure is to lower your expectations of yourself, your child, and your other family members. Chronic-stress and the emotional-toll of the pandemic mean that no one is operating at maximum capacity. With only so much energy left-over, parents need to help set realistic expectations in the household. What is it that you really feel you must get done? This can be as simple as putting food on the table each day, maintaining a source of income, and hugging your child once a day. Losing a few homework or screen time battles here and there doesn’t mean that you are failing.
Similarly for gifted students, especially ones with perfectionist tendencies, it will be important for them to prioritize a few reasonable goals and ease up where they can. It might be unrealistic to expect students to perform at the same levels they are used to by getting straight As in all subjects. Let your child know that it is okay if their usual 100% maximum effort in school is turned down to a more reasonable effort. Help them pick a smaller, achievable goal that they can start with so that they maintain a positive experience with at least one aspect of school.
It has been difficult to stay the course throughout the pandemic. We hope that making time for self-care and easing up on expectations are two ways that you and your family can weather out the hopefully very short remainder of quarantine life. It is important to reward yourself and your child when small things are going right as a way to build traction and keep going. In the sage words of Jim Delisle, remember that being less than perfect is perfectly okay.
The Stresses of Sheltering in Place from Emily Kircher-Morris
SMART Goals from MindTools
Episode 239: Dr. Aliza Pressman on Trauma and Resilience in Covid-19 from TiLT Parenting
Will My Child Bounce Back from the Coronavirus Crisis? from Child Mind Institute
How to Ask What Kids Are Feeling from Child Mind Institute
Keeping Kids Engaged in Remote Learning from Child Mind Institute
Seasonal Affective Disorder from Child Mind Institute