While it is essential to support a child intellectually, it is equally important to nurture a child’s emotional and social life. This is just as true for twice-exceptional students as it is for profoundly gifted students. And as you’ve likely experienced, twice-exceptionality and giftedness don’t just impact your child’s academic life but all other aspects as well.
As life in quarantine continues to be a source of emotional turmoil for our families, it is vital that we provide scaffolding for our children to build their own reservoirs of emotional resilience. For many children, the home is a fundamental place for building and sustaining emotional well-being. Although there are many ways to encourage a child’s emotional health at home, below are ten general strategies you may find helpful:
1. Determine how involved you need to be. How much you participate in your child’s daily tasks may change over time and may look different for each family. How much encouragement, advice or support does your child need from you to feel successful? Are you helping your child develop the skills she needs to be more independent in specific areas?
2. Set realistic goals and expectations. Understanding what is on your child’s plate is an important step. Scheduling time for unstructured play or leisure time can help your child feel balanced. Before committing to activities, evaluate what your child is currently involved in. What are the time commitments? Will he have to sacrifice other things to participate in this activity? If so, how does your child feel about that? Is he currently feeling overwhelmed with activities, school, competitions, etc.? How does your child do with time management and transitions? Does he need explicit help in this area?
3. Keep the line of communication open. Setting aside time to specifically discuss how your child is doing can create a safe space for self-expression and enables parents to be confidants for their children. For example, you could hold weekly family meetings or go on a short walk with just your child. If your child struggles with direct communication, you could find alternatives such as co-journaling. Co-journaling involves a child and a parent sharing a journal, each writing down thoughts or feelings and responding to one another’s entries.
4. Encourage self-expression and exploration. One way children find comfort in their emotions is through self-expression. However, some children need more structure or prompting to learn how to express themselves. Finding creative pursuits—such as acting, writing, painting and singing—can be an outlet. Other children may express themselves more physically through dance, martial arts or other sports. If a child is encouraged to express himself, he is more likely to develop an understanding of his own emotions.
5. Create a calm zone within your home. Having a designated calm zone in the home for your child can help support her emotional well-being. When a child is feeling overwhelmed or upset, this can be a space she can retreat to and reset. For some children, this may be their room. However, others need less sensory input or a smaller space to feel relaxed like an indoor tent. This space can include items they enjoy, make them happy or bring them comfort.
6. Set aside special time. Scheduling quality one-on-one time with your child helps to nurture your bond. This time can be spent walking together or working on a project, skill or hobby. You could even go on “dates” and alternate between activities your child picks and ones you select. Sharing places and activities you enjoy lets your child know who you are outside of “mom” or “dad.” Setting aside time to do and learn about something your child loves lets her know that you value her pursuits.
7. Be observant. Look for trends in your child’s behavior in an effort to determine what triggers undesirable emotional responses. Knowing how your child reacts to their surroundings can help parents form an appropriate response and, in turn, make their child feel understood or valued. You may wish to keep a private written log of your child’s behavior as you begin to learn more about your child’s needs.
8. Be consistent. A child can be confused when receiving mixed messages, and it can be challenging to be consistent as a parent. If you or your spouse are not on the same page, it may be worth exploring your reasoning and finding common ground. Additionally, it can be helpful if strategies used at school are used at home and vice versa. If expectations are the same across different environments and with different people, a child can focus on meeting that one expectation. Once a child is consistently successful at that, then more nuanced expectations can be implemented.
9. Be a mirror. Children learn about the world around them through observation. How you carry yourself can affect how your child understands and expresses their own emotions. Being aware of how emotions are expressed within the home can help you to identify any areas of concern. For example, a parent may bite their nails when anxious and notice this same behavior in their child. By modeling healthy coping strategies and open communication, you can instill these skills in your child as well. You may even wish to be more verbal with your emotions—positive and negative. You can demonstrate your emotional inner life with phrases like, “I tried something new for dinner. I’m proud of how it turned out,” or, “I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m going to my bedroom to lay down for five minutes.”
10. Build emotional literacy. Some children need explicit instruction in identifying and articulating their feelings. One tool that can facilitate this is an emotion chart. Emotion charts can include words, animals, real-life photos and/or more abstract elements like colors. It’s important to use a chart that makes sense to your child. A child could even create her own chart.
We hope these steps help you and your family as you work to support one another!
This article is a modified excerpt from our Davidson Institute’s guidebook, Twice Exceptionality: A Resource Guide for Parents.