Today we are looking at a popular topic for families who are adjusting to the “new normal”. Family dynamics are complex and ever-changing, but as we find ourselves surrounded by our loved ones 24/7 in self-quarantine, we might also be noticing new family patterns emerging. Does one person in the family feel like they are responsible for more housework and homeschooling? Are siblings squabbling more? Is anyone self-isolating or clinging to people more? It is normal that the dramatic shift in daily life due to the pandemic would impact the family dynamics. This week, we will take these changing patterns as an opportunity to foster a greater sense of well-being within the family.
Anyone with a profoundly gifted or twice-exceptional child knows that, even on a good day, family dynamics can be difficult to balance out. Emotional intensity, asynchrony, and perfectionism might present themselves in more than one family member at any given time. Sheltering in place adds another layer of complexity to meeting everyone’s emotional, intellectual, and social needs.
However, it is crucial at this time that we think about how we are interacting with those closest to us and work through any challenges that have popped up. It may be a chance to celebrate what each person is contributing to the family or problem-solve what isn’t working. Here are a few different strategies to help your family achieve a more harmonious dynamic at home.
- Self-Care: Did you have a chance to look over our self-care tips the other week? Self-care can help regulate the nervous system, which is crucial for parents who must model calm regulation as children slowly develop their own set of coping skills. For example, practicing some deep breathing after a tense moment can demonstrate to your children that this is a useful strategy when they find themselves similarly flustered.
- Re-frame Fights to Teachable Moments: Family feuds are a training ground for many of life’s soft skills: communication, compromise, learning to be vulnerable, and more. You may be spending a lot of time playing the judge, but this takes up a lot of energy and often leaves everyone dissatisfied. Instead, try playing the caring consultant by asking open-ended questions to help them problem-solve their issues or think of new ways to express how they feel aside from the usual storm of tears and screaming.
- Re-think Old Labels: We all may have picked up a niche in our family. Maybe you are “Mommy the Peacekeeper,” “Dad the Fix-It Man,” “Daughter the Sensitive,” or “Brother the Logical.” It may seem harmless, but these roles we take up or reinforce for others can be quite limiting. Gifted students are prone to place higher expectations on themselves. They may not be able to ask for help if, for example, they see themselves as a “good student” but are struggling with the new remote learning environment. We all need a break from people’s expectations of us, especially during a crisis, so now might be a good time to begin re-thinking old family roles that may be keeping your family from freely expressing their concerns and feelings.
- Work on Team-Thinking: Teams work best when we cheer each other on and communicate our challenges. Think of your family like a relay race team passing off the baton. Perhaps mom has done dishes the past few nights in a row, now would be a good time for someone to thank her and then take that baton off her hands. We all need some help, and the family is the first place we learn to ask for and give support to one another. Whatever your baton is, whether it is laundry or needing to be strong, try passing it on to someone else if you can. Parents might be surprised how willing their children will come to their aid with a hug or a chore assist. Similarly, children will feel supported if parents cheer-on even the small successes.
- Embrace Humor: Gifted and twice-exceptional students are often known for their quirky sense of humor. Perhaps the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree and you have your unique brand of dad jokes. Leaning into humor during uncertain times can stimulate these students’ imagination and cut down on tension in the household. Try making a silly family video, comic strip, or just make silly faces at one another – we could all use a laugh!
If you’re looking for more in-depth discussions of giftedness and family dynamics, check out some of our favorite articles and expert advice:
- Living with Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults by Dr. Susan Daniels and Dr. Michael Picchowski