What Can We Do to Help Gifted Children Thrive?

 

Maureen Neihart, Psy.D.

Clinical Psychologist
United States of America

 

 

 

There are five things we can do to help gifted children thrive during this challenging season of pandemic. First, it is important to remember that all gifted children are not the same. There is a lot of diversity among them. As a group, they do not exhibit levels of anxiety or depression that are significantly different from other children. However, they may have a qualitatively different experience due to the complexity and intensity of their thoughts and feelings. Also, the advanced cognitive development of gifted children often leads them to have questions about issues of morality, spirituality, and social justice at earlier ages than typically developing children. So what does this mean for gifted children in these challenging times?

I think first of all it means limiting their exposure to the news. Anxiety and fear are contagious, so we have to find a balance between satisfying their need to know and answering their questions, while also protecting them from anxiety contagion.

Similarly, while it’s normal to have strong negative reactions to the news, parents should monitor their own emotional responses and save their strongest negative reactions for their partner or a trusted friend. Kids take their cues from their parents and they have a special radar that picks up on how their parents are doing. The younger kids are, the more sensitive and impactful this radar is.

There is also a parenting principle that provides clear guidance for these uncertain times. It is just three words: structure, structure, structure! Why is structure so helpful?  It is because routine provides the predictability and boundaries that help children feel safe and secure. It protects them from feelings of overwhelming anxiety, fear, or grief. 

 

What can we do to promote flourishing and resilience during these difficult times? A simple but effective strategy is to invest in positive emotion. Positive emotion not only protects people psychologically in the short term, but it actually builds resilience over the long term. It does this by increasing a person’s individual resources over time.

How does that work exactly? You know from experience that when you have strong negative emotions, your attention stays sharply focused on what’s right in front of you, making it very difficult for you to see other possibilities or perspectives. Negative emotion narrows our thinking. In contrast, positive emotions like joy, gratitude, wonder, and appreciation actually broaden our thinking, widening the scope of our attention and increasing our intuition and creativity. These in turn shape behavior, and expands our behavioral repertoires. As a result, we grow stronger and more resilient over time.

 


An easy way to increase positive emotion is to schedule pleasurable activities. What kind of things do your children really like to do? Is it listening to music? Reading a book? Playing a game? Spending time in nature? Whatever it is, take time to schedule it at least twice a week.

 

 

Finally, don’t waste the pandemic. As difficult as the situation is, it also presents a wonderful opportunity to share our values and our faith with our children. Let them see and hear what gives meaning to your life and what really counts when challenges come.

 

About Maureen Neihart, Psy.D

Maureen Neihart is a licensed (USA) clinical child pyschologist with 30 years’ experience working with children with special needs, including gifted children, and their families. She was formerly associate professor and head of the Psychological Studies Academic Group at the National Institute of Education in Singapore. Maureen is co-editor of “The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children: What do we Know?” and a former member of the board of directors of the National Association for Gifted Children. Her research interests include the social and emotional development of gifted children, home and school-based pyschological interventions for children at-risk, resilience, and the psychology of high performance. Maureen spoke at the 2016 NZAGC 40th Anniversary Conference on happiness, resilience and gifted children.

 

 

 

Posted as part of the 2020 New Zealand Gifted Awareness Blog Tour, run by the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education.

The views and opinions expressed in the Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of NZCGE, their staff, and/or any/all contributors to Gifted Awareness Week.

What Can We Do to Help Gifted Children Thrive?

 
 
 
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