The holidays are usually a stressful time for most people, gifted kids included.
Visiting family members, multiple breaks from school, gifts, large meals – all of these can cause stress and anxiety but combined can create a perfect storm. Let’s break this down:
- Visiting Family Members: During the holidays it’s normal to have visitors in and out of the house, or perhaps you are the ones traveling to other’s houses. Either way, it can be exhausting for introverted gifted kids to find their normal spaces and routines interrupted. They might become destructive, rude or refuse to participate in activities. This response often gives them exactly what they need: a time out. Gifted kids (and adults!) often need time to ‘recharge’ their batteries by reading, drawing, being outside. Make sure that they know they are able to take breaks and if at someone else’s house show them a quiet area they can be alone in. Even if they’re excited to be surrounded by friends and family, it’s important that they know it’s ok to take breaks. Also set boundaries with visiting kids so you can avoid small hands smashing a newly constructed Lego city or ruin an on-going science experiment.
- Breaks from school: Most gifted kids thrive on routine. As much as they cheer about a snow day or holiday, the reality of having no schedule quickly sets in. Gifted kids have a constant need to do but often struggle with the infinite possibilities of what to do. Before the break, have them make a list of things they’d like to learn about or do with all their free time. A stash of new books for down time and a few emergency lego kits/projects can be life savers too. For easing transitions, write the schedule for the breaks as specifically as you can so they know what to expect. Try getting a large desk calendar so they can easily see upcoming events (including visitors!). It can take longer than you expect to recover from a long unstructured break, so be patient when getting back into the school routine in January.
- Gifts: Everyone likes gifts, but the pressure of ‘performing’ can make the process less fun for the whole family. Gifted kids often have a heightened sense of empathy and can read expressions and body language at an early age. They can sense when they haven’t given the ‘right’ reaction to opening a gift and spend a lot of emotional energy on pleasing the givers. If possible, let them open presents when it’s just immediate family instead of a large audience, and reassure them that they don’t have to like every gift they’re given.
- Large Meals: We all remember having to sit through large family meals with endless courses and the dreaded after-dinner coffee. For gifted kids, these meals are extra difficult. Picky eating is a common characteristic of giftedness, so chances are there are very few foods that they will want to eat. Parental pressure will mean heaping their plate full (and the foods will touch! gasp!) and grandparents who will be ‘disappointed’ if they don’t try their famous green bean casserole. Before a meal, discuss with your child what is expected of them. If you know they only eat brown things, encourage them to try one new thing from the table that isn’t brown. Even if they leave it on their plate, for some kids this is a huge accomplishment. If you know you’ll all be sitting around the table for long periods of time, let them know it’s ok to take breaks by asking to be excused for a few minutes. Also try to include them in conversation with topics that interest them!
With a little preparation and compromise hopefully the holiday season can be fun and relaxing. Be aware of their needs, be clear with your expectations, and choose your battles!