My Smart Kid Is So Emotional–Am I A Parenting Failure?

April 25, 2017

by Paula Prober, Licensed Counselor and Consultant

Your child is emotional. Anxious. Melting down. Telling you that you’re the worst parent. Ever. Not in so many words, necessarily. But still. You know that you’re the worst parent. Ever.

“How can such a smart kid behave this way?” you wonder. “How did I screw up so badly?” 

I hear this often from parents of gifted children. Here’s what I tell them:

1. Gifted kids are EMOTIONAL. Their passionate natures can be as large as their intellects. You can respect their emotions while setting boundaries around inappropriate behavior. They’ll be calmer if they know that you’re compassionate and in charge.

2. Helping your children contain emotion is different from repressing or denying those feelings. Containment is useful, especially when you’re out in public places where screeching will be frowned upon. They can visualize a beautiful object or a cabinet or a tree or whatever their creative minds can dream up that will lovingly hold their emotions when it’s inappropriate to let them flail about. A great resource for visualizations is here.

3. Because smart kids are very perceptive, little things that others don’t notice will affect them. That includes the sounds of people chewing or the scent of your detergent. They’re not neurotic. They’re sensitive. They’ll also be finely tuned in to you. They’ll know when you’re worrying about their grades and pretending that you’re not worrying about their grades. It’s often best to confess the truth.

4. If we’re talking about 15 year old girls (more or less) and their moms, don’t ignore the awesome power of hormones. Let us all give hormones our utmost respect. They will win every time. Sometimes all you can do is ride the wave or go read a good book. (or visit your naturopath, acupuncturist or doctor)

5. Recognize when you start channeling your parents. This is not usually helpful. If you find that your mother’s criticism is coming out of your mouth or your father’s anger is simmering below the surface, consider psychotherapy. A good therapist can help you dig your own voice out from under the rubble.

6. Avoiding power struggles will be hard if your children think faster than you do. Use the “Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you” method. Give yourself time to make decisions so you don’t feel pressured. It’ll be easier for everyone to stay calm. Including you. Remember that your child will feel safer if you’re in charge.

7. You may be a problem solver and action oriented. When your children are in pain, it’s hard to not want to stop the pain immediately. Instead, start listening. Reflect back what you hear. Validate feelings. Ask them if they want your help problem solving. If you’re listening well, they can often come up with their own solutions. At first, this may feel awkward and contrived. Explain to your kids what you’re trying to do and they’ll be patient with you. You may think that you’re already listening and that it’s not working. Ask your children if they think you’re listening and then believe them when they tell you that you aren’t. (That said, set limits on how long you listen if your child tends to go on and on and on.)

8. If your own childhood was less than ideal, you might lose patience when your child is freaking out, especially if you were never allowed to complain, cry or fall apart. Give yourself some grace around your reactivity. Find a way to allow the child in you to express her or himself. A journal can be a great way to safely complain, cry or fall apart. Then again, if you need more help, look for some good resources online or seek out your friendly local psychotherapist.

9. There are no perfect parents. Your mistakes are an opportunity to show your child how to learn from mistakes, how to understand that a mistake is not the same as a failure, and that even failure is an opportunity for growth.

Your child is emotional. Anxious. Melting down. Gifted. And so are you.

This post originally appeared on Your Rainforest Mind and has been reprinted with permission.

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