What My 4-Year-Old Niece Teaches Me about Life

October 6, 2015

And How That Can Help Gifted Kids

By Jennifer Kennedy

“Sometimes you need to talk to a two-year-old just so you can understand life again.” – Unknown

My niece is four years old. She has special needs that cover a wide variety of areas. Every time I am with her, though, I see so much more than that. She reminds me to put things into perspective, and I often try to apply those lessons to what I advise for gifted kids. Here are some of the things I’ve learned.

We all have good days and bad days.

My niece has a temper. She gets frustrated when things don’t go her way. And when she gets frustrated, she really acts out. Some days, she acts out to the point where you have to watch her every single second to make sure she doesn’t break something or hurt herself. Other days, though, she is an absolute angel and is perfectly content with everything that goes on. We all experience variations of my niece’s fluctuating modes of interacting with the world. Know how to tell when you’re having a bad day, and know what that means for you. Pay attention to your emotions, and allow yourself a moment to assign language to the feelings you are experiencing. I know it seems unlikely during moments of turmoil, but tomorrow is another – hopefully better – day.

Take pleasure in the little things in life.

I have never seen anyone so happy to open and close a door as my niece. She can sit there and do it for twenty minutes if you let her, and this child rarely does anything for more than 90 seconds. Sometimes the most simple, mundane things can render intense delight. When you find those things, don’t stop doing them just because they aren’t particularly unique or productive. Enjoy them just to enjoy them. For me, this means occasionally sitting in silence and just noticing all of the sounds – or lack of sounds – around me and letting my thoughts drift off wherever those sounds may take them.

Life is full of wonder. Embrace it.

Often, my niece will find that something she does triggers another reaction somewhere else. This is magical and wondrous to her. There are so many things in life that are marvelous but that I don’t understand. For example, I don’t know how love works or what truly creates that magnificent bond, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel it each and every day going back and forth between myself and people like my niece; the how and why are so much less important than the result. Sometimes you have to just accept that you don’t know everything and appreciate what is going on around you without having to have the answer every time.

The world is a noisy, bright, overwhelming place.

Like many of our gifted kids, my niece has extreme sensory sensitivities. The world for her is louder, brighter, and more uncomfortable than it is for most other kids her age. Most people possess the innate ability to process the smells, sounds, and bright moving parts that flash and converge around us, but for others, the same sensory experiences are sharper, more intense, and often overwhelming. If you have sensitivities, learn coping techniques to help when you are in an environment that is just too much; for my niece, this meant wearing socks when it was time for her to walk, because the feeling of her bare feet on the ground was too much to bear.  If you know someone with these sensitivities, help by doing what you can to limit environmental stimuli that may be overwhelming, such as preventing unnecessary noise and fluorescent lighting.

Let it go.

When my niece gets upset, she gets really upset. But once she has calmed down, and the meltdown or punishment is over, she returns to her happy self. We all need to learn from our mistakes, but clinging to them and internalizing them for extended periods of time is damaging. Make a mistake, learn from it, and move on. This is so much easier said than done, especially for perfectionists, and I would be lying if I said that I have mastered this behavior. However, when I fixate on a past misstep, I like to picture my niece’s face when she gets out of time out to remind me that there is so much more to life than worrying about past blunders.

Take chances.

I’ll admit that most of the time when my niece is taking a risk, it ends badly. That does not stop her, though. When she wants something that is beyond the baby gate, for example, she’ll take the objects she does have access to and stack them up so she can climb over said gate and retrieve the prize. No, I don’t suggest assembling a makeshift ladder out of all your belongings and climbing recklessly into fenced-off terrain, but this little girl’s bold attempts to get what she wants can be inspiring.

Learn something new every day.

My niece’s eyes twinkle when she learns something new – whether it is how to turn on the lights or how to get out the front door. She is constantly learning and adapting, and she is so much happier for it.

The next time you are with a young child, try taking a step back to look at the world the way that child sees it. What you learn may surprise you!

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