Gifted Kids & Family Gatherings


Even though the weather feels like September and not November, we are mere weeks away from the time of year that often involves several large family gatherings.  Our intense kiddos and large family gatherings often collide into ooey gooey messiness.  Lets consider why this happens and what we can do about it.

1       Many gifted kids have sensory intensity.  Their senses are hyperaware and their brains can have difficulty screening out unimportant sensory input.  I’ve had kids in my therapy office complain about the clock ticking because it hurts their ears.  Imagine those same ears in a crowded house with toddlers running around, great-uncle Albert shouting out jokes, dishes clinking in the kitchen, etc, etc, etc.  OW!

As you prepare for family gatherings, check in with your sensory intense kiddo.  Brainstorm ways to dull down the input and be willing to be flexible.  Encourage breaks in quiet, calm spaces.  Get them outdoors.  Wear earplugs to soften sound.  Maybe even allow your child to eat in a different room with just one or two other people.  Respect your child’s sensory needs and accommodate them.

2       Many gifted kids are introverted.  To be clear, introversion is not to be equated with socially inept.  Introverts simply expend energy when in crowds and with other people and need solitude to recharge.  Extroverts, on the other hand, expend energy when alone and need time with people to recharge.  Family gatherings for introverts can be extremely fun, and extremely draining.

Again, check in with your child.  Give your child permission to bring a book and read in the corner.  Have a signal that your child can tell you when they’ve had enough and need to leave.  Respect your child’s need for space and be willing to advocate and verbalize this to less understanding relatives.

3       Many gifted kids experience emotional intensity.  They feel things bigger and more intensely than more typical kids.  This, however, doesn’t mean they know how to manage these emotions in more helpful ways.  Holidays and family gatherings naturally trigger a variety of emotions for everyone.  When these emotions are felt on a larger scale, it can be difficult to regulate these effectively.

Help your child label their emotions.  You can do this by saying things such as, “It seems that you’re really excited today” or “I’m noticing that you’re biting your nails, oftentimes that means you’re nervous.  Are you feeling nervous about anything?”  Be careful not to tell a child how they’re feeling (“You are mad”), simply state your own observations and be curious.  Help your child determine how to express these emotions in helpful ways.

4       Gifted kids often develop asynchronistically.  They are not consistently capable across all developmental areas.  This can make social interactions tricky.  Part of them wants to hang out with similarly aged kids, part of them wants to hang out with the little kids, part of them wants to sit at the adult table and discuss current affairs.

Be forthright and mindful with your child.  Let them know why these gatherings might be difficult and help them identify a few people with whom they may feel the most comfortable.  If they’d genuinely prefer to be with the adults, ask the host to make a space for your child among the adults.  If they’d prefer to be with littler kids, offer your child’s services as a parent’s helper for an adult with a younger child at the gathering.  If they’d genuinely prefer to be on their own, that’s ok, too.

5       Gifted kids generally do not fall far from the proverbial tree.  Chances are, your family gathering is filled with intensely amazing individuals.  Which can create amazingly intense situations.  And, chances are, you have your own gifted traits to contend with.  This can be fantastic, but it also can mean that your level of stress is higher during family gatherings, which makes it more difficult to fully attend to our kids’ needs.

Practice and model self-care.  If you need earplugs, to eat in a different room, to take a break, to bring a book, etc, give yourself permission to do so.  Identify all of your own emotions as you anticipate these gatherings, and remember that we humans are often filled with seemingly contradictory feelings and that every feeling is valid.  Allow yourself time and space to release your own emotions.  Share the joys and challenges you have faced with family gathering with your child.

Ultimately, know that there is no right or wrong when it comes to these holidays.  Allow your family the flexibility to determine what will be best for you.  Maybe that will be diving full force into all family gatherings.  Maybe that will be choosing to stay home from all family gatherings.  Again, there is no right or wrong.  If you're in the States (or celebrate abroad!), enjoy your Thanksgiving, no matter how you celebrate it!