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3 Steps to Respond to Gifted Intensity

The 3-step VIEW framework can reduce power struggles, meltdowns, and overall distress

Intense & sensitive gifted & twice-exceptional kids often have big feelings, strong perspectives, and intense behaviors - they may cry about a change in plans, insist their opinion is correct, or dive into a complex project without realizing they’re making a mess.

As a parent to a gifted kid, you may wonder how to respond to your child's emotional intensity or other intense moments. You may feel annoyed, worried, stressed, or overstimulated. It can be hard to think clearly or creatively in the moment - it's often intense for everyone involved.

Parents of gifted kids need a simple and effective way to respond to intense moments - there will be many of them!

 

Below, I share my 3-step VIEW framework for responding to intense moments - big feelings, big statements, big behaviors, or anything else that feels intense. The 3 steps are flexible, so you can apply they to almost any intense situation. But they're also actionable - you'll know what to say and do.

In our parent coaching program, we discuss the VIEW framework on Week 2 so parents can get lots of practice applying it. Parents report that using the VIEW steps helps prevent power struggles, meltdowns, and arguments. These steps also help them feel calmer and more confident in tough moments.

VIEW stands for Validate Intensity, Encourage strengths, and Wait to teach.

Step 1: Validate Intensity

Start with validation. Intense kids often get the message that they are too intense - too emotional, too sensitive, over-reacting, or too much to handle. These messages feel invalidating and can actually upset kids MORE.  The gist of this step is to validate or acknowledge whatever is happening for your child in their intense moment, so they feel understood instead of questioned.

  • Intense feeling?  Don’t rush to make them feel better, reassure them, or point out it’s going to be okay.  Instead, let your child know you see their feeling and it makes sense. Instead of “It’s okay to make a mistake - everyone makes mistakes!” try “Oof, that mistake felt really upsetting - it didn’t go how you wanted.”

  • Intense perspective? Don’t try to balance out their viewpoint right away. Instead, find the part of their perspective that makes sense to you and let them know. Instead of “Homework isn’t that bad - it’s important to practice,” try “Homework is a bummer, isn’t it? You worked all day and now there’s more work.”

Even if your child’s feeling or perspective does NOT make sense to you or you know they're exaggerating because they're upset, you can still use this step. Try to simply restate what they said. Even if they say, “I hate everything about soccer!” and you know that’s not true, you can still validate their experience in that moment - “Everything about soccer feels bad right now.”

If you have no idea what upset your child, you can just state what you see - “You don’t like this,” “Something feels hard.”

Some intense or sensitive kids are upset by verbal validation - for these kids, try to sit quietly with them or use an understanding grunt or sigh to show them you see and accept what they’re going through.

Validating doesn’t mean you necessarily agree with your child. For example, it’s common for intense gifted or twice-exceptional kids to say “I’m so stupid! I hate myself!” or something else self-critical when they make a mistake or struggle with something.

If you say, “You feel really stupid right now” or “You really hate yourself right now” you’re not saying that they are stupid or that they’re worthy of hate. Instead, you’re showing your child that you understand their feeling and experience - and that you can tolerate and talk about their big feelings without becoming overwhelmed yourself.

Validation can melt kids' intensity - instead of having to prove how upset they are, they feel understood, and this sometimes helps them move through their feelings more quickly.

You can read about more ways to validate here: How to Validate Your Gifted Kid's Big Feelings and A Validating Way to Set Boundaries on Big Behaviors.

Step 2: Encourage strengths

Most intense gifted moments are related to gifted strengths. Many gifted characteristics aren’t challenges or strengths in and of themselves - instead, they show up as a challenge OR a strength depending on the context.

Some examples:

  • Kids who are driven by their interests get absorbed in detailed passion projects and get upset when it’s time to stop those projects for the day.

  • Kids who are emotionally sensitive often care deeply for others and are easily overwhelmed by emotionally charged situations.

 

For more help finding the strength behind your kid’s big feelings, read this article: The Strength Hiding in Your Kid's Big Feelings.

Once you’ve identified your kid’s strength, consider describing it to them. These types of statements can help gifted kids make sense of their feelings and build a positive identity. Combined with validation, it can sound like this:

  • “You have such a sense of justice about what’s fair and what’s not. No wonder you got so upset when the other kids didn't follow the rules.”

  • “You love to do a thorough job. You’re always noticing little details to improve. It’s hard when you run out of time to make the project just the way you like.”

  • “You didn’t like it when I told you to keep the sponge in the sink. You had a creative idea about how to wash up and you wanted to try it out. ”

Step 3: Wait to teach

This step is critical if you want to preserve connection and avoid a power struggle.

When your kid is upset, WAIT to teach them helpful ideas, perspectives, or coping strategies. Don't discuss anything like this in the moment. Don’t try to help them solve their problem, teach a new coping skill, provide them with new information, point out errors in their thinking, or explain how they contributed to the problem.

First, people can't learn when they’re upset. Second, it can feel invalidating if you try to coach or teach in the heat of the moment. If you switch too quickly to teaching, you might undermine the feeling of connection and validation you created with the first two steps (validating intensity and encouraging strengths).

Resist the urge to jump into teaching. DON’T say:

  • If you hadn’t done X, [that upsetting thing] wouldn’t have happened.

  • It's not going to be that scary - your friend will be there!

  • I know you don’t like that, but there’s a good reason…

  • This assignment wouldn’t feel so frustrating if you organized your work before you start.

  • Why don’t you take 3 deep breaths? (Unless you and your child have practiced this strategy before and agreed to use it in certain situations)

It’s counterintuitive, but the best way to influence your kid is to stick with validation and presence in the heat of the moment and save any informative, helpful ideas for later. When it comes to constructive feedback, strike when the iron is cold.

How long should you wait to have these teaching conversations? It depends - on your kid’s temperament, the level of intensity, and the specific situation. Sometimes your kid might be able to problem-solve or take a suggestion a minute or two after they calm down. In other situations, it might be more productive to reflect on the situation at bedtime, the next morning, or even the next weekend.

You can read more about this step here: What to Avoid with an Upset Gifted Kid.

That’s it - the VIEW framework.  To recap: in an intense moment, validate your child's intense experience first. Encourage the strengths that contributed to their intensity. Then wait to teach - until later, when they're calm.

If you want to try the VIEW framework, it can be helpful to plan a time to practice. Think about a time when you're pretty confident your child will get upset or have an intense reaction. You can plan out what you might say to validate their feeling, and think ahead of time about what strength they’re demonstrating. You can anticipate any “teaching” you might be tempted to do, and prepare yourself to wait instead.

If you want more ideas like this directly to your inbox, sign up for Gifted Lab Notes, my weekly email with tips and information for supporting your intense or sensitive gifted or twice-exceptional (2e) kid.

If you’d like more help with any of these steps - figuring out what to say, or how to apply this to your child - consider getting on the waitlist for Parenting Your Intense Gifted Kid. During this interactive coaching program, we talk about the VIEW framework in depth and I help you apply it to specific situations from your life. You also get to learn from other parents’ experiences as they try these approaches with their intense gifted kids. I hope you’ll join us!