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A Validating Way to Set Boundaries on Big Behaviors

One way to support your gifted or 2e child when their behavior seems out of control

One of the biggest challenges I hear from parents is that they want to validate their gifted kid’s intense feelings but not the aggressive behavior that sometimes comes with big feelings.  What do you do if you’re trying to validate your kid’s feeling and your kid is hitting you, kicking you, calling you names, or throwing things?

When your kid acts out their big feelings, it’s helpful to clearly differentiate between feelings and behaviors.

 All feelings are okay and valid.  Not all behaviors are safe or acceptable.  As Big Little Feelings says, “All feelings are okay!  All behaviors are not.”

Validate feelings, set boundaries for behaviors.

 

Here are some examples of how you can simultaneously validate an intense feeling and set a boundary for appropriate behavior:

  • At the end of screen time, if your child tends to handle the iPad roughly when upset:

    • Validation: “The end of iPad time is tough. It’s hard to stop because it’s so fun.”

    • Boundary: “Let’s keep the iPad safe; I’m going to put it over here” / Take the iPad and put it somewhere out of reach.

  • When you’ve told your kid or teen they can’t do something and they use mean words:

    • Validation: “I can tell you’re really angry you can’t go to your friend’s house today. I know you love to hang out with them.”

    • Boundary: “We don’t call each other names in our family.” If they continue: “I’m going to leave the room because I don’t want to be talked to that way. I’m available to talk when you can talk without mean names.”

  • During a tantrum, if your child starts to hit you or hit towards you:

    • Validation: “I can tell you’re really upset.”

    • Boundary: “We don’t hit each other, even when we’re upset.” If they continue hitting: “I’m going to move my body to stay safe.” (If it helps your child to have you in the room when they’re upset, you can move away yet stay nearby - “I’m going to be right over here. Let me know if you’d like a hug.”)

It’s likely your kid will get more upset when you set the behavior boundary, especially if you haven’t set that boundary consistently in the past.

It’s ok if the boundary makes them more upset!  When your kid is upset, you can follow the VIEW framework - validate their intensityencourage a strength, and wait to teach.  For example - “You want the iPad back. I know it’s tough to stop. You love that puzzle game.”

As much as you can, avoid restraining your child’s body to set a boundary.  Gifted kids often crave autonomy, including body autonomy.  Restraining them unnecessarily, for example by grabbing their arm, may send their brain further into fight mode. 

 

Instead, if you can, move other people or objects away.  Is your kid throwing all the laundry you just folded?  Remove the remaining laundry instead of restraining them.  Is your kid swinging at you and trying to hit you?  Move your body away instead of blocking or holding their arm.

Big behaviors can be very stressful for us as parents and they’re a signal our kid is stressed out too.  If you feel stressed when you have to set a boundary on your kid’s behaviors, that makes sense!  You can use the VIEW framework to give yourself some validation and kindness - “Whew, that was stressful!  I hate when my kid swear, and it's no fun to set that boundary (validating intensity).  I really value kindness, so it’s extra upsetting for me when they use mean words (encouraging strengths).”

Good luck with those big behaviors - you’ve got this!

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 feel unsure how to set boundaries on your gifted or 2e kid's intense behavior, you're not alone!  In my 8-week coaching program for parents, Parenting Your Intense Gifted Kid, you'll get weekly guidance and encouragement so you can feel more confident and less stressed in the face of your child's big feelings and behaviors.  You'll learn concrete strategies you can use at home, and you'll get help adapting the strategies to specific situations from your actual life, so you can make the strategies work for you and your unique kid.