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The Strength Hiding in Your Kid's Big Feelings

Your gifted kid’s big feelings are a window to their biggest strengths.

When your gifted kid has an intense feeling, how does it affect you? What words and images pop into your head? Many parents worry their kid won’t ever learn to control their feelings. Or they’re frustrated that their kid’s big feelings disrupt family routines.

How can you feel calmer when your intense gifted kid is upset?

One approach I use is the VIEW framework for responding to big feelings. Last week I wrote about the first step - Validate Intensity. The next step, Encourage strengths, offers a strengths-based view of gifted intensity. Focusing on strengths can help your kid develop a more positive identity, and it can reduce your stress about their big feelings too!

Here’s the gist - your gifted kid’s big feelings are a window to their biggest strengths.

How can you find the hidden strengths in your kid’s emotional intensity?

First, look for any gifted characteristics behind your child’s big feelings. There isn’t great research about common gifted characteristics, but you can read some examples here. For example - many gifted kids learn easily, get absorbed in interests and passions, care about justice and fairness, have high standards for themselves, notice small details, or like to do things their own way, or have an excellent memory.

Most gifted characteristics aren’t challenges or strengths in and of themselves - instead, they show up as big feelings OR strengths depending on the context.

Here are some examples:

  • Does your kid learn easily?

    • Big feelings: They may hate school or get in trouble because they learn material easily and don’t have work at their level.

    • Strength: This same kid might love learning and soak up new information when presented with engaging material at their level.

  • Does your kid become absorbed in their interests and passions?

    • Big feelings: They may explode when told to work on something that feels less important. For example, a kid might have a meltdown when asked to leave a Lego project for dinner.

    • Strength: This same kid has great motivation, focus, and follow-through when working on something they love.

  • Does your kid have high standards for themselves?

    • Big feelings: They may shut down or blow up when they make a mistake. They can get overwhelmed by seemingly simple setbacks.

    • Strength: This same kid might work hard and create stellar projects when their work goes smoothly or when they get to choose a topic they love.

  • Does your kid care about justice and fairness?

    • Big feelings: When they someone cheat at a game, they may feel furious. They might start an argument or leave the field in tears.

    • Strength: This same kid might stand up for others who are treated unfairly.

When your kid has a big feeling, take a minute to identify the hidden strength. This can help you feel calmer and it can help your kid understand their big feeling in a positive way.

Think about a time recently when your kid had a big, intense feeling. What’s the strength that’s on the flip side of their big feeling?

  • Creativity or a love of fantasy and imagination?

  • A desire for autonomy to do things their own way?

  • Critical thinking abilities?

  • Preference for meaningful (versus meaningless) tasks?

  • Strong sense of justice / what’s fair?

  • Strong drive to complete their projects or vision?

  • Perceptive senses / ability to notice details?

  • Something else?

If you’re having a hard time identifying the hidden strength on the other side of your child’s intense feelings, they might not know how to channel it yet or they might not have had that opportunity.

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:

  • “That is really upsetting. You have such a sense of justice about what’s fair and what’s not.”

  • “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. ”

 

Some kids can’t hear these statements until much later, when they’re calm. That’s OK. Just remind yourself of their strengths. It might help you feel calmer.

 

Sometimes the most important thing you can do when your kid is upset is help yourself feel calmer and more confident.

 

I hope that finding the strength inside your child’s intense feelings will give you a glimmer of confidence in those tough moments.

 

Here’s an example: Recently, my toddler started crying at bedtime and said he never wanted to go to sleep. He’s not usually so upset at bedtime, so I tried to understand what triggered his big feeling. I remembered that he spent the evening setting up several elaborate activities around the living room. He was so absorbed in his activities, and had several steps in mind for each, that of course he didn’t want to sleep! I reminded myself how much I admire and enjoy his creative play - which helped me feel calmer, even while he cried.

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 kid.

If you want to learn more about the VIEW framework and get help identifying and nurturing your intense kid’s strengths, check out my small-group coaching program, Parenting Your Intense Gifted Kid. The program is designed to help you feel more confident and calm, even when your kid is having big feelings or tough moments.