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How to Validate Your Gifted Kid's Big Feelings
You want your kid to feel better - here's what really helps.
Think about a time recently when your gifted kid got really upset.
What did they get upset about? Maybe they started crying when they couldn’t do something as well as they wanted to. Maybe their feelings were hurt because they felt excluded. Maybe they were angry about a situation they thought was unfair. Maybe they felt sad about something in the news.
All kids have big feelings sometimes. Big feelings can seem particularly strong, deep, or fiery for intense or sensitive gifted and twice-exceptional kids.
What was it like for you when your kid was upset?
How did you feel? What were you thinking?
How did you react? Take a minute to remember what you said or did.
Did your response seem to help? Make things worse? Did it seem to have no effect?
When your child or teen is upset, it’s natural to want them to feel better. You don’t like seeing them in pain, and their big feelings might make you feel stressed or frustrated. You might even think something like, “To be a good parent right now, I should help my child feel better.”
But if you’ve ever tried to help your child feel better by reassuring them ("you're not bad at math"), encouraging them ("mistakes are how we learn!"), or teaching them something ("life is just unfair sometimes"), you’ve probably noticed that it usually doesn’t work. In fact, this approach can actually make kids more upset. Bright kids in particular tend to dig in their heels or start a debate to prove their big feeling are real and justified.
Unfortunately, I think a lot of parents have been given the message - “Good parents help their kids feel better.” I’d like to suggest a different point of view.
When your child is upset, the big goal is NOT to help them feel better. The big goal is to connect with their big feelings in that moment.
When your child shows you how upset they are, that is an awesome moment of vulnerability. Your child has shown you their big, vulnerable feelings and has created an opportunity for connection. If you can connect with your child’s feelings in that moment, you’ll be strengthening your relationship with your child in a huge way.
I use the acronym VIEW to help parents use this new view to respond to their kid's big feelings. VIEW stands for Validate Intensity, Encourage strengths, and Wait to teach. Even if this point of view sounds good to you, you may be wondering - but what am I supposed to say when they’re upset and crying or screaming?
How to validate intensity
Start with validating your child’s big feeling. Instead of focusing on reducing or changing your kid's feelings, see if you can find a kernel of truth or something you understand about their intensity feeling. In my experience, this is one perk of raising a gifted kid - they are usually onto something.
If your kid says school is like a prison, they kind of have a point! They’re required to stay there all day, sometimes against their will.
If your kid says something is unfair, it often is - even if it’s unavoidable.
If your kid was hurt by a friend, they may say they never want to see the friend again. Focus on the feeling, not whether your kid’s statement makes sense or is nice. If you focus on the feeling, you might remember a time someone hurt your feelings and you felt like you never wanted to see them again, if only for a moment.
Once you've found something that makes sense to you, tell your child! Let them know you see their feeling or get why they're feeling the way they are.
Experiment with different ways to validate:
Name the feeling: You seem disappointed….That’s frustrating….You really hate yourself right now….You’re angry.
Name the feeling and the cause: You seem disappointed because we aren't having ice cream tonight….You really hate yourself right now because you got a B on that test…You’re angry because those kids won’t follow your directions.
Describe your child’s experience in an accurate and non-judgmental way, without explicitly mentioning feelings: That didn’t go the way you wanted….You didn’t like that….You hoped it would be different at soccer today….You really wanted more time on that activity….You just got home and now it’s time to go out again….You wish you didn’t have to brush teeth.
Focus on the trigger, not your child: That jacket is tricky to zip….Chemistry is complicated…. There are so many times tables to memorize!….Kids don’t always follow the rules….War is awful…..Brushing teeth isn’t very fun.
When you can relate, share your own feelings or experience: Oof, I hate it when other people don’t follow the rules….I thought AP English was so stressful when I was in high school….I was disappointed we didn’t have more down time today….Sometimes I feel embarrassed when I make mistakes; I know mistakes are a part of learning but it can still feel bad when it happens.
Make an empathic noise or one-word statement: Truly, just a grunt, sigh, growl, oof, ugh, yuck, or mm-hm can show your kid you get what they’re feeling and spark a connection between you two in a tough moment.
If you practice validating your child’s intense feelings for one week, what do you notice? Do you argue less often? Do they calm down more quickly?
Do you feel more confident? More connected?
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 or get help validating your kid’s feelings in a way that works for them and you, check out my group coaching program, Parenting Your Intense Gifted Kid. In this collaborative, interactive coaching program you get help adapting these strategies to your unique kid and adjusting as needed, alongside other creative and caring parents like yourself.