Friday, September 20, 2013

Responding to Intensity in Children

Typically, emotional intensity results in a range of behavioral outbursts that can be internal (including moodiness, anxiety, and depression) or external (yelling or crying, temper tantrums, and physical expressions of anger or frustration). Regardless of how a gifted child chooses to demonstrate his or her intensities, there are a lot of things parents and educators can do to help lessen the outburst and help teach coping strategies.

• Start early by helping the child talk about his or her emotions – Trust me, they may not want to – but taking the emotions from some raw feeling to a tangible thing that can be defined is an important first step in learning to control the behavior. Further, the development of an emotional vocabulary can assist in providing a common language with which to discuss emotions and behavior.

• Help the child discover his or her unique escalation cycle -Work to discover both your child’s and your own escalation patterns. Gifted kids have considerable talent for pushing a teacher or parent’s buttons. Knowing the things that push you over the edge will enable you to remain calm during emotional outbursts, whatever form they may take. Further, helping children discover their escalation pattern will give them a chance to learn to manage and redirect the feelings before they become too overwhelming.

• Develop a plan to deal with the intensity - Once you and your child has identified the escalation cycle, work with the child to make a plan for what to do when he or she is overwhelmed – when life becomes too intense. Important aspects of the plan should include relaxation techniques, ways to redirect his or her energies, and things to do INSTEAD of the internal or external explosion.

• Create emotional distance from the explosion – Should the explosion happen anyway, it is important to remain calm and create a distance between your emotions and the child’s. Anger and frustration always beget more anger and frustration, so it is really important for the adults working with the child to stay emotionally neutral.

• Take a breather - This goes for the child and the adults. The best way to create the distance I talked about above is to remember to take a break and calm down.

• Focus on the behavior you WANT to see, not only the inappropriate behavior you are seeing – Remember to focus on the good behavior you want to see. All too often we get into a pattern of responding to the negative behaviors strongly (because these behaviors emotionally hook us) and not responding enough to the positive behaviors. The result – more negative behaviors. So do a mental inventory and make sure to focus your time and energy on the positive behaviors.

• View behavioral outbursts, whether internal or external, are teachable moments – Yes, they are frustrating and annoying. Maybe even infuriating. But they are still teachable moments. Take the time to redirect the behavior, focusing on teaching the GT child how to understand and redirect the behavior.

The bottom-line to all of this: Intensity is not a bad thing in and of itself. Intensity is passion – the kind of passion we use to create.

~ Christine Fonseca

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