If you are a parent of a newly identified gifted child, you might still be wondering why the “most wonderful time of the year” is filled with meltdowns, both yours and your child’s. In most cases, this is due to your child’s “overexcitabilities” interacting with the frenetic energy of the holiday season. The experience of all the “special” events can make an intense child feel like they are going to explode and explode they do! As a parent you are left wondering why everyone else loved the light and music show and your child is either crying that they want to go home, or so wound up they are disruptive.
The first step to having a sane holiday season is to take a step back and think about what your child can tolerate. The child who is sensitive to sugar will need tools to help her manage the seemingly endless flow of “treats”. The child who has trouble with crowds or unstructured group activity will need support to either manage or avoid those situations. If your child has a high need for structure and routine, holiday travel needs to be carefully choreographed so the benefits will outweigh the costs. Consider your child’s preferences and abilities before making holiday plans. Allow your child to opt out of social activities that they find stressful.
Include your children in deciding what the most important holiday activities are for your family, and put those on the calendar first. Make sure that everyone feels that his or her favorite tradition is honored respectfully. By setting priorities early in the season, it is easier to say “no” to those activities that don’t fit with your child’s intensities or your energy level. Being under-scheduled and intentional during the holidays allows everyone in the family to enjoy what really matters to them.
Focus on creating family traditions that transcend the presents, food and parties and place emphasis on spending time with one another. Find activities that the entire family enjoys and make sure those activities get the most attention. Seeing a movie is fun, but not as meaningful as playing games together, group writing the family Christmas letter, doing puzzles, making gifts for friends and family or whatever your family creates as long as it is together. Traditions and spending rich time together are both extremely important in helping a gifted child feel loved and safe.
Shifting the focus of the season away from the hoopla and onto the family is the best way to create a more resilient, independent child. Children whose families spend time together feel more loved, and more able to tolerate, the feelings of being “different” than many of their peers.