Disclaimer: I am a parent of a 2e son; I don't have a medical or psychology degree or anything remotely connected to it unless a history or library degree counts. However, I have dealt with anxiety on my own and lately with my 8-yr-old 2e son. I was also raised by parents were emotionally challenged and never entirely understood. My 2e father and sister are on the Autism Spectrum and, as a result, still have a very difficult time expressing their feelings and emotions to me or anyone. So I say: ignore addressing emotions to your peril.
A lot of this blog covers dialogues, interactions, ways to talk to and listen to your children. If you're familiar with the book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk then you'll get it. If you're not familiar with the book and need some guidance, then you might pick up a copy at your local library or elsewhere.
1. Anxiety. The first step is the hardest and wouldn't classify as the simple part, I think. You, dear parent, have to come to grips with your own anxiety and perfectionism. You have to deal with your own dirty laundry and garbage, which most people consciously want to avoid! There's cognitive behavioral therapy. There are books, such as David Burns's The Feeling Good Handbook (http://feelinggood.com/) or Edmund Bourne's The Anxiety & Phobia Handbook (http://www.helpforanxiety.com/about_dr_Bourne.html).
We live in anxious times. There are tiger parents, helicopter parents, and so forth who seem to circle like anxiety vultures and usually only too eager to impart unwelcomed comments, suggestions, and advice. Then, there's the lackluster (or toilet) economy. It's feast or famine with jobs, it seems. Some pay but require ungodly hours and devotion. Others, well, don't pay. Medical benefits are great if they're included with employment, but it's a frigging nightmare if you've got none or close to none with any you may have. Generally speaking, the 'traditional' route to improving one's socioeconomic standards (ie. hard work and high achievement in a high performing, test happy school) is no longer a guarantee of future employment or material success. What's an anxious parent to do, but worry?
a) Anxiety/wellness - symptoms, sleep, diet, and exercise - I'm not forgetting!!! I'll just leave that for another blog/s or for someone else at the moment. There's enough here.
2. Identify feelings. If you accept the reality that we live in anxious times, how does that make you feel? Glad, mad, or sad? IF your child has a meltdown, does it make you feel glad, mad, or sad? Or how does a meltdown make your child feel - glad, mad, sad, or bad? Today, there are plenty of prompts, books and ways to help your 2e child identify their feelings. Help your child. A smiley face is a visual example of happiness or being glad :). A red piece of paper may indicate a child is mad!
3. Validate feelings. Yes, I can blow my top when my son has a meltdown. Put a check in the mad column. When my son has a meltdown, he doesn't make him feel too good about himself either. Put a check in the sad and bad columns for him. Let's think about this for a minute. A meltdown doesn't make you feel good. I don't like getting mad. I don't like seeing my son get sad or feel bad about himself. Still, it happens. And a child needs to know that these feelings are normal to have. They're going to come and go. Today there are cards, games, songs, and numerous ways for kids to validate their feelings if they're having trouble articulating or expressing them.
4. Share/express feelings. Try putting your feelings into words, drawings, or music. For a younger child or one is struggles verbally, even a simple gesture such as thumbs up or down can go a long way to help a child share how they're feeling. Or perhaps a particular song captures the words and feelings for a child that they're unable to articulate. IF a particular song seems to work, try to found why. The point here is to identify your feelings, validate them, and then consciously express them to yourself and/or others as possible. Easier said than done. Most of us don't really want to connect to our inner feelings and thoughts. And you get forget about feeling like you're getting naked and revealing your innermost being. Yet we expect kids to do this without some help and not wobble.
a) If you've got a persistent case or feel the potential for one, you might find a chart for dysfunctional thoughts or decide to make a daily record of them.
5. Too negative feelings + too negative thoughts = (doo doo). Too much (doo doo) and well, we know the results. You do NOT feel good about yourself. You feel like doo doo. Too much of that and you'll topple and spin out of control. I don't think anyone likes feeling out of control. The trick here is recognizing how to avert that toppling and point where you're about to go over the edge. A two-year-old isn't capable of doing that and it's debatable how many eight-year-olds like my 2e son are either. Let's get real here. Many adults struggle with this too.
a) Scale. A good way to tackle the onslaught of negative feelings and/or overreactions is to have a 5-point or 10-point rating system. If you spill milk on the kitchen table, that may be a one or a .5. Yes, I don't like spilling my dairy-free milk or cleaning up the mess either, but it's really minor in the grand scale of things and doesn't warrant a 5 response (though a child may feel like it does).
Here, it's worth bearing in mind that many actions and decisions in life are reversible. Most things are not etched in stone. Even when things are etched in stone or irreversible, such as death, we can learn to cope with it as best we can.
b) IF a child's emotional needs are not being met and you're concerned about depression, don't hesitate to consult or see a professional. Everyone has the blues and down days but too much negative feelings and thoughts can veer into depression and be a real cause for concern with 2e kids. Children who are unable to express their feelings may externalize them with emotional eating, for example, when they're depressed or self-mutilation. Marianne Kuzujanakis has a great SENG article about this topic and I'm very grateful to her for it because I was able to identify psychosomatic symptoms with my son when he was in a private gifted school and his needs were not being met. I'm now un/homeschooling and the psychosomatic symptoms have disappeared.
SENG article - (https://www.sengifted.org/archives/articles/where-does-a-pediatric-doctor-fit-in-the-care-of-gifted-children).
6. Reframe the distorted negative thoughts. Instead of the negative what ifs and catastrophizing, it's a case of I'll learn how; I can do it; I'll do my best. Counter the negative self thoughts with positive ones.
7. Good feelings + good thoughts = calmness. Of course, we, as adults, know that lemons can be made into lemonade. We can turn a negative feeling or thought into a positive or see a bright side. Many 2e children, however, struggle with this because their imaginations can run wild and they can dreamt up every unlikely possibility it seems.
8. Calmness. If you're calm, you're less anxious. As adults, we usually know how to calm ourselves down. We take a walk, go for a run, ride a bike, rake, or do some physical exercise. We might bake, draw, squeeze a ball, or do something with our hands. We might listen to music so we keep the peace in our heads. We might watch a video or go into our bedroom/bathroom and close the door so we don't have to (physically) look at our child for a few minutes. We might self-talk to ourselves. We might do some heavy breathing for a few minutes. We might lie down somewhere and close our eyes.
A child doesn't necessarily know these calming tricks or is aware of them. Or they just haven't reached the self-help and social/emotional milestones and developments. Other times, it's harder due to exceptionalities. So, with some 2e kids (and my son has been one of them), they can quickly wind themselves up but have no idea how to unwind themselves or how to stay on a more even emotional keel.
A 2e child can be INTENSE. Some 2e kids are super sensitive, emotional, overexcitable, and lack those internal switches or wiring to keep themselves calm. I know. I do know from experience. Weighted blankets, Epsom bath salts, fidgety toys, trampolines, and many other do-dads I'll call them can help to calm 2e kids. Keep experimenting until your child finds their inner peace and calm. Sensory integration disorder books can provide guidance on helping to calm a child. Occupational therapists who have training and experience with 2e kids or sensory integration can help too. My son was born with severe sensory processing disorder and spent five years in occupational therapy, including three years in a sensory gym.
As difficult as it is at times, try to view these emotional sensitivities and overexcitabilites as assets rather than as (negative) deficits. I know, I can see the eye rolling now. But let's put this in perspective.
Can we name any adults who are emotional sensitive and overexcitable and yet have done wonderful things in life? I'll start (in no particular order here): Roald Dahl, Dav Pilkey (author of Captain Underpants), chef Gordon Ramsay, Steven Spielberg, Elton John, John Lennon - for the boys; Jane Goodall, Mary Leakey (paleoanthropologist), chef Rachel Ray, Grace Lin (writer), Tina Fey (humorist), Geena Davis (actress) - for the girls. I'm sure you can come up with a list too.
Half the battle here with a 2e child is getting them to recognize their feelings and when they're getting anxious.