“The times when kids need your love the most may be the times when they behave in the most unloving of ways. Try to understand what is happening in their heads and their hearts and address that first.” — Corin Goodwin, Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Executive Director
Anger is a tricky emotion that is too often seen as taboo in our culture. I can understand how this came to be; an angry person is full of unpredictable energy that can express itself in some very tragic ways. And that can be scary.
But are we scared of the emotion itself? Or are we fearful of the unhealthy expression of that emotion? It can be difficult to separate the two!
After all, there are plenty of good reasons for a gifted child to be angry. Millions of gifted children feel misunderstood and lonely, living in a world that seems to think they’ll be fine on their own. Even more gifted children aren’t identified as gifted because they have a learning difference or don’t do well on standardized tests. And what about those gifted children who have families that can’t afford testing or services?
For the fifth installment of our Six Types series we are taking a careful look at Type 4: The Angry gifted child. And you’ll notice that this article is a bit longer than the others I’ve written in this series. For good reason.
In my career I’ve seen angry students commit some serious harm to themselves and others. I know anger, and I understand anger; I want to help these students learn how to use, redirect, and express their anger in a healthy way.
I’ll be honest with you, I have not been 100 percent successful in that endeavor.
And I’m not going to sugar coat things — it’s hard.
Processing a child’s anger is some of the most difficult work you will ever do with another human.
If at all possible, do not go at it alone. Find help from as many understanding support people as possible – doctors, therapists, ministers, coaches, trusted love ones, etc.
Many of the parents who answered the quiz with mostly D’s know firsthand how the unhealthy expression of anger can rot away a child’s self-esteem and ability to maintain fulfilling friendships. It fills you with worry, keeps you up at night, and maybe it even makes you angry.
In my experience, anger in gifted children is often fueled by anxiety, a common byproduct of various overexcitabilities.
And if anxiety triggers a fight-or-flight response, some gifted children are going to fight.
If your child is indeed anxious, the first step is to help them learn how to self soothe and regulate their own emotional state. Many families have found the book From Worrier to Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Fears a wonderful tool for helping children learn exactly that.
If your child is little older you may want to try out The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook; a friend recommended this one to me and I’ve been recommending it ever since.
The best thing every person can do at the onset of anger is take a break. During a time of calm, share with your child the phrase “I’m angry and I need a break.” Let them know that this is the healthy way to deal with anger and that you are not going to chase after them and make them explain themselves, or try to talk them into anything. Teach them to take time and breathe. You can also positively model this strategy yourself when you are feeling angry.
Try hard not to punish them for taking a break by forcing them to make up whatever they missed while taking their breather. This means that for a while your child may miss assignments, important social occasions, and (gasp!) chores. Until your angry gifted child learns to control her anger, those things are going to have to take a back seat.
When your child feels ready to return from her breather, try going for a walk or doing something creative in an attempt to release that energy.
Anger journaling is great for that; the entries can be prose, pictures or both. Have you seen the Wreck This Journal series? Those journals are specifically designed to take a beating, and they make being angry fun! 😉
More than anything, try not to judge or invalidate your child’s experience. They are angry and they feel justified in that anger.
No amount of reasoning in those angry moments is going to help your child. In fact, it will probably drive an even larger wedge between you.
If you can muster it, righteously reflect that anger back to them with conviction. “It is frustrating that your teacher said he was going to give extra time to finish and then forgot! I’d be mad too!” or “I can totally get why you’d be mad that we can’t go to the museum today! You love museums!”
You can explore and demonstrate empathy for the teacher later. Right now it’s about showing your child that you take their emotions seriously. And remember that you’re reflecting, not fixing. We’ll talk about why we don’t fix in another post.
For the next post, we’ll discuss Type 5: The Twice-exceptional gifted child in more detail.
Have you found a helpful book or strategy that helped your child conquer their anger? Won’t you share your perspective on the different types of gifted learners and where you think your child fits in the comments? I love hearing from you.
*This blog post is based on the article, Profiles of the Gifted and Talented (Betts, George, and Maureen Neihart. Profiles of the gifted and talented. Gifted Child Quarterly, National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), 1988. Web. 2013. <http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10114.aspx>.).
*This blog post contains amazon affiliate links. If you’d like to support my mission of gifted advocacy and education please visit my Amazon store for a list of carefully curated books and games for gifted children, families, and the professionals that serve them.