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Holidays and Your Gifted Child

December 23, 2009

Welcome to our newest contributor, Missy Bedell. Missy is the parent of at least one gifted child. The other one is busy being a toddler. She blogs about the daily joys and challenges of raising gifted children.

I’ve enjoyed and survived 7 holiday seasons as a parent. Holidays, while being a joy as a parent, can be particularly stressful for a parent of a gifted child. Gifted children feel emotions differently, experience activities more intensely, look at life more uniquely than other kids. Every holiday season spent with my Oldest daughter has had its share of emotional highs and lows. At my blog, Loving Your Gifted Child ), I’ve spent this month talking about the four “basics” for optimal holiday enjoyment for all – gifted children and their (sometimes) exhausted parents. Thanks to High Ability for allowing me to share a condensed version of them here.

Sleep

Good sleep is important for the kids. But it’s immensely important for the parent. While I’m a huge proponent of healthy sleep because children need it, I’m an even bigger proponent of healthy sleep because you’re a better parent when your children get enough. Here are some tips for decent sleep during the holidays:

  1. Stick to the sleep schedule as much as possible. Up to age 12, children should get 10-12 hours of sleep a night.
  2. If you deviate one day, try to make up for it the next.
  3. If you deviate from the sleep schedule for the whole holiday vacation, plan to have overtired, stressed kids and completely overtired, stressed parents by the end. That’s about it. It’s simple, really. I know that vacations and holidays need to be different just by their nature. Staying as close to the sleep schedule as possible, however, is paramount to having a halfway good time. Here’s what Marc Weissbluth, in Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child says about this:

Please don’t think that it has no lasting effect when you routinely keep your child up too late – for your own pleasure after work or because you want to avoid bedtime confrontations – or when you cut corners on naps in order to run errands or visit friends. Once in a while, for a special occasion or reason, it’s okay. But day-in, day-out sleep deprivation at night or for naps, as a matter of habit, could be very damaging to your child. Cumulative, chronic sleep losses, even of brief duration, may be harmful for learning.

(Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child pg. 62)

Nutrition

I think the most important way to enjoy the holidays from a nutritional standpoint is “everything in moderation.” It would be unnatural, and likely create conflict to try and limit all of the sugary goodness your children are exposed to during the holiday season. Try to be aware, however, what their triggers are. If food and drink with red dye, for example, send them into a level of hyperactivity that is unmanageable, then try to avoid it. Also recognize that healthy, well-balanced meals at regular intervals help everyone stay at a manageable emotional level as well. Skipping meals is not a good idea. Loading up on junk food only is also not your best choice. If you keep the moderation rule in play, your kids may not thank you for it now, but their better behavior will be thanks enough. Transitions Interestingly, I don’t find much on transitions in my gifted “go to” books. I first learned the word transition (I’d been experiencing its impact for years with Oldest, but had no name for it) from my oldest daughter’s first teacher. What she was saying didn’t really register until a couple of years later when someone mentioned the book Raising Your Spirited Child as a life saver to them. The book has an entire chapter devoted to transitions. According to author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka,

A transition is a change or passage, from one place, action, mood, topic or thing to another.

(Raising Your Spirited Child Pg. 13)

For us, no matter how large or small, transitions were a battle. And they were exhausting. Which is why transitioning into and out of school from a long break has always been painful for all of us. Less so now that my oldest daughter has grown and we know what we’re dealing with. We’ve been able to give her some coping mechanisms to minimize the challenges. Spirited Child lists the following suggestions to help your transitionally challenged child. These can be found, in depth, on pages 138-147 of Kurcinka’s book.

  1. Using Words
  2. Establish a Routine
  3. Allow Time. Kurcinka statess that “every five minutes spent in prevention saves you fifteen minutes of turmoil.” Page 140.
  4. Forewarning is Critical. This has been a lifesaver for us over the years. I use “5,3,1.” I tell her when she has 5 minutes, then 3 minutes, then 1 minute before leaving somewhere.
  5. Allow Time for Closure.
  6. Use Imagination.
  7. Limit the Number of Transitions. As in, don’t have a morning of too many errands.
  8. Help Them Deal with Disappointment.
  9. Working Together.

Holidays and transition aren’t easy for any of us, really. If you think of how much the holidays wear on you as an adult, is it any wonder our children fall apart one or multiple times throughout the “most wonderful time of year?” They are little people who haven’t had years to hone their coping skills, like we (hopefully) have. It’s up to us to help them and to remember to make good choices for them, not trying to do it all at the expense of their (and our) mental health. Routines Sticking close to a routine during the holidays is important. Just as important, however, is the transition from “laid back holiday routine” to “back to school routine.” During the holiday season, try to keep mealtimes, snack times, rest times and bedtimes as close to the norm as possible. Right now, with the two week break looming out long and blissfully unstructured in front of you, it may be tempting to switch everything up and just go with the flow of wherever time off takes you. Or you may be so overscheduled with holiday happenings, that you feel like you can’t keep up with the normal routine. To deviate from it significantly would do a disservice to both you and your gifted child(ren). All children, and especially gifted children, crave the structure, the knowledge of a routine. They like knowing what’s coming next. To take that away from them can sometimes spell disaster (it actually always spells disaster in our house). The closer you stick to the routine, the more easily you will transition everyone back to “normal” when back to school comes.

Finally, remind your children about the routine and what it means to get back into it as they holiday break comes to an end. You may not get back into the swing of things without a few bumps, but the more knowledge you arm your gifted person with, the more likely they are to handle the changes. They’re smart that way. 😉

References: Raising Your Spirited Child, Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, 1991, Harper Collins Publishers.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, Marc Weissbluth, M.D., 1987, Ballantine Books.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. December 31, 2009 12:46 pm

    Thanks Ann! Just got to see this – I’ve been away for a week. Talk to you soon. 🙂

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