top of page
  • Writer's pictureThe Knox School of Santa Barbara

Managing Your Child's Intensities During the Holidays

Colleen Kessler

Ever since I was a little girl, I looked forward to the holidays. My birthday kicked everything off, followed by Thanksgiving, several other family members’ birthdays, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and more birthdays. Time was an exciting blur from late November through early January. And then I had kids. I was semi-prepared for the overstimulation and over-tiredness all kids seem to experience this time of the year, but from the beginning, my kids just seemed a more… off. A little more intense. And they always seemed to get into trouble wherever we went during the holidays. Do you feel defeated when you think about managing your child's intensity during the holidays & parties? Me too... here are some tips that might help... It was exhausting, and I felt like a horrible parent. After all, there were other moms at the parties we went to with kids the same age as mine. And their kids weren’t climbing to the top of stairwells, running around corners and colliding with adults, or leading a rousing rendition of “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” to grandma’s face and finishing the song doubled over in hysterics at the image he created for himself of Grandma’s face imprinted with a hoof print. I know I’m not the only one. SENG {Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted} says {emphasis mine}: Many people seem unaware that intense emotions are part of giftedness and little attention is paid to emotional intensity. Historically the expression of intense feelings has been seen a sign of emotional instability rather than as evidence of a rich inner life. The traditional Western view is of emotions and intellect as separate and contradictory entities, there is however, an inextricable link between emotions and intellect and, combined, they have a profound effect on gifted people. It is emotional intensity that fuels joy in life, passion for learning, the drive for expression of a talent area, the motivation for achievement. But, during the holidays, I wish that intensity would go away altogether, and then we could pick back up the passion, drive, and motivation in February. While I’d rather hibernate and skip parties altogether, I know I can’t. I need to have plans in place, and let go of some of the old “ideals” I had about parenting before I actually had kids. You know, all those things single people say they’ll never let their kids do… So, how do I suggest managing gifted kids’ intensities during the holidays? Managing Your Child’s Intensity by Getting on the Same Page as Your Spouse The holidays are full of history for both you and your spouse. There are traditions you both bring into a marriage and things you look forward to. In some cases, this might be the only time each year when you see some of your more distant family members. You are a team, though. Talk beforehand about what each of you expect. Can you tag-team at the party? For example, if you’re heading to your husband’s family gathering, take on kid duty in the beginning so he can catch up with his aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends. Get the kids food, settle in, and see that everyone is taken care of while he chats. Then, switch out. Your husband can go to wherever the kids are gathered and take some time to get on the floor and be the favorite uncle. He can play with the kids, while keeping an eye on yours, and you can swap stories with his relatives and grab a bite to eat. Then switch back. It’s important that neither of you feels put upon or it’ll negate any of the warm feelings the holidays are supposed to bring about. You share responsibility for the kids, and managing their intensities is a joint responsibility. Managing Your Child’s Intensity by Bringing Along Kid-Safe Foods This may not apply to everyone, but I know that two of my children are very sensitive to chemicals, flavorings, and colorings in food. If they have anything with red dye 40 in it…whew – it’s over. They are off and cannot recover no matter what we do. Since I know this, and realize that not everyone has an issue {nor believes there are issues} with food dyes, I try to bring Christmas cookies, candy, and other party treats to substitute for my kids. As they’re getting older, they’re asking me me for one of “our candy canes” when their cousins begin snacking on candy because they know that they feel different when they eat conventional candies. Managing Your Child’s Intensity by Having Extra Things to Do Unstructured time can bad for intense gifted kids when they’re away from home and their routine. All kids need unstructured play time, but I know that when our brightest kiddos have times like these (when the grown-ups are chatting over wine and the kids are relegated to the basement at their childless uncle’s house) that the most destructive and impulsive plans are hatched. As a mom to more than one intense gifted kid, I don’t really want them to experience completely free downtime while away from home at a family gathering when there is lots of potential for chaos. It could get ugly. I pack a lot. A Kindle full of eBooks and apps {though I swore I’d never let my kids play video games at someone’s house}, small toys, and if we’ll be gone a long time, I download a movie to the iPad or another device and bring headphones. Honestly, I’d rather let my kids become antisocial and hole up in an unused room with a video than become impulsive and ruin his or her own evening. Managing Your Child’s Intensity by Letting Go of Your Expectations For Others’ Approval I’m going to be really honest here – no matter what anyone thinks, parenting an emotionally intense gifted or a twice-exceptional child is not easy. And the only people who will ever truly understand what you go through day in and day out in another parent of an intense child. Everyone else can only see bad behavior and/or bad parenting. It doesn’t matter who they are – your mom, aunt, cousin, best friend, a stranger in line behind you waiting to see Santa – if they haven’t walked this road themselves, they just won’t get it. In fact, some parents with kids like ours don’t get it either. Sometimes I don’t get it. When I go to parties, I’m stressed out. I hurt for my kids when they act different. I cringe when my son speaks to an adult in an overly-familiar way – more like a peer than a kid. And I apologize over and over. This part, the letting go, is always the hardest for me. But, honestly, it’s the most necessary. It’s important to embrace our kids – intensities and all – and find ways to help them manage those emotions wherever they are. Work out a signal if your kids are old enough, and respect it. If they feel overwhelmed or out of control, let them find a quiet spot and retreat in whatever way works best for them. And don’t apologize – for them or for yourself. Your kids are special and you are a great parent. Remember to do whatever it takes to enjoy the holidays with your family. You’re building memories for them – make them as positive as you can.

Colleen is an explorer, tinkerer, educator, writer, creator, and a passionate advocate for the needs of gifted and twice-exceptional children. She has a B.S. in elementary education, a M.Ed. in gifted studies, is a sought-after national speaker and educational consultant, and is the founder of the popular blog and podcast Raising Lifelong Learners, as well as Raising Poppies, a community of support for parents of gifted children. She lives in northeast Ohio with her four bright and quirky kiddos, patient husband, and ever-changing collection of small reptiles, mammals, and insects.

9 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page