Gifted, Grace and Gratitidue with Erin Arnold

Happy Holidays!

We are right in the middle of the season of giving, kindness, and charity. There is a lot of dialogue of how good or bad everyone has been this year and high expectations of our kids to remain cheery and grateful at all times.

On top of the holiday pressures to keep it together, there is also the high stress for our middle and high school students to take their midterm exams (10% of their overall semester grade) and finish up the 2nd quarter assignments and tests. Add in the FOMO (fear of missing out- for those of us who learn slang later than others…) created by social media that makes kids feel like everyone’s life is so much better than theirs and we have an emotional crisis in the making.

Over the last 2 weeks I have had gifted students of all ages come to me in shambles because of some combination of emotional tension at home, academic stress at school, negative comparison of social lives, and/or unrealistic expectations of themselves. On the exterior, we as parents and teachers might see bad attitudes, surly behavior, and lack of motivation (laziness). Unfortunately, on the interior our kids feel insecure, out of control, and flat out not good enough.

Word for word, my gifted students tell me, “I am not good enough.”

Recently I had a high school boy come to my office after I saw him in the hallway looking emotionally worn down. This amazing student said those words to me “I am not good enough”. This is a kid that has an awesome family, a great group of friends, is involved in many extracurriculars, and smiles and waves to his dorky gifted teacher in the hallway EVERY TIME he passes by. I asked him what it is that makes him feel inferior to others and he listed: His sense of humor that others don’t get (gifted trait), his social awkwardness (gifted trait), not trying hard enough in his classes to have the top grades (just getting by with good grades and no effort-gifted trait), not being strong or fast enough in sports (perfectionism-gifted trait), not putting enough effort in music/singing (perfectionism-gifted trait), being reliable-but not working the hardest at his job (perfectionism-gifted trait), and feeling guilty that he isn’t happy with what he has when he knows that others in the world are not as blessed (global awareness-gifted trait).

As you can see, like many other gifted people, this student has a wide range of interests but is feeling like the Jack of all trades, master of none. These feelings of incompetence have given him anxiety which is affecting his sleeping habits, which has affected his energy and resilience, which makes it harder for him to manage his feelings. It becomes a negative cycle.

How many of us are doing this to ourselves? How many of us are racing around to meet unrealistic expectations of life while squeezing in holiday cheer? How many of us are putting these unrealistic expectations on our kids as well?

Personally, I always want to be the best mom, doting wife, favorite teacher, have a clean house, be in amazing shape, be highly educated, connect deeply with friends, and have happy children that show the right amount of gratitude in the right situations- and I do get down on myself when I spread myself so thin that I feel I am barely mediocre in any of these things. Like my students, I have experienced not feeling good enough at times. Don’t worry- there is a light at the end of this tunnel. We can learn and teach strategies to help recognize when we are stretched too thin and are trying too hard to keep up with the Jones’.

Here are some tips that I share with students like the one in the example above:

Love yourself where you are at right now. Even if you didn’t meet your previous expectations. If you can’t appreciate yourself now, you won’t be able to appreciate your progress. What I mean is, if you feel like a failure with a GPA of 3.2 and work to get a 3.5, but when you get the 3.5 you might only think you will be happy when you get a 3.7. The same goes with weight loss, will you really be happy with your body if you weigh 5 less pounds? It is okay to want to make changes in our lives, but we can’t start in a place of self-loathing. You will never love yourself more when <fill in with the change you think will make you better> if you can’t love yourself where you are.

Teach your kids to brag on themselves to themselves. Have them write down what makes them special and read it often. I don’t mean to have them develop superiority complexes, just to remind themselves that they bring something to the table of life.

We are not perfect and if you think that others around you are perfect- you probably don’t know them very well. Teach your kids that social media isn’t an accurate depiction of the lives of others. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Instagram and Facebook can create picturesque holiday vacations and celebrations from an outsider’s perspective, and it might be a good time to log off or have frequent conversations about the above quote.

Choose two areas that you want to improve upon and put your energy there. If we expect to be the best at too many things, we will never make any progress in any of them. This might be better than making a New Year’s resolution. Instead of changing something about yourself, build on one or two things you are already good at. Don’t let the gifted curse of perfectionism get you!

Winter break is just days away- if you have been noticing a decline of self-love and happiness in your household-despite the expectation of holiday cheer- take the time to talk to your kids about loving themselves where they are at. Help them find the good in themselves (and yourself) despite the plates that fell while spinning too many this first semester. Instead of talking about the things they are not good enough in, help them narrow down where they want to improve (no more than two things) and start putting energy there.

I hope you all have a happy and relaxing holiday break.

Erin Arnold

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