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Disciplining Gifted and 2e Children in the Christian Faith

Disciplining Gifted and 2e Children in the Christian Faith 2

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Several of the posts I wrote in my 31 Days of Learning Differently series apply to parenting and homeschooling gifted/2e children in the Christian faith. If you aren’t familiar with that series, I did touch upon a number of topics related to disciplining children. The following posts would be helpful background to this topic of disciplining gifted and 2e children.

Why do we as Christians discipline our children?

Christians have very different ideas about why and how they discipline their children. The reasons will range from hyper-authoritarian to total lack of discipline. If I think about the reasons why we as Christians should discipline our children, they would boil down to a few central thoughts.

  • Teach them right from wrong and how our choices impact other people
  • Understand God’s holiness, our sin and the consequences of sin which leads to our need of the Savior, Jesus Christ
  • Develop self-control, the ability to regulate themselves, and make wise choices

Emotional Overwhelm

If you think back to my previous post where I defined giftedness/2e, I made the important distinction between smart kids and gifted kids. The difference is the issue of intensity.  Smart kids are cognitively advanced. Gifted kids are cognitively advanced AND have heightened intensities that interact/interfere with those cognitive abilities. In some 2e kids, it’s basically heightened intensities times ten or a hundred or a thousand.

In my opinion, if you have a child who already lives in a world of heightened intensity to the point that it is a detriment to their daily functioning and learning, the WORST thing you can do is spank (or yell in anger).

It’s like walking up to a burning building and lobbing in barrels of gasoline.

As one believer to another, I beg you from the bottom of my heart on behalf of your gifted/2e child, please think very long and hard before you choose to use spanking as your means of discipline. Based on research coming out, I would even think long and hard about time outs.

If this doesn’t make sense to you when you have always believed that spanking is a biblical imperative, I ask you to pray about it. Ask the Holy Spirit to convict you and change your mind if spanking is not in your child’s best interest.

Ephesians 6:4 tells us:

  • “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (NIV)
  • “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (NASB)

I strongly believe that many gifted/2e children will be exasperated and/or provoked to anger if disciplined through spanking.

Disciplining without Spanking

It is possible to discipline, train and instruct your child without spanking. I am not going to lie. It is challenging. It is much more time consuming. It takes much more effort. But it is possible.

Trying to figure out how to discipline Caroline without the traditional methods promoted amongst Christians was the hardest thing I’ve done so far as a parent. You’ve got this little person who is so intense, has needs that you haven’t figured out yet, is too small to clearly understand and articulate the overwhelming feelings she has, and you feel like you can’t ask anyone around you for help because everyone else spanks. It was a lonely experience.

I’ll share what we did and what worked for us. We prayed daily for wisdom and discernment. We regularly asked God to keep us from making a huge mistake. Over the months and years we did see the fruits of our labors. At age eight and a half, it is much easier. Certainly not perfect, but much easier. But it felt like we were flying blind in faith for a looooong time.

Parenting Strategies for the Parents

First, we had to make sure we truly understood child development. David would be the first to tell you that he did not have a realistic and accurate understanding of child development stages when he became a parent. This did cause him frustration at times until I pointed out that four year olds are incapable of thinking abstractly and so on. If you are expecting things out of your child that are developmentally inappropriate, then you are setting yourself up for increased frustration.

Related to this, it is important to remember that just because your first grader does fifth grade math and reads at a middle school level, he’s still a first grader. Sometimes with little children who are very verbal and precocious it is easy to forget how little they truly are.

Second, we had to change our perspective. We had to stop seeing everything Caroline did as manipulation. We had to see it as trying to express true needs that she could not verbalize. I think this is huge for any parent, but especially with emotionally intense children. It is so easy to feel like they are trying to manipulate you, but generally they are not. More often than not their anger and acting out is due to frustration and intense emotions that they don’t know how to express. We had to learn to not take it personally.

Third, we had to develop strong anger management skills. These intense kids can provoke such strong feelings in the parents. Depending on your own personality, this can be a big issue. I just hate conflict. I’m an INFJ and conflict is poison to me physically, mentally and emotionally. Trying to parent an emotionally intense child who negotiates so tenaciously she could wear out a UN mediator? I can’t put into words the effect it has had on me. It’s just so hard. You have to find a healthy way to deal with your own emotions when it comes to parenting these kids.

Specific Parenting Strategies and Ideas for the Child

Here are some parenting strategies that worked for us. I’m not saying this will work with every gifted/2e child. I offer these as a starting point for thinking about what to do with your own child. Consider what might work for you and throw out the rest.

In my opinion, demanding immediate, first time, unquestioning obedience is not going to work with gifted/2e kids. If you do go this route and somehow get compliance out of your gifted/2e child, I would challenge you that there is a high probability you do not have your child’s heart. You have a child who fears you and does what you say, but I do not believe you have his/her heart.

I did not want Caroline to fear me. I wanted to develop a positive relationship with her based on trust. As I wrote in the spanking post I linked to above, spanking her just a few times eroded the trust in significant ways. I can’t imagine what our relationship would be like now if we had continued down that path.

I mentioned up above about the red zone. You have to know your child’s red zone. You have to know the triggers. Observe, observe, observe. Get a PhD in your child’s make-up as quickly as you can. And then remember that they are constantly changing. You will be observing your child as long as you are parenting. I do think it gets easier once they can start verbalizing more, but until they can you have to try to piece it together as best you can.

Redirection was our number one tool when Caroline was little. By far.

Accept that negotiating and compromise are going to become a big part of your life. These kids have minds of their own and I mean that in the good way, not the negative way. Some of them are master negotiators. Not because they are trying to undermine your authority, but because they have such a strong and developed sense of self from an incredibly early age.

Choose the hills you want to die on very, very carefully. Don’t squander your parenting capital over issues that really don’t amount to a hill of beans.

Think win-win and think before you speak. Don’t automatically say no to everything. It is easy to immediately saying no because you are so tired of the negotiating, persistence, etc. But if you automatically say no, then you put yourself  in a no-win situation if you realize you spoke too quickly. Make sure you are saying no because it is the best answer, not because you are sick and tired of being asked questions. Believe me when I say I know how easy it is to just say no. But if you can train yourself to pause for five or ten seconds and think before responding, you will save yourself a lot of trouble in the long run.

The Harder but Better Road

Choosing not to spank in Christian circles is definitely going against the mainstream. People are flat out not going to understand. Let’s be frank. Some Christians are going to despise you and see you as weak if you choose to negotiate and compromise with your child. They are.

You know what? You have to choose not to care. You don’t answer to them. You answer to God. It really doesn’t matter what they think. They aren’t raising your child. You are. Unless they have a gifted/2e child, they don’t have the first idea what it is like. They don’t have the necessary information to make an informed decision.

If another Christian pushes you on this topic, I would simply reply with something like this:  Because of the way God created my child, spanking would provoke her to anger. I believe that God has given me other ways to train, instruct and discipline her in a way that honors God’s Word and who she is. If they push you beyond that, I would politely say that this isn’t open to discussion and you would prefer to change the subject.

So how have you handled the issue of disciplining your gifted or 2e child? What words of experience can you share? What methods have worked for you that might also work for another family?

This post is part of my Raising Gifted Children in the Christian Faith series.

Disciplining Gifted and 2e Children in the Christian Faith

22 Comments

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  • You know what? You have to choose not to care. You don’t answer to them. You answer to God. It really doesn’t matter what they think. They aren’t raising your child. You are. Unless they have a gifted/2e child, they don’t have the first idea what it is like. They don’t have the necessary information to make an informed decision.

    This is where I get stuck. It’s such a lonely place to be, and I care too much. But, I believe I am headed in the right direction with my youngest 2e. My older 2e, who received traditional discipline in her younger years, says she feared me when she was young. Our relationship has mended, and she is a sweet, loving young woman, but the angst and regret I feel now about her early years makes me tread very carefully with my youngest. I may not get the Christian parent award, but I have her heart. Very well said, Sallie.

  • Emily,

    I think parenting a 2e child is lonely no matter what. I think we as Christians feel it more acutely because we know we were created for a faith community (the body of Christ). We know it isn’t supposed to be this way.

    I shared this link on my Facebook page last night and it was helpful to read. Many of the parents in the comments have children with very great issues so I cannot completely relate to their pain. But anyone who has a child who dreads church because it is too busy/noisy/too many people will be able to relate on some level. It was interesting how many views were represented, both positive and negative. I’m encouraged people are talking more about these things.

    Oh, but Emily, if you have your daughter’s heart you DO get the Christian parent award. I believe that Jesus is far more interested in us loving our children and protecting their hearts more than pleasing people around us. If we have our child’s heart and trust it is so much easier to point them to the love of Jesus.

  • As my kids have gotten older, I have become more and more convinced of a few key principles for raising kids in a godly way. It’s exciting to me to see you and the book you recommend mentioning a few of them:
    1. Children are people, just like you and me. They have needs and desires, and are immature in how they express those. They are not fundamentally motivated by manipulation but by trying to get their needs met. Helping them learn to do so in a godly way is vital.
    2. Every verse in the Bible that talks about human relationships speaks directly to parents.
    3. We need to be on their side, helping them, rather than being their enemies.
    4. We need to parent our kids in ways similar to those God uses when He parents us.

  • Thank you for this. We started out spanking and using traditional methods of discipline and punishment. I wish with all my heart I could go back and redo those early years. Our oldest (2e) kiddo has so much anxiety and is so challenging, and I now know we didn’t help by parenting that way. And those patterns are hard to break! So thankful for redemption and grace. You are right that it’s hard and lonely. When our son was small, I asked a group of friends who knew us fairly well if they had any advice, because I was at my wit’s end! (Well, I thought I was… who knew the cord would keep stretching!) With only one exception, every person told me to spank and punish more! I knew in my heart that was not the answer, but it’s a long process getting away from punitive parenting. With three other intense kiddos in the mix, the challenges and chaos never seem to end. I also hate conflict and am so drained and exhausted. I appreciate your writing.

  • Sallie, thank you so much for your words of encouragement. It comes at a needed time. Read the link you mentioned and varied comments. I’m glad the discussion has begun. I honestly thought I was the only one. My child looks so NT. Why does she cry about the scratchy seats and the headaches she gets sitting in church; and, it’s a small church! She actually has had people make comments about how Christians should want to be in church, questioning her desire for Jesus. She was very hurt (she’s 8). I fear church could become a deterrent to her faith. Like Rebecca, I’m tired.

  • Our firstborn is definitely a negotiator, and pushes us toward finding a win-win. Spanking would be ineffective with the next two: one is too physically sensitive for it, and the other is far too physically insensitive. Often they are too focused on what they want to do to be easily redirected, and I never was good at redirection anyway. I’ve been trying out the word “perhaps” with the older ones: “Perhaps you could…”

    I read somewhere once that gifted children are more likely to have problems with hypoglycemia, perhaps because their brains burn through glucose faster. Hypoglycemia has been linked to behavior issues, and definitely is behind some of the meltdowns in our family. Including more protein in our meals helps.

    One of my husband’s friends lent him a Christian tape on disciplining toddlers, where the speakers recommended (starting at about 18 months) putting a child who deliberately disobeyed into a playpen for a few minutes. At that age, all of our children could have climbed back out again within three seconds…now what should we do? The tape was no help on that point; the speakers seemed to assume that the child would just stay there until released. After that, I had a hard time accepting anything else they had to say, because I felt like the success they had with their method came about through having easy-to-discipline children in the first place. There are other Christian resources that I’ve rejected because they take something that will work for -most- people and insist that it is GOD’S WILL for EVERYONE.

    The hardest thing for me, I think, is that my children are extremely sensitive to my moods. If I start getting edgy, even if it’s just because I really need a quick bathroom break, they often pick up on it and start acting out.

  • Melinda wrote:

    Children are people, just like you and me. They have needs and desires, and are immature in how they express those. They are not fundamentally motivated by manipulation but by trying to get their needs met. Helping them learn to do so in a godly way is vital.

    That is sooooo good and something many people simply don’t understand. Think how families would change if parents understood that one truth!

  • Rebeca said:

    When our son was small, I asked a group of friends who knew us fairly well if they had any advice, because I was at my wit’s end! (Well, I thought I was… who knew the cord would keep stretching!)

    Okay, I admit I laughed out loud when I read that. Isn’t it true? Yet God gives us the grace to keep going.

  • Emily said:

    My child looks so NT.

    I can’t figure out what this is. Help!

    Why does she cry about the scratchy seats and the headaches she gets sitting in church; and, it’s a small church! She actually has had people make comments about how Christians should want to be in church, questioning her desire for Jesus. She was very hurt (she’s 8).

    I want to say I can’t believe people said that to your daughter, but I do. I’m so sorry for you and her. That’s awful. And just another example of how people just don’t get what it is like to be in a body that is struggling to cope with intensities all. day. long.

    As if rude and uncaring people/Christians are going to draw her to Jesus. Yeesh.

  • Peggy said:

    I read somewhere once that gifted children are more likely to have problems with hypoglycemia, perhaps because their brains burn through glucose faster. Hypoglycemia has been linked to behavior issues, and definitely is behind some of the meltdowns in our family. Including more protein in our meals helps.

    I definitely agree with this! Thank you for bringing that up!

    After that, I had a hard time accepting anything else they had to say, because I felt like the success they had with their method came about through having easy-to-discipline children in the first place.

    Yes! I’ve had a few readers admit on other posts that they thought they were great parents and didn’t understand the struggles people had with their children until they had (insert name of high maintenance child here). I also know that some of these people who brag of their great parenting and child compliance end up with terrible relationships later on. Nothing is certain.

    There are other Christian resources that I’ve rejected because they take something that will work for -most- people and insist that it is GOD’S WILL for EVERYONE.

    Yes, that kind of thinking doesn’t even register on my radar any longer other than to warn people about it. LOL!

  • Thank you for this. I think this is great for all parents of intense kids and not just those that are gifted. Many of families I spend time with have children with special needs and they are intense, even if they are not gifted.

    I loved, loved this. Great illustrations really help others to understand and this nailed it right on the head and I needed to hear it.

    It’s like walking up to a burning building and lobbing in barrels of gasoline.

  • My son is a negotiator! We are trying to teach him to obey the first time he hears it and then talk about it later. I understand the need to negotiate and want to reason it out first. That was totally me as a child so I understand his intense need. I am not angry at him for wanting to do that but, I also had a disrespect for authority and did not really learn what honoring authority meant until I was in my 30’s. I still want an explanation but, I decide to show honor and respect (not perfectly) regardless of my opinion. I want him to learn honor and respect at a younger age. I also want him to learn to trust. Now, to be fair, he also has a language processing issue and is autistic so those also play into the issue.

    Why is this important? While, as I said, honor and respect for authority is an important character trait and something that is found less and less in our society and even in our churches. It is also a safety issue. In the parking lot, at the store, on the playground or riding bikes,etc. For example, he wants to visit the grand canyon this summer and we a planning to do that. I will be terrified the entire time that he will go somewhere he should not and when I call for him, he will not turn around and come back to me and then ask for an explanation. Also, he wants to go on a mission trip overseas with the family. I have told him that in order for that to happen, he needs to learn to obey the first time and then ask later. This is an issue of safety and also cultural sensitivity. If he is doing something that is inappropriate in a culture, I need to be able to ask him to stop.

    How do you teach a 2e child to have their own thoughts while having an obedient heart and honoring authority at the same time.

  • Kristin,

    Just to clarify… Safety issues are different. That is a hill for the parents to die on. Caroline always had to hold our hand, etc.

    Re: honoring and respecting authority… I would need to know someone’s definition of that before I could respond. People have very different ideas about what that means. For example, I read a post by someone recently who felt it was very dishonoring to not say, “Yes, Ma’am” and “No, Ma’am” while that wouldn’t even come up on my radar as a Midwesterner. Then there is the entire issue of teaching children to always submit to authorities no matter what which opens the door to sexual abuse at church, etc.

    So it depends on what someone means by honoring and respecting authority. And what we mean as parents by being in authority. And who we believe our children should always obey.

  • Safety issues are different…..to me. They don’t necessarily sound any different to my son. If I tell him to stop where he is or come here right now, he doesn’t know why I am saying that until he asks. In a safety situation, I don’t have time to explain it to him. So, he needs to be able to obey and then reason with me. Now, he is smart enough to know that some things are not a safety issue like when I tell him to go brush his teeth but, his response to being told to do something comes from the same place no matter what the instructions are.

    I’d have to do some exegesis to define Biblical honor and respect for authority. I’m not gonna go that far in a comment but, basically it is rooted in our trust of God. That is a bit of an advanced concept for a kid but as adults we need to model it for them.

    I don’t care if a kid says yes, ma’am or no ma’am, I am a pretty casual person. My son (9) calls adults in church by their first name. Honor and respect for authority has to do with they way we treat people. It isn’t typically dependent on our agreement. (Unfortunately, even in our churches is seems to be a totally acceptable sin to dishonor people in authority that we disagree with. For example, politicians. And please don’t confuse disagreement with dishonoring.) It is also knowing you follow what your parent/teacher tells you even if you don’t want to do it unless they are telling you to do something that goes against the Bible. Of course, you teach kids about safety to protect them from abuse. And of course, there a multiple layers to this that are far to complex to lay out here such as who does one obey when you have different instructions from different people in authority. I’m not interested in a debate about the details. I would just like to know how people in a similar situation as ours help their child who is gifted understand and learn to show respect and have an obedient heart. I don’t expect it to happen overnight. I just feel like I am doing it wrong half the time.

    I like that my son has strong opinions and thinks for himself. I wanted that for him and have no desire to squash it. I am also that way and it kept me from bowing to a lot of peer pressure as a kid. And, while I didn’t have the right attitude about it, I also knew it was right to obey and did it much of the time. His strong will will serve him well if he as long as his desire is to follow God.

  • Lol, NT- neurotypical. Probably not good word choice. I just mean from looking at her outward appearance and exceptional verbal ability, you would never know she has such struggles with intensity.

  • Okay! Neurotypical! Could not figure out what that meant. It totally makes sense now.

    And I completely relate to what you are saying. 🙂

  • Yes!

    We have 3 boys who are each gifted and very different from each other. My older son was gifted and sensory sensitive, but a calm cooperative child who just needed a lot of connection. Time outs were often done with me sitting next to him, even holding him.

    Then we had twins who were high intensity and had much less need for connection or approval. We did everything we could – we tried time outs, we spanked, we prayed, we talked, we used natural consequences, threats, yelling… We did everything wrong and everything right and we were just beyond our ability to find ways to impact their choices *at all* in a positive way. It was… overwhelming. It was very disheartening. It was terrifying. As parents we were desperate.

    And it never occurred to me when we were going through sleeplessness and emotional intensity and disobedience x twins x boys that it was because they were gifted. Now it all makes so much sense.

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people in ministry knew that these kinds of things could have so many causes and that our role as parents is to help our children grow up in Christ, not to force them into obedience… What I wouldn’t have given for someone who could have, in the middle of the life chaos that is multiples and giftedness, helped me problem solve instead of judged me as inadequate.

    I’m so happy to say that we are growing and there is a lot more love and peace in our home. (In no small part to abandoning almost all semblance of ‘traditional’ discipline tactics… which I was never a huge fan of anyway, but tried because we were willing to try almost anything!) Sadly, some of the people who judged me are seeing the fruit of their choices. God have mercy on them, they wanted good for their children… No condemnation in Christ – they are growing too. But what a difficult way to learn.

    *love covers a multitude of sins*

Welcome!

Sallie-Schaaf-Borrink-060313-B-250x250I'm Sallie, teacher by training and now homeschooling mom of Caroline. My passion is to provide products, encouragement, and information that helps others discover and do what works with their children. I also write about living a cozy life as a highly introverted person. Welcome! ♥

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