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.
- 6 Reasons Why We Changed Our Mind and Stopped Spanking
- Identifying and Understanding the Red Zone with Your Spirited Child
- Transitions and Your Gifted Child
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
Children Who Are Emotionally Overwhelmed
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.
Christian Discipline 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 Christian 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.