Edward R. Amend, PsyD, is clinical psychologist and highly sought-after speaker at gifted conferences who specializes in assessing and counseling gifted children and their families.
Recently, TIP staff had the opportunity to hear from him about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on gifted children and their families. From his perspective as a practicing clinical psychologist who works with gifted children, he shared his own general recommendations for families. Here are some key takeaways that Duke TIP families may find helpful:
Finding the right words
How does one explain a pandemic to a child? That’s a tough one. But what about a gifted child, who is likely more equipped to comprehend the gravity of the situation? According to Dr. Amend, it’s about accurate information—but in just the right amount.
What’s important is “knowing what’s really happening and transmitting what’s appropriate out of that to their kids,” Dr. Amend said. “If we give kids all the details, they’ll be a mess. They may not need to know every single detail. So, rationing the information is important.”
Dr. Amend went on to emphasize that because every child is different, it can be hard to find the right balance. Parents must try to gauge how much uncertainty their child can handle and then tailor the amount of information they give to them accordingly.
Remember, as parents, all we can do is do our best. And that’s enough.
Right now, the world is filled with more uncertainty than usual.
How bad could this get? How long before we can see our loved ones in person again? Will we ever get back to normal?
These are the kinds of questions keeping all of us on edge, but for gifted kids who already struggle with anxiety, they can be especially crippling.
As anxiety has its roots in uncertainty, Dr. Amend said that the best counter to these inescapable uncertainties is to provide a sense of structure for your child. What does that look like in practice? It must be steady enough to provide some normalcy yet flexible enough to adapt to each child’s unique needs.
What that structure consists of, whether it’s regular academic activities or scheduled fun and games, is up to each family to decide. The important thing, Dr. Amend said, is that students know what to expect in terms of a daily schedule. Predictability is key in combatting uncertainty.
Weeks into the reality of social distancing, working from home, and even schooling at home, we’re beginning to learn what we need, Dr. Amend said. And as we start to identify those things, it’s important that we communicate that to our family.
“I’ve found that the teletherapy I’m doing now is actually harder than in-person therapy,” he said. “After a long day of seeing clients, I need a lot of time to relax. Being clear with my family that I need time to myself when I get home is helpful to everyone. Otherwise, they might think I’m just being grumpy.”
For both parents and kids, learning to clearly communicate that we may need a break here or a goofy, just-for-fun activity there, paves the way for a better social-distancing experience for the entire household.
Family members can’t accommodate you if they don’t first understand what you’re feeling inside and what you feel you need during this time. Try to be an open book.
For even the least anxious among us, nighttime is usually the setting where our minds are susceptible to uncertainties and harrowing questions of “what if [insert worst-case scenario here].”
As parents of gifted children, whose creative minds are notorious for imagining the most elaborate worst-case scenarios, what can we proactively do to prepare our kids for restful sleep?
Dr. Amend recommends cognitive behavioral interventions, specifically pointing out how breathing activities have been helpful to some of his clients.
“Pattern breathing,” he said. “Breathe in for four seconds. Hold it for four seconds. Then, slowly breathe out for eight. It doesn’t matter the exact pattern, but it is good to do it with a pattern so they have to count and they have to think. This can slow their minds down a bit before bed.”
As children wind down at night, parents should also do their best to empathize with their child, he said.
Make it clear to them that you share their concerns. With older kids, Dr. Amend pointed out, it even can be helpful to use probabilities to show them that the worst-case scenario they’ve dreamed up in their head is less likely to happen than something a little more down the middle.
Share with us!
Did you find any of Dr. Amend’s suggestions helpful? Do you have follow-up questions or some advice of your own to share with Duke TIP families? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!
More on Dr. Amend
Edward R. Amend, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist at Amend Psychological Services, P.S.C., his private practice in Lexington, Kentucky, where he focuses on the social, emotional, and educational needs of gifted and talented youth and their families.
Among the gifted population he serves are students with LD, ADHD, or other learning and behavior difficulties, twice-exceptional learners, home-schooled students, special-needs students, and children experiencing life adjustments associated with divorce and other family transitions.