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Coping with excessive emotional outbursts in the gifted child

post #1 of 49
Thread Starter 
DD has always been very intense and used to have major angry tantrums. Now that she is older, she is more of a hysterical weeper. This problem is hard enough to handle at home, but has been happening increasingly at school. Basically, she has a very hard time with unexpected negative changes in routine (such as not getting to do a promised activity) or anything she perceives as "unfair," and may collapse into storms of weeping.

She goes to a charter school which does not have many supports in place, whether for LDs or emotional issues or whatever, and which makes this clear upfront. I am worried that they may eventually kick her out, although I don't know for what (is there a disability label that could be easily attached to this behavior?) I'm pretty sure that she is already perceived as a problem by the principal.

I need help for coping with these outbursts. I don't like to tell her that she cannot cry, but they are to a point where people find them excessive and age-inappropriate. I sometimes tell her that she has X minutes to be upset and then she needs to start calming down. At home we sometimes send her to her room, where she usually picks up a book and self-calms after a few minutes. She is pretty unreachable when this upset, though she does not say or do anything regrettable--just cries and wails.
post #2 of 49
I just ran across this blog this weekend and the author has a daughter who sounds like she is similar to yours. http://gifts2love.blogspot.com/
Sorry that I am not much help otherwise, but maybe it will help a bit?
post #3 of 49
She is still very young and it is very possible that she will be able to inhibit herself a little more as she matures. My oldest had these kinds of responses at school in kindergarten occasionally, but luckily he had a teacher that didn't overreact to it. I think that's the key when dealing with an intense child...The adult in charge shouldn't react with emotion as well. I also think that it's necessary to create a plan to reduce stress in general because outbursts are just more likely when stress reaches a certain level. Gifted kids with sensitive nervous systems are going to get stressed much more easily.
post #4 of 49
I would look into doing some concrete planning with her at home to build her coping skills. Rigidity and difficulty with change is something that isn't just a matter of not crying or not getting upset. I have a same aged dd and for her it is a matter of delaying the processing of the upsetting event until a more appropriate time, so for us that means a lot of after school and after-playdate chats about the 'unfair' and other moments.

I also try to anticipate stuff like days when the schedule will be off---picture day on Wednesday and it'll likely mean she misses her favorite special. Rainy days = no outside recess. For us it's also a lot of buildup of frustration over her classroom experience as it pertains to academics/gifted issues.

As a kid I was simply told I had trouble taking criticism and it was horrible to know that wasn't it, but that I didn't understand why I couldn't just stop getting teary in class.
post #5 of 49
Have you read about Dabrowki's OEs? There's a book called Mellow Out They Say: If Only I Could which was of limited practical use for me as it was mostly about teens, but it was the point at which I (mostly) accepted that DD had limited control over these strong waves of emotion she experienced.

As for dealing with the school, I think it's as much about how the issue is framed as it is about whether they specifically have supports to offer. Terms like "difficulty with transitions," "emotional intensity" and "anxiety-based reactivity" may help them understand that these are developmentally appropriate for your child, and that they are things she needs adult support to develop appropriate strategies for. IME working with various teachers at various schools, being fact based and non-apologetic/minimizing has worked the best. I advocate for their emotional struggles similarly to how I advocate for DS's written output issues - they are just as real and just as valid to be addressed in the educational domain.

I have to go but will be back as I have some specific strategies I could share.
post #6 of 49
Thread Starter 
Yes, I would really love some concrete suggestions or a plan to put in place. I have talked to her today (a meltdown happened today--a friend in class got minorly hurt and as a result her playdate with him was cancelled) about how she should save up her hurt and big feelings for when she gets home, if they happen at school. She agreed, but I think this is much easier said than done. I think the school would also like some kind of script or plan, and I don't blame them. I do worry about making anything about this sound clinical or diagnosable, because, as I say, I am paranoid that they may eventually end up suggesting that she leave the school.

I have not actually read Dabrowski, but am familiar with the OEs, which she certainly has in spades.

For us it's also a lot of buildup of frustration over her classroom experience as it pertains to academics/gifted issues.
This may be a factor. The problem seems to be getting worse as comments about school being boring and too easy have increased.
post #7 of 49
Have you been able to observe your dd in the classroom?

There seems to be a lot going on here. Your dd's meltdowns are increasing, she is complaining of being bored, the school does not have a support system in place to help, and you are fearful that if she doesn't get this under control, they'll kick her out. When is your school out for the summer?

While I believe that it's good for children to use their parents as a sounding/venting board, I'm wondering if it's really too much to ask of your dd to hold it in until she gets home. If I knew that I was going to feel like melting down daily (for whatever reason) and I had to save the reaction until I got home, I think I would be conflicted. I'm not sure if this could lead to a total avoidance of school, but I think the risk is there. Until you figure things out, can you see if there is a "safe place" not a time-out/punishment corner where your dd can retreat to if she needs to regroup?
post #8 of 49
Thread Starter 
To clarify, the meltdowns are not (thank goodness) every day. I would say two or three times a month? (Edited: this isn't even right. Looking back, she has had perhaps a max of 6 at school all year.) With some almost-meltdowns here and there, too. There have been several the last couple of weeks, though. DD's regular teacher has also been out multiple days, however, and two of these incidents have happened while she had a sub. DD does not adapt well to subs.

School is out in early June. I like the idea of a safe spot. Generally she gets sent to be with the office manager, whom she really likes (I like her too) so I think she does have a pretty safe person to be with. She is more like an assistant principal than an office manaher--school is v. small.

I may be being nutso paranoid, re thinking she might get kicked out. There have been a few odd comments that I am probably overthinking.
post #9 of 49
If it's happening that infrequently, surely the school has seen it before and isn't considering asking your dd to leave. Kindergarten is a really tough year for a lot of kids, and substitute teachers can be a real tipping point for struggling kids.

I would really recommend learning about and teaching cognitive behaviour therapy techniques to help her cope. The Explosive Child is a good read - I've never used the exact technique but it informs my approach. I also really like Kids, Parents and Power Struggles. Empathy is my most powerful parenting tool, and part of that is accepting that these meltdowns are going to happen, and that I want them to stop so DD doesn't have to experience them versus worrying over external consequences. When I'm worried about the external I tend to be much rougher with DD than when I'm focussed on her experience, which really helps her re-center.

I would also really recommend finding a good play/art therapist who uses CBT as part of their practice. We waited until DD was 9 as we thought it would all pass, it wasn't that bad, going to therapy seemed an extreme response. I think we waited too long. DD deserved to have help dealing with her intensity. She now has a relationship with a counsellor so if she needs it she has a safe, familiar, positive place to go during the coming teen years. Our counsellor is amazing and reframes things for DD in ways we never could. DD has probably seen her 12 times over a year, going weekly for three weeks a couple of times and sporadically between. She hasn't seen her since September as she hasn't needed to, but she knows it's there for her if she needs it and she has far more tools in her toolbox to approach her life within her complicated internal self.
post #10 of 49
In regards to Subs....

This creates anxiety in my daughter, and creates the potential to be far more emotional.
post #11 of 49
Thread Starter 
Yeah, the meltdowns are not frequent, but they are quite lengthy and intense, with usually about 15-20 minutes of hysterical crying.

We have considered play therapy. I guess I've wondered how they would replicate the situations that cause problems in therapy. When not melting down, she is cheerful, happy, and talkative, and she loves new adults, so I would imagine her just sitting and merrily jabbering with a therapist. I don't know anything about this, though. I also don't have any idea how to find a good therapist.
post #12 of 49
Thread Starter 

Principal has requested a conference, and also said that if this happens next year in grade 1 they will be sending her home for the day.
post #13 of 49
post #14 of 49
Originally Posted by loraxc View Post

Principal has requested a conference, and also said that if this happens next year in grade 1 they will be sending her home for the day.
would this be a problem? do you have to work so cant take off from work?

i see from your signature your dd is 6 years old. or around there. i cant see the date.

does your dd have anxiety? she seems to be ultrasensitive.

i would say hang in there. there are two things possibly happening here.

around 5 1/2 6 kids emotional stuff peak. its something i discovered thru experience not really seen anything online. my dd was totally pmsing. before she suddenly became this super mature kid. at that time teh only way i could explain my dd was 'pmsing'. could this be the case. not just in school, but everywhere. suddenly v. v. deep emotional expression. during that phase my dd described it as 'it feels like someone else lives within me, even though i know i shouldnt do that i cant help it'.

secondly you have already shared the crux of your problem. too boring. plus i would add if the people around her are frowning on this behaviour i am sure she is picking that up even though the asst princip is kind to her. so that could be an additional factor.

another thing. if you can swing it i would not work on coping strategies for her yet in a big way. there is a HUGE change that happens in second grade. i see so many children go thru that. its something i've discussed with teachers and its the norm. its like these kids suddenly BOOM grow up. in a v. subtle manner i cant really put a finger on and give you examples. the key is they develop coping strategies. its literally happens overnight. i have been volunteering at the classrooms so i see the change v. visibly.

lastly its your philosophy. what you want to do.

my dd has had the same issue. her anxiety was sky high in k and first. which is about the same with most kids. so during that time with permission from her teacher dd adn i would take mental breaks from school at least once a month. we'd take the day off and do something fun. the need for that disappeared around middle of grade 1. dd didnt want to take a day off from school. once in a while we still do take a day off. that helped her immensely. it was HUGE. we cant do therapy (long story).

i also did grieving circles for dd. when we were in a cuddly mood we'd sit and share how hard choice was. even at 5 it really helped dd. we'd sit and be sad and sometimes have a good cry together. we'd both share what we cant do. it was v. freeing for her. its something we continue to do.

however i would talk to dd about it. adn ask her for suggestions. i had been told to ask dd to take deep breathes. finally she told me they dont help her as it makes her hyperventilate. she basically just wants to be left alone. even at 5. and she would close her eyes and focus on a rainbow coloured ball in her mind. its something seh came up with.
post #15 of 49
Actually what helped us the most was music therapy and my asking the therapist to focus on her non-preferred tasks during sessions and working on flexibility and coping directly through generating song lyrics with the therapist or mirroring emotion through the instruments or the music itself.
post #16 of 49
Originally Posted by loraxc View Post

Principal has requested a conference, and also said that if this happens next year in grade 1 they will be sending her home for the day.
They are treating it as a discipline problem. I don't believe that what you are describing is a discipline problem.

I think there is something else going on.

<< I do worry about making anything about this sound clinical or diagnosable, because, as I say, I am paranoid that they may eventually end up suggesting that she leave the school.>>>

This school may not be the right place for her. If they don't have supports to make her successful and the see her as a discipline problem, then it may not be the right place.

I have a DD who is both gifted and autistic. She needs to be where she is understood and supported, and there's NO way I would leave her all day in a school with no social worker and no special education teacher.

Having a label means that others can understand what is going on with her and make appropriate accomodations. It's a good thing.

Originally Posted by joensally View Post
I would really recommend learning about and teaching cognitive behaviour therapy techniques to help her cope. ...
I would also really recommend finding a good play/art therapist who uses CBT as part of their practice.
I agree with this post.

Originally Posted by loraxc View Post
We have considered play therapy. I guess I've wondered how they would replicate the situations that cause problems in therapy.
They'll talk about what happened and how she felt.

They'll also help figure out what the school should do when this happens at school, and having her active with a therapist (who will write a letter to the school!) will show the the school that you are doing something.
post #17 of 49
That is very, very upsetting!

I recall from previous posts that for you this school seems an only option as your other options are not feasible. I can absolutely understand how hard this must be. I also agree that it's really important for kids to have a supportive, understanding environment in order for them to thrive. This may be an age-specific issue that she'll transition out of when she meets the right developmental age for her to develop out of it, or it may be a key part of her as a human being.

I wonder if it's time to have a meeting with all involved staff so they have an opportunity to make clear what they're seeing and what other approaches might be possible. I have found these sorts of meetings very helpful. It amazes me how much teachers don't know. I don't mean this disrespectfully, it's just that I thought their training and experience was broader and that their toolbox had more in it. I've been key in re-framing my kids for teaching staff, to move things from being a discipline issue where behaviour mod is presumed to make kids learn the lesson, to understanding that there are developmental things going on that require alternative approaches.

Sending your DD home is not going to teach her self-management strategies. It may teach her to bottle up her feelings, or that she's unacceptable, or cause stomach problems. She may figure out a way to squelch her feelings enough to make it through the day, but those feelings will then manifest somewhere else. The goal should be to support her to gain the emotional self-regulation that she can make it through transitions and upsets more successfully.

DD was in a fine arts school for four years. She managed to keep it together at school - they had no idea what went on once she got home. I thought it was the best environment for her of what was available, but she made the decision to leave at 10 because she was bored, uninspired and stressed out. Since leaving that school and managing the transition to the new school, the stomach aches are gone, her eating has improved, the meltdowns have all but disappeared, she no longer asks to stay home from school.

To give you an idea of art/play therapy: using toys as props, kids can replay events and problem solve alternate strategies with the therapist; using clay, they can use their muscles and unpack their feelings; drawing/painting can help them express their feelings and then be discussed with the therapist. Sand tables are often hugely enjoyed by kids in therapy, as they focus on what their hands are doing and can at the same time really reach into their feelings and thoughts. I just sent a note to our therapist as DS requested to see her. In my email I outlined the two things that DS is worrying about, and the one additional thing that I'm noticing and would like her to explore. This gives her a starting point and she'll gently probe, but the session will actually end up being about what he's willing/interested in exploring with her. He had a major anxiety issue that she solved in one session and then he processed it for a couple of months. I think this is highly unusual, but speaks volumes to me about the benefit it provides to my kids. DD is very happy, social, sensitive to others. Other parents had NO idea of the depths of her intensity. With DD, the therapist provided her with alternate strategies to express her anger (which is how she often expresses her anxiety) at home, ways to not bottle up stuff. She really works on "it's all in how you look at it" with DD.

Holy novel!
post #18 of 49

There's a lot of good advice that pp's have shared. K was a nightmare for ds. We moved out of state, chose a different school, and 1st grade was better. But when he started 2nd grade, we started to see some of the same issues and decided to pull him to HS. Over the past 1 3/4 years, ds has matured and is much better able to handle his emotions. So much so that he actually feels confident enough to go back to school next year - his choice. There may be a maturity factor to your dd's issues that can't be rushed, as memee noted.

I don't like that the school seems unable to work with your dd or provide other alternatives than to send her out of the classroom or home when there's a problem. I understand that the school may be small and doesn't have extra resources, but Linda on the Move and joensally have addressed the problems with this. This school may not be the best choice for your dd. While you are meeting with the school, you may want to check your gut and decide if what they are recommending is too much like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. You will want to check your anxiety comfort level with this since you will essentially be on call every day that your dd is in school in case she needs to be sent home.

I really agree with the therapist suggestion. But please know that sometimes therapy takes awhile. Even finding the right therapist could take awhile. And you really do have time, even if it doesn't feel like it. The best thing that you can do through this is to give your dd time and support to help her.
post #19 of 49
Thread Starter 
Thanks. I am getting more and more upset about this. The more I think about it, the worse sending her home for the day sits with me. At the same time, I am extremely wary of doing or saying anything that would make it possible to suggest that DD has special needs that current school staff are not addressing. I just checked the school code of conduct, and they basically have carte blanche to kick her out whenever they want. joensally is correct that we basically have no other options (besides homeschooling or virtual schooling, and DD is a major extrovert who loves people) till second grade.

Any suggestions on how to handle this upcoming conference are welcome.
post #20 of 49
loraxc from my experience with elem schools and dcs i can see why they would want to send your dd home instead of work with her. esp. as the class size is so small.

they just dont have the staff to give your dd one on one time that she needs. i am sure they are saying this because she is using up too much of their resources. while causing a distraction which is not that big.

i would try not to get upset. do whatever you can to not do that because it really affects the way you say things at the conference.

go with the attitude that they would really like to help but really arent able to. i know at my dd's public school and at her previous small ps/dc it would be a staff issue.

however you know you have to take your dd out of there if they are not being sympathetic at all and implying there's something wrong with your dd. i am sure she has picked up the disapproving air of the principal and other staff in much the same way you have.

s at least with the upcoming conference you will know for sure the attitude of the school.

maybe your dd might improve over the summer holidays.

on days they have subs could you volunteer at the classroom. or volunteer on a regular basis?
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