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Tantrum Solutions?

Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to attend the SENG conference in Seattle. It was very expensive, but worth every penny. I not only learned valuable information about parenting gifted children, I also learned a lot about myself, my husband, and many of our family members.

I am working on sharing as much as I can from the SENG conference, and helping children manage big emotions seems like a good place to start. If you are familiar with gifted children then you know that they can often be and act very differently from neurotypical children. One way this uniqueness often manifests itself is through intense emotions that can be difficult for everyone to handle, including the child herself. If you have ever seen a gifted child throw a tantrum you know what I mean, and if you have been the parent of that gifted child you probably have special empathy!

Finally, I’d like to point out that these ideas might work with kids from all brain backgrounds, not just gifted ones. I also understand that not all gifted children throw tantrums. My parents say that I only threw two tantrums my whole childhood, for example! But for those of you who are dealing with these issues, maybe some of these ideas might help.

1) The Acronym HALT: Hungry Angry Lonely Tired

If you can remember HALT, this might help you ward off behavioral meltdowns. New research is being done on gifted people in relationship to hypoglycemia. More information can be found in Dr. James Webb’s book Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults which at one point talks about MRI research on gifted people. Dr. Webb mentioned this research as an aside during his keynote address. Taking an informal poll of who in the audience dealt with hypoglycemia issues, over a third of the attendees raised their hands.

As I remember from the book, when a gifted brain solves a problem or responds to stimuli, more areas of the brain light up on an MRI then compared to a neurotypical brain. Since the brain is a part of the body and uses glucose, gifted people might use up glucose quicker than neurotypical people, just through ordinary thinking. So hypoglycemia can be a big issue for some members of the gifted populations, especially skinny children. If your child has meltdowns at 10:00 AM, or 3:00 PM then maybe you should bring this to the attention of your pediatrician.

2) Labyrinths

One of the sessions I attended was called “Fostering Affective Needs of Gifted Using a Contemplative Education Approach. Presented by Michele Kane, Ed.D.”. One of Dr. Kane’s suggestions was to lay out a labyrinth or spiral with masking tape on the floor. When children (or adults) felt like they needed to calm down, they could excuse themselves and slowly walk the labyrinth and take deep breaths. She had seen this done at a school before, where they also kept a tally of how many times the labyrinth was utilized. At the end of the year it was most popular with teachers!

3) Breathing in I calm my body… Breathing out I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is a wonderful moment.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

This was also a take-away from Dr. Kane’s session. It is a simple, one minute exercise you can do for people of all ages to help them relax. She suggested printing this out and sticking it on our refrigerator so that you would remember to try it with your child (or yourself) when you could sense a tense moment coming on. There was also a teacher in the audience who had this exercise embedded into his classroom schedule between subjects, and reported that it worked well with fifth graders. The key is to actually force yourself to smile when you breathe out.


  1. jengod says:

    Really interesting. I’ve never heard the hypoglycemia thing before, but it makes sense. I’ve read that the brain is a particularly demanding organ, and this page I just found concurs:

    “Your brain cells need two times more energy than the other cells in your body.

    Neurons, the cells that communicate with each other, have a high demand for energy because they’re always in a state of metabolic activity. Even during sleep, neurons are still at work repairing and rebuilding their worn out structural components.

    They are manufacturing enzymes and neurotransmitters that must be transported out to the very ends of their– nerve branches, some that can be several inches, or feet, away.

    Most demanding of a neuron’s energy, however, are the bioelectric signals responsible for communication throughout the nervous system. This nerve transmission consumes one-half of all the brain’s energy (nearly 10% of the whole body’s energy).”


    • jenbrdsly says:

      Thank you for sharing that information! Tantrums and gifted children can be a big challenge. For neurotypical children, tantrums as a behavior are supposed to go away around age four or five I think, but for gifted children they can last a lot longer.

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