I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who works with gifted, creative, and high-performing kids. These kids are usually deep thinkers who may have high levels of emotional intelligence. They may understand the advantages, veiled benefits, and unintentional consequences of many different ideas. We need this type of thinking in our world to create balance. Yet, our polarized society sends us messages that we must choose sides.
The benefit of taking a strong stance on something is that we may feel a greater sense of confidence and stability in our values. The problem with choosing sides is that we create an all-or-nothing mentality which always leads to limited creativity and solutions. Here are three tips to help our kids nurture their intuitive abilities to think outside of the box.
1. Ask your kids if they have any thoughts and feelings about controversial topics.
Listen carefully, without interrupting. Be sure to validate them. Let them know that you understand what they are trying to tell you. You don’t have to agree with their viewpoints to listen.
You can share your thoughts and feelings afterward, and talk about the values you have that make you think and feel in certain ways. The goal here is to make sure that everyone has space to safely express themselves and what they believe. If you can, let your kids know that they are not wrong if they think differently than you or others. Have a candid discussion about the positives and consequences of their ways of thinking and the positives and consequences of your ways (or other ways) of thinking as well.
2. Act like an expansive thinker in difficult situations.
Family gatherings can be an incubator for conflict. This is where old-school thinking collides with new-school thinking, making politics an inevitable topic for discussion. If you know that family members are sharing thoughts and opinions that are different or offensive to you or your child… speak up! Be bold and share your different ways of looking at issues.
You may now be laughing hysterically at me because you know that there’s no way you are going toe to toe with your uncle or great-grandmother.
Here’s a pro-tip: Validate your family member’s perspective BEFORE you share your point of view. Let them know that you are trying to understand their way of seeing the world even though you do not agree. You may be surprised at how much less defensive (and how much more receptive) people can become when they know that they have been heard.
If things get too heated, you can excuse your child from the family gathering until the topic has passed. Doing this can teach your child that others may have a right to express themselves, but we have our own right to establish boundaries regarding what we will continue to expose ourselves to in our environment. Have a follow-up conversation later with your child about what was discussed.
3. Know your own limits.
Some topics may be so triggering for us parents, that we may not be able to engage our kids in an unbiased conversation (such as divorce, sexuality, romantic relationships, religion, career decisions, etc.). Seek counseling for your kiddo if you feel that they could benefit from exploring and further developing their ideas, values, and feelings with a nonjudgmental professional who will place priority on their authentic needs and goals.
The world we continue to create will be decided by our beliefs and values. The reality is that every decision has benefits and every decision has consequences. Let’s empower our kids to be expansive thinkers so that they can elevate the ways in which we create our future.
About the Author
Erica Whitfield is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who has a Masters in Counseling Psychology and over 10 years of experience working with children and adolescents. She is the Founder of Positive Development, LLC, a counseling practice for youth located in Jacksonville, Florida. Erica combines expressive therapies using art, music, physical movement and writing, with evidenced-based therapeutic modalities such as CBT, solution-focused and positive psychology approaches to help children and adolescents process past trauma, transition during difficult life adjustments, form healthier relationships, perform better in school and work through self-harming behaviors. She specializes in providing strengths-based counseling and has helped hundreds of youth unleash their capabilities, transform obstacles into opportunities and find healthy ways to express their energy and creativity.