Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Teaching Children Emotional Stability,
Especially With Regard to Highly Perceptive Children...
All children need training in cultivating peaceful spirits and in learning how to let their emotions be their servants, rather than their rulers. Highly perceptive children need a little extra attention in this area.
For one thing, the highly perceptive child sometimes develops intellectually before he develops maturity of emotion. Thus, he takes in a tremendous amount of information, but he may not be able to process it all wisely unless his parents help him.
Also, the highly perceptive child is likely to tune into adult conversations and the news. Thus, he may overhear and worry about some topic that another child might not give a second thought.
Unless a mother listens carefully to clues from the child, she may have no idea that her young child is conscious of, much less worried about, something that was discussed by adults. I remember that when my children were toddlers in the eighties, the subject of AIDs was constantly in the news. I didn't think that we were exposing our children to much news until my preschool age child said, "Mommy, if I got hurt and someone had to give me blood, I might get AIDS."
Similarly, highly perceptive children often have great imaginations. If their imagination turns toward the negative, they can think of all kinds of frightening outcomes to a particular situation. Needless to say, this tempts a child to worry.
Highly perceptive children may feel a lot of pressure to live up to everyone's high expectations for their performance. This can create a sense of unease, especially if they fear that they may not measure up in the end.
Highly perceptive children often place high expectations on themselves, and they can become frustrated with themselves when the actual work of their hands does not match the vision they have in their minds. This is the artist who never can be happy with how a painting turns out, no matter how beautiful others think the painting might be, or the pianist who never thinks he gave a great performance despite thundering applause from the audience.
Also, by definition, highly perceptive people are in tune with a lot of sensory input from the world around them. This can be overwhelming. There is also possible evidence that a genetic disposition for forms of depression are found with genes that have to do with artistic achievements, especially in the field of writing. Studies that trace the family trees of a number of famous writers turn up a large number of family members with traits of manic-depression. Since this has been widely publicized, artists often falsely fear that if they seek treatment for an emotional illness, they will lose their talent.
Finally, the highly perceptive child may be more in tune with our culture. Going back to the late 1700's and early 1800's, many people began to value the person with great sensibility. That's just another way of saying a person who is highly perceptive or responsive with regard to something, such as emotions or nature or art. The person who possessed sensibility was considered to be more in tune with truth and beauty than the average person. People began to measure life according to their own personal experiences and perceptions. Revealed or inspired truth ceased to be as highly esteemed as it once was. People who admired sensibility feared being ordinary people with ordinary lives, and they considered themselves to be superior to people with less feeling. They sought to imbue every moment with emotional meaning.
In this climate, depression, hypochondria, anxiety, and moodiness were almost seen as virtues, for it was thought that they indicated a refined and sensitive mind. The novels of the day reflect this ideal, for they abound with brooding heroes and overwrought heroines. Many authors of the day -- such as the poet Lord Byron -- gave birth to the stereotype of the sensitive, bohemian artist.
Sense and Sensibility and many other of Jane Austen's works lampoon the cult of sensibility. Austen's work highlights the conflict in her day between this line of thought and a cultural backlash, which championed more classic virtues of stability, good sense, and principled character.
Today, prominent segments of our culture still value feeling and individual experience over objective truth and, likewise, emotional drama over stability. In the same vein, lots of people still devalue revealed and inspired knowledge. Many either believe that this material world is all that exists or they make up their own vision of spiritual matters based on what they feel in their hearts. Our culture is largely blind to real truths that exist beyond man's limited powers of perception and scientific measurement.
Our culture's entertainment features the anti-hero, who is merely a darker version of the nineteenth century's brooding hero. The anti-hero is the person of sensibility who has become disillusioned with life. He is opposed to authority. He is often a loner and is frequently self-destructive. He is moody and unstable and often troubled by something in his past.
Children, particularly sensitive children, may be influenced to imitate these cultural images. However, while a skeptical, troubled, and brooding hero may make for interesting fiction, such emotional drama is not so fun when it is played out in real life.
As we've seen, there is just a grain of truth in the idea that people who are highly perceptive also tend to be intensely emotional. Feeling things deeply can be very positive. But, must the highly perceptive child live at the whim of his own emotions and perceptions? No. Must creativity and perceptiveness be accompanied by anxiety, depression, and other forms of emotional distress? Of course not.
The wise parent seeks to guide the child in combining his wonderful gifts of perception and sensibility with the stability that comes from "sense". The child who is trained to be self-controlled in mind and character will accomplish more with his gifts of perception than will the child who cannot rule himself.
Just how can parents do parents nurture a child's creativity while, at the same time, training the child to be stable or sensible in thought and character? Tomorrow, we'll kick around some ideas.