Hurricane Parenting

Parenting a hurricane mind requires hurricane parenting, riding along – albeit sometimes holding on for dear life – in order to avoid destruction.

Beginning with one topic and gravitating toward a constellation of other somewhat-related subjects or focusing on several things at the same time is described as hurricane thinking. In a nutshell, the thought process of this brain moves in a circular, non-linear, way. Rather than discouraging this type of thinking, parents and teachers should embrace its innovation while teaching strategies to harness the chaos left in its storm-thinking wake. In order to tame the turmoil, parents and teachers should first step into the storm and recognize it for the creative process that it is.

Sometimes it’s hard to follow a hurricane thinker’s progression of thought. Each subject relates to a former thought, but independently it’s not always easy to trace the steps back to the original topic. Discussing a history class assignment, for example, may start with a dialogue about government and leaders then morph into thinking about potential life on other planets, what governments would look like there, how they would handle emergencies, and on to black holes. Black holes certainly could present as emergencies to the government on another planet but considering black holes doesn’t lead us back to our starting point – history class.

Other times hurricane brains “data dive,” constantly making observations based on stimuli around them. During a conversation while riding in a car, mid-sentence, the data diver might point out every yellow vehicle that drives by – he’s created a game that involves finding all the yellow automobiles on the road. While carrying on a conversation this hurricane thinker randomly interjects “yellow car,” “yellow bus,” “yellow punch buggy” as they come into view. Like blips on a heart monitor, his observations jump in and out of the underlying conversation.

The homework example, where we started with history and ended in a black hole, exemplifies the brain making lightning fast connections between thoughts. In the “yellow car” example, the brain is “echolocating,” constantly seeking and responding to stimuli. The listener’s experience ranges from wonder to whiplash in witnessing the whirl inside the 2e thinker’s brain.

The children’s book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, (Laura Joffe Numeroff), comes to mind. You know that story, where the child gives a mouse a cookie and then the mouse wants milk. The milk reminds the mouse of something and they keep doing different things based on where the mouse’s brain goes next. The mouse’s train of thought ricochets along a zig zagging path. By the end, the boy in the book is exhausted, following the mouse through every activity spurred on by each new connection. When parenting a mind like this, parents need to, “lean in,” “drive into the skid,” or in keeping with our analogy, weather the storm. You’ve got to understand the storm in order to help clean up and connect the pieces. You can only show a hurricane mind how to set aside the “debris,” prioritize what requires immediate attention, and focus on how to get the original task done, if that mind knows you value the creative process.

Parents and teachers think, “if we allow them to go on these unstructured journeys, will our kids ever get their homework done?” “Will they learn to plan and complete tasks?” I can imagine adults saying things like, “Come on, you’ve got to finish this paper on scientific discoveries – contemplating whether modern medicine could have saved Marie Curie, doesn’t answer how she discovered radium.” “Yeah, that’s an interesting question about who discovered math and why but talking about that will not help you finish your algebra.”

Trying to curtail these thought endeavors is, well, like trying to stop a hurricane. But in order to harness the storm, we have to ride it out for a bit, see where it takes us. Once our children realize we are in it with them, that we value their way of thinking, we receive less resistance as we try to shore up and build scaffolding to keep them on point. Sometimes to bring them back it’s necessary to allow them to move away. If we try to reverse course too early we actually work against ourselves and time slips away and projects, homework, and chores, go unfinished. Let them experience the exhilaration of discovery, allow them the luxury of free-thinking that they probably don’t experience at school. Parenting a hurricane mind requires hurricane parenting, riding along – albeit sometimes holding on for dear life – in order to avoid destruction.

To provide support, first we need to recognize when our kids’ minds are going down the proverbial rabbit hole. There is no judgment in this step, just recognition that they are heading off course. Help them recognize when this happens. Let them know you value the conclusions and observations that come from their mind maze. Even encourage this way of thinking, “Wow, I love the way your mind works – you make such interesting connections and come up with incredible questions!” We do not want to curtail innovation. This skill is why employees in ground breaking start-ups are paid handsomely, but they aren’t paid if they don’t get the job done.

Try to help organize the thought process by giving strategies to get your child back on course.

  • Make sure at the outset your child recognizes the expected end-product.
  • Ensure he can verbalize the expectations and the goal.
  • Suggest posting a neon sticky note on the computer screen with the assignment clearly stated to help him stay on task.
  • Teach time-keeping. Estimate how long an assignment should take, note the current time and build in a cushion for creative mastication.
  • Give tools like electronic or written notes where the child can jot down his thoughts to flesh them out later.
  • Have a timer or vibrating watch set for every 5 minutes to ensure that focus doesn’t wane.
  • Let him know you want to discuss or read about his “extra” thoughts. Agree when, perhaps the dinner table or before bed, to discuss the topics he wanted to explore.

Contrary to some beliefs, we don’t want to stymie this type of thinking. Incredible insights often lead to otherwise undiscovered aha moments. Honoring and encouraging this unstructured thinking actually alleviates frustration and allows the child to get back to his original task.

It’s ironic, really. So often the 2e brain is inflexible, black and white, rigid in the ability to transition, handle change, or deal with unstructured time. But hurricane thinking is the pinnacle of elasticity – letting minds spin and pick up what enters their orbit. Allowing the 2e mind to explore its fascinations and discoveries, is like letting the 2e person enjoy the eye of the storm – that ironic calm place in the midst of a tempest.

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Julie F. Skolnick M.A., J.D.

Julie F. Skolnick M.A., J.D.

Julie Skolnick, M.A., J.D., is the Founder of With Understanding Comes Calm, LLC, through which she passionately guides parents of gifted and distractible children, mentors 2e adults, and collaborates with and advises educators and professionals on bringing out the best and raising self-confidence in their students and clients.

2 Responses

  1. I am intimate with my and my child’s hurricane minds and I just love the all suggestions you have in here Julie. To “build in a cushion for creative mastication” is such a precious idea. I am more than a little obsessed with scheduling and rarely meet what I set, thinking we just need to learn to focus better. With this jewel, along with the ‘extra thoughts’ record, I can see how ‘successful’ we can both now become. Thank you!

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