What About Watson?: BBC Sherlock, Parents, and Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child

Sherlock Watson Wedding DayImage source: BBC

Let’s just say that my post about Sherlock and parents of gifted/2E kids generated a lot of traffic. Make that a flood of traffic. It wasn’t Curly Fu fangirls, either. It was parents and adult gifted/2e people.

In the wake of that response, I was starting to wonder how to follow up. Should I just exit January 2014 a la George Costanza in Seinfeld and go out on a high note? “You’ve been a great audience. Good night, everyone!”

And then this morning a dear friend of mine brought up the question of raising a Watson.

That resonated. Big time.

See, last night, my hubby and I talked about another revelation I had in the wake of the Sherlock post. Basically, Watson doesn’t get enough attention for being emotionally aware. Intellectual prowess is highly valued (at times even overvalued) in our culture, but emotional intelligence (the ability to self-regulate, to monitor and adapt to social norms, etcetera) plays an essential role in personal and professional success, too. In fact, it’s arguably more crucial to it. Intelligence alone can only take one so far. The ability to navigate the cultural, social, and emotional landmines of life are vital to meeting one’s most-ambitious life goals.

In my research into the Sherlock series, I read recently how the series creators pitched the show idea to BBC on the fly. Although both Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffatt were Sherlock Holmes fans from way back, it seems that the defining moment for moving forward with the project was the decision to have Watson be a war veteran, not Sherlock and his curly locks or his mind palaces.

Watson. The compassionate guy. The one who nurtures, appreciates Sherlock while taking his eccentricities in relative stride. The character who makes strained, guttural vocalizations in his throat when struggling to control himself after learning #SherlockLives. Watson was the starting point for the pitch process.

If that’s true, it’s an important point–especially since it oftentimes is is the siblings of gifted/2e kids who wind up in the Watson role, accidentally and for better or worse. (As the parent of an only child, I can’t really talk about that, but I see kids who play Watsons to Sherlock siblings. See also: my friend Sarah’s pre-Sherlock post, who touches upon this in a way, and my friend Alicia’s speech on glass children.)

In talking with other parents regarding that first post on Sherlock, I had another revelation. As we walk through life, most of us come to learn that there’s always someone smarter or better versed in a topic area than us. If proving oneself to be smartest person in the room is the only goal, then it can prove to be a lonely one.  As we move through life, no matter how smart we are, we eventually learn that there’s someone out there who can out-Sherlock us. (Having worked on a major university campus with incredibly intelligent people of all ages, I will vouch for this fact. For some gifted adults, it can be a shock for them, too, when it finally happens.)

But mastering compassion, learning to channel constructively our frustrations with friends and family–the stuff that Watson does–that’s achievable with passion and practice and non-competitive. Granted this is more challenging with some kids, especially gifted/2e kids. Once mastered–even if it takes years or decades, emotional intelligence and resilient aren’t going to let our kids down. Even if they are hurt, then they learn to rebound in positive ways. For example, in the very first episode, Watson tackles and rebounds from war-induced PTSD. Sure, it’s a reach for real-life in the speed with which he progresses, but this is fiction. (Notably, his PTSD anguish is the theme of the first scene of the entire series.) At the start of Season 3, Watson forgave Sherlock for faking death, which is an enormous act of compassion.

Sherlock BBC Wedding SpeechPromo graphic for Sherlock (Season 3, Episode 2):
Could there be a finer example of compassion and love than Watson
trusting Sherlock with the best man gig–and a wedding speech?

(Image source: BBC)

You could say that where Sherlock is mind first, Watson is heart over mind. (Not that he’s dumb. He’s very bright.) Martin Freeman, who plays Watson in the BBC show, has said of the part: “… I wanted to give him a strength and a vulnerability.” That comes through on the screen for sure. Over the course of the show, Sherlock starts to learn skills and reflect Watson’s better traits, even if he fumbles at times and botches the application of the lessons.

Turning back to parenting in the real world, we must acknowledge that some kids come wired to be more like Sherlock; others come wired to be like Watson. I think in parenting that the wisest parents aim to see a child grow to be somewhere in between the two. It’s a tall order, for sure.

That’s why we parents need Sherlock and Watson, and their stories (both past and present). There’s inspiration there. Ultimately, their friendship is so compelling for many of us because it represents a union of the diverse aspects of humanity: heart and mind.

Yes, we need more examples of that union, both on the television and in real life.  Because there’s a little of both characters in us, in our families, and in our communities.


Explore More:

• For parents interested in nurturing the emotional lives of gifted/2e kids–some of whom struggle with emotional hypersensitivity issues, please see SENG. Note that sometimes gifted/2e kids have unique challenges with regard to emotional regulation. I think this page by SENG is wonderful on this topic.

• For families in which emotional intensity is an issue that needs to be tackled, Understanding Myself: A Kid’s Guide to Intense Emotions and Strong Feelings by Mary Lamia is a marvelous book. {Amazon Affiliate Link}

• I wrote a book about working homeschool parents by GHF Press. Books pay the bills. I’ve got another book in the pipeline. Details are here.


  1. I never had a Watson, now I spend a large part of my life being Watson for my two boys. Need to find a way to help the world create more Watsons for them.

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