Anxiety in Gifted Children: 3 Simple Steps Parents and Educators Can Take
Gifted children and anxiety often seem to just go hand in hand. Experiencing their world more intensely as well as having a more intuitive understanding of complex connections and interactions in their life and in the physical world can create a plethora of reasons for gifted children to experience anxiety in their lives. Being so acutely aware of what is going on in their world and what future possibilities can hold, gifted children can naturally develop above-average anxiety. They begin to worry, oftentimes making mountains out of mole hills.
In school, fear of failure, perfectionism, and not being able to live up to the expectations many may have for their high potential can leave our gifted children so anxious that they just crumble. Whether you are a teacher in a traditional school with gifted students in your class, a parent of a gifted child in traditional school or you homeschool your gifted child, being mindful that anxiety can plague our gifted children is the first step in easing the effects of anxiety in their lives.
Beyond understanding and being mindful that anxiety is often a trait gifted children can be saddled with, what else can you do as a teacher or parent to help a gifted child suffering from anxiety? Seeking the care of a mental health professional is always important if a gifted child’s anxiety is causing concern at school or at home. While we as parents and teachers are not qualified to treat anxiety, we can be mindful and more thoughtful when interacting with gifted children who may be suffering with anxiety. Many times, what we say and how we react to their anxiety can increase the distress a gifted child is feeling.
Here are three simple steps parents and teachers can take to avoid increasing the worries of a gifted child through our actions and words:
- AVOID SAYING, DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT—Understanding that gifted children will be anxious about events and issues you may find groundless, unreasonable or even ridiculous is key here. For you, the gifted child’s fear is unwarranted, but for her, it is very real and concerning. Telling a gifted child don’t worry trivializes her fear and can belittle the child who is struggling with anxiety. Saying don’t worry can humiliate her, cause her to feel bad about herself and make her feel her anxiety is yet another way she is very different from her same-age peers. You may also end up with a child who begins to worry about her worries—being anxious over her own anxiety. Acknowledging the fears of a gifted child, validating her concerns and showing empathy may help her work towards making peace with her fears.
- DON’T HOLD THEM TO UNREASONABLE EXPECTATIONS—Gifted children most likely are already keenly aware of the need to follow the rules, comply with educational expectations and to excel in school. We don’t need to add to this acute awareness by holding unreasonably high expectations of our gifted children that may only be important to us as teachers and parents. Yet, what parent or teacher can help but visualize all the great successes a gifted child is capable of? But not all gifted children will attain success and happiness by achieving that assumed eminence. We should not feel anger or regret if our gifted child decides he doesn’t want to go to college or decides to quit piano even though he is a piano prodigy. We should only help him achieve what makes him happy and support him in his efforts to reach his own vision of success.
- AVOID THREATENING WITH NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES—Naturally as parents and teachers of gifted students, we see the huge potential these children have, and sometimes, as in #2, we hold unreasonable expectations for our gifted children. When our gifted children do not fulfill our expectations, many adults tend to voice to our children the negative consequences of not reaching these expectations. Threatening a gifted child with future negative outcomes like, “you won’t get into college with those grades”, or “you are going to be embarrassed if you don’t make Honor Roll” can only compound their anxiety and actually propel them further away from attaining their success and happiness.
Understanding a gifted child’s propensity for anxiety and showing empathy towards their worries and fears is essential. Sitting down with a gifted child and objectively parsing through her fears and worries may also help her examine what makes her anxious and gain some control of her fears and worries. If a gifted child’s anxiety is causing significant issues in her life, please seek the help of a mental health professional.
Anxiety can be crippling for many gifted children in regard to their education. As teachers and parents, it is vital that we understand anxiety in gifted children and avoid any actions or words that can increase anxiety in our gifted children.
Make Your Worrier a Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Child’s Fears by Dr. Dan Peters
From Worrier to Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Fears by Dr. Dan Peters
“Dr. Dan Peters: Why does my child worry so much?” Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Guest Post
“Anxiety and 2e Kids”, 2E Twice-Exceptional Newsletter
“High Anxiety” by Ian Byrd
This post is part of Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page‘s Blog Hop on Anxiety. Click the graphic below to see all of the posts in this blog hop!