Gifted Kids and Stress

Another great conversation that came from the release of Emotional Intensity was gifted kids and stress. I originally posted on this topic for my blog tour, but I thought I’d talk about it again.

Gifted kids and stress – they truly go hand in hand. Add to it the normal intensity of being gifted, and well, stress takes on a whole new meaning.  To understand the dynamic, let’s start by establishing what I mean by both stress and anxiety. This is a bit trickier than it sounds, as there are a wide variety of working definitions for both. My favorite one for stress comes from the Time Thought website:

“(Stress is) a physical, mental, or emotional response to events that bodily or mental tension.”

I like this definition because it does NOT say a negative event that causes tension – because, really, stress can be equally caused by negative and positive life events.

Anxiety is the natural reaction to a stressful event, and includes physical, mental, and emotional responses.

Okay, now that we are using the same vocabulary, let’s talk about kids.

All kids feel stress and anxiety to some degree. Maybe when there is a test, or when the teacher calls on them in class, or when they have gotten into a conflict with a friend. Common feelings may include heart palpitations, sweaty palms, labored breathing or fear.

For the gifted child, these feelings are significantly more intense. Butterflies in the stomach become man-eating birds, a tense digestive system becomes an ulcer, a racing heart feels more like a heart attack. Even the highs are bigger. All of this relates to the naturally occurring emotional intensity that is typical among gifted kids.

Not surprisingly, gifted kids tend to struggle with anxiety more then their non-gifted peers, often struggling to bounce back after setbacks. Sometimes this anxiety can be so intense, the child will get sick before a big test, or refuse to go to school altogether.

Fortunately, there are ways to help.

First – we, as parents, need to check our own expectations of our children. Behavior in children is one of their primary forms of communication. As such, we need to pay attention to their responses to stress and try to figure out what they are communicating to us. And this means being willing to examine our own expectations and whether or not they are appropriate.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I am not suggesting we drop our expectations for our children when they are stressed. Gosh knows, I have very high expectations for my kids. But we do need to be willing to look at them and make SURE they are appropriate.

Ok, after that, what can we teach our children to help them better manage their stress response?

Here are some of basic strategies that can make a huge positive impact on your child:

  1. Listen – teaching your child about their stress requires a good foundation of communication with your children. Set aside time to stop the busyness in your own life and check in with them. Encourage them to tell you what the problem is. If they lack the emotional vocabulary to do this (something not uncommon with gifted kids), teach them the right words.
  1. Perspective – children often have an all-or-nothing approach to life…things are ALL BAD or ALL GOOD. Very little in between with them. This is the time to help them learn that nothing is really ALL BAD. And that slight change in perspective can help…more than you could possibly realize!
  1. Mental rehearsal – If the stress is related to performance issues, try practicing (role-playing or mental rehearsal) the event or situation. Help your child mentally go through each step. Pay close attention to when they appear stressed and bring their awareness to it.
  1. Problem solving skills – teach your child how to problem solve. With gifted kids, open-ended solutions are impossibly hard to wrap their brains around. So help them make things more concrete for them.

Notice how I NEVER say fix things FOR your child. This does not serve them. If you do for them, the message you subtly give is that they are incapable of solving their own problems.

Instead, focus on guiding your child – emotionally coaching them towards their own self-monitoring, self-reflection, and relaxation techniques. You will give them an amazing gift in doing so.

A few more things to keep in mind:

  • If your child does not know their specific stress response (most kids don’t), help them learn to recognize it. Things like being overly tired, breaking into a rash, changes in appetite, being irritable or sad, having difficulty concentrating, and experiencing racing thoughts are all common indicators of feeling overwhelmed.
  • Teach your children that although they will never be able to control everything around them, they will ALWAYS be able to learn to control their reaction to them.
  • Teach children to prepare themselves for the world by doing the following: Get plenty of rest (most preteens and teens require 9 to 11 hours of sleep nightly), avoid all forms of caffeine, create a bedtime routine that helps clear the mind of stress prior to going to bed, eat healthy foods that include well-balanced meals (not eating on the run), exercise often, and share your feelings (through a journal, a conversation, even crying)

Teaching these things will go a long way to helping your child learn the basic lifestyle skills necessary to deal with stress in any form. It will help YOU as well!

What are your thoughts on this??

3 thoughts on “Gifted Kids and Stress

  1. Marinda

    Interesting! I am reading this because I am gifted and inexplicably overstressed. (Getting sick right after exams etc). Too bad that most available info focuses on kids but am thankful it is out there.

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