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Monitoring Anxiety in Your Gifted Child

There is a thin line between anxiety being a normal byproduct of their often perfectionist drives or becoming something that is detrimental to their overall health and well being.

It’s customary for gifted kids to be advanced in their thinking, have strong imaginative and creative abilities and oftentimes, to be highly sensitive. The combination of these characteristics however can often give rise to experiences of worry and anxiety. Because I subscribe to the adage, “A problem is not a problem unless it’s a problem,” even anxiety can be par for the course for the gifted child but when it starts to interfere with a child’s life experiences, performance, and/or your family relationships, then what?

First let’s look at what fear stems from. It is a primitive trait thought to originate within the emotional part of our brain, the limbic system. Within the limbic system, is a tiny almond called the amygdala. This is our alarm system and center. Kids who are overly anxious, always have their amygdala’s working to sense danger. Thus, these kids may become irritable, jumpy, emotional, avoidant, and at times seem paranoid that someone is out to get them or that bad things may happen. Over time, an anxious child gets depleted and exhausted. It is tiring having your alarm on all the time.

For the gifted child, there is a thin line between anxiety being a normal byproduct of their often perfectionist drives or becoming something that is detrimental to their overall health and well being. Over time, excessive anxiety can cause sleeplessness, irritability and emotional meltdowns. If this occurs for long periods of time, it can lead to depression. This is a difficult one though, as often gifted kids are driving their intense schedules too, as they often crave challenge, engagement, and to be among the best.

The best bet as a parent is to arm yourself with tools to combat your child’s sense of worry in productive ways, like:

  1. Talking to your child about anxiety and worry and how those two characteristics can rob of us our life satisfaction and negatively impact our performance as well.
  2. Teaching them about how our brain is designed to keep us alive (fight or flight) and that it is this alarm system that is on when we are worrying or feeling scared.
  3. Teaching them that their negative and worrisome thoughts are the culprits in making them worry. Our “what if” thinking is what causes us to worry and feel bad.
  4. Helping them learn to identify their thinking and change it into more rational and adaptive directions such as “I am prepared for my test” or “It is not the end of the world if I don’t do as well as I’d like.”
  5. Helping them to stay in the present. Teach them that all anxious thinking takes place in the future, which has not yet occurred.

Then, teach them this very simple technique that although takes discipline to put into practice, can become a regular solution to stress. Take deep breaths. Inhale slowly and exhale slowly for one minute. This tricks our brain into thinking we are calm and makes us feel calm too.

Most of all, try not to pressure your children by making them think that things matter more then they really should. This kind of pressure only creates thinking like, “I will never get into college…I will never find a career I like…I will never amount to anything…I have to be the best…I need to get the award or I am failure.” None of these is true. If your child is thinking like this, they are feeling too much pressure.

It takes courage to fight worry, fear, anxiety, and perfectionism. It often takes a team, which includes you. In the process, you may have to fight your own Worry Monsters too.

Dr. Dan Peters, Ph.D., is co-founder of the Summit Center, which provides psychological and educational assessments and counseling for children and adolescents, specializing in the gifted, creative, and twice-exceptional.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

MIKE ALFORD March 05, 2013 at 08:54 AM
Im sorry Dr. Barkley I Didnt pay attintion to the part of the true persentageOf gifted ones or outright Savaunts that could be trying to reach out for help Therefor you are correct In pointing out that I didnt Understand Your views to Just how many that we were dealing with here I will try and be more aware of the fact that they are crying out for help Ive worked mwith many of these problamatic personaltys right here in martinez Ive tried to get them to come out into the open but one in peticuler has just gone off her Meds Agane And has been very anxious lately right here in Martinez -- she is also suffering from aluisions og grandure but I do listen to her and give sound advise But We Can Only Hope that she will accept reality ---- and Yes I Do Understand Dr. Barkley -- Thank you for pointing that out !
Anne Mobley March 06, 2013 at 06:37 PM
I'm so glad my kids were "normal" whatever that means. They did not need drugs. They had too much to do to be anxious or even think about being anxious. I think they spent their idle time on trying to figure out how to pull one over on mom or dad. Sometimes they succeeded. I feel for the parents of autistic kids. Seems to me we did not have all these problems years ago when I was growing up which leads one to believe that it is something in our food, water, or environment that causes all these problems. But, what the good doc says "Take deep breaths. Inhale slowly and exhale slowly for one minute. This tricks our brain into thinking we are calm and makes us feel calm too" helps adults too when they go into a doctor's office for their blood pressure checks. Sure cures the "white coat syndrome"
Alvin Mabuhay March 07, 2013 at 10:59 AM
Anne, I am with you. As I eluded to earlier, I am of the opinion that the increase in autism is directly related to the increase of those in the business to detect, diagnose and treat. It's an easy argument to make that those in the profession need to develop and maintain a clientele base. If they do not diagnose autism, they cannot treat it, and thus, cannot make a living. And now that we have been so inundated with questionable statistics on the mysterious boom in the number of kids with autism, the public just goes along with it without challenge. Deep breaths are good-no doubt, but "doubt" is also good.
Tatter Salad March 07, 2013 at 11:07 PM
Boris is trying to be 'more to the point' then the OP; and he is IMHO. The 'feel good' let me handle it (as our 'foundation' could use more patients) is the OP's main message IMHO. Boris is correctly identifying that both public and some private schools have a room full of kids, and it is the teacher's goal to be successful with the 'majority' placed before them. For example, you find children that are at the 'older' age of the the classroom spectrum doing MUCH better than those at the other end of the scale, but this reality is ignored. You also find, in both private and public schools, that in order to reach the 'majority', the 'giftedly smart, or 'distracted' fall-off from pier group interaction, and instructor attention, by necessity. In Albany Schools, you'll find children judged by their 'peer' associations, rather than by the child's actual performance IMHO, and you'll find children that are placed on a 'stimulating' or 'boring' track, -again, based on perpetuated hearsay of previous instructor's prejudices, which may be based more on the students 'friends.' Sometimes, bigger schools ARE better, where the teachers tend to grade/judge students by their actual performance.
Chris Nicholson March 08, 2013 at 12:18 AM
You seem to know a fair bit about cross-dressing BDSM aficionados. Anything you want to share? Unless you (without consent) harm others, I would encourage you to continue whatever practices bring you joy and fulfillment. In terms of grammar, I offer one lesson for starters. Fill in the blank: "Thank you sir, ____ I have another." Some would use the word "can," but the speaker likely (depending on context) intends a polite deferential request and not an inquiry as to technical physical capacity. Therefore, the proper word is generally (but by no means always) "may." And for God's sake, if you pick a safe word, make sure you can pronounce it.

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