As we all know everyone has strengths and weaknesses. For our students who are gifted they have many strengths, but they can also have weaknesses. Just as there isn’t one perfect definition of giftedness- there isn’t one profile of strengths and weaknesses in every gifted person. However, around 20-25% of gifted students have emotional difficulties. This can look like anger, boredom, isolation, depression, poor social skills, perfectionism, stress, underachievement, and anxiety. We will focus on anxiety for today. While this is written from the perspective of a gifted child- they are still a child so these ideas can apply to any child who struggles with anxiety.
Some gifted students have superior social adjustment while others struggle with social skills and self-esteem. It could be their strengths like imagination, creativity, and higher level thinking increases their understanding of the world which causes them to be more sensitive and empathetic. If they are a perfectionist with an increased sense of justice this creates the perfect storm for anxiety to grow. These kids are able to see the world more in depth- both its wonders and faults. This makes me think of an ecard I saw online once that said something like “I’ve been overthinking about my overthinking again.”
Anxiety can be difficult to observe because it’s mainly experienced inside someone’s mind quietly, but some observable signs can include: irritability, poor concentration, worrying, upset stomach, carelessness, competitiveness, insomnia, withdrawal, anger, and underachievement. It’s important to note that we all experience some of these on occasion but for some people, the frequency, intensity, or duration causes significant distress to their lives.
One way to determine this is to ask yourself the following questions:
- Is it excessive or not typical for the age or developmental level of the child?
- Is it a frequent occurrence of an inappropriate or extreme reaction for the situation?
- Has it lasted for several weeks or months?
How can we help children who are part of the 20-25% who struggle with emotional difficulties like anxiety?
- We can validate their fears. If you’ve ever been upset and someone told you “everything will be okay.” It probably did little to comfort or stop your fears. We don’t want to increase their anxieties, but we want them to know we hear them and care about their feelings.
- Children are like little sponges so they pick up when we model how to deal with problems and anxieties. Be open about how you problem-solve and verbalize how you deal with difficulties.
- Help them reframe the problem and their anxiety into something physical and concrete. This will help them gain power over their anxiety by taking it out of their mind and into something in the physical world they can manipulate. Examples of this are creating a worry monster or a worry jar.
- Give them an outlet to channel their anxiety. Just like adults we all have our ways of channeling our feelings- like going for a run, cleaning, or cooking. Help them find a way to express themselves.
- Utilize books for children ages 7 to 12 like “What To Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety” by Dawn Huebner. For children over 13 consider “The Anxiety Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help You Deal with Anxiety and Worry.” For children, 4 to 8 “Wemberly Worried” is a picture book to help children with anxiety. Parents might enjoy reading “Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents” and “The Opposite of Worry.”
- Inside of the classroom having clear expectations, predictable routines, reducing time constraints, quiet workplace, peer buddies, avoid unexpected situations, time for relaxation, calm down areas, and special jobs can help anxious students feel more comfortable.
- Consult with the mental health professionals at your school if you think a child needs professional help or more emotional support at school. Your colleagues can also help you express concerns to parents.