“B isn’t like the other kids. I mean, they all have separation anxiety to some degree, but with B, it doesn’t stop.”
“Faster, mom! Faster!” The girls were a blur of grins and color. I gave the tire swing another twirl, then gripped my cell phone tighter.
“No. Most kids will be upset for 10 or 15 minutes, then get on with the day. B doesn’t do that. The crying stops, but the worrying…”
B tipped her head back, cackling. Her curly mane flew out behind her.
“We’ll be in the middle of an activity, and I can tell she’s having fun. But she’ll stop, grow quiet, and ask me what will happen if you don’t come back.”
“It’s—troubling. And not normal.”
Three years prior:
“G, can you tell your mom what you told us at circle time?”
G was three. She turned her flushed, tear-stained cheeks toward the calendar and hiccupped.’
“The end.” Her voice dropped to a monotone. “January. February. March. April. May. June. July. August. September. October. November.”
“Devember. The end.”
That afternoon we sat at the dinner table. I marked the months of the year on a coaster; G chewed the ends of her hair. When I had finished, she snatched the stone from my hands, turning it in her own.
The hair fell from her mouth. She smiled at me and sighed.
Anxiety in Gifted Children
Gifted children aren’t only more focused, curious, and precocious. They’re also more intense, more sensitive, and more anxious.
I have three of them—each one with her own brand of anxiety. It’s an ever-present reality we’ve learned to live with in our homeschool. On good days, it’s pretty manageable: we acknowledge the fear, address it, and move on. On bad days, it’s crippling: there are tears, stomach aches, cancellations and despair.
Where does this sort of anxiety come from? For starters, a gifted mind exhibits higher order thinking, even in childhood. This brings about complex associations and realizations unusual for a child, like an obsession with the ramifications of a parent’s death or the eventual occurrence of the end of the world. Add to this perfectionism, age-appropriate emotional development, an excellent memory, and the ability to attach visceral emotion to experience?
You have the recipe for a perfect storm.
Assessing Anxiety in Gifted Children
Anxiety is a normal feeling, one necessary for human survival. But as parents, how do we determine if our child’s experiences are out of the ordinary?
According to psychologist Dan Peters, gifted children should be monitored closely. They walk a fine line between anxiety as “a normal byproduct of their...perfectionist drives or...something...detrimental to their overall health and well being.”
Once that line is crossed, signs will include
We’ve seen all four in our own house but to the extreme. At times, our middle child has been unable to leave the house, play with friends, or take part in activities she once enjoyed. She’s an excellent example of the toll anxiety can take on a child’s well being and a clear indicator of the need for successful management.
Managing Anxiety in Gifted Children
Fortunately, it is possible to help your gifted child manage her anxiety. Contacting your pediatrician is an excellent place to start, especially if you determine that home-based efforts are insufficient. But should you wish to work on things at home, Dr. Peters encourages parents to fight anxiety with information and self-knowledge:
First, explain the biological origins of anxiety and the connection between worry and physical sensations. The key is to identify the emotion (how do you know when you’re anxious?) and take action to stem the tide.
Next, get anxiety out in the open. Make a worry list, or create, draw, and discuss a “worry monster:” his strength is defeated through the help of family and friends.
Then, help your child train his brain. Develop a positive mantra or thinking cue to redirect anxious thoughts.
Finally, take action. Do something your child enjoys. Physical activity or creative pursuits are particularly calming.
Most importantly, Peters encourages families to keep working together. He recommends families practice the above skills so they become second nature.
Loving Your Anxious Child
My children may not be like other kids, but they are who they are, and I love them for it. As we work toward freeing them from the yoke of anxiety, each step brings us closer to the day they will manage it on their own. If you are homeschooling your own anxious, gifted child, take heart. You are in the best position to equip them with the skills they need, and they’re in the best place to learn them—at home.