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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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Don't Stress Out! Here's the Big Four Causes of Stress in Gifted Kids


As a teacher of the gifted for many years, I’ve seen gifted kids stress out.

I remember the time a student began crying and screaming, saying her “parents were going to kill her” because she didn’t get all A's on her report card. One child would crawl under the desk and shake whenever he got less than a 90 percent on a test. Others would just break down, telling me they were tired of everyone expecting too much from them, or complain how the students outside of the gifted program would make fun of them and call them “nerd” and other names.

As a parent (or teacher working with gifted children), it helps to understand their potential stressors. This way, you know what’s stressing them out and you can use the appropriate strategies and interventions (the subject of my next blog).

While books have been written on the subject (and there is conflicting research on whether gifted children actually experience more stress or anxiety), essentially gifted children’s unique characteristics are the same traits that can create added stress and unique challenges socially and emotionally. Being different can be stressful. Let’s look at what I call the Big Four.


Perfectionists may suffer stress in pursuit of excellence and high goals. Some gifted children may live in a constant state of frustration due to the ever-present gap in how they believe they are performing and their self-imposed, lofty goals. In other words, their work is never good enough. While you want children to be ambitious and use his or her potential, children must learn that there is a fine line between positive, goal-striving and unhealthy perfectionism. And be careful; studies show that parents can teach children unhealthy perfectionism through criticism and establishing unreasonably high expectations.


Some gifted children experience heightened sensitivity. A research named Dabrowski proposed that some highly intelligent children experience “overexcitability” in five areas: psychomotor, sensory, intellectual, imaginational, and emotional. Gifted children, even from a very young age, can be extremely sensitive to the concerns and problems of the world, much the same that an adult ponders them. Even from a young age, gifted children may begin questioning their life’s purpose and contemplating the world’s problems.

Socialization Problems

Gifted children may feel they are different, which can be stressful. Gifted kids often have intellectual interests and abilities beyond peers their own age, but lack the physical and social development to be accepted by older children. Extremely gifted children can even feel more awkward, resulting in less social adeptness, loneliness, and more introversion.

External Pressures

Due to their abilities and intellect, teachers may view gifted learners as having few or no problems, such as bullying—this can be quite the opposite. Gifted kids are often bored with school, which may lack challenging curriculum. High demands from otherwise well-meaning adults can serve as a great source of anxiety. Gifted children often wonder if they can keep up and what else will be expected of them.

Those are the big four stress factors for gifted kids. Perfectionism, social problems, sensitivity, and outside pressures. Now that you have an understanding of what might be stressing your gifted child, you will be able to better pinpoint the cause. The next step involves teaching your child to use the right strategies to cope with the stress or avoid the potential stressor altogether.

Thanks for reading. Hope this helps. Please feel free to “like” this blog and share with friends and family.