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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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Gifted Students And Stress During the Pandemic

During my time as an elementary teacher, I’ve seen gifted kids stress out.

I remember the time a student began crying and screaming, saying his “parents were going to kill him” because he didn’t get all As on his 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. In 2015, I published a journal article about gifted students and the stress they might experience.  If you would like a copy of the full article, please e-mail me and I would be happy to share it.

The article was published obviously before the COVID-19 pandemic and the heightened stress that teachers and students experience now. I do wonder how this situation has impacted gifted students in light of their potential and increased sensitivity to experiencing stress and anxiety.

Even if you don’t read the full journal article, it would help to understand some of the main stressors that gifted children could face.

Perfectionism

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.

Sensitivity

Some gifted children experience heightened sensitivity. Researcher 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 a 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.

Counselors, teachers, and parents must all work together to help these students understand potential stressors and provide healthy strategies for coping, especially during these challenging times. One method I used when I taught gifted elementary students was to hold a monthly “workshop” during lunchtime, which focused on a different social-emotional component. For instance, we discussed the idea of perfectionism and how they could address it, examined different notions of what the word “gifted” meant, or chatted about whether they were extroverted or introverted. This “added” curriculum, I felt, was so vital for their overall well-being.