Being a young student in today’s world is tough. From living through a pandemic, resisting temptations from social media, and needing to perform well academically – it is clear that students need additional support to cope with stress. However, there is a group of students whose needs are often missed by adults because they seem to be doing perfectly fine on the surface. They earn good grades and seem to have everything under control. These students are often gifted and/or participating in higher-level classes such as AP or are part of the IB program.
Highly gifted children tend to put more pressure on themselves to excel at every task, especially if they take rigorous courses. Not meeting their expectations often leads to a sense of failure, which can snowball into feeling overwhelmed by the demands of the curriculum.
Many gifted children are also not used to asking for help, making it harder for adults to detect their needs and provide appropriate support. These students often use ineffective coping strategies such as sacrificing too much sleep, taking days off from school to catch up on schoolwork, or even sleeping to avoid the problem.
As a caregiver, it is equally (if not more) overwhelming when you don’t know how to support your gifted child. Perhaps you feel that something is off even though your child gets good grades and claims that they are doing well emotionally, but you don’t know how best to provide support? You are not alone, and it does not have to be this way. Your child can be academically and emotionally successful if they use effective coping strategies and avoid ineffective ones. The good news is our psychologists at Rice Psychology Group can help make that happen.
How to Cope
Dr. Kai Zhuang Shum, a Rice Psychology Licensed Psychologist and Nationally Certified School Psychologist, is an expert at teaching gifted students and students taking advanced level classes to deal with their unique stressors. She spent five years researching how best to teach students taking AP classes or in the IB program to cope with their unique stressors. She worked with other pioneers who secured a multi-million national grant to work towards that goal.
You can find more information on this grant program here. With her wealth of experience on the topic, Dr. Shum shares three tips for helping gifted students cope:
- Identify coping strategies. Caregivers can help gifted children identify their coping strategies (or lack of) and explore how effective those strategies are, both short-term and long-term. For example, even if a student stays home to catch up on school work as a short-term strategy, they may find themselves more behind work-wise in the long term due to their absences in class. You can point out that that is not an effective strategy.
- Teach effective coping strategies. Many effective coping strategies for stress, such as time and task management, can be taught explicitly. Perhaps your student did not need these skills before, but as their school demands increased, they became too embarrassed to ask for help. Stay attuned to their needs and provide explicit coaching on using these coping strategies as necessary.
- Limit ineffective coping strategies. It is impossible to avoid using ineffective coping strategies entirely because many of these strategies make us feel better in the moment (e.g., take a 4-hour long nap to avoid the problem). Thus, the goal is to help your child limit the use of these strategies.
Researchers have discovered a number of effective and ineffective coping strategies that are unique to high school students taking advanced-level courses. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, you can reach out to Dr. Shum.
Gifted children tend to be more perceptive or sensitive to world issues and other people. They can even get overloaded with information. This combined with their desire to achieve perfectionism, causes big problems.
Talk with your gifted child daily. Discuss their expectations, as well as yours, and stay involved in their school matters. Remember, your gifted child can pick up on cues, sometimes in ways better than non-gifted children can. As their caregiver, you can help keep their expectations realistic and their self-esteem high by pointing out their growth through the process instead of focusing on the results.
Let Our Team Help
Learning to help your gift child cope with the stress in their world takes time. If you find the information we’ve provided in this blog doesn’t work for your family, consider reaching out to Dr. Wendy Rice, Dr. Kai Zhuang Shum, and our team of child psychologists in Tampa. For more information about our services or to schedule your free, ten-minute consultation, call (813) 969-3878 or contact here.