Being in the field of gifted education for many decades has given me a long-term view of the issues that challenge gifted children, and for that matter, gifted adults. Recently, while following many parent forums on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve noticed how often the concerns voiced are related to anxiety issues in gifted children. The research on gifted individuals is pretty clear -- the attendant hypersensitivities and keen intellect of gifted individuals can make them prime targets for anxiety issues, and parents and educators feverishly search for various ways to help, particularly in September, when going back to school can heighten anxiety in children (and adults). For these reasons, I was attracted to the article entitled 37 Techniques to Calm an Anxious Child | HuffPost by Renee Jain. Ms. Jain, the “Chief Storyteller” of Go Zen! Anxiety Relief Programs for Kids has some outstanding techniques. Her article bears a full reading, but I’ll link some of her ideas to the gifted perspective, and to ideas shared with me by parents of gifted kids and other experts in the gifted field.
Ms. Jain’s first suggestion to tame anxiety is to write it out. Take that worry, write it down, describe it fully and furiously, and then discard it, either symbolically or literally. For younger children, parents describe the “throw it out of the window” technique -- describe the worry, figuratively gather it up, and pitch it out of the window. Some parents even concoct a “worry-away” spray and use it liberally, or designate a worry time, complete with a worry stone, and confine worrying to this time zone. Journaling over time can also help children (and adults) revisit things that worried them in the past, and give them reassurance that they coped and grew, and will prevail again. Harnessing reflection, and revisiting the intellect used to solve a problem often provides “aha” moments for chronic worriers.
Another suggestion from Ms. Jain is to have kids debate themselves (think Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof -- “on one hand...on the other hand”). For example, on one hand, gifted individuals are often great at debate anyway, and the mental effort in debating oneself takes energy. On the other hand, gifted individuals can often be “bad scorekeepers” (see The Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children). They maximize bad outcomes, and minimize good ones. They use words such as “always” and “never,” which are rarely true, and they may suffer from a disconnect of heart and head (see the work of Dr. Maureen Neihart) -- confusing facts with emotions. Using self-debate and analysis (a higher level thinking skill that many gifted kids enjoy using) may help calm anxiety in some “thinker-type” kids.
A third suggestion is to help kids learn to self-soothe. Whether it’s using visual imagery, art, meditation, mindfulness, a calming object or music, pondering sage advice, giving oneself a hug, deep breathing, imagining a protective bubble around one’s worries -- children need to be taught how to do these things. Many gifted children possess great creative thinking skills, and intense visual and performing arts skills, and these techniques may work for this type of child.
A fourth suggestion is to understand worry, and the physiology of worry. Knowledge is power, particularly for children who are curious and value knowledge, as many gifted kids do. Understanding what goes on in one’s body while experiencing anxiety can help calm the fears, especially when it’s coupled with specific calming techniques.
Years ago no one could have predicted the toll that electronic devices and screen time can take on our children and ourselves. Pediatricians and other health experts are suggesting that excessive screen time can lead to anxiety issues, and that everyone needs detox time -- particularly before bedtime, when anxiety often rears its most troublesome head. Antidotes to excessive screen time can be exercise, hydration, people-time, music, and reconnection with nature. We must help our kids learn to unplug.
Finally, many worry warriors have found that doing something for someone else is a great way to take one’s mind off of one’s worries. Many of our gifted kids possess great leadership skills, as well as keen observational skills about the numerous problems in the world, which can cause them great anxiety. Their sensitivity to “Weltschmerz” (world pain) -- without action -- can swamp them, but when heads, hearts, and hands work together, they learn the power of action in combatting worry.
In closing, while writing this article, I fondly remembered my grandmother’s saying…”worrying and being anxious is like rocking in a rocking chair; it gives you something to do, but you don’t go anywhere…” Hopefully this article has given you some ideas of where to go, and what to do to help those suffering from anxiety.
As always, I hope that this foray into other ideas, and then linking them to the gifted perspective, has made you think. I welcome hearing from you!
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think.