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Helping Gifted Students Deal


Elisa Denkler

Round Rock Independent School District TAG Specialist

with Stress and

[email protected]

Have you ever heard...

"It's not quite ready yet."

"I could have done better if I had more time." "I was sure I could do well with that assignment." "If I keep it one more day, it will be so much better that I can make up the points I lose for being late." "What if I can't do it?" "She's not a very good teacher. She gave me a decent grade on that paper I put together at the last minute."

"I'll work on it later."

" It's not good enough."

Have you ever heard...

"I worked last night until 10:00."

" We had a track meet."

"Something came up at home."

"Things haven't been going real well lately."

"Do you think I could get an extension on the due date?"

"This was my weekend to spend with my dad." " I just can't handle it all."

These are the cries of the

stressed learner,

often known as the distracted learner or the perfectionist.

What is


Stress is the body's general response

to any intense physical, emotional, or mental demand placed on it by oneself or others.

-Leslie Kaplan, 1990

What is


Stress is the body's response when an

individual feels unable to cope with circumstances ­ the signal system that he or she is in danger.

-Genshaft & Broyles, 1991

How can children feel when nothing bad is happening?

· Anything can be a stressor if it lasts long enough, happens often enough, is strong enough, or is perceived as stress.

­ Working on a project ­ Performing multiple simple repetitive and boring tasks ­ Earning a lower grade than expected


A Good Saturday Morning Story

How heavy is this glass of water?

"The process of living is the process of reacting to stress." - Dr. Stanley J. Sarnoff



· Low levels of stress can be appropriate and healthy in some situations. · That little rush of adrenaline can help a student perform at a higher level of accomplishment, improving performance and productivity by increasing energy and alertness.

­ Danger, Athletic competition, Academic tasks, Tests

· It may allow a student to ultimately get more out of life!



· Stress can be unhealthy when it interferes with a student's ability to function.

· High levels of stress result in physical symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches, exhaustion, and an inability to concentrate, learn, and remember which keeps a student from being successful. · If not dealt with, unhealthy stress may eventually lead to underachievement, depression and suicide.

Individual Differences

· The causes or sources of stress may be different for different people.

· What is stressful to one may be fun and exciting to another. · It might be helpful for the student to make a list of the sources of their top stressors.

Are Gifted Children More Susceptible to Unhealthy Stress?

· Gifted children have a heightened sensitivity to surroundings, events, ideas and expectations. · They tend to set high expectations for themselves and others. · Reaching these expectations becomes more stressful when expectations set by others are unclear or unrealistic. · Gifted children are often plagued by self-doubt and concern that someone will find out that a mistake was made and they are not gifted (the "imposter" syndrome).



· Gifted children experience unique dilemmas which can increase their stress

­ Accepting that abilities and talents also come with limitations ­ Understanding their differences when they are trying to fit in with their peer group ­ Living up to the expectations of others ­ Distinguishing between excellence and perfection

Perfectionism vs. the Pursuit of Excellence

Excellence doing the research necessary for a term paper, working hard on it, turning it in on time, and feeling good about it studying for a test ahead of time, taking it with confidence, and feeling good about your score of 96 choosing to work on group projects because you enjoy learning from the varied experiences and approaches of different people accepting an award with pride even though the engraver misspelled your name (You know that it can be fixed later at the jewelry store) reading the story you wrote for the school paper and noticing that the editor made some changes to the copy that really improved it going out with people who are interesting, likeable, and fun to be with being willing to try new things, take risks, and learn from you experiences and your mistakes Perfectionism doing three drafts, staying up two nights in a row, and handing your paper in late because you had to get it right ­ and still feeling bad about it studying at the last minute (after three days of chronic procrastination), taking the test with sweaty palms, and feeling depressed about your 96 because your best friend got a 98 always working alone because NO ONE can do as good a job as you and you're not about to let anyone else slide by on YOUR A accepting the award resentfully because that dumb engraver didn't get your name right throwing a near tantrum because the editor dared to tamper with your work refusing to go out with people who aren't straight-A students avoiding new experiences because you're terrified of making mistakes

Perfection and Gifted

· Gifted children are able to more readily discern the difference between mediocre and superior. · The student who knows quality may drive himself crazy to achieve it simply because he knows what it is and is quick to sense failure if he can't. · High expectations are reinforced by early successes, resulting in trying to please parents, teachers, or peers who never can be satisfied.


­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­


· Other stressors for the gifted may include:

Overcommitting Vacations Boring, monotonous busy work Loneliness Peer relations Family relations Ambiguities Inconsistencies Decision making

Gifted teens report feeling stressed when they:

· Suffer an excessive fear of failure

· Don't fit in with their peers · Try to do too much · Feel that they have too many options and choices in their lives · Are stuck with dull, routine classes and schoolwork · Have difficulty finding friends who accept them as they are · Feel that they need to compete with their siblings or classmates · Have too few challenges in school · Are teased about being gifted · Feel compelled to do their best at everything ..on top of the normal stressors of adolescence!

-The Gifted Kids' Survival Guide by Judy Galbraith and Jim Delisle


· Gifted students often have the potential to be successful in many areas. · This leads to increased opportunities and increase choices. · Career goals must be set which results in saying "no" to something. · Limiting options and making complex choices are stressful activities.

Stress And Self-Esteem

· "During the early years, school may be easy, with minimum effort required for success. If students are not challenged, they conclude that "giftedness" means instant learning, comprehension, and master, and that outstanding achievement follows naturally." · "As years pass, however, schoolwork becomes more difficult. Some students discover that they must work harder to earn top grades and that they have not developed productive study habits. Many suspect they are no longer gifted, and their sense of self-worth is undermined." - Leslie Kaplan

Stress And Self-Esteem

· Stress can interfere with gifted abilities by

­ Clouding thinking ­ Reducing concentration ­ Impairing decision making ­ Leading to forgetfulness ­ Causing an inability to focus ­ Making students overly sensitive to criticism

· This leads to failure which creates a vicious cycle.

Symptoms of Unhealthy


· Change in attitude about school activities from happy and excited to negative and cynical · Approaches activities and assignments with resignation or resentment · Unhappy with self and accomplishments · Unable to make decisions · Loses perspective and sense of humor · Is bored, tired, and listless · Suffers from sleeplessness or has difficulty falling asleep and waking

Symptoms of Unhealthy


· Overreacts to everyday events · Feels "trapped" or out of control · Develops nervous habits (stuttering, blinking, head shaking) · Complains of somatic ailments (headaches, stomachaches) or is often sick · Requires constant support and reassurance, increased dependency · Acts out aggressively or seeks attention · Is exhausted ­ physically, emotionally, mentally

Symptoms of Unhealthy

· · · · · · · · · · Nervousness Excessive daydreaming Apathy Laziness Withdrawal Chemical abuse Truancy Vandalism Hostility Suicidal thoughts


-The Gifted Kids' Survival Guide by Judy Galbraith and Jim Delisle

Unhealthy Coping

· Risk Avoidance: Not trying because failure is too risky

­ Reduced risk taking behavior so as not to endanger self-worth and identity

· Path of Least Resistance: Not trying because coasting is easier

­ Social acceptance; lack of effort easier to deal with than lack of success ­ Easier courses, procrastination, less competitive situations

· Superman/Superwoman Syndrome: Trying too hard

­ Overload of external and internal pressures

· The fake escape

­ Drugs, alcohol, anorexia, bulimia, sleeping too much or too little, self-mutilation

Healthy Coping

· · · · · ·

· · · ·

Take a break from the source of stress Confront the source of stress Talk about the source of stress Ignore the source of stress Change perspective Learn skills and attitudes that will make the task easier and more successful Work for personal satisfaction Do something enjoyable Hang out with friends and family Exercise and eat well

Reducing Stress for the Gifted Learner

As the parent, · Set reasonable goals · Acknowledge and reward effort · Recognize improvement · Be realistic · Foster creativity and individuality · Encourage flexibility · Be patient

· Develop the whole child · Let them live their own lives · Don't compare to others · Be accepting · Be encouraging · Be available · Encourage appropriate behavior

As the adult

·Provide opportunities to win and to lose ·Spend time doing something non competitive with your child ·Use humor ·Use bibliotherapy ·Manage hunger, anger, lonely, and tired (H.A.L.T.) ·Use physical touch ·Don't ignore feelings, BUT... ·Don't buy into the child's thoughts of worthlessness but tell them, "I see you differently."

Help your child

· Understand and identify with other children while maintaining an understanding of how they are different · Acknowledge and accept their talents and limitations · Develop social skills · Feel accepted and understood · Distinguish between excellence and perfection · Develop patience · Practice deep breathing

Help your child learn to...

· · · · · · Break large projects into smaller tasks Compartmentalize their thinking Prioritize Understand that blaming others leaves one helpless Positive Self Talk Ask "What is the worst possible outcome?" "the most likely?" Use a journal or complaint box Be the hero of their own story

· ·

"I've been known for the last few years to call the cell phone the world's longest umbilical cord."

- Richard Mullendore, PhD., Professor of College of Student Affairs Administration, University of Georgia

Remember to...

· Treat your child the age they are · Let your child dream · Take the time to teach your child skills and then let them help, then do · Teach your kids to manage their time (and then don't fix it for them) · Be brave and let your child be brave. · Allow your child to judge their own creativity

It's Good To Know...

· Kids need to feel badly sometimes · Natural consequences help children grow · Goal setting allows kids to grow independently · Nobody is perfect! · Not everything must be scheduled · Chores teach kids responsiblity

Emotional Factors That Influence Success

· Risk taking is an important part of learning guided by curiosity · Confidence defined by being in control of oneself · Being able to impact the environment · Relating to others socially · Capacity to communicate emotions · Cooperation with others

Resources: Articles and Books

· · · · · · · · Adderholdt, Miriam and Jan Goldberg. (1999). Perfectionism: What's Bad About Being Too Good? Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing. Delisle, James. (1992). Guiding the Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Youth: A Practical Guide for Educators and Counselors. White Plains, NY: Longman Publishing Group. Estroff Marano, Hara. Pschology Today. Galbraith, Judy. (1984). The Gifted Kids Survival Guide for Ages 10 & Under. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing. Galbraith, Judy and Jim Delisle. (1996). The Gifted Kids Survival Guide: A Teen Handbook. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing. Gray, Peter. (2011). How Children Learn Bravery in an Age of Overprotection. Greenspon, Thomas. (2002). Freeing Our Families from Perfectionism. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing. Heacox, Diane. (1991). Up from Underachievement: How Teachers, Students, and Parents Can Work Together to Promote Student Success. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing. Kaplan, Leslie S. (1990). Helping Gifted Students with Stress Management.


Resources: Articles and Books

· · · Krienke, John. Retrieved 10/11/2007. The Stress of Being Gifted and Talented.,1303,1-26840,00.html. Romain, Trevor and Elizabeth Verdick. (2000). Stress Can Really Get on Your Nerves! Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing. Rosen, Rhoda. (1998). Emotional Intelligence and Creativity of their Gifted Children: A Summary of CTD's Spring 1998 Conference. Saunders, Jacqulyn, and Pamela Espeland. (1991). Bringing Out the Best: A Guide for Parents of Young Gifted Children. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing. Schmitz, Connie C., and Judy Galbraith. (1985). Managing the Social and Emotional Needs of the Gifted: A Teacher's Survival Guide. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing. Silverman, Linda Kreger. (2000). Counseling the Gifted & Talented. Denver, CO: Love Publishing Company. Walker, Sally Yahnke. (1991). The Survival Guide for Parents of Gifted Kids: How to Understand, Live With, and Stick Up for Gifted Child. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing. Webb, James T., Elizabeth a Meckstroth, and Stephanie S. Tolan. (1994). Guiding the Gifted Child: A Practical Source for Parents and Teachers. Scottsdale, AZ: Gifted Psychology Press.


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Helping Gifted Students Deal with Stress and Perfectionism

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