A: Anxiety is a problem that affects many of our children, and gifted children can also be anxious. Although I applaud your desire to read some good books on this subject (which I will happily provide), the most important question you ask is this: “When should we call in a professional?” The answer is now.
Here is a short list of how your child has been affected by his anxiety: He feels that he cannot measure up, he is hard on himself about smaller struggles, he has test anxiety, and he has eating issues going back to his preschooler days.
This is one sensitive little guy, and it’s time to bring in the big guns (in the form of play therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT). It’s not that you can’t help him at home — you can — but the expertise of an impartial professional can be immensely helpful, to both you and your son.
Another path I strongly encourage is testing. Whether you go through your public school or a private tester, a comprehensive neuropsychological test will reveal information that is needed for his home life as well as his needs in school. For instance, if the test reveals your son is indeed anxious, he can obtain a 504 plan that, by law, will help educators and you come up with a custom education plan that will help your son. A 504 would allow him to have extra time on tests, more latitude with homework, and breaks in the academic day to see a counselor, for example. It can be important to obtain a 504 now. Because they last for a number of years, your son can rely on getting these services as he develops emotionally and physically. The psychologist will make recommendations and help you assess what is best for your son (and if they don’t, please ask).
The path to testing can be lengthy and expensive, and I don’t recommend it lightly. But you need to understand your son better so that you can guide him in the right direction. Is he anxious because he is gifted? Maybe. Is he anxious because he was born that way? Maybe. Does he need tangible support either way? Yes.
In the meantime, it is useful to remember that anxiety is not logical. And the No. 1 mistake many parents make is using logic to try to solve an emotional problem. It is never going to work. I am not blaming parents for using logic — it is what our developed brains jump to — but trying to convince your fourth-grader that he doesn’t need to worry or that he understands the math or that he is doing well is like trying to fight off clouds. And the worst part? When parents keep resorting to logic for an emotional problem, we add frustration to an already frustrating situation. Your son doesn’t want to feel this way; his limbic system is hijacked by his overactive brain and hormones.
How can you help your son at home?
1. Focus on having him become attuned to his body. Breath-control techniques, such as hot chocolate breathing and box breathing, are effective for anxiety. Using grounding techniques such as these will get him out of his head and into his body.
2. Listen to the emotions and let them flow. If he is afraid of not understanding math, go ahead and mirror that. Murmur things like, “I get it, that must feel scary.” By not fighting the emotions, no matter how illogical, they have a greater chance of passing by more quickly.
3. Don’t be afraid of tears. Although many parents would prefer to sidestep tears, crying can be a sign of letting go of what we can’t control in our lives. It is better to have your son cry to you about what makes him anxious than to hold on to all those feelings.
4. As you learn more about giftedness, teach your son how his brain works. This will help him externalize all of his big feelings, and he will have a greater chance of feeling in control and calm.
As for books and resources, I love the list at copingskillsforkids.com. You are sure to find books for yourself, your son and your whole family.
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