Who doesn’t love the thought of having a bright child? Maybe even gifted. Perhaps you have gone so far as to have your child tested and he or she meets the criteria for the gifted program at school. This is a proud parenting moment for many.
Yet, there is a dark side to raising a gifted child. Research shows that gifted children and young adults are at higher risk for mental heath issues, including depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies.
I have seen many gifted children in my counselling practice who are not coping well in the classroom. They disturb others instead of doing their desk work. They have difficulties socially and are an outcast from their peers.
Why? Well, their big brain doesn’t operate like the others, so that can turn school into one big yawn fest. Boredom can lead to misbehaviour. Loneliness can result from not finding others who think like them.
Your child may feel like a fish out of water.
"Research shows that gifted children and young adults are at higher risk for mental heath issues, including depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies."
And if you have a big brain, you ponder existential questions about death and the end of the universe. While that is fascinating, it can stir up anxiety when you are still only six years old!
Mind you, there is valid empirical research confirming just the opposite -- that being gifted can increase a child's resiliency.
So what is a parent to conclude? Is being gifted a help or hindrance to our children’s mental well being?
The key is for parents to be attuned to our children's mental health. Here is a good way to conceptualize this: mental health requires us to feel connected to others. We all need to feel loved, valued, accepted and that we belong. Period.
The murky part is that humans view the world subjectively and they make their own creative meaning of what they experience. I will give you a simple example. When I was growing up, only two kids had glasses in my class, me and one of my friends.
My friend hated her glasses and refused to wear them, feeling they made her look "dumb" and she didn’t want to stand out from the others.
I, on the other hand, thought my glasses made me look scholarly and I liked the attention I got for standing out. So, it's not about the glasses. It's what we make of the experience. So, too, with giftedness.
Since we know children need to belong, feel accepted and have strong social connections to maintain their mental health, we have to assure those elements are in place for the gifted child. This will largely be up to their perceptions and conclusions, but we can help.
"Their big brain doesn’t operate like the others, so that can turn school into one big yawn fest."
If school is boring and alien, then a gifted program might be just the ticket to feeling like they are with like-minded people who “get” them. Also, they might enjoy the challenge of the new amped-up curriculum.
On the other hand, if they have tons of friends and are thriving in their current environment, then keep them with their peers!
If they struggle with social skills, be sure to find some extra programs, like an improv camp, to build those skills. Remember, kids don’t need to be popular, but they do need to have that one best friend.
As an aware parent, you can keep an eye for any signs of anxiety, long bouts of sadness or comments of self loathing. If that happens, be sure to seek out counselling.
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