Q. My daughter is a highly creative, artistic 12-year-old. She has always been very independent. Her first phrase at age 14 months was, "Me do!" She was identified for the gifted program in third grade. She'll work herself crazy for a simple paper, although her room is always a disaster.
Yesterday she told me she's been having trouble feeling motivated in school and is worried about a speech she has to give. Normally she excels at speeches. She told me that everything is going along fine at school, but sometimes she starts to feel her heart racing. That sounds a bit like a panic attack.
I tried to come up with a plan with her, and she even asked for my help on the speech, which is extremely rare. I asked her, "What's the worse thing that could happen with this?" I tried to help her see that nothing really awful would happen. She looked crestfallen and said, "I'd get a one on my speech."
How do I help my gifted child see she won't always get the six she wants, but it will be OK? How do I help her cope with the pressure of school and social stuff? Should I inform the teacher of her stress? She's intense by nature and has lofty goals for herself. I don't want her getting an ulcer at 13.
A. It's true that gifted children often feel pressures from parents, teachers and self-expectations. Consider that even her continued successful performance challenges her to keep up such high achievement. The praise she's accustomed to receiving furthers the pressure she feels, but if the praise lessens, she may feel like she's not meeting expectations.
First and foremost, check with your family physician to rule out medical problems. You mentioned briefly the social pressure your daughter could also be feeling, but you didn't elaborate on this, and it may be playing a greater role than you suspect. Gifted children are often torn between wanting to get average grades to fit in with their peers and maintaining high grades that represent their ability and expectations. They recognize that peers will taunt or tease them almost regardless of grades because they've already established a reputation for being unusually bright.
Talking to your daughter's teacher could give you further insight into potential pressures she's experiencing and could also assist the teacher in guiding her. For example, during the middle school years, if teachers announce a bright child's grades to the class, it's often not a favor, but an embarrassment. And it can cause considerable pressure.
Try to emphasize to your daughter that what you value most about her school performance is that she loves learning, has interests and does her best, whatever that is. Also, explain that, with increasing maturity, she'll be in larger environments where there will be more bright students. Add that you don't expect her to get the "best grades," only the best grades she can with comfortable study and interest.
Also, point out that her fears of getting a "one," the lowest grade, are certainly irrational because only students who don't make any effort will get "ones," and that she'll undoubtedly earn either a five or six — both of which would be fine provided she's learned and enjoyed the experience. You may wish to share with your daughter some memories from your own childhood when you felt tension or anxiety and learned to cope with it.
If her anxiety continues or becomes more serious, and you've ruled out physical causes, a psychologist can help her learn to cope with middle-grade pressures.
For a free newsletter about "Growing Up Too Fast," "Keys to Parenting the Gifted Child," or perfectionism, send a large self-addressed, stamped envelope to P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI 53094, or go to www.sylviarimm.com for more information.
Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at www.sylviarimm.com. Please send questions to: Sylvia B. Rimm on Raising Kids, P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI 53094 or [email protected] To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.