Major life transitions like starting school, moving, meeting new friends and introducing new activities are challenging for everyone but to a gifted child they can raise the level of anxiety and fear to extraordinary levels. Part of a gifted child’s comfort zone is being able to operate in a familiar system where they feel known, accepted and nurtured. In new environments this sense of safety can become threatened by uncertainty.
We must remember that some level of nervousness and worry is normal in new situations. However, there are several things that you can do, and help your child do, to minimize the impact of the worry. First, we must remember that our thinking ignites our worry. That means that if we are thinking worrisome things, our “fight or flight” part of our brain is activated and we will feel nervous in our body. Next, we need to identify, and help our kids identify, the content of our thoughts and then change them into something a little more adaptive and hopeful and less catastrophic. For example, you might identify your anxious thought to be, “I hope my child doesn’t have a bad experience and get teased by others.” You can change this to something like, “I am looking forward to a to turning this into a positive opportunity to learn and grow.” Similarly, your child might be thinking, “I afraid that I will fail.” You can help him change his thinking to something like “It’s perfectly okay to ask for help if I need it.” These examples may sound over-simplified, but they really do work in calming your mind.
In addition to the above examples of thinking strategies, there are also environmental strategies that can be helpful in reducing yours and your child’s worry.
First, set up some goals with your child. Talk about what your child’s worst fears are put some tools into place to help counteract them. If your child is afraid of not knowing anyone in their new activity group or class room, set up a meeting with the leader so that your child feels they are on his or her side.
Next, develop rituals surrounding this new activity. If you have moved to a new home, take your child out once a day to find something new and interesting about your neighborhood. If they are starting a new school, give them some examples of ways to talk to a new friend and get to know them a little better.
The last very important thing to do is – focus on the present. Try to take one day at a time and deal with the challenges if, and when, they come.
Dr. Dan Peters, Ph.D., is co-founder of the Summit Center (http://summitcenter.us/), which provides psychological and educational assessments and counseling for children and adolescents, specializing in the gifted, creative, and twice-exceptional.