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Burnout in Gifted Children

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Burnout in Gifted Children

The term “burnout” has become increasingly commonplace in our daily lives – whether it is in reference to job burnout, care-taker burnout, and more recently, Covid-19 burnout. So, what is gifted burnout and how does it differ from other forms of burnout? This article will provide insights for parents and educators working with gifted children to understand what the signs of gifted burnout are and what you can do to help the child overcome it.

What is Gifted Kid Burnout?

Like other experiences of burnout, gifted kid burnout is the result of long-term stress. It is often characterized by physical exhaustion, mental fatigue, and emotional detachment. It can be brought on by juggling too many roles, having little control, or few to no breaks. Gifted kid burnout adds a new dimension to the burnout experience because of their unique neurological make-up. Their perfectionism, asynchronous development, and over-excitabilities may feed into the burnout experience in a way that increases the intensity or duration of burnout.

The definition of gifted child burnout is chronic exhaustion that stems from a mismatch between the individual and their current educational environment. While other forms of burnout might be tied to the workplace, or the emotional labor involved in care-taker roles, gifted child burnout is often tied to an educational system that the child finds repetitive, unrewarding, without autonomy, unfair, or not aligned with their values. Gifted kids may also experience burnout due to the unique sources of stress in their lives and the expectations that come with being gifted.

How to Tell If Your Gifted Child Is Experiencing Burnout

While there is no gifted burnout assessment or test, there are indicators parents might use to determine whether their child might be suffering from burnout. Because burnout is chronic in nature, one of the first signs that a child might be experiencing gifted burnout is if they voice a reoccurring complaint or if they have a pattern of disengaging from their usual activities. The normal stress of school and adolescence mean that periods of anxiety, stress, or withdrawal are to be expected. However, when the frequency, duration, and intensity of stressful periods starts to ramp up, then it might be time to take a closer look.

There is no one exact combination of signs that point to burnout because symptoms may be physical, psychosocial, or behavioral.

Signs of Burnout in Gifted Students:

  • Student feels cynical towards work, teachers, classmates, parents, and the whole school experience
  • Student is disengaging from favorite topics and interests
  • Student feels a sense of dread each day around going to school, clubs, or other activities
  • Student experiences more frequent anxiety or panic attacks
  • Student has change in sleeping and eating habits
  • Student feels overwhelmed or helpless by small setbacks
  • Student has more headaches, digestive issues, or other physical ailments
  • Student is withdrawing from friends and family
  • Student is unmotivated to the point of being unable to complete chores, assignments, or social obligations
  • Student feels a sense of futility, hopelessness, or pessimism towards their future

Your gifted student may have varying combinations of these symptoms or perhaps different ones altogether. When it comes to a gifted kid experiencing burnout, losing the “light in their eyes” is one warning sign parents often notice in their children when they begin to experience burnout.

How to Help Your Gifted Child Overcome Burnout

There are several ways you might help a gifted kid experiencing burnout

1. Add meaningfulness back into the work

Have educators use a strengths-based approach to ensure that the curriculum and assignments have real-world connections that are meaningful. Gifted students often have a strong sense of social justice, so connecting schoolwork to the student’s values may mitigate gifted kid burnout.

2. Give students a sense of ownership

Students have little control over their education, which can be a source of burnout, so providing autonomy where possible for students, such as building their schedule or choosing how they demonstrate learning, may increase their buy-in.

3. Provide access to advanced materials

Burnout can stem from doing too many repetitive tasks and even boredom, so it is crucial that our nation’s brightest youth have access to an intellectually engaging curriculum that helps keep their spark alive.

4. Normalize not being okay

Help your child build their emotional vocabulary to name and tame unpleasant feelings. Talk to them about common issues like perfectionism, anxiety, and depression. Making this time to check in with your child can build a bridge of communication, and will help you better monitor their burnout as well.

5. Practice mindfulness and other coping skills together

Help your child develop their coping skills by connecting with them and showing them how you deal with similar feelings. This may be through mindfulness meditation, practicing gratitude, or even having the family put their phones down to walk or stretch together.

6. Build a routine with flexibility

A daily plan provides stability and accountability, but be careful not to overschedule your child. Burnout results in low motivation, so break-up the day in bigger chunks than you would otherwise and let your child know it is okay if they don’t get everything done. In some cases, a long break from the source of the stress might be called for.

7. Do non-academic things

Gifted children often have their eyes on graduate school and start shaping their resume even from a young age, which can lead to burnout when there’s no room for non-academic tasks. Sign them up for cooking classes, watch fungus documentaries, read new works of fiction, and play role-playing games – whatever it may be that can bring the smile back to their face and get them excited about the world again!

Need More Help with Gifted Kid Burnout??

When all of this is not enough, consider who is in your support network and see if you can lean on them. Phoning a family friend, past mentor, or other gifted adult may be a helpful way to provide some perspective and insight for you and your gifted child. Don’t hesitate to find a counselor if the situation is worsening – we all need help once in a while!

We know our bright kids are full of curiosity, humor, a sense of wonder, and compassion, which is why watching them experience burnout can be so difficult. However, gifted burnout is preventable and reversible. We hope that you and your child will be back to cracking the Riemann hypothesis in no time!

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Please note, the Davidson Institute is a non-profit serving families with highly gifted children. We will not post comments that are considered soliciting, mention illicit topics, or share highly personal information.

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