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Gifted, Perfectionist, and Stressed
Q: My seven-year-old twins are both gifted. My son is very laid-back and if he doesn't do well on something, he has an attitude of "Well, I tried my best." My daughter is just the opposite. If she does less than perfect on a paper, she gets really upset and cannot understand why she got "that one wrong."
I've tried to explain to her that she doesn't have to be perfect all the time, but she can't seem to stop worrying about things. She's had to go on medication for GI problems, which I am sure are due to her worrying. Do you have any suggestions? I don't want my child to have ulcers by the time she is eight!
A: Your letter is proof that not all gifted children are the same! Your daughter needs specific instruction on how to calm down and relax. I am referring to physical relaxation exercises, such as slow breathing, muscle relaxation, visualizing positive images while she calms down, etc. Either you or a school guidance counselor may be able to teach her. If she can't accept this, and the medication does not seem to help her GI problems, then you may need to consider some short-term counseling for her.
Is she in some type of competition with her twin? Do school staff or family compare the siblings' abilities within earshot? Does the laid-back brother give her problems about her mistakes when no one is around? These are all points to consider. Is anyone else in the family also hard on themselves when they make a mistake? Whether family members handle problems calmly sets a very valuable example for a young child. We can't say to a child, "Don't be stressed" and expect it to stop. But saying, "Here is how you calm down when you feel that way" is a first step towards controlling it. Good luck.
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Noreen Joslyn is a licensed independent social worker in the state of Ohio and is a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers. She has a master's degree in Social Work, specializing in family and children, from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a psychiatric social worker in private practice with Ken DeLuca, Ph.D. & Associates, where she counsels parents and children.