Helping Gifted Students With Stress Management (page 3)

— Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Jul 26, 2007

How Can Parents, Teachers, and Counselors Reduce Stress on Gifted Students?

  • Help each gifted student understand and cope with his or her intellectual, social, and emotional needs during each stage of development. In some ways, the needs of gifted students mirror those of more typical children. Giftedness, however, adds a special dimension to self-understanding and self-acceptance. If gifted youngsters are to develop into self-fulfilled adults, the following differential needs must be addressed: (a) the need to understand the ways in which they are different from others and the ways in which they are the same; (b) the need to accept their abilities, talents, and limitations; (c) the need to develop social skills; (d) the need to feel understood and accepted by others; and (e) the need to develop an understanding of the distinction between "pursuit of excellence" and "pursuit of perfection." VanTassel-Baska (1989) and Delisle (1988) have offered useful suggestions on how to meet these needs.
  • Help each gifted student develop a realistic and accurate self-concept. Giftedness does not mean instant mastery or winning awards. Parents and teachers need to set realistic expectations for efforts and achievements and help the student choose appropriate goals. It is important to recognize and appreciate efforts and improvement.

    On the other hand, giftedness permits people to learn and use information in unusual ways. Given parental support and encouragement, personal motivation, and opportunities to learn and apply their knowledge, gifted students may enjoy the process of creating new ideas, especially if they believe that it is all right to think differently than age-mates.

  • Help each gifted student be a whole person. Gifted youngsters are children first and gifted second. While their learning styles may be special, they are individuals with emotions, likes and dislikes, and unique personalities. They will not wake up one day and be "not gifted." They should not feel responsible for solving world problems, nor does the world owe them tribute. It is up to each student to make life meaningful. Understanding these realistic limits to the bounty of giftedness can reduce stress on confused students.

    Gifted students have strong emotions that give personal meaning to each experience. Emotions should be recognized, understood, and used as a valid basis for appropriate behaviors.

  • Show patience. Let students select and strive toward their own goals. Do not compare them or their achievements to others.

    Some gifted students are intensely curious and may have less tolerance for ambiguity and unpredictability than their age-mates. Help them develop patience with themselves.

  • Show acceptance and encouragement. Encourage students to work purposefully, thoughtfully, and thoroughly and do the best they can. It is not necessary to excel in every situation. Help them develop priorities to decide which tasks require the best efforts and which require simply "good enough."

    Accept and reward efforts and the process of working on tasks. Sincere effort is valuable in itself and deserves reinforcement. The means may be more deserving of merit than the ends. Efforts are within the gifted students' control; the outcomes (high grades, prizes, honors, etc.) are not. Show love and acceptance, regardless of the outcome. These youngsters need to be cherished as individuals, not simply for their accomplishments. They must know that they can go home and be loved-- and continue to love themselves--even when they do not finish first or best.

  • Encourage flexibility and appropriate behavior. Curiosity is frequently mentioned as a characteristic of gifted learners. Many individuals agree that gifted students seem to question rules automatically, asking "How come?" Concerned adults can reduce stress on gifted students by helping them distinguish between hard-and-fast rules that should be followed and those that can safely be questioned or altered and helping them understand why rules sometimes change from time to time.

    Many people recognize that new ideas come from reshaping and discarding old notions of right and wrong and want students to be inquiring, creative, and resourceful thinkers. But society, schools, teachers, and academic subjects have rules. In our society, flagrant rule breakers may be penalized and shut out of opportunities for further growth and enrichment. Our students will become better thinkers by learning that rules are man-made guides to behavior, not perfect or divine, but they are to be learned, understood, and followed appropriately in certain situations. For instance, not every student will like every teacher, but showing respect is appropriate behavior even if the student privately thinks otherwise. Wise adults can model problem-solving methods that result in workable solutions and help gifted students learn when and how to use their novel perceptions, creativity, and independent thoughts appropriately and effectively.

  • Understanding and following rules does not mean conforming to every situation. There are some occasions when gifted students should not be expected to accommodate others. For example, a severe mismatch between a youngster's ability level and a school program may be very stressful. Altering the student's curriculum may solve the problem.

    Some parents unintentionally send mixed messages regarding behavior. When children are rude or uncooperative and offend teachers, other adults, or peers, their parents behave as though giftedness somehow excuses such behavior and the offending actions highlight their child's specialness. Some even seem pleased. These parents do their children a great disservice by denying them the opportunity to learn empathy, teamwork, and tolerance for individual differences.

  • Let students live their own lives. Caring adults support, encourage, and celebrate students' efforts and successes, but they stand back a bit from these efforts and achievements. They let students select and master activities for personal enjoyment. Unfortunately, some students wonder whether their efforts and gains are for personal satisfaction or to please overly involved parents, teachers, or others. When these students wish to give up an activity that no longer brings pleasure or interest, they fear they will disappoint others, and they are likely to feel trapped.
  • Be available for guidance and advice. Some gifted students appear to be more mature than their chronological age indicates. They have advanced verbal skills and can talk a good line. Nevertheless, they are still children and need realistic, clearly stated guidelines about limits, values, and proper behavior. These young people may not have enough information or experience to make wise and effective decisions. They may not understand decision-making processes, and they need wise adults to listen and guide as they talk through the problem, the alternatives, and the pro's and con's and try out choices. Knowing that they can be independent and still talk through their thoughts with others without losing face reduces stress for these students.

    Gifted students need to hear adults openly state some of their perspectives to understand expectations and acceptable limits. While these students are very perceptive, they cannot read minds.

    Gifted students may know more facts about their interest area than do their parents and other adults. However, they have not lived longer; they need loving concern and guidance.


Delisle, J. R. (1988). "Stress and the gifted child." Understanding Our Gifted, 1 (1), 1, 12, 15-16.

VanTassel-Baska, J. (1989). "Counseling the gifted." In J. Feldhusen, J. VanTassel-Baska, & K. Seeley, Excellence in Educating the Gifted (pp. 299-314). Denver, CO: Love Publishing.


Ellenhorn, J. H. (1988). "Rules, roles, and responsibilities." Understanding Our Gifted, 1(2), 1,12, 13.

Higham, S., & Buescher, T. M. (1987). "What young gifted adolescents understand about 'feeling different.'" In T.M. Buescher (Ed.), Understanding Gifted and Talented Adolescents: A Resource Guide for Counselors, Educators, and Parents (pp. 26-30). Evanston, IL: Center for Talent Development, Northwestern University.

Kaplan, L. S. (1983). "Mistakes gifted young people too often make." Roeper Review, 6 (2), 73-77.

Pelsma, D. M. (1988). "Children coping with stress: A workshop for parents." The School Counselor, 36 (2), 153-157.

Pines, A. M., & Aronson, E., with Kafry, D. (1981). Burnout: From Tedium to Personal Growth. New York: The Free Press.

Selye, H. (1978). The Stress of Life(rev. ed). New York: McGraw- Hill.

VanTassel-Baska, J. (Ed.) (1990). A Practical Guide to Counseling the Gifted in a School Setting (2nd ed.). Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children/ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children.

Webb, J. T., Meckstroth, E.A., & Tolan, S. S. (1982).Guiding the Gifted Child. Columbus: Ohio Psychology Publishing.



Leslie S. Kaplan is Director of Guidance, York County Public Schools, Virginia, and author of "Coping With Peer Pressure and Coping With Stepfamilies.


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