If you have a gifted kid, you're probably pretty proud. But what do you do when they start "slacking off"? What if your typically bright, intelligent, and overachieving kiddo suddenly starts pulling away and no longer seems interested in trying? As parents, we're often prone to start thinking the worst and worrying about our kids' futures. One parent-teacher conference can change your attitude from the proud parent of a gifted kid to the still-proud-but-also-anxious parent of a child with a possible undiagnosed medical or emotional disorder. Is my child neurodiverse? Do they have ADHD? Did we miss all the "tell-tale" signs that they're on the autism spectrum? Parents tend to go from complacency to second-guessing everything in a matter of one conversation or one bad test. And, yes, your gifted kid could have some undiagnosed issues (which wouldn’t change how awesome they are or how much you love them). However, it’s also entirely possible that they're just dealing with gifted kid burnout, which actually looks a lot like ADHD.
Don't let those missed assignments send you straight into a parental panic spiral. Before you start booking appointments with school interventionists and psychologists, take a deep breath. You might be able to investigate, "diagnose," and correct course all on your own with just a bit of reading and a few conversations with your gifted kid. Start here.
A Parents’ Guide to Gifted Kid Burnout
For help in tackling this complex topic, Scary Mommy tapped Dr. Damon Korb, Developmental Pediatrician and Clinical Advisor for Parallel Learning, a telehealth platform supporting families and students with learning differences.
Take a look at your gifted kid's strengths and weaknesses.
As Dr. Korb explains, just because your kid is gifted doesn't mean they're without weaknesses.
"Like everyone, gifted people have strengths and weaknesses," Dr. Korb tells Scary Mommy. "However, when people are gifted, there is a greater possibility of a discrepancy between their strengths and weaknesses. For instance, if a child has an IQ of 130 but a low average processing speed of 95, that discrepancy can cause a problem for a child. It results in frustration and disappointment. And it is not just processing speed; it could also be weak executive functions, attention, memory or another neurodevelopmental ability."
Figuring out your child's strengths and weaknesses will require a mix of things. As with all aspects of motherhood, your day-to-day insights make you the most trusted expert on your child. Of course, just because you know what your child needs doesn't mean you understand why they need it or the right terms to describe the accommodations your gifted kid needs to succeed. The internet, your doctor, and your school's counselor can all be great assets.
Know what ADHD looks like.
"ADHD is a neurological condition that affects a person's ability to focus, sustain attention, or exhibit self-control," Dr. Korb says. "People with ADHD cannot perform these functions or do so inconsistently."
It doesn't just look like the restless kid in class, though. It can also look like the kid who sleeps through lectures. Or, if you've ever met a girl labeled “boy crazy” growing up, you might be surprised to learn that her ADHD caused her to hyperfocus on her crush.
Want an even more in-depth look at ADHD? Check out TikTok. Seriously. Check out the neurodivergent hashtags, which contain a ton of videos from actual ND individuals describing their lives. As you scroll, you might see a mirror of your child or even yourself. If so, talk to your doctor about getting a professional evaluation.
Understand the differences between ADHD and gifted kid burnout symptoms.
"While burnout can occur in either group, gifted kids tend to struggle selectively. In other words, if they don't like it, it does not get done," Dr. Korb explains. "Anyone that is overwhelmed or disillusioned can burn out. When talking about gifted burnout, we are talking about these uniquely discrepant abilities that frustrate students, making them vulnerable to giving up. Overwhelmed kids behave differently. Some act out and get in trouble, while others shut down and refuse to work. Other kids simply act avoidantly; they turn to online games or videos to block out their struggles."
Learn how to prevent gifted kid burnout.
Dr. Korb offers this advice on how to prevent burnout, saying, “There are two important ways to help a child avoid burnout. One, help them to understand their strengths and weaknesses, which are best identified by psychoeducational testing, and provide them with the needed support to address those weaknesses. Psychoeducational testing looks at the neurodevelopmental abilities such as memory, language, attention, motor control, higher-order thinking, and visual processing needed for academic success.”
He continues, “Two, children need to learn how to solve their own problems. They do this best when given independence to play, explore, and make mistakes. For instance, a good problem solver is rarely bored. But if we parents pacify our kids with electronics and by over scheduling them, they never learn to solve this problem on their own."
How to Help a Gifted Kid With Burnout
Give your child access to creative materials. Kids can become overwhelmed by repetitive academic tasks that make school and learning feel like a chore. Add color to their instruction by allowing them time to explore innovative tools and assignments. This can range from wood workshop classes to watching an animal documentary. The point is to break up the day with something different and fun that engages the creative side of their mind.
Gifted Kid and ADHD Glossary
If you perform in a relatively "average" range, you might be shocked as you dive into the universe of giftedness and ADHD. In any niche, culture, or medical community, you always need to learn a whole new set of rules and terms. Much of that is learned simply by existing within that world and learning as you go. We wanted to save you a bit of Googling, though. Below is a glossary of terms used that you may not already know.
There are seven executive functions: thinking, planning, self-monitoring, self-control, working memory, time management, and organization. People experiencing poor executive function or executive dysfunction might never start dinner on time, always forget to brush their teeth, or start to follow recipes before just deciding to do their own thing.
Relating to or involving the development of the nervous system, this word is most often used when talking about "neurodevelopmental disorders" like ADHD, autism, or cerebral palsy.
Being "different" from what is considered typical/normal, specifically in how one thinks or processes information. The opposite is "neurotypical."
This is just like the processing speed for a computer. It's the time it takes you to respond to or react to the environment and incoming information.
Signs of Burnout in Gifted Students
- Your child has a negative outlook toward teachers, classmates, and academia in general.
- They avoid putting effort into their favorite interests or hobbies.
- Your child deals with stress-induced headaches or digestive issues.
- They experience anxiety and panic attacks often.
- They often feel devastated over minor setbacks.
- Your child feels a sense of hopelessness about the future.
- Your child develops cynicism toward school.
- They lose interest in their favorite topics.
- Students feel very depressed about attending school.
- There is a change in your child's sleeping and eating habits. They begin to do both less.
- Your child withdraws from their friends and family.
- They develop a perfectionist mentality and see all their mistakes as complete failures.
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