Tag Archives: Dabrowski

High Anxiety in My Gifted Child

By Lisa Hartwig

Lisa is the mother of 3 gifted children and lives outside of San Francisco.

Which of the following is a symptom of anxiety in a gifted child?

a. An eye twitch
b. Pacing in circles
c. Fighting with her mother

The answer?
All of the above.

The eye twitch and the pacing were easy for me. My oldest son’s eye began to twitch in fifth grade, around the same time he started to disengage at school. Our middle child began pacing in circles around the bathroom in second grade. That was the year that his teacher wrote his name on the blackboard with the word “teacher” before it because she thought he was too bossy.

My daughter is the one who fights with me. She is in an ideal educational environment. We fight because I am annoying.

If you met my daughter, you would find her to be an adorable, Justin Bieber-loving 11 year old. And she is. She is also super critical of me. According to my daughter, I clear my throat excessively. I use the word “sweetie” when I’m irritated and I make squishing noises when I chew. When I do these things, she tells me to stop. Sometimes she even imitates me.

My daughter’s need to correct me leads to terrible fights. I can’t understand why she won’t overlook my annoying behavior. She doesn’t know why I keep doing things that irritate her. Usually, I just walk away. That enrages her. She hates it when I walk away.

I don’t tell many people about my daughter’s criticism because it makes both of us look bad. It’s disrespectful. It’s insensitive. It’s evidence of my bad parenting skills. And, according to a psychiatrist I know, it’s a symptom of high anxiety.

About a year ago, I was talking with a psychiatrist about anxiety issues of my own. She went down a laundry list of symptoms. At one point she asked me if I get annoyed easily. I said no, and she seemed surprised. She said that highly anxious people are often irritable. Then I remembered my daughter. I thought about how she hates it when her younger brother cracks his knuckles, when her older brother chews ice or when her father talks with food in his mouth. It occurred to me that my daughter is irritable because she is anxious.

I am the first to admit that I might be fooling myself by thinking that my daughter’s behavior reflects anxiety instead of permissive parenting because I don’t want to take responsibility for the behavior. Having said this, I can’t escape the genetic component of her anxiety. After all, I’m anxious, and so is my husband. Our sons? Anxious and anxious. Any genetic predisposition she might have received was certainly nurtured by my anxious parenting.

Okay, maybe I lied to the psychiatrist. Sometimes I am irritable. Early in our marriage, I told my husband what to do when I behave this way. When I am at my most unlikable, what I really need is a hug. I need some physical reassurance that I am not bad despite my bad behavior.

We tried it with our daughter. Or more accurately, my husband tried it. In the middle of a particularly bad fight, he waited for her to catch her breath and then asked her if he could give her a hug. Surprisingly, she said yes. Eventually, she would ask for a hug after she made a snarky remark but before we would get into a full blown fight. Those were hard hugs for me to give. It seemed like I was rewarding bad behavior. It did, however, prevent the fight and hasten an apology from her. She always expressed genuine remorse for her behavior after we fought.

I found support for our hug therapy in a blog by Dr. Claudia M. Gold, a pediatrician and author of Keeping Your Child in Mind: Overcoming Defiance, Tantrums, and Other Everyday Behavior Problems by Seeing the World through Your Child’s Eyes. According to Dr. Gold, this behavior has to do with the underdevelopment of the higher cortical centers of the brain. Our daughter didn’t experience early trauma, nor does she have sensory processing problems like the children discussed in her blog. She is, however, intense and highly sensitive like many gifted children. She has almost all of Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities. The way she externalized her intense nature felt like a personal attack, but it was no different from the boys’ eye twitching and pacing.

I can’t say that I’m entirely at peace with the way our daughter expresses her anxiety, and if I’m wrong and I am a poor parent, please don’t tell me. I have found a solution that involves holding my daughter close and giving her a squeeze. My hope is that the memories of the fights will disappear and what she will remember are the hugs.

In what ways do your children exhibit anxiety? How do you handle these expressions of anxiety? Please share with us in the comment section below.

Like this post? Please share!
Facebook Twitter

Advertisements

Breathing in I Calm My Body: Intensities in the Gifted

Caroline loves to read — not as a pastime, but as part of her lifeline to the world. She once told me that when she was forced to stop reading in class, it was like her lungs were collapsing, and it was difficult for her to breathe. This seven-year-old has been described as extremely intense and sensitive. The loss of something that comforts her and intellectually feeds her manifests itself in a physical reaction.

Children who feel things with great intensity experience the world in a different way. Gifted young people are often more aware, stimulated, and affected by their surroundings. Emotional or physical reactions to events can last longer than expected and are often replayed in the child’s mind.

Intensities can be characterized by:

  • Extreme feelings: positive or negative feelings; complex emotions; connection with the feelings of others; grand laughter and tears
  • Physical reaction to emotion: stomachaches and headaches; blushing; rise in body temperature
  • Strong affective memory: re-living or re-feeling things long after the triggering event; nightmares; elaborate daydreams connected to actual events

Psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski studied the mental health of gifted youth and adults. He described the areas of heightened stimulation observed in gifted individuals as “overexcitabilites.” The five areas of overexcitabilites are:

  1. Psychomotor: extreme physical activity and movement; rapid talk; pacing; use of hand gestures
  2. Sensual: perceptiveness of sensory experiences; unusual awareness and enjoyment of sensation
  3. Imaginational: clear visualizations; metaphorical speech; dreaming; magical thinking
  4. Intellectual: need to question or analyze; delight in the abstract and theoretical; puzzle and problem solving
  5. Emotional: intensity of feeling and relationships; natural empathy and compassion; susceptibility to depression, anxiety, or loneliness

Dr. Michael Piechowski, who studied alongside Dabroswski, has dedicated much of his life to researching the emotional and spiritual aspects of gifted children. In his book Mellow Out,’ They Say. If Only I Could: Intensities and Sensitivities of the Young and Bright, he stresses the need to “give voice to the emotional life of bright young people, to show how their intensities and sensitivities make them more alive, more creative, and more in love with the world and its wonders.”

Piechowski, along with other gifted experts, teaches gifted children a variety of techniques for coping with their overexcitabilities. For Caroline, this required her teachers, parents, and siblings to understand and embrace her overexcitabilities. At the same time, Caroline learned exercises to calm her senses and help her focus.

Guided imagery and meditation are excellent tools for those like Caroline learning to master their sensitivities. A good place to start is with a simple exercise. Have your child close his or her eyes, breathe deeply, and say with the breath,

“Breathing in I calm my body,
Breathing out, I smile.”

Learning to use the mind to control the body through exercises like this — along with overall awareness and understanding — is an important step in mastering intensities.

For more strategies, see our post 15 Strategies for Managing Your Gifted Child’s Intensities.

Does your child experience any of these overexcitabilities? What coping techniques have worked for you? Please share with us in the comment section below!

We are excited to share this post as part of the New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour. Gifted children worldwide share many unique characteristics, including intensities. It is important for those who are in the lives of these gifted individuals to better understand these characteristics in order to help nurture and support their intellectual, social, spiritual, emotional, and physical growth.

#NZGAW Blog Tour

Like this post? Sign up for our email newsletters to receive more content like it!