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The Formula for Stress in Gifted Children:
Reaction, Resistance, and Rebellion

by Kathi Hall

It was the first beautiful, clear, crisp day of autumn. We had already settled into our school routine--I finished my devotions and went in to wake up our three children to start their day.

Without pausing to think (big mistake), I casually mentioned that they should dress appropriately for the weather and wear their new pants and long-sleeved shirts. Now please understand that the day before (and all summer) they had been dressing in cotton shorts and tee-shirts.

As they filed down to breakfast I noticed, with a heavy heart that my 10 year old was dressed in, yes, cotton shorts and a tee-shirt.

As I recited the Gifted Anthem in my head, "Reflect, Don't React," I nonchalantly mentioned that he might get chilly in that outfit. Unbeknownst to me, he had already gone through the first two items in the formula--he had reacted, resisited, and was now full ready for rebellion.

First came the torrent of questions, all prefaced with, "Why, why, why?", then anger, then finally after a full hour of discussion, a pitiful resignation. All was well, until a week later when the weather turned warm again, and he came down in, guess what?--Long pants and long sleeves.

Gifted children are VERY resistant to change. Because of the turmoil that exists inside, the mental age versus the emotional age, they tend to hold very strongly to routines, promises, and everday events we take for granted. I believe it is their way of coping and making sense of the inconsistent world they see around them. It's not really rebellion, it's a reaction and a sensitivity that goes hand-in-hand along with giftedness. It's something, we as parents, need to be aware of before we discipline our children. I'm not advocating a different standard of behavior, you understand, I just feel that understanding is necessary before discipline can be effective.

How do we handle this stress in our children's lives? I have what I think are very helpful ways to get through situations like the one described above.

Gifted children are subject to stresses which differ from those of the average child. Some people assume that gifted children have everything going their way, and they often overlook the fact that these children are experiencing stress and need help. Gifted children are likely to experience stress in various situations from feeling out of place with their environment.

As Hollingworth (1975) noted, "To have the intelligence of an adult and the emotions of a child combined in a childish body, is to encounter certain difficulties."

A widely used problem solving approach is SCAMPER (Eberle, 1982). This method helps children break out of rigid thinking patterns that may cause them to view problems as insoluable. The acronym SCAMPER is an abbreviation for the following steps in processing ideas. (It has been a great help in this household.)

Substitute: What similarities exist; what could be substituted?
Combine: Might something be combined or brought together?
Adjust: What changes or adjustments could be made to help?
Magnify, Minimize, Modify: What could happen in these conditions?
Put to other uses: In what other ways might parts be used?
Eliminate, Elaborate: What could be removed or enhanced?
Reverse, Rearrange: What effects would come from changing the sequence? (This is the one I used that morning!)

An additional technique is to use "HALT" as a warning signal to slow down and watch for stress effects. HALT stand for Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. Any of these conditions makes it more difficult to handle stress, and makes it more likely that a child will overreact to a situation in an irrational fashion. (We employ this technique on especially busy days or while traveling in a car.)

Overall, these approaches to handling stress will help children have confidence in their ability to manage themselves in our world on extensive alternatives--alternatives that are more expanded due to their intellectual abilities and over-sensitivities.

Understanding is the key to any process. As Christians we take this responsibility very seriously. God has given us these children with their special needs and we can do no less than our best to meet these needs.

Kathi is a feature writer for The Informer, a frequent conference speaker and leads a support group for gifted children. She and her hsuband, Thone, have homeschooled for 16 years and have five children.

reprinted with permission from The IAHE Informer, November/December, 1998, (317) 859-1202.


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