Many children have worries or anxieties. For children with high learning potential, common characteristics, such as overexcitabilities or asynchronous development, can magnify emotional issues. How can you support a child with high learning potential and help them to work through their anxieties?
One of the first steps in helping your anxious child is to find out as much as possible about the characteristics common to children with high learning potential. Potential Plus UK’s page on Characteristics and free advice sheet PA102 Characteristics of Children with High Learning Potential can help you to gain a greater understanding of these characteristics, while advice sheets such as PA610 Hypersensitivity (Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities) help in understanding a young person’s intensities of emotion and how this colours their experience of the world.
Read up on the subject. Potential Plus UK’s page on Anxiety has some great links to articles, familiarise yourself, help your child to feel reassurance that they are understood and supported all the way. Sometimes, this is all the kick-start their confidence needs to take those first steps towards solving the problem.
Remember that a child with high learning potential can be affected by their asynchronous development, (that is, where cognitive development supersedes emotional, social, and/or physical development – see our page on Asynchronous Development and advice sheet PA514 Asynchronous Development). Asynchronous development may mean that a child with high learning potential could have a heightened awareness of problems either at home or in the world at large, but not the emotional skills to be able to deal with it. This can lead to anxiety. Knowing this is a key element in helping them in this area.
Therefore, understand the possible causes of anxiety, reassure them, and remember that, however high their cognitive ability, your child is still a child: never expect their emotional resilience to equal their intellectual understanding of the issue at hand and help support them as they work through their worries.
Acknowledge and Listen
As simple as it may sound, just listening to their concerns and making sure that they know that they are being heard is an important way to support a high learning potential child with anxiety. If they feel that those around them are either uncomfortable about, or dismissive of, their worries, they may conclude that their intense emotions are shameful and must be hidden. This, of course, is not a healthy way forward for them.
Prioritise Relaxation, Wellbeing, and a Healthy Sleep Routine
Try to make time for some calming activities, no matter how busy the daily schedule. A relaxing evening walk, a bit of yoga, meditation, or guided relaxation, listening to relaxing music, or creating a calm corner in their bedroom dedicated to chilling out, could help them to de-stress. Physical activity, too, can be a great outlet for all of that bottled up nervous energy. Whatever you choose, activities such as these can all help by shifting the focus away from their worries and boosting positivity.
Children with high learning potential who have anxiety can also have problems with their sleep. They often find getting off to sleep extremely difficult, perhaps also fearing nightmares and the frustrations of broken sleep. A bad night’s sleep will impact on their reserves of resilience the next day to deal with their anxiety. Focusing heavily on relaxation in the evenings can help to offset some of the anxiety about what the night may bring and help towards a more restorative night’s sleep. For more help on sleep and high learning potential children, have a look at our advice sheet, PA605 Sleep and High Learning Potential Children or visit our blog 50 Top Tips for Sleep Problems in Children, packed with advice from our Parenting High Potential Facebook group.
Come Up With “Top 10 Tried and Tested Comforts”
Help a child to take control and feel the positivity that this can bring, by working together on a countdown of their all-time favourite comforts. Perhaps it might include their favourite film or book, or their favourite teddy or old toy. Other contenders might be their favourite comfort food, the place in the house or garden where they always feel calm and safe, or an old blanket that they used to cuddle (or still do).
Provide a Toolbox of Strategies to Help Them to Manage Their Emotions
As well as their top ten comforts, having a toolbox of weapons against those times when their anxieties feel overwhelming is also extremely helpful. A set of go-to strategies might incorporate the top ten comforts, but might also include mindfulness activity books such as Sitting Still Like a Frog; Hello Happy!; Mindful Kids; or No Worries!, writing down or drawing their worries (and then giving them to you, if they are comfortable about sharing), or having some breathing techniques to use when needed.
Children with high learning potential are often intense and can find great joy in even the smallest of things. So, if noticing the small things like looking at clouds, or a caterpillar on a leaf can boost their wellbeing, try creating a reminder list of these favourite things together that they can turn to when they need help shifting the focus away from anxiety towards much happier thoughts.
Having a known, specific set of weapons against anxiety or distress can help a child with high learning potential to feel a lot more in control of their emotions. Proving to themselves that there are things they can do to help themselves can provide such a boost in confidence that it often means that half the battle is already won.
Their trusty bookshelves (or those of your local library!) can also be valuable tools for the toolbox, too. Favourite books or audio books can be positively therapeutic, helping to whisk their mind away from their anxious thoughts and redirecting it to happier lands. A quiet reading corner can be a simple but effective option open to children to help them to manage their feelings.
For more ideas for the toolbox, see our advice sheet PA606 Worry and Anxiety in High Learning Potential Children.
Remember that there is help out there, if needed. Enlist the support of school by sharing particular issues your child is experiencing and by working together using the same strategies in both school and home. If you remain concerned about your child’s mental wellbeing, then discuss this with your GP, or visit Young Minds for further support and advice.
For advice about the high learning potential aspect of your child’s issues, then see our advice sheets or book a 30 minute telephone appointment with one of our advisors (free to members, £36 to non-members), and discuss any issues concerning your child with high learning potential with someone who understands what it is like to parent high potential.
About the author: Caroline Hooton-Picard is an adviser for Potential Plus UK. She has a background in mental health, having worked for Suffolk Mind and also in private practice, and has a first class degree in Philosophy from the University of Essex. She also has a High Learning Potential daughter who keeps her very much on her toes!