Many parents are thrilled when they learn their child is gifted. They may assume their child will sail through school and life with ease. However, there is a downside to being labeled gifted and talented — gifted kid burnout.
Many gifted kids experience burnout, either during their school years or later in adulthood. They may have difficulty coping with the constant demands of high academic expectations placed on them. They may also find it hard to find a balance between their academic giftedness and other aspects of their life, especially as adults.
Gifted children are often pushed to their limits and are expected to achieve more than most. This gifted kid burnout can lead to depression and other mental health issues. Gifted children need support to balance their workload and wellness.
Note: I’m writing this from the perspective of being a gifted child. I am not a parent.
What is Gifted Kid Burnout?
Gifted Kid Burnout, also called Gifted Kid Syndrome, is a term used to describe the unique challenges that children who are identified as gifted experience.
These challenges can include an increased level of stress, difficulty managing time, and a greater need for stimulation. Because gifted children are typically more sensitive and have a greater ability to think abstractly, they may find it more difficult to cope with the demands of everyday life.
In my experience as a coach for neurodivergent creators, I’ve seen huge overlap between autistic burnout and gifted burnout. Students who are identified by gifted and talented programs are often “2e” or “twice exceptional,” indicating that they are both gifted/talented as well as autistic, ADHD, or have another potentially disabling exceptionality.
Unfortunately, the systems in place often overlook these twice exceptional students, so they tend to be pressured as academically gifted and pushed to achieve more and more, without the accommodations needed to flourish. This leads to high levels of autistic “masking,” essentially acting neurotypical in order to maintain the expectations of authority figures, which is exhausting and cannot be maintained indefinitely without great mental stress.
This is of course not even mentioning the racial and class disparities of gifted and talented programs!
Signs of Gifted Kid Burnout
Gifted kid burnout has a range of signs and symptoms, including feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. These students may also have problems with concentration and motivation, and may find it difficult to balance their academic workload with other aspects of their life.
Specific symptoms of burnout might look like meltdowns, anxiety (which they may not have the words to explain, so look for stomach aches and “I don’t feel good” messages when there aren’t signs of obvious illness), crying or panicking when going to school or doing homework, and exhaustion/fatigue.
Ways to Deal with Gifted Kid Burnout
There are several ways that gifted children can deal with burnout. They can seek out professional help to manage their workload and cope with the demands of their giftedness and high drive for achievement.
It’s also extremely beneficial to find ways to relax and enjoy life outside of school and work. The pressure that gifted kids feel to be good at everything, to always be “living up to their potential,” and to achieve greatness is so heavy. Being able to relax and just be a kid is crucual to avoiding gifted kid burnout.
Finally, if you’re a former gifted kid, keep in mind that not all opportunities or challenges are worth experiencing to the fullest. You are allowed to just leave some things at the level of “good enough.” I promise!
How to Help Prevent Gifted Kid Burnout
If you are a parent of a gifted child, your support is crucial. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of constantly pushing your kids to be their best at all times because you know they’re capable. But this leads inevitably to burnout and to adults who don’t know what to do when they make mistakes.
Modeling healthy balance and allowing your kids to be beginners at things will make a lifetime impact. (I say this as an adult who wasn’t able to be a kid for long, due to trauma and gifted kid burnout, which is why I’m talking about it!).
First, be sure to set realistic expectations for your gifted child. Make sure to understand what they are capable of, and be prepared to help them manage their time accordingly. Remember: Just because they’re capable doesn’t mean they have to do something to the highest level of achievement. That’s so tiring!
Second, be sure to provide your gifted child with adequate rest and relaxation. Especially if your child has ADHD or is autistic, they may not be able to recognize their own body signals for taking breaks and they could potentially hyperfocus on something without stopping.
Finally, be a supportive presence to your gifted child. Let them know that they can come to you with any questions or concerns, and that you won’t be mad at them for wanting to scale back on their high-achieving workload.
As a parent, it’s important to be aware of the signs of gifted kid burnout. If you see these signs in your child, don’t hesitate to get help.
Hey, former gifted kid
Do I have some tips and tricks for you. My free ebook for creatives helps you access your intuition (without that perfectionism second guessing you) and work through the self-sabotage we’ve honed over the years (like “If I’m not good at it right away, I must quit”). Get your free copy today and you’ll be added to my newsletter list with a weekly pep talk / love letter for creatives.