Gifted Kid Burnout Is Real—How to Spot the Signs and Overcome It

There's a downside to high performance and higher expectations

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Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD

Most gifted kids will tell you that being gifted comes with plenty of benefits, but it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. Gifted kids often struggle with high expectations, a drive toward perfectionism, tons of outside pressure—not to mention extra sensitive temperaments. As a result, many gifted kids experience something known as gifted kid burnout.

Although gifted kid burnout may sound like the latest buzzword, it’s a very real phenomenon. “Just as the name implies, ‘gifted kid burnout’ is when a gifted kid experiences exhaustion, frustration, and diminished motivation due to persistent pressure to excel and meet high expectations,” says  Monika Roots, MD, child psychiatrist and co-founder of Bend Health.

Wondering how common gifted kid burnout is, what it looks like, what its impacts are, and how to prevent it? We’ve got you covered. Here, we’ll take a close look at this phenomenon.

Related: Are High IQ People More Successful?

What Is Gifted Kid Burnout?

Ok, so what is gifted kid burnout, exactly?

As Dr. Root describes it, being gifted can sometimes feel like you are in a race without a finish line. “Because of the child or teen's giftedness, they are often driven by perfectionism and societal pressure, always pushing the goal further away,” she describes.

When this happens, many kids just give up, Dr. Root says. They become exhausted, and may show signs of burnout, which is a kind of mental, emotional, physical depletion and exhaustion that happens from having to perform all the time with the extreme level of stress and expectations.

Gifted kid burnout is a legit phenomenon, says Rachel Goldberg, LMFT, founder of Rachel Goldberg Therapy in Los Angeles, CA. You may spot it when a gifted kid starts to show behaviors that are unusual for them. “This can sometimes manifest in a decline in performance and motivation, but more often presents as increased irritability, social withdrawal, or a mental health issue such as OCD, anxiety, or an eating disorder,” Goldberg explains.


At this time, there aren’t studies specifically on how common burnout is among gifted kids, but it’s a common phenomenon among kids and teens in general. Experts say it’s quite common among gifted kids, too. Thankfully, for most kids, it’s usually something that will resolve.

“I think it’s very common to see burnout among gifted children, but typically it’s transient,” Dr. Goldberg describes. “It’s more rare to see it evolve into severe conditions, but definitely happens in situations where the child begins to identify themselves solely through their talent.”

Related: “I Can't Do This Anymore:” What to Do If You Are Experiencing Burnout

What Contributes to Gifted Kid Burnout?

Each gifted child is unique, and may have different experiences as they navigate school. When it comes to factors that contribute to gifted kid burnout, it’s usually a few different factors interacting at once. Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes.

Higher Demands

Gifted kids often find it pretty easy to perform well academically when they are young. They may sail through elementary school, where the work itself is easy for them and where the workload isn’t too heavy. But when expectations are higher and workloads are more significant, gifted kids may start to struggle, says Becca Wallace, PsyD, a clinical pediatric psychologist at Children’s Hospital New Orleans.

“This becomes a struggle for gifted students as the educational material becomes more challenging and the learning curve gets steeper, and they begin to struggle in areas they never have before and find themselves in unchartered territory,” she explains.

This often occurs when a gifted kid goes from being the top of their class to more average, such as when they transition to a more challenging academic program. It may also happen when they transition from high school to college, Dr. Wallace says. “They can get burned out, having to function at a high level of expectation for a prolonged period, often years, and reach a point where they just cannot keep up,” she says.

External Pressures

You can’t underestimate the impacts that external pressure has on gifted kids, says Goldberg. “Once labeled as gifted, parents/caregivers—and to a lesser degree, teachers—typically become excited to have their child capitalize on their talent for their future success,” she says. “Consequently, they set higher expectations and may push the child more intensely than they would other siblings or compared to their peers.”

For example, they may express disappointment when a gifted kid’s performance is merely average, which can lead to stress and burnout for kids.

Personality Traits And Brain Differences

Gifted kids tend to have certain personality traits and temperaments that may make them more vulnerable to burnout, Dr. Roots notes. “They are often very sensitive, fear failure and rejection, are perfectionists, and sometimes struggle socially,” she explains. “Left unchecked, these can become complex behavioral concerns that schools are not adequately prepared to support.”

Additionally, although not every gifted child may be diagnosed with a type of neurodiversity, giftedness is often associated with neurodiversity, including autism spectrum disorders.

Children with neurodivergent brains “often experience burnout more intensely than other kids,” Dr. Roots says. “They often have more of a cognitive response and exhibit brain fog, detachment, and sometimes difficulties completing basic tasks and self-care.”

Related: Is Personality Genetic?

What Does Gifted Kid Burnout Look Like?

Gifted kid burnout will look different for each kid, depending on their life circumstances, personality, age, and temperament. Gifted kid burnout might look similar to other kinds of burnout, if you're familiar with that from your own working life. According to the definition of burnout from the National Institutes of Health, there are three main signs of burnout: exhaustion, alienation from work (or school-related activities), and reduced performance.

In gifted kids, burnout can often manifest as physical health complaints, says Dr. Wallace. “We see kids coming in for functional abdominal pain, nausea, headaches, dizziness, insomnia, or hypersomnia,” she says.

Kids may also display intense emotional symptoms, she says, such as being shut down or ambivalent about everything. Or, they may show extreme emotions, like crying constantly or being worried about seemingly everything. Some gifted kids with burnout may also show signs of isolation and lack of motivation, Dr. Wallace says.

According to Goldberg, other signs of burnout in gifted kids may include:

  • Increased irritability with schoolwork

  • A propensity to downplay their knowledge in an effort to lower others’ expectations

  • Obsessive thought patterns, such as extreme distress over low grades or incorrect answers

  • Difficulties making life choices, like what to wear or what to eat

And how can we tell the difference between regular life stress and burnout? “Unlike typical stress, which is fleeting, burnout in gifted children persists across various settings for long periods of time, even those unrelated to their talents,” Goldberg describes.

Related: How to Recover From Burnout

Impact of Gifted Kid Burnout

Although most cases of gifted kid burnout are usually temporary, experiencing burnout can have strong impacts on kids. Sometimes, these results can actually have impacts that endure into adulthood.

One impact of gifted kid burnout is that kids may develop a strong perfectionistic streak, which usually doesn’t serve them well, Dr. Wallace says.

Gifted kid burnout can have mental health implications, too. The burnout can cause kids to develop anxiety or depression, stemming from the idea that they can never be “good enough,” Dr. Wallace explains. “Burnout can transition to anxiety and/or depression as students do not know how to cope or their identity beyond their label as a gifted student,” she says.

Burnout can also lead some kids to lose interest in school or stop making any efforts to do well, Goldberg says. “This can occur at any time and often does not manifest until after high school,” she explains. “For instance, a student may begin college, but then choose to drop out because of the struggle four more years of competing would entail.”

Another aspect of gifted kid burnout is that kids might withdraw from social situations in order to focus on work and getting higher grades. This can lead to social issues, social anxiety, and social immaturity as kids develop, Goldberg says.

These impacts can be long-lasting and persist into adulthood. “It may lead to mental health issues such as OCD, anxiety, panic attacks, and eating disorders, many of which may stem from wanting to gain a sense of control,” Goldberg describes.

Related: What Are the Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Strategies to Prevent Gifted Kid Burnout

If you are a parent whose gifted kid is struggling, you may feel stressed and unsure of what to do. We get it. The struggle is real, especially when you have a gifted kid who is burning out, or who you are afraid is on the brink of burning out.

But you aren’t powerless here. There are several things parents can do to prevent gifted kid burnout.

Here are Dr. Wallace’s top tips:

  • Do your best not to emphasize perfection or that kids need top grades in all subjects.

  • Teach your child to learn from failure and have a “growth mindset”.

  • Encourage your child to grow in areas other than academics, such as hobbies and extracurricular activities.

  • Teach children to take study breaks.

  • Don’t compare your child to their siblings, friends, classmates, or your own school performances

  • Don’t connect academic achievement with being loved or accepted.

  • If your child is accepted into a gifted program or accelerated class, discuss the pros and cons with them and allow them the choice to say “No”.

Related: What Is a Mindset and Why It Matters

Support for Parents and Educators

If your child is gifted and you have concerns about burnout, you should stay in touch with your child’s school counselors, teachers, or therapist, Goldberg says.

The same is true of educators. Anyone who cares for a gifted student should be on the lookout for signs of burnout, stress, concerning behavior, or perfectionistic tendencies, Goldberg says. The sooner these issues are addressed, the sooner they can be resolved.

Goldberg says that the website is a wonderful resource for both parents and educators and offers support regarding gifted kid’s mental health, including burnout.

Becoming an Advocate

Sometimes schools offer great support for gifted kids, but lots of the time, gifted kids tend to fall through the cracks. According to Dr. Roots, when your child’s school isn’t supporting your gifted child adequately, you need to become their advocate.

If your child’s school doesn’t have the resources to meet your child’s needs, you can work with the school to develop a plan. “Don’t be afraid to vocalize your concerns,” Dr. Roots says. “Although the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not support ‘giftedness,’ state and local law usually specifies that districts must provide special instruction and services to gifted students.”

Related: How to Overcome Perfectionism

The Bottom Line

Lots of people think gifted kids have it easy because academics tend to come naturally for them. But being gifted definitely has its challenges, and gifted kid burnout is one of them. There’s hope, though. As parents, we can teach kids to manage their feelings around grades, perfectionism, and what it means to be successful. We can also help gifted kids get the help and resources they need so that they can meet their academic goals while keeping their mental health intact.

If you have further questions about gifted kid burnout, please reach out to your child’s teachers, school staff, or a mental health professional.

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Read the original article on Verywell Mind.