That year, I was teaching kindergarten. This conversation was with a group of five year olds. Not only were they young to be bearing the weight of such heavy concerns- they were not even born when this terrible event took place!
I share this story to highlight the reality of existential depression in gifted children. Existential depression is a very valid concern for parents of gifted children which can strike as young as preschool. Gifted children sense and feel things more deeply than their age-level counterparts. While many young children are concerned about toys, sports, and friendships the gifted child is weighed down by third world poverty, homelessness, and abandoned animals. They are burdened by the magnitude of the world's challenges, and realize at a young age that there are matters far beyond their control.
When gifted children bring up their concerns, many adults (as well as their peers) dismiss their concerns or minimize them. This only exacerbates their feelings of isolation and helplessness. The gifted child facing existential depression now feels as if they are alone in a world that they feel powerless to change. That is a heavy pressure for an eight-year-old to cope with on their own.
How to Help Your Child Deal with Existential Depression
Acknowledge their concern
We all want to feel that our voices are being heard. When your child brings up their concerns, do not diminish them. Be forthright and open in explaining the details as you know them, or work together to discover more on the issue. While you may be tempted to make light or sugarcoat the issue, your child will see through you. Try to be as candid as possible while maintaining age-appropriateness as well. You may not feel ready to have such deep and adult conversations with your child. In addition, your child wants to talk about what they are seeing and experiencing. If you don't talk to your children, someone else will. This is a chance to forge a bond and build trust in your relationship with your child. Don't miss this critical opportunity.
Work together for change
One person can make a difference, no matter how young. The best cure for your child's feelings of helplessness is to find a way to help. If your child is concerned about the homeless, volunteer as a family at a local soup kitchen. One beautiful characteristic of youth is a boundless optimism. While adults have become cynical over time, children are not paralyzed by it. They believe in their ability to bring about change- and you can help them!
Teach your child how to communicate effectively
Simply engaging in conversation can be cathartic for your child. Many times, having a simple conversation where they are able to discuss how they are feeling and why, can help your child to process their emotions.
Help your child learn to journal
Parents need to make sure that their emotional child is not bottling up their emotions. Even if you don't feel comfortable having these conversations, your child needs a way to express and release their feelings. A journal can be a powerful tool. Children can learn to write or draw as a way to free his or herself from the weight of their concerns.