High Achievers

April 3 2019

For this week’s tip I want to address a group of students we don’t usually think about in terms of mental health or social-emotional wellness. Students with a “high need for achievement personality” are typically those really great kids who strive for excellence. Most of the time this personality trait is a good thing because it gives us a drive to succeed and to work hard for our accomplishments. For some people however, this personality trait can turn negative when they find themselves basing their entire identity solely on how they compare to others. Every outward success we see is an internal failure to them. For example, a star swimmer who finishes in first place at the district swim meet may have a big smile on his face, but his first reaction is, “how am I two full seconds off the record finish? The recruiters are going to pull my scholarship and I’ll never go to college.” This student will always see himself as “not good enough.” The next perceived failure could send him into a downward spiral of anxiety, extreme stress, and possibly even a deep depression. So what can you do with this information? Keep an eye out for your high achieving students and tune in to how they communicate about their success. Do these students seem stressed and anxious even after a major accomplishment? Watch your language around them and don’t compare their success to others. Try to tie their achievements back to their own hard work. Help them build self-compassion. Research shows that self-compassion builds resilience and makes it easier for us to bounce back from failure. Communicate any of your concerns with the student and their parents and refer them to their counselor. The motivation behind this tip comes from a link I was forwarded which tells the story of Alexandra Valoras, a high achieving student from Massachusetts who took her own life. If you are interested in reading her story and learning more about this topic, click here. As always, reach out to me if you have a student you are concerned about and check out the Toolbox for Educators website for more information on various other mental health topics.

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