When you think of gifted children, you might automatically picture kids who can read at an early age or solve math problems with ease. While intellectual capabilities are certainly part of giftedness, emotional intensity is also a component. Unfortunately, educators, parents and others often overlook this side of giftedness, missing an opportunity to help kids develop. Here's more on emotional intensity and how it manifests in gifted kids:
Defining emotional intensity
Gifted kids have a great capacity for intellectual thought, and the same is true for feelings. Simply put, they react more strongly to most stimuli. They may express extreme joy in a happy scenario or dramatic sadness in an upsetting one. Some psychologists note that gifted kids experience physical symptoms of their feelings, such as an upset stomach when nervous.
Often, emotional intensity goes hand in hand with other giftedness traits. Kids who experience high levels of emotions may be self-critical to the point of expressing perfectionism (another trait of some gifted children). Intensity is also linked to asynchronous development, in which gifted children are intelligent beyond their years but have the emotional sensitivity of kids who are younger.
Of course, not all gifted kids are perfectionists or experience emotional intensity, but extreme feelings can be a part of high intelligence.
What does that mean for your child?
If your kids are gifted and experience intense emotions, you should learn more about the trait and be ready to support your little ones. Let's look at some of the intensity traits we've already discussed.
Gifted kids who also experience intense feelings may be self-critical. They might take failure hard and blame themselves for shortcomings. Be supportive of your kids, and encourage them to stay positive even when bad things happen. Model a positive self-image by not criticizing yourself. For instance, if you drop a dish and it breaks, call it out as a harmless mistake rather than a terrible error.
Physical manifestations of emotion
Help your children discern the physical impact of their feelings. They might get nervous before a dance recital and say their stomachs are in knots. Talk about why their stomachs ache and how that relates to the recital. When the feeling goes away, discuss why that is. Eventually, your kids will be able to identify how they're feeling based on how their bodies act. Other symptoms linked to emotion are headaches, blushing and a sinking chest.
Advocating for gifted kids
Having gifted children is a challenge in and of itself, from making sure they get a tough curriculum to keeping them interested in school work. If your kids experience highs and lows, you'll also have to meet their emotional needs.
Many kids who are gifted are often criticized for being different, both intellectually and emotionally. They may cry over a seemingly innocuous situation, and subsequently be teased for it. Perhaps the most important thing you can do for your kids is reassure them that their feelings are valid and normal. Tell them it's OK to be angry, sad, happy or scared. Then, help them learn to cope with those intense feelings, whether that means taking plenty of downtime or avoiding certain stimulation.
Additionally, according to an article published in Gifted and Talented International, it is not uncommon for gifted children to be misdiagnosed. Professionals who are not familiar with giftedness could see emotional intensity as signs of personality or mood disorders, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and bipolar disorder. Speak with your kids' psychologist about giftedness if you believe your children have this trait.
You may also choose to speak with your kids' teachers about emotional intensity to prevent educators from interpreting their sensitivity as a disruption.