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The Emotional Sensitivity

of Gifted Children
Erin Sandell, September 2015

Is your child
Sensitive
Emotional
Dramatic
Intense

and gifted?

You are not alone.


You might have noticed that your child tends to think differently than others. Maybe
they are creative, motivated, or academically advanced.
Gifted children think differently, but they also feel and process emotions differently.
This can be challenging for adults who do not know how to help.
Today, we will discuss some situations you might have had with your child, and
strategies for how to help your child excel.

Types of Feelings Characteristic of Gifted Children


Emotional Intensity

extremes of emotion (positive or negative)

complex emotions (laughing and crying together)

Relationship Feelings

emotional ties and attachments

identification with others' or animals feelings (empathy)

difficulty in adjusting to new environments

Feelings Toward Self

Self-judgement (feeling inadequate)

Moral Sensitivity

Clear sense of right and wrong

Real life examples of emotional intensity

Whenever I am called on in class a tide of


red rises up and engulfs my face. It burns so
much that I am sure everyone can see it.
(female, age 10)

Sometimes the beauty of trees flowering or


birds singing fills me with awe and I just
stand there not able to move.
(female, age 12)

Real life examples of relationship feelings

When I kill a fly or an ant or any other insect, I suddenly get a feeling
like "should I have done that? That's really like going and killing a
human being. I bet the animals have their own life, feelings. They
must because they are really intelligent". The next time a fly gets in
the way, I'll just let it go because I feel guilty.
(female, age 13)

Two boys were fighting in the school ground and I burst into tears. I
couldn't stand to feel their pain and cruelty. The other children
called me a baby and a wimp. The teacher told me to act my age.
(male, age 9)

Real life examples of feelings towards self

A student was working happily on her drawing in class


when suddenly she threw it to the ground, stamped on it
and burst into tears, yelling "it's not right, I can't do it
right".
(female, age 8)

A five-year old child perceives a horse through eightyear-old eyes but cannot replicate the horse in clay with
her five-year-old fingers and so screams in frustration.

Real life examples of moral sensitivity

Student A is honest. He will tell the truth even


if he gets in trouble.
Student B is sensitive to the feelings of others
and has a well developed sense of justice.
She notices when her teacher is not treating
children consistently.
Student C has a strong sense of right and
wrong. He gets upset if other children dont
follow the rules.

Heightened sensitivity to
things that happen in the
world is a normal response
for gifted children.
Other children may ridicule a gifted child for
reacting strongly to an apparently trivial incident,
thereby increasing the child's feeling of being
odd.

Apply intellectual skills to emotional situations

Gifted children need help applying


their great critical thinking and
reasoning abilities to handling their
emotions.
They dont have the life experience
yet to be objective when it comes
to emotional experiences

Implementation Plan
Create an emotional response scale
to help children put emotional
experiences into perspective

Emotional Response Scale

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.

o Day 1 Its not the end of the world


Write the numbers 1-10 on a piece of paper
Discuss with your child examples of the worst thing
that could ever happen
Pick one idea to write next to #10
o Day 2 You dont even care
Discuss examples of the most minor thing that can
happen
Pick one idea to write next to #1
o Day 3 Meet in the middle
Discuss examples that are in the middle of the two
extremes (not really bad, not really minor)
Pick one idea to write next to #5

Emotional Response Scale


o Day 4
Fill in the rest of the list with examples of different emotional situations
Focus on the progression from the least to the worst thing that can happen
o Day 5
Think about and revise the events on the list
o Ongoing
Keep the list in spot where your child can access it
When your child gets upset, have them check the list, and identify the severity of an event.
(Have your child practice critically analyzing what is happening. Your child may act like the
event is a #10, but have them compare it to the #10 on the list, is it really the same?)
Continually using this concrete scale will help children learn to process and manage their
emotions over time.
Remember to acknowledge your childs feelings. Try not to make them feel like there is
something wrong with them. This is especially hard for highly sensitive little boys that feel like
everyone expects them to be tough.

Discussion Questions
1. What are some categories of different types of emotions that your child may feel?
2. Some examples of times children have had an intense relationship feelings have to do
with animals dying in movies such as Charlottes Web and Finding Nemo. Others may
have to do with real life animals or people. Share a time when your child has been
emotional over an animal or person.
3. Gifted children are often very critical of themselves. Share a time when your child
displayed frustration during a task.
4. How might your child be treated differently by their peers because of their emotions or
sensitivity?
5. Some phrases to avoid saying to an emotional child are, "You're just too sensitive" or "Stop
over-reacting. Why is this important?
6. What steps can you take to help your child manage their emotions?

Sources
Helping Gifted Children Cope with Intense Emotions
http://giftedkids.about.com/od/socialemotionalissues/qt/emotion_coping.htm
Gifted Children: Emotionally immature or emotionally intense?
http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10241.aspx
The moral sensitivity of gifted children and the evolution of society
http://www.sengifted.org/archives/articles/the-moral-sensitivity-of-gifted-children-and-theevolution-of-society