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  • Writer's pictureThe Knox School of Santa Barbara

Emotional Intensity

By: Barbara Klein, Ph.D. 

"A child with an intense capacity for feeling can suffer to a degree that is beyond any degree of adult suffering, because imagination, ignorance, and the conviction of utter helplessness are untempered either by reason or by experience."

- E. M. Delafield

Emotional intensity is a natural outcome of being a gifted person. A child's emotional intensity comes from their intellectual prowess. Gifted children are intense about their interests, parent and school rules, friendships to name just a few over excitabilities.  Heightened sensitivity when managed effectively is a gift. Unfortunately, harnessing emotional intensity is so fraught with detours and road blocks that mishandled sensitivities often turn into aggressive or self-destructive enactments. Parents who can help their highly sensitive children deal with their strong and often conflicting emotions will raise children who are well-rounded individuals.

Dealing with a gifted child's emotional intensity is a daunting responsibility if you don't have a direction to take when your child has tantrums, gets isolated from friends and family, talks incessantly, gets so bored that he drives you crazy, or is disruptive at school or at home. A paradigm that was developed from an on-going four-year-old education and support group for parents of gifted children ranging in age from two to 15 has been implemented and includes the following elements.

  1. Accepting the reality of emotional intensity as a part of the gifted child's personality.

  2. Eliminating perfectionistic attitudes from home and school that escalate emotional intensity.

  3. Avoiding specific social emotional stress and situational stress triggers to hyper-sensitivity.

  4. In early stages, redirection or distraction are very positive solutions to tantrums and other symptoms of emotional intensity.

  5. Transitional objects such as favorite dolls, toys, and video and computer games can be used as calming objects during times that are stressful--- but not as a steady diet.

  6. Open communication between parent and child diffuses emotional intensity.

  7. Through an understanding of over identification, a sense of separateness between parent and child also are needed.

  8. Positive parent--teacher interactions.

  9. Frustrations can be toned down by music and art classes and sports.

  10. When stressful on-going deep sensitivities are difficult to diminish there is a need for family counseling or psychotherapy.

In conclusion, seeing emotional intensity as crucially important to intellect and creativity and later success in life will help you to tame and channel your gifted child's often hard to handle persistence.

Barbara Klein, Ph.D. has worked with gifted children, their parents, and various schools since 1986. She is dedicated to assisting to the special educational needs of gifted and highly gifted children and has written eight books in the field of developmental psychology and education, including Raising Gifted Kids: Everything You Need to Know to Help Your Exceptional Child Thrive and The Challenges of Gifted Children: Empowering Parents to Maximize Their Child's Potential.

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