“Explosions are not always aggressive outbursts of behavior. Sometimes they are more passive, subtle expressions of protest. They can even include anxious and sad behavior. Explosion, in this regard, refers to anything that disrupts the household and distorts the emotional functioning of the child.” Christine Fonseca, Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students, 2011, p. 185. (Note: the term explosion is a reference within the book regarding emotional intensity).
“Overexcitabilities are inborn intensities indicating a heightened ability to respond to stimuli. Found to a greater degree in creative and gifted individuals, overexcitabilities are expressed in increased sensitivity, awareness, and intensity, and represent a real difference in the fabric of life and quality of experience. Dabrowski identified five areas of intensity-Psychomotor, Sensual, Intellectual, Imaginational, and Emotional.” Overexcitabilities and the Gifted, Sharon Lind Citation From The SENG Newsletter. 2001, 1(1) 3-6.
“Because they can be so greatly stimulated, and because they perceive and process things differently, gifted children are often misunderstood. Their excitement is viewed as excessive, their high energy as hyperactivity, their persistence as nagging, their questioning as undermining authority, their imagination as not paying attention, their passion as being disruptive, their strong emotions and sensitivity as immaturity, their creativity and self0directedness as oppositional. They stand out from the norm, But then, what is normal?” Living with Intensity, edited by Susan Daniels, PhD. & Michael Piechowski, 2009, p. 4.
As is true of any parent, we are responsible to teach our children how to have self-control, to grow in discipline, and in how to treat others. When an emotionally intense moment is occurring in the life of a gifted individual, they can become quite self focused, self involved and lacking in consideration of others. We need to teach our children that life is not all about them. We need to show them that their actions (behavior) regarding how they feel can have impact on those around them.We need to teach our children the importance of kindness, gentleness, patience and love.
11 Strategies for Embracing Gifted Intensity
- Learn what the emotional triggers are. You may be able to narrow down key triggers and knowing them will help you to stay ahead and steer clear. This may not always work because gifted children are great at adapting . Therefore, the thing that is an emotional trigger today may not be an emotional trigger in a few weeks. With gifted children, these triggers may constantly be changing. But, knowing the key ones can help to improve your reaction time and perhaps begin to redirect the child before the intensity goes too far.
- Redirection. This is actually a strategy I learned when my husband and I served as foster parents. Redirection is simply finding something that will take the child’s mind off of the source of their emotional frustration or excitement. It could be that you offer another solution to the problem, such as “I realize that our plans for bowling fell through, but how about instead we go play mini-golf?” It doesn’t work for every child, but if it works for yours it’s a great parental tool.
- Teach Emotional Identity. Teaching your child to name their emotions can have a lifelong benefits. Knowing how to identify what they are feeling can help them to understand why they are feeling the way they do, and it gives you opportunity to pinpoint the source of the dilemma and offer suggestions for overcoming the intense feeling.
- Use Code Words. I’ll discuss this a bit more in a later paragraph, but basically having specific code words in the family can help you to identify intense times. Having a code word for when the child is experiencing excitability or overt anger can take the embarrassment away when dealing with the emotions in a public setting. Letting them know with a code word that you see a specific behavior begin to take shape, can help stop it before it starts.
- Dialogue. Learn to have dialogue with your child about their emotions. Ask leading questions like ” What were you thinking about when you started to feel…?” “Why do you think that the ___ made you feel___?” “What do you think would be a good solution?” Help your child to see that not every thought is a solution, and that sometimes, you just have to let go of hurtful things because they can’t be changed. While other times, finding a different solution might prove to be the better option anyway.
- Quiet time, alone. Sometimes emotions can stem from over stimulation. That’s a good sign that your child might need some alone time. Whether it’s time to think, journaling (see below) or reading a book, some quiet time alone can help comfort your child. Note: This suggestion isn’t meant to be used as a punishment, but rather as a brief time to refocus the mind.
- Journaling. Whether it’s simply writing down their feelings on a piece of paper or writing out their thoughts in a journal, seeing emotions on paper can validate the feeling and offer a safe respectful method for emotional release. I remember one time suggesting to my son that he write down what he was feeling, he was about 5 at the time, and he wrote “I’m angry because dad didn’t ___.” That was all he wrote, the feeling, and why he felt the feeling. It was all he needed to move on.
- Gentle Music. You know what they say about music soothing the savage… It can be true for the overly emotional intense child as well. Coupled with quiet time, and/or journaling this can give your child the perfect escape for a short time, to focus the mind, consider their emotions and then return and talk with you.
- Teach your child to pray. From very early in life we taught our Young Man that he could pray to our heavenly Father and share his emotions with him. We explained that God created his emotions and knows his heart. We taught him that when speaking his heart to the Father to do so with respect for God, but that he can always ask God to help him with whatever the problem is. I am truly amazed at some of the conversations I hear him having in prayer.
- Set Clear, Unwavering Expectations. In our family respect is a requirement. If we don’t speak to each other with respect, then we do not get to speak. It’s a simple rule. That being said, as long as he is respectful toward others he can share how he is feeling and even offer suggestions. We don’t always follow the suggestions, but we do listen and consider them. However, if he speaks with disrespect, he can not participate in conversation, in fact, he most likely will have to leave the room. This type of quiet time is a form of discipline. “When you can speak respectfully, then you can come back.” Your expectations may be different. That’s OK it’s whatever you need and will work with your family. Just always remain consistent with the expectation.
- Clearly define that there are consequences. Every choice in life has consequences. Emotional intensity while a natural part of the gifted child’s life is no less subject to consequences. Such emotions can be controlled if the child is willing to learn control. While the emotion is reactive, their behavior as a result of their emotions is a choice. They choose how they will react. The older they get the more this is so. We teach our young man that good choices lead to good consequences and bad choices lead to bad consequences.
OK I’m going to share a pet peeve with you. This one, honestly, has more to do with parenting any child than just gifted children, but it’s appropriate here. I never, and I mean never, tell my child that he is bad. I never tell him that he’s being bad. Because, I never want to leave an impression in my child’s heart that he is not good. I only want to build him up, not tear him down.
Using words like “You’re bad, or you’re mean, or you’re rotten.” are not words that build up. They tear down. Instead you can instruct your child by saying “You are not making good choices.” “You’re behavior is not appropriate.” “You’re acting in a way that isn’t good.” This takes the emphasis off of the “You” and put’s in on the choice, the act.
That is all regarding my pet peeve. Back to emotional intensity in gifted children.
More on Code Words with Emotional Intensity
In our family, we call these times of OE’s, “spinning.” Because for us it seems as if Young Man is spinning in his mind and therefore the physical behavior reflects the thoughts.
Learning to have a code word in our family has been a tremendous help for both my husband and I as well as for our Young Man. My husband can say to me. “Did you notice that he seems to be spinning?” Then, we can talk to him to see what’s leading his mind to be over stimulated.
Often, I’ll come right out and ask him “Are you spinning?” He knows that I mean, in his thoughts and then we can dialogue about what he’s thinking about and offer coping skills to help him process in a positive way.
We have a few other “code words” in our family that help us to identify specific emotions and behaviors. Having them, using them with each other in the safety of our family unit, has helped us to alleviate some emotionally intense times in public. These words, should be unique to your family. So that when you clue in to a specific behavior, you can direct your child quietly. This becomes easier as the child gets older and can participate in using the code word(s).
Children are created by the Lord, they are a blessing from Him and we should honor Him by using words of kindness and love while teaching our children to be self-controlled, and disciplined in their own spirits. If we truly take the time to embrace our children for the person they are we can see that their emotions are beautiful. Offering them strategies to help them to handle those emotions can be key to a joyful and happy home.
I’m not saying it’s always easy! Because it’s not. There will be times when you won’t be able to reason with your child. There will be times when their behavior may leave you feeling, angry, embarrassed, and frustrated. There will be times, when you will lose control of your own emotions, your own voice, and you will find yourself speaking in a manner that just precipitates their emotional response. You will see times, when your child won’t reach calmness and you will wonder, “How long will this last?”
“Children are experts when it comes to understanding what makes us, the parent, lose control. This particularly is true with gifted children. They are able to assess our emotional state and determine the right time to pick and argument–the time when we are likely to respond poorly.” Christine Fonseca, Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students, 2011, p. 127.
You are the parent. You are the adult in the relationship. It’s important that you not only help your child learn self-control but that you train them by your own example of control.
It’s your turn, what do you feel are key strategies for embracing your child’s emotionally intense times?
Be sure to visit each of the 5 Day Hopscotch posts on Homeschooling the Gifted Child.
*Disclaimer: I am neither a psychologist or educational expert, but I share with you information that I have learned through my own study concerning my gifted child.