Managing Your Young Gifted Child’s (And Your) Emotional Intensity

photo courtesy of Jordan Whitt, Unsplash

You would think that a super smart person would be cool, calm, and collected. Capable of handling emotion when it infrequently and inconveniently trickled out. Analytically above the fray. Lost in thought about bosons, quarks, and string theory. Logical. Not particularly emotionally expressive.

You would think.

But the gifted children and grownups that I know, well, they have EMOTIONS. Their capacity for intense, deep, effervescent feeling is enormous. Granted, if they are males, this sensitivity often goes underground when they reach adolescence. (For more on this, go here.) But if you are raising a gifted little boy, you know what I’m talking about. EMOTIONS. People are just a bit more understanding when our girls express emotion. But, if females are too passionate, too angry, too critical, too sad, too joyful, or too assertive, well, that is also seen as unacceptable.

You have probably heard about Dabrowski’s study of giftedness and his explanation of overexcitabilities (OEs). He said that it is part of the nature of a gifted person to have intensities in many areas, including emotion, sensation, intellect, psychomotor, and imagination.

So, you can relax. You haven’t ruined your children.  And you aren’t an anomaly. Or a weirdo. There’s just a lot going on in the rainforest. A LOT.

So, what can you do?

Start with self-understanding. Your emotions are an important part of who you are. Make time to nourish yourself. Soothe your anxiety. Calm your nervous system. Find others who appreciate your depth. Remember that you have a rainforest mind which means that you are highly sensitive with high expectations and standards for your behavior. Then you can stay calmer when your child’s emotions are splashing around or bursting out in embarrassing ways at the restaurant, or the library, or in front of your in-laws.

Acknowledge your child’s emotions so that your child feels seen and understood. After that, it will be easier to problem solve with your child and to set appropriate limits and boundaries.  “I see that you’re feeling frustrated right now because you can’t get what you want.” “I wonder if you’re feeling sad about that.” “I hear you when you say that you’re ‘stupid’ because you didn’t do well on the test. Can you tell me more about that?” “I see that you’re mad and want to hit someone. Hitting is not OK. Use your words to tell me how you feel. I can help.” 

Try the container method. Explain to your child, during a calm period, how there are times when it is important to put big feelings into a container when it’s not safe or appropriate to express them. Then they can let the feelings out when they are safe at home. An eight-year-old I worked with decided he’d put his angry feelings into a coconut when he was in school where he was being bullied. On days when the coconut wasn’t enough, he’d reinforce it with diamonds and make it as large as a truck. When he arrived at home, he could draw pictures of his feelings and explain them to his parents.

Practice self-soothing strategies. A gifted child’s constant questions, verbal agility, and need for intellectual stimulation can be exhausting. Make a list of tools to calm your child and yourself. Tell your child that you are learning how to take good care of yourself, too.  Your child can even remind you when they notice you’re stressed. Slow breathing, calming music, positive self-talk, singing, getting out into nature, exercise, taking a bath, massage, essential oils, and listening to a story or podcast can help. There are meditation apps such as Insight Timer for when you get some alone time. See the resources below for more ideas. Your sensitive child will feel and may react when you are out-of-whack so you’ll want to stay in-whack as much as you can.

Get therapy if you are frequently over-reacting to your child’s intense emotions. If you’ve grown up with any kind of abuse, trauma, or neglect, you’ll likely be triggered by your child’s emotional outbursts, particularly when your child reaches an age when you experienced a traumatic event. It can be hard to find the right psychotherapist so give yourself time to shop around. There are some suggestions here. The School of Life in the UK is also a good resource.

More resources: If you only have time to read one book, I’d recommend Eileen Kennedy-Moore’s Smart Parenting for Smart Kids. She writes about very specific issues that might not be addressed in general parenting books. If you have time for more, check out Mary Kurcinka’s Raising Your Spirited Child. Also Living with Intensity by Daniels and Piechowski. Psychologist Gail Post‘s blog. Tina Bryson and Dan Siegel’s books and websites. Tina Harlow and her free ebook: Helping Gifted Kids ThriveChristine Fonseca‘s book on emotional intensity. Facebook groups on parenting gifted and 2e kids.

It can be challenging to be the parent of a gifted child. You might be particularly hard on yourself and extra anxious and you may feel super responsible for all children everywhere because of your own rainforest mind. So hear me when I say that you really need to understand your own giftedness and make the time to nourish yourself. You will become a better parent, your children will benefit, and all children everywhere will thank you. 


To my dear bloggEEs: If you are a parent, what ideas and resources have been helpful? What challenges have you faced?  If you are not a parent, what do you wish your parents had said to you or helped you with? What are your suggestions for parents of gifted children? As always, thank you for being here. And thank you to the family with the 8-year-old and the coconut.



Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

23 responses to “Managing Your Young Gifted Child’s (And Your) Emotional Intensity”

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  1. Paulette Avatar

    What works for me every time my 6 year old experiments emotional impasse is to show empathy and tell him I understand what he feels because I have been there and felt the same way. That makes him regain awerness of what he feels and calm down. After that it’s easierto talkabout what provoqued the emotional crisis.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, Paulette, active listening/empathy is a wonderful way to calm your child (and adults!) so they can then talk about the situation. Thank you for sharing.

  2. The Less Obvious Traits of Giftedness — Intense Emotions, Intuition, and Empathy | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] Many parents of gifted children ask me why their children are so immature when they are so smart. While this can be explained as asynchrony, the idea that these kids are developmentally uneven, it is also the nature of the rainforest mind to have big emotions. It is not immaturity, it is giftedness. The depth and range of feelings can be as wide and deep as the intellect. The expectation might be that because these children are so articulate, they ought to be able to control their emotions and have fewer meltdowns. It is often quite the opposite. […]

  3. Han Avatar

    Hi Paula thanks for this post. How do you know of you’re gifted or traumatised….the descriptions seem similar.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I think that’s hard to answer, Han, without more information. When I have a client in therapy, usually they come to therapy because of traumatic events or growing up within a dysfunctional family or lack of confidence, low self-esteem. Then I help them sort out, over time, which “symptoms” are giftedness and which are the result of trauma. Some things like curiosity, needs for intellectual stimulation, certain sensitivities, empathy, and intrinsic perfectionism can be more clearly due to giftedness. But I know it can be confusing. If you read more of my posts, it might help you sort it out.

  4. Gail Post Avatar
    Gail Post

    Paula, Great suggestions and reassurance for families that their sensitive gifted child is just doing his/her thing! And thanks for including my blog in your list of resources!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Of course, Gail. Your blog is a great resource.

  5. Saskia Salas Avatar
    Saskia Salas

    I read your blog yesterday morning and it saved me at night when my 8 year old had a meltdown at my mom’s. It is so different when you understand where that intensity comes from (his and mine…)!!! Thank you!!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I’m so glad it helped, Saskia. Thanks for letting me know.

      1. Adriana Andrade Avatar
        Adriana Andrade

        Thanks for your comment. I also believe in a genetic component. I am a Biologist but I never studied this topic in depth.
        I read the book “Raising your spirited child” and found the perfect definition for three children (two grown up already): my mom, myself, and my daughter. We are “more” type of people: more intense, perceptive, sensitive, hungry for learning experiences, and….more.

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          That’s a great book. She doesn’t use the word “gifted” as I recall but she certainly is describing gifted kids.

  6. Themon the Bard Avatar
    Themon the Bard

    Wish you’d been publishing on the web thirty years ago. Oh, wait … there was no web. Right. 🙂

    And you weren’t you, and I wasn’t me, thirty years ago. So it isn’t a real wish. But I had two RFM boys, and I know they felt deeply, and were deeply hurt by the world, growing up, and while I was good for them — they’ve told me so — still, looking back…. I wish you’d been publishing on the web thirty years ago.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Me, too. <3

  7. Adriana Avatar

    And I forgot to include the person who REALLY has a tropical forest mind and at age of 80 is still bullied by some people: my mom! Is this genetic? My mom and my daughter are many generations apart and don’t even live in the same country but are so similar in many ways.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Actually, I do think there’s some data that suggests it can be genetic.

  8. Adriana Avatar

    Thank you for sharing this article, which describes perfectly both myself and my five year old daughter.

  9. Alethea Kehas Avatar
    Alethea Kehas

    Reblogged this on Not Tomatoes.

  10. Iowan42 Avatar

    Great thinking. Now if I could go back to when my gifted 40 year old daughter was 7, before she had her own rainforest child…. She does very well with him but overthinks everything, especially when she decides to take light humor as an insult to her. I’ll keep all this in mind. Thanks.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Lots of thinking happens in the rainforest mind! Thanks for being here Iowan42.

    2. M. J. Cuthbertson Avatar
      M. J. Cuthbertson

      A thought of a similar sort — so, the 237 people over the course of my life that insisted I was being overdramatic all owe me an apology. Cool. Sounds like I’ve got some emails to write. Nice to realize they reacted poorly to my unique brain wiring, rather than me to the various situations.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Ha! Of course this doesn’t mean that we’re never actually responding inappropriately!! 🙂

        1. M. J. Cuthbertson Avatar
          M. J. Cuthbertson

          Of course not, I removed all the dead people from the list otherwise it would’ve been much larger. I figure it’s the least I could do for their heirs.

          And … because humor does not always translate perfectly well written on the Internet, I of course, do not have a list. But it does seem like over-[fill in the blank] seems to be thrown at me a little more than I notice it being used with others.

          1. Paula Prober Avatar
            Paula Prober

            I wasn’t sure about the humor…But absolutely, the RFM is often seen as too much. Too sensitive, too smart, too verbal, too dramatic, too….