Gifted Kids and Overexcitabilities: Emotional Intensity

If you've worked with gifted children in any capacity, THIS is probably the most widely recognizable OE of all. The Emotional Overexcitability. I chose to write about this OE first because of how easily identifiable it is, and also because as a gifted adult I am pretty sure I (still!) experience this OE myself. 

According to an article on the super-informative SENG page, the emotional OE is characterized by 
"heightened, intense feelings, extremes of complex emotions, identification with others’ feelings, and strong affective expression (Piechowski, 1991)". You might notice things like "stomachaches and blushing or concern with death and depression (Piechowski, 1979)".

In a nutshell, these people experience emotions and relationships to people, places, or things very deeply. They might be deeply empathetic toward other people or animals, they have a strong desire to love and be loved. They are very, very aware of their own feelings, can be harshly self-critical, immensely joyful or tragically sad, and they can experience all of these emotions in a relatively short period of time.

You might peg these students as drama queens or attention seekers, but in reality, the heightened intensity of how they're experiencing the world could be the root of some of their outwardly negative behaviors.The strong emotional reactions that these children are prone to can cause some difficulty at home and at school, so it's important to help your child or student work through the range of emotions as they come. Trust me on this one, be patient! It takes time to learn to self-regulate and cope with the sometimes unexpected emotions that rise up from the depths. Actually, they don't need to rise up from anywhere, because (for me, at least) those babies are always sitting pretty darn close to the surface.

In my years of teaching, I've DEFINITELY worked with a child or two just like this. And there is a slight pretty good chance that I have at least one offspring who sees life through this lens. One sweet girl I'm thinking of was just soooo emotional about many things. She was the first one crying when we experienced the sad parts in my read aloud books (well, maybe she was second, because I was usually the first one...), she was easily upset or offended if she perceived any unfairness in the way people were treating her, and forget about it if someone even started talking about one of those pet rescue commercials with the sad dogs and sad music.

Some pointers for helping out the child (or adult) YOU know with Emotional Intensity:
  • LISTEN to them--validate their feelings instead of trying to minimize them
  • Help them to recognize (and avoid, if possible and when appropriate) things that are known to trigger strong emotional reactions like scary or intense movies, for example. 
  • If known triggers are unavoidable, work on rehearsing appropriate reactions and coping strategies. 
  • Work with children to recognize signs that they're starting to feel an intense reaction to something (sweaty palms, shaking, pit in stomach, general unease) and work on teaching them ways to cope with their feelings. 
  • Focus on the positive aspects of the deep connections and empathy that they're capable of! 
Here are some more resources for you or your students' parents to check out: 


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