Supporting Gifted Students With Intensities
Supporting Gifted Students With Intensities
PUBLISHED: Wednesday, January 23, 2019 by Andilynn Feddeler

Parents and teachers of gifted students are likely familiar with the intensities that come along with giftedness. Intensity can be a very positive quality in that it can fuel creativity and intellectual ability, but it often leaves gifted children feeling out of place and unable to fully grasp and understand their emotions. These intensities, or overexcitabilities (as described by Kazimierz Dabrowski), are seen throughout gifted children literature and can appear in many different forms—emotional, psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, and imaginational.

Intensity pulls children to both ends of the emotional spectrum, causing them to feel extremely positive, happy, and excited, as well as deeply depressed, anxious, and critical of themselves. These extreme emotions are often misinterpreted as overreactions, but
gifted kids are described as more sensitive to the world around them, and thus have supposedly out-of-place responses. Along with this emotional discomfort often comes physical discomfort, like tension, nausea, headaches, and more. These heavy and seemingly unusual experiences can lead to additional shyness and anxiety, as well as self-judgment and feelings of inferiority. (Note that studies show that overexcitabilities are seen in and affect gifted and nongifted children, and one study has recommended that the gifted education field reframe overexcitabilities as the “personality trait of openness to experience.”)

Experiencing highs and lows and extreme emotions can take a toll on students who aren’t sure how to handle them. Parents and teachers can help their gifted kids feel supported and understood by:

  • Listening. It seems obvious, but truly listening to and engaging in conversation with kids makes them feel heard and valued, especially when they feel as if their thoughts aren’t taken seriously by others.

  • Talking openly about emotions. When adults talk about feelings they experience, it can help reduce the stigma surrounding emotional sensitivity. Realizing that emotions are normal and nothing to be ashamed of can help gifted children become more confident and able to acknowledge that their feelings are valid.

  • Helping kids express themselves. If a student isn’t big on talking about how he feels, provide some other outlets for him to get out his feelings. Drawing, singing, playing sports, writing, cooking, and so many other activities are great vehicles for emotional expression (along with many other benefits).