Helping Gifted Children Cope With Intense Emotions

Mother comforting daughter (8-10) outdoors.
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Many gifted children are highly sensitive individuals. They may take things personally and become upset by words and deeds that other children may easily ignore or get over quickly. How can parents help their emotionally sensitive children cope with these intense emotions? Here are some suggestions that might help.

Understand What's Behind the Sensitivity

People often misunderstand sensitive children and think they're just being melodramatic and making a fuss over nothing. While some gifted children may have a flair for the dramatic, that does not diminish the intensity of their emotions. These children may be experiencing what psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski called an emotional overexcitability. That means that they actually do experience emotions more intensely than others.

Have Your Child Create an Emotional Response Scale

Emotionally sensitive children seem to respond to each negative experience as though it were the end of the world.

Emotionally sensitive children cannot help what they feel, but they can learn to put these experiences into perspective, which can help them cope with their strong feelings.

Keep the emotional response scale handy so that you and your child can refer to it when necessary. You might even have your child create a poster of the list to keep on their bedroom wall. Whenever your child gets very upset, you can then ask your child to rate it according to the scale. Of course, they may act as though it's a number ten event, but then ask if they really believe the event is the same as the number ten event on the scale. They will see that it's not. Eventually, they will be better able to manage their emotional responses to various events in their lives.

How to create the emotional response scale:

  • Take a sheet of paper and write the numbers one to ten in a vertical list
  • Ask your child what he or she thinks would be the very worst thing that could happen. You may need to work on this as the first answer you get could be something relatively minor like losing a favorite toy. A more appropriate answer would be the house burning down or something along those lines. Write this answer down next to the number ten.
  • Ask your child what they think would be the most minor thing that could happen. This may be a little easier than the number ten event. It could be something like having to go to bed a half hour earlier than usual. Whatever the event is, it should be something the child associates as negative. Sometimes children, however, may benefit from choosing something neutral that they don't really care about either way. Write this event next to the number one.
  • Find an event to write in the number five spot. Once the number ten and number one events are decided on, it's easier to come up with a number five event. Help your child come up with an even that is not really bad and not really minor, but right in between the two extremes.
  • Fill in the rest of the numbers in the list. This may take quite a bit of revising. You and your child must see the progression from the least to the worst thing that could happen.

Acknowledge Your Child's Feelings

Remember that your child's feelings are quite strong and these feelings are beyond their control.

Avoid saying things like "You're just too sensitive" or "Stop overreacting." Not only do such comments not help, they can make a child feel worse and even make the child feel as though there must be something wrong with them.

This is especially difficult for highly sensitive little boys who are supposed to be emotionally tough according to society's standards.

In time, your child will be better able to cope with their intense emotions, but will not outgrow them. These emotional intensities are part of a person's makeup and are there for life. However, these suggestions can help emotionally sensitive children learn to manage those intense feelings.

7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Shapero BG, Dale CF, et al. Emotional Reactivity. Encyclopedia of Adolescence. Springer. 2016. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-32132-5_786-1

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Active listening.

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  6. Hurley K. PBS Kids. How to Support Emotionally Sensitive Boys.

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By Carol Bainbridge
Carol Bainbridge has provided advice to parents of gifted children for decades, and was a member of the Indiana Association for the Gifted.