We adults often focus on the intellectual growth of a gifted child, but giftedness has an emotional component that also must be addressed at the same time. The emotional and intellectual depths of gifted children are intertwined, and intense and complex. The degree of emotional intensity within a gifted child is not as simple as feeling deeply in situations; they also experience the world vividly in a way that encompasses and directs the ways they live.
Emotional intensities can be expressed through intense positive or negative feelings, body symptoms, affective memory, fears/anxieties, emotional ties and attachments, and critical self-evaluation or self-judgment. It is their emotional intensity that fuels the drives for expression, talent, and internal motivation for who they are and who they wish to be. As much as emotional intensities empower gifted children, their emotional intensities can also hinder achievement in academic settings because many around them fail to understand why they experience the world as they do.
Here are a few tips to consider when working with gifted children and emotional intensities in academic settings:
1. Goal setting
Incorporate the saying “Inch by inch, it’s a cinch. Yard by yard, it’s hard” with gifted children. Help students make realistic goals that are attainable initially in short timeframes and extend the duration of the goals as success is achieved.
2. Emphasize progress, not perfection
Tackling a project or course assignment may cause anxiety when viewed as a whole picture, and students may place unrealistic pressures on themselves to attain the larger goal or deadline. Develop a learning contract or checklist with gifted children to help them perceive a task as manageable and accessible. Practice feeling good about each accomplished small step in the big picture.
3. Focus on task commitment
Many gifted children experience multi-potentiality and have the ability to produce excellence in many fields of endeavor. It may be difficult to make decisions about where to place one’s energy. Gifted children must make hard choices in school situations and face the reality of producing required outcomes within a specific time frame. To do so, they may have to scale back their ideas to create a blueprint of a prototype rather than the actual prototype to meet the course timelines. They may have to complete initial data collection to analyze a problem rather than present a final solution to that problem. Encourage accomplishing the next step in the process of reaching a goal rather than the outcome itself, if that is an option.
4. Applaud persistence and uncover personal meaning
The growth of a gifted child with emotional intensities is developed through the learning process. Begin to ask questions about decisions the student made, such as why specific colors were used in a piece of work. Or, why a longer period was spent on a specific portion of the task. Did the activity have significance to the child? Honor the effort that is given and help students learn more about who they are throughout the process of engaging in an assigned task.
Our role as a parent, teacher, or advocate of gifted children is to help them understand their emotional intensities and assure them that there is nothing wrong with the way they see and experience the world. Instead, their emotional depth and intense experiences are what adds richness to their passions, talents, and creativity and are to be celebrated by them as well as by all of us.