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The Strength Hiding in Your Kid's Big Feelings

Your gifted or 2e kid’s emotional intensity can be a window to their biggest strengths.

For many parents of gifted or twice-exceptional children, big feelings and emotional intensity are a big concern. 

 

You might recognize common big feelings if your child…

  • Shuts down or blows up when something doesn’t go their way.

  • Cries, yells, or rips up their work when they make a mistake.

  • Over-works because they worry about doing poorly.

  • Cries when they think about racism, climate change, or others suffering.

  • Explodes when asked to do their chores because they're full engrossed in one of their passion projects.

  • Feels furious when they see another child cheat at a game because it violates their strong drive for justice.

  • Avoids or refuses to do worksheets at school because their strong commitment to autonomy and integrity makes it difficult to do work that feels meaningless

  • Scoffs, argues, and refuses when asked to apologize, if they think doing so would violate their personal values.  

 

A gifted/2e child’s emotional intensity can feel overwhelming.

Bright kids might channel their sadness, embarrassment, frustration, or outrage into hurtful comments, yelling, throwing things, or harsh self-criticism.  If your child struggles with big feelings, you may feel stressed, frustrated, or worried about their intensity or how to support them.  

 

If we simply characterize these children as immature, lazy, rude, overly sensitive, or arrogant, we miss the true meaning of their feelings and behaviors.  When we look at their feelings through a gifted lens, we can understand their feelings better and even see their hidden strengths. 

 

Hidden strengths?​ 

 

Yes, many intense feelings actually signal a child’s strengths.  Sometimes our greatest weaknesses and greatest strengths are two sides of the same coin. 

How can you find the hidden strengths in your kid’s emotional intensity?

First, look for any gifted characteristics behind your child’s big feelings.

There isn’t great research about common gifted characteristics, but you can read some examples here. For example - many gifted kids learn easily, get absorbed in interests and passions, care about justice and fairness, have high standards for themselves, notice small details, or like to do things their own way, or have an excellent memory.

Most gifted characteristics aren’t challenges or strengths in and of themselves - instead, they show up as big feelings OR strengths depending on the context.

Here are some examples:

  • Does your kid learn easily?

    • Big feelings: They may hate school or get in trouble because they learn material easily and don’t have work at their level.

    • Strength: This same kid might love learning and soak up new information when presented with engaging material at their level.

  • Does your kid become absorbed in their interests and passions?

    • Big feelings: They may explode when told to work on something that feels less important. For example, a kid might have a meltdown when asked to leave a Lego project for dinner.

    • Strength: This same kid has great motivation, focus, and follow-through when working on something they love.

  • Does your kid have high standards for themselves?

    • Big feelings: They may shut down or blow up when they make a mistake. They can get overwhelmed by seemingly simple setbacks.

    • Strength: This same kid might work hard and create stellar projects when their work goes smoothly or when they get to choose a topic they love.

  • Does your kid care about justice and fairness?

    • Big feelings: When they someone cheat at a game, they may feel furious. They might start an argument or leave the field in tears.

    • Strength: This same kid might stand up for others who are treated unfairly.

When your kid has a big feeling, take a minute to identify the hidden strength. This can help you feel calmer and it can help your kid understand their big feeling in a positive way.

Think about a time recently when your kid had a big, intense feeling. What’s the strength that’s on the flip side of their big feeling?

  • Creativity or a love of fantasy and imagination?

  • A desire for autonomy to do things their own way?

  • Critical thinking abilities?

  • Preference for meaningful (versus meaningless) tasks?

  • Strong sense of justice / what’s fair?

  • Strong drive to complete their projects or vision?

  • Perceptive senses / ability to notice details?

  • Something else?

If you’re having a hard time identifying the hidden strength on the other side of your child’s intense feelings, they might not know how to channel it yet or they might not have had that opportunity.  Your child may need help channeling their strengths into helpful areas.

 

For example, if your child...

 

Shuts down or blows up when something doesn’t go their way:  Do they have high internal standards?  Do those standards help them thrive when they’re working on something they love, or might they in the future with practice?

 

Feels furious when things seem “unfair”:  Do they value justice and integrity?  Do they stand up for justice on important issues, or act with integrity even when it’s difficult?  If not yet, what causes might spark their passion?

 

Is easily embarrassed:  Are they remarkably self-aware?  Does their self-awareness bolster their poise and pride in some situations?  If not, could they learn to see themselves in a positive light?

 

Feels others’ pain deeply:  Do they have unusual emotional sensitivity, empathy, and depth?  Do they care kindly for others or create beautiful art or stories?  Could they learn to if encouraged?

Once you’ve identified your kid’s strength, consider describing it to them.

These types of statements can help gifted kids make sense of their feelings and build a positive identity.

 

Combined with validation, it can sound like this:

  • “That is really upsetting. You have such a sense of justice about what’s fair and what’s not.”

  • “You love to do a thorough job. You’re always noticing little details to improve. It’s hard when you run out of time to make the project just the way you like.”

  • “You didn’t like it when I told you to keep the sponge in the sink. You had a creative idea about how to wash up and you wanted to try it out. ”

One of the joys of bright kids with big feelings is that they wear their strengths on their sleeve with clarity, vulnerability, and bravery - if we know how to look for them.

If you want more ideas like this directly to your inbox, sign up for Gifted Lab Notes, my weekly email with tips and information for supporting your intense or sensitive gifted or twice-exceptional kid.

If you want to learn more about the VIEW framework and get help identifying and nurturing your intense kid’s strengths, check out my small-group coaching program, Support Your Intense Gifted/2e Kid. The program is designed to help you feel more confident and calm, even when your kid is having big feelings or tough moments.

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