Is Your Gifted Kid Intense?
For you, is the word "intense" validating and useful or too negative in its connotation?
If you would describe your gifted kid as intense, you're in good company!
Many gifted kids are described as intense, and some popular books about giftedness have "intensity" in the title. Some gifted adults view their own intensity as an integral aspect of their identity that shapes their experiences and the way they interact with the world.
Because I love research, I think it's interesting that research has not supported the idea that gifted kids are more emotionally intense than other kids, on the whole. I'll admit, this makes sense to me - all kids (and adults!) have big feelings.
But then why do so many people perceive gifted kids as intense?
I think gifted kids' intensity has a particular "flavor" to it that catches people's attention.
I think adults perceive gifted kids as more intense because bright kids' big feelings are often accompanied by lawyerly arguments or creative opposition. Gifted kids also get upset about things that others don't notice at all or that many people perceive as no big deal - so bright kids' emotions can be interpreted as intense or inappropriate instead of valid or understandable.
I believe gifted kids’ apparent “intensity” is often a reflection of their unusual cognitive abilities. Gifted folks’ thinking abilities are stronger than 90 to 99.9% of other people their age, so no wonder they seem intense - they notice patterns and understand information that other people don’t notice or understand. They learn quickly and think in complex ways. They’re primed for critical thinking, and their intelligence helps them spot both wonder and hypocrisy.
In my experience, twice-exceptional kids in particular are described as intense by others. Some of these kids do experience the world more intensely - they are more attuned to details and sensory experiences, or more attuned to their own need for autonomy or their feelings of interest or boredom.
Is "intense" a helpful way to refer to gifted children, teens, or adults?
I think it depends. I think the word "intense" can be validating or invalidating, depending on how it's used and understood. When "intensity" is used as a code for "too much," "too needy," "too emotional," "unreasonable," or similar, that can be hurtful. When "intensity" is used affectionately or with admiration or adoration, it has a warmer feel.
Growing up gifted, I was probably described as “intense” at times. I was prone to tears, corrected others' grammar, tried to earn 100% on every assignment, spent hours perfecting my drawing and karate skills, and talked loudly when I was excited.
I've never viewed myself as particularly intense, though. It sometimes feels validating for others to recognize my intense enthusiasm or my intense work on a passion project. A lot of the time, though, my emotions, curiosity, engagement, drive, energy, and even enthusiasm just feel appropriate and accurate to me. When that's the case, I might bristle at someone calling my feelings or behaviors "intense."
How would I describe myself, if not intense? Often curious, passionate, intellectual, striving, precise, and thoughtful.
If "intensity" starts to have a negative connotation, try reframing your child's intensity by thinking about their particular qualities and characteristics. See below for some ideas.
People who are emotionally intense are often passionate, idealistic, empathic, sensitive, enthusiastic, or caring.
People who are intellectually intense are often curious, inventive, creative, absorbed, thorough, insightful, persistent, or insatiable learners.
People who are verbally intense are often articulate, thoughtful, passionate, charming, precise, or gregarious.
People who are physically intense are often energetic, joyful, active, graceful, buoyant, playful, exploratory, or highly attuned.
What words best describe your bright kid? Do you like the word “intense,” or do you prefer something else?
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.
In my 8-week group coaching program Parenting Your Intense Gifted Kid, you'll explore what "intensity" means for your kid and how you can validate their view of the world and themselves. You'll also learn how to nurture your child's strengths and connect with them during intense moments. You can learn more here.