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When Bright Kids Have Big Feelings

How can we recognize when bright kids' big feelings are linked to their greatest strengths?

For many parents of gifted or twice-exceptional children, big feelings 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

  • Gets furious when things feel “unfair”

  • Over-works because they worry about doing poorly, or

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

Although bright kids’ big feelings are sometimes perceived as “immature” or confusing given these kids' intelligence, big feelings are common among gifted kids.  Take a look at some common gifted characteristics listed by the National Association for Gifted Children.


Some characteristics describe big feelings:

  • Unusual emotional depth and intensity

  • Sensitivity or empathy to the feelings of others

  • High expectations of self and others, often leading to feelings of frustration

  • Easily wounded, need for emotional support

  • High levels of frustration—particularly when having difficulty meeting standards of performance (either imposed by self or others)

  • Volatile temper, especially related to perceptions of failure


Other characteristics aren’t about feelings per se but can easily lead to big feelings:

  • Intensely focused on passions—resists changing activities when engrossed in own interests

  • Need for consistency between abstract values and personal actions

  • Heightened self-awareness, accompanied by feelings of being different

  • Advanced levels of moral judgment

  • Idealism and sense of justice

  • Aesthetic and moral commitment to self-selected work


How might these gifted characteristics relate to big feelings?  A gifted child...

  • 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 bright child’s big feelings 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.


These strengths may already be well-developed and may shine in less stressful situations. Or, a 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?


Sometimes our greatest weaknesses and greatest strengths are two sides of the same coin. 


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.

Do you want help noticing and nurturing your child's strengths, even in tough moments with big feelings?  Check out Parenting Your Intense Gifted Kid, my group coaching program for parents, where you'll practice this skill and others alongside other parents of bright, passionate kids.  You'll get lots of support from me along the way too.  

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