Emotional Intensity and Overexcitabilities

Becoming the parent of a gifted child is not unlike getting married. Whereas, you initially think that you are starting a new life together with your spouse, you soon realize that you have actually married an extended family and their entire social network!

Parenting not only involves your child. You must also learn to deal with their peer network – both age-peers and intellectual peers, the parents of their peers, and those who educate. One big happy family … with one exception … the likelihood that they are all emotionally intense and exhibit overexcitabilities.

A popular book (and now movie) for soon-to-be parents is "What to Expect When You’re Expecting". Well, someone needs to write a companion book … ‘What to expect When You’re Expecting a Gifted Child’. The entire first half of the book would need to be about Kazimierz DÄ…browski and his theories.

I’ll admit that even two years ago, I had no idea who Dabrowski was. When I started reading about his theories, I quickly was asking … where have you been all my life? Suddenly a lot of things made sense. I felt like I was an ‘outsider’ who was becoming an ‘insider’ when it came to understanding giftedness.

I won’t pretend to fully understand Dabrowski’s theories. A good friend in Austrailia writes a blog called “Sprite’s Site” that does a fantastic job of explaining them. Also, Stephanie Tolan has an article that explains them in layman’s terms. In a nutshell, gifted children and adults tend to take their emotions ‘over the top’.

What does this mean for the parent of a gifted child? Well, for starters, it would be advisable to be able to recognize their traits of gifted individuals which extend way beyond just being smart. And … you need to realize that the rules have changed. Frankly, you should probably throw the rule book out the window! Your child, their friends, their mentors and teachers … probably don’t fit in society’s expectations for run of the mill behaviors.

This isn’t meant to scare you. Think of it as a call to attention. Your life has simply been expanded to include a whole lot of people who experience life somewhat differently than the rest of society. Their intense emotions are the result of an often deeper understanding of the world around them; or at least a different understanding.

My point is that behaviors of gifted children need to be viewed in a new and different light. Although the sum of their parts, they often add up to a somewhat less than predictable result. Add in their asynchronous development and you soon realize that they are far more complex and so much more than simply a talent to be developed. Yes, as a parent or teacher, you do all that you can to assist them in realizing their potential; but that will be meaningless if you don’t understand their intense emotional side.

One last bit of advice … take a look inside and consider that you too may well exhibit intense feelings and overexcitabilities. Self-awareness can go a long way in becoming a much better parent. One day when that precocious little child grows up … they will thank you. 


  1. Preach it, sister! There is no more expectation of "normal" around our house. It's all about management and coping.

  2. A great post, Lisa. Thank you so much for including Sprite and myself in it!
    And it is so true the regular parenting books just do not seem to be very helpful when dealing with emotional intense gifted children!

  3. Michael Piechowski, without whom few of us would know of Dabrowski's work, has an important book: Mellow Out They Say, If Only I Could. It will be a great help to understanding the effect of the "original equipment" of the OE's.

    It's important to note that this is not solely about heightened emotions--emotional OE is only one of five. If your child can't stand labels in clothing or seams in socks, that is also part of it. OE's often lead to misdiagnoses of various "pathologies" which are actual "normalities" among the gifted. It is important to tease out the differences if possible...

  4. I think I'm managing to understand 'why', but the coping and managing is the tricky part! Does anyone have any must -reads? Particularly for 11+ yr old? I've bought a few books - parents guide to gifted children and living with intensity, both of which are great at describing behaviours but not much in the way of advice - beyond the obvious stuff that we've been doing since day 1.......or at least since she was 2 yrs and we realised there was something 'different'......any ideas gratefully received!

  5. Jane, Those are both excellent books. May I suggest ... Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students and the companion book for kids 101 Success Secrets for Gifted Kids ... both by Christine Fonseca. She offers a multitude of coping strategies for you and your child.

  6. Thanks for this nice post. I think your absolutely right.

    A nice book to learn how to raise your gifted child may be 'Positive Discipline', by Jane Nelsen. I think it's a way of disciplining your child that suits many gifted children!

  7. Nice post! I have my own thoughts on gifted people and intensity here: http://teachingmybabytoread.blog.com/gifted/gifted-and-intense/


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