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MANY GIFTED children are referred to professionals because of social and emotional difficulties and yet, the assumption that that gifted children are more likely than others to have a variety of personal and social problems, is not supported by research. Social and emotional difficulties are not directly attributable to giftedness. Rather, they result from a lack of understanding by the child of the nature and significance of their intellectual and emotional difference.

Gifted children know they are different but often parents and teachers don't discuss this difference with them because of the concern that they may get a "swelled head". The risk that is with this approach is that, without information to the contrary, gifted children may view their differences as "weird" or "bad" or try to ignore or deny them.

Consider this diagram which shows the complex environment for gifted children or click on one of the following topics.

Jump to: Intelligence | Emotions | Dabrowski's Overexcitabilities | Idealism & Perfection | Advanced Moral Development | Introversion & Extraversion | Further information


Gifted childrens' thinking is more intellectually complex than others. Intellectual complexity is the ability to perceive multitudinous relationships in all things in life. For gifted children, nothing is as simple as it seems. They see clearly that the answer depends on the context - they see endless shades of grey, not black and white.

Intellectual depth is the ability to see many layers of meaning in each life situation. Intellectual depth enables gifted children quickly to pick up mixed messages in social situations and this can leave them very confused. It can also inhibit social conversation as gifted children want to explore every issue in depth and at length and others quickly tire of this.

Intellectual complexity results in curiosity and a demand for accuracy, exactness, precision of thought and expression. This can lead gifted children to be argumentative which is a social liability. Also lack of information and understanding of the nature and significance of these intellectual differences can result in gifted children being seen as "odd" or "crazy" by others and sometimes by themselves.


Giftedness has an emotional as well as an intellectual component: gifted children not only think differently from their peers, they also feel differently. This difference in feeling is emotional intensity; a positive force for the gifted that feeds, enriches, empowers and amplifies talent.

Emotional intensity is positively correlated with intelligence and so the higher the intellectual level, the more emotionally intense a gifted person will be. Emotional intensity is expressed by the gifted through a wide range of feelings, attachments, compassion, heightened sense of responsibility and scrupulous self-examination. While these are normal for the gifted and appear very early in their life, they are often mistaken for emotional immaturity rather than as evidence of a rich inner life.

Gifted children need to understand that it is natural for them to feel deeply and intensely and to experience a wide range of emotions. If emotional intensity is understood and valued along with the intellect, gifted children will be empowered to express their unique selves in the world and use their gifts and talents with confidence and joy.

Dabrowski's Overexcitabilities

Overexcitability is heightened sensitivity of the nervous system, an expanded awareness of and capacity to respond to stimuli such as noise, light etc. The term 'overexcitability' conveys the idea that this stimulation of the nervous system is well beyond the usual or average in intensity and duration. The overexcitabilities can be thought of as an abundance of physical, sensual, creative, intellectual and emotional energy. Overexcitabilities can result in creative endeavours as well as advanced emotional and ethical development in adulthood. Because of this, overexcitabilities are a positive force for the gifted, as they feed, enrich, empower and amplify talent.

Overexcitabilities are assumed to be innate and appear in five forms:

  • Psychomotor - Surplus of energy, restless, curious
  • Sensual - Sensory and aesthetic pleasure
  • Intellectual - Strong signs of analysis and synthesis, theoretical thinking, probing questions, learning, problem solving
  • Imaginational - Vivid fantasy life, spontaneous imagery, sensitive to imaginary realities
  • Emotional - Intensity of feeling:, complex emotions and feelings, extremes of emotion, identification with the feelings of others, difficulty adjusting to change.

Idealism & Perfectionism

Idealism in the gifted is linked to their exceptional conceptual reasoning ability. Idealism is an abstract intellectual concept; a vision of what is possible, what could be. It is a positive quality - the driving energy that propels gifted children forward towards achievement. Problems arise when idealism becomes perfectionism: when what could be becomes what should be - an imperative!

Idealism can also be applied to the self so that gifted children impose unrealistically high standards on themselves and berate themselves when they fall short of these standards. Gifted children often have unrealistic expectations for their performance all the time in everything. It is important that gifted children learn to value and explore the process of learning and not focus only on the outcome and achievement.

Advanced Moral Development

Moral concern in gifted children is an expression of intellectual complexity. When combined with sensitivity and empathy, which are expressions of emotional intensity, it is transformed into moral commitment.

Gifted children feel deeply for others and will often become distressed when they cannot alleviate the problems of others. They will frequently ask questions and express concern about world problems - poverty, war, environmental devastation. This empathy for the suffering of others makes gifted children particularly vulnerable to the many forms of insensitivity they see on television and in the world around them. Often gifted children feel powerless to act and this sense of helplessness can lead them to despair and being critical of themselves as they feel a responsibility for these situations.

Introversion & Extraversion

It is important to appreciate personality differences and understand that they lead to differences in points of view, differences in expression of giftedness and differences in behaviour. Both introversion and extraversion are normal and neither needs "curing".

In order to understand and value their giftedness, gifted children need to realise that not all children think and feel as they do and that difference does not mean that they are better or worse people. It also helps to be told that, in our society, conformity tends to be more valued than difference. Understanding giftedness through discussion is essential so that gifted children can recognise and accept their own personal strengths and weaknesses without judgement.

Initial discussion of gifted differences can sometimes be difficult for parents, especially when they are also coming to terms with their own giftedness. Therefore it can be helpful to have an knowledgable professional to give information and support to gifted children when required.

Further information

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