We went to see puppies the other day, a litter of 11 standard poodles. I warned my highly gifted, emotionally intense and fiercely loyal son that he was likely to make an immediate attachment to one particular puppy but that there were 5 of us in the family and we all had to have a chance to get to know the pups. He promised he’d keep an open mind.
We pulled up after our three-hour drive into the country and I reminded him again. “Please try to be objective. Remember we all need a chance to look at the puppies. You can have your opinion but everyone gets a vote.” “I promise” he reassured me. Five minutes into our visit he found THE PUPPY HE HAD TO HAVE.
Eye roll. The rest of the visit was like this: “We HAVE to get this one. Are we getting this one? When will you decide? Why are you looking at other puppies? This is THE ONE. I know because he came right up to me. He licked me. This is the one Mom, I KNOW IT.” And I’m sure he did know it and that he also FELT it in his gut.
Emotionally intense kids who happen to be fiercely loyal and black and white on top of it all make life, well, interesting. I remember the time we went on vacation to an indoor water park hotel. We checked in and unpacked. As it turns out a group of (loud) teens, also there for the weekend, occupied the rest of our floor. There was no chance of sleep if we stayed in that room sharing the hallway with those teens, so we switched rooms. My son protested for the rest of the trip. How could he possibly sleep when we left the original room that felt so right? Why couldn’t we just ask all the teens to whisper? Couldn’t we use earplugs? That was six years ago. If anyone brings up that hotel again our son asks, “Do you think we can get our old room?” as though the room’s been waiting for us to come back all these years.
This profile of a gifted kid presents social and emotional strengths and challenges. You can definitely count on him. If he says he will do something, you better believe he will and not just because he wants to, but because he feels he should. He has a moral compass the likes of which would get a lost seaman home for supper on time and in the middle of a nor’easter. His empathy allows him to make others feel better when they are sad or dealing with difficulty and he is quick to forgive because he just wants everyone to feel good.
What makes this child so unique and expressive also gets him into trouble with peers and teachers. He doesn’t perceive the effect of his intensity on others and because he’d do anything for anyone, can’t understand their negative response. Adding insult to injury, because of his sensitivity and loyalty toward others he feels hurt deeply – abandoned, forsaken.
This emotionally intense child can be quick to judge and jump to conclusions about others without considering the entire landscape of his own interactions. There aren’t many grey areas, just lots of black and white; right and wrong. But sometimes when he is wrong he has a tough time changing his opinion – he will argue until it’s irrefutable. Good in a litigator, not so good in a student, a friend, a son or daughter or sibling. A child who makes deep connections quickly is hard for other kids to handle; it’s a lot of pressure to be someone’s BEST FRIEND after knowing them for five minutes. If a teacher is disappointed or having a bad day the highly sensitive student assumes it’s their fault and this colors the rest of his day. While feeling elated about things that go ‘just right’ this child can feel immensely disappointed when something does not go as he hoped or envisioned.
What are the strategies for success with a highly emotional, intense child? Definitely point out the positive in your child’s undying loyalty. Remind him what a great friend he is and how you know you can rely on him. Explain to him, however, that not many people will have the capacity to give like he can and let him know there will be moments of disappointment for him. Make it clear, however, that disappointment is not a reflection on his ability to give, but on what others may not be capable of.
Give him plenty of outlets for his emotion; a diary, a punching bag, special ‘zen’ corner in his bedroom or somewhere inside or outside for deep breathing, yoga and recharging with a favorite activity. When things get intense, in a neutral tone, show him the perspective of others. When disengaging or dealing with disappointment occurs without drama, point out how proud you are of his maturity and harken back to that time as an example when other times are rough. Above all, give this child unconditional love – remind him how much you love him often and try to feed his soul in the way he tries to feed others’.
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My emotionally intense child (now 18) is only that way at home or with his immediate family. Out in the world, he holds it in and I repeatedly get comments about what a polite and well-mannered young man he is. Of course, when he gets home, he lets loose and we all suffer. In fact, at this time, he cannot live with me. Maybe someday, but for now, he can’t manage any boundaries. Thankfully, he knows we love him and how much.