Emotional Regulation and the Gifted Child

yoga childGifted children often experience asynchronous development – their emotional maturity is out of synch with their intellectual ability.  This creates heightened emotions and increased sensitivity.

In short, gifted kids tend to have very big emotions and can become easily overwhelmed.

Gifted children also tend to have strong affective memory.  What this means is that they are likely to relive feelings that accompanied an event long ago and re-feel those feelings long afterward.  They don’t simply remember the event; they remember every detail of how it felt.

Gifted children often strive for perfectionism and become easily frustrated when they can’t reach their own goals.  Many gifted children lag in the area of fine motor skills, making it hard to complete their ideas exactly as planned.  Tantrums and meltdowns are likely to erupt when things don’t work out as planned.

It’s essential to help gifted children learn to regulate their emotions so that they can work through frustrating situations and learn to problem solve. The following tips can help you to do just that. 

Stay calm

The truth is that it’s very difficult to remain calm when your child is having an enormous meltdown.  It’s stressful.  You want to fix it because you want it to stop.  But calm in the face of great stress is exactly what your gifted child needs to see.

Help your child label his feelings.  Describe what happened and empathize. 

Validate feelings

Because people tend to view these meltdowns as overreactions, gifted children often feel isolated.  Validate your child’s feelings. Let him know that you understand just how angry, sad, or overwhelmed he is.

Teach relaxation breathing

Teaching your child to recognize to physical signs of stress and respond with relaxation breathing helps your child to calm his body first and then work through his difficult feelings.  Bedtime is a great time to practice relaxation breathing.  Have your child lie on his back and take a slow breath in through his nose (count to four while he inhales).  Have him hold that breath for one second, then slowly exhale through his nose for a count of four.  Repeat for three to five minutes.

Practicing in the calm moments helps children internalize strategies so that they can use them during the frustrating moments. 


Teaching your child to talk back to negative and intrusive thoughts is another strategy to practice during a calm moment.  Have your child come up with a list of thoughts that race through his mind when something isn’t going according plan.  Encourage him to talk back to those thoughts (i.e. “I can build this tower; I do know how to stack the blocks”).  It’s a good idea to come up with a list of replacement thoughts to swap out negative thoughts with positive ones.  When you see your child becoming frustrated, cue him by reminding him he can talk back his angry brain.

Use an emotional response scale


It’s difficult to regulate your emotions when your emotions escalate quickly.  This is the challenge of the gifted child.  Download a template of a blank thermometer and make several copies.  Have your child come up with a scenario that makes him feel calm, a scenario that makes him feel a little bit upset, and a scenario that makes him feel very angry.  Write them next to cool, medium, and hot on the thermometer.  When your child exhibits signs of anger, sadness, or frustration, check in with the thermometer.  Have him color it red to where he feels on the scale and then ask him what he thinks is the worst thing that might happen, and what he can do to avoid it. 

Gifted children need patience and guidance as they learn to recognize and regulate their emotions.  With daily practice during the calm moments, the big emotions will start to feel a little bit smaller over time.

Do you have a gifted child?  Does your child struggle with emotional regulation?

Image via iStock

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Emotional Regulation and the Gifted Child

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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  1. DawnRichter says:

    Oh my, YES! And as my kids are only in the toddler/preschool stage, it is especially difficult in the area of lagging fine motor skills and perfectionism! But with all the intense feelings running on overdrive I am trying to temper recognition and regulation of feelings with the idea that there is a time and place for them. For example, they are allowed to be angry and frustrated, and they tell me as such, but they are then instructed to express those feelings in the privacy of their room (with or without our help, per their preference), not in the midst of the family and ongoing activities. Same thing if they are in public, we excuse ourselves to a secluded place to deal with our negative feelings and address any causal needs.

  2. As I read, all I could think was "This is Annabella!" Great tips on dealing with the emotional rollercoaster.


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