“Ask Paula” is your opportunity to seek advice and find answers about parenting and education. Here, our gifted expert and CTD Director, Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, offers her insights into helping emotionally intense and sensitive children and recommends resources related to grouping high achieving students in a heterogenous classroom.
Your story about your son’s sensitivity and emotion is not an uncommon one for gifted children. First, as with any personality characteristic, there is a great deal of variability across individuals, even within a group of gifted children. So, it is also not surprising that your niece and son are different. I have two daughters and one is much more sensitive and intense in her emotional reactions to things (like her mom) than is the other. Many scholars within the field of gifted education believe that a heightened level of sensitivity and more intense emotional reactions are some of the defining characteristics of giftedness, but in my experience, many, but not all gifted children, exhibit these.
It can be challenging as a parent to deal with intense sensitivity on the part of a child. Our immediate tendency is to minimize their feelings and say, “you are over-reacting.” But as a first step, I think it is always important to acknowledge and accept a child’s feelings and it is wonderful that your child is able to articulate his feelings so well and feels very safe in expressing them to you.
Our role as parents is to be emotional coaches, so to speak, guiding our children in understanding their feelings and reactions and helping them to acquire strategies to regulate them. You could consider consulting with a psychologist about ways in which your might respond to your child’s sensitivity and strategies you might use to help your child dial down the intensity. The goal would be to use and model these strategies with your child so that he can acquire them and use them independently as he develops and matures.
Some resources on the topic of emotional intensity and sensitivity are available on the the website of the Social Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG–www.sengifted.org), the website of the National Association for Gifted Children (www.nagc.org–parent resources), and the website of the Davidson Foundation (www.davidsongifted.org). The books, “Emotional Intensity in Gifted Children” by Christine Fonseca (Prufrock Press, www.prufrock.com) or “Living with Intensity” by Susan Daniels and Michael Piechowski (Great Potential Press) might also be helpful to you in terms of offering concrete strategies to use.
I always say to my daughter who is very sensitive that it is her best characteristic, enabling her to be so empathic and caring, and also her most challenging, because it makes her feel different and “not normal”. I can tell you from experience though, that if you work over time with your child to help him or her gain understanding of his feelings, emotions and reactions, his sensitivity will be an asset for him in his life.
I can recommend two resources for you regarding research on cluster grouping within classrooms. Right now this is a “hot topic” within gifted education as the trend has been to keep gifted children within heterogeneous classrooms rather than put them in pull-out programs or separate classrooms. Several models for cluster grouping gifted students together within otherwise heterogeneous classrooms have been proposed by a couple of different authors. One of these is by Marcia Gentry and Rebecca Mann, “Total School Cluster Grouping and Differentiation” published by Creative Learning Press. Another is “The Cluster Grouping Handbook. How to Challenge Gifted Students and Improve Achievement for All” by Susan Winebrenner and Dina Brulles, Free Spirit Press. The authors of both of these books explain cluster grouping and cite research studies to support their claims of its effectiveness with meeting the needs of gifted students.