GT Kids and Behavior: Seven Strategies to Help Kids (and Parents) Cope
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Author Christine Fonseca Citation Online since October 2011

GT Kids and Behavior: Seven Strategies to Help Kids (and Parents) Cope

Author: Christine Fonseca
Citation: Online since October 2011

Gifted kids are a unique and challenging group – for teachers and for parents. They view the world through an entirely unique lens, one that is best summed up in one word. Intense. This intensity refers to how gifted individuals approach life. At its best, intensity is the driving passion that enables some people to achieve amazing things – in any domain. But at its worst, it is the turmoil that has the power to consume these same individuals from time to time as they learn how to manage that aspect of their personality.

Intensity comes in the form of cognitive intensity – those aspects of thinking and processing information that all gifted individuals use to problem solve. It relates to the attributes of focus, sustained attention, creative problem solving, and advanced reasoning skills. Most people think of cognitive intensity as intellect, or “being smart” – all good things.

But a gifted child’s intensity does not stop there. The emotional aspects of a gifted individual are also intense. Emotional intensity refers to the passion gifted people feel daily. It also refers to the extreme highs and lows many gifted people experience throughout their lifetime, causing them to question their own mental stability from time to time. This type of intensity is a natural aspect of giftedness. However, in my experience, it is also one of the most misunderstood attributes – and it is the reason gifted kids sometimes struggle.

Typically, emotional intensity results in a range of behavioral outbursts that can be internal (including moodiness, anxiety, and depression) or external (yelling or crying, temper tantrums, and physical expressions of anger or frustration). Regardless of how a gifted child chooses to demonstrate his or her intensities, there are a lot of things parents and educators can do to help lessen the outburst and help teach their children and students coping strategies.

  1. Start early by helping the child talk about his or her emotions. Trust me, they may not want to – but taking the emotions from some raw feeling to a tangible thing that can be defined is an important first step in learning to control the behavior. Further, the development of an emotional vocabulary can assist in providing a common language with which to discuss emotions and behavior.
  2. Help the child discover his or her unique escalation cycle. Likewise, know your own. Gifted kids have considerable talent for pushing a teacher’s or parent’s buttons. Knowing the things that push you over the edge will enable you to remain calm during emotional outbursts, whatever form they may take. Further, helping children discover their escalation pattern will give them a chance to learn to manage and redirect their feelings and emotions before they become too overwhelming.
  3. Once the child can identify his or her pattern of escalation, work with the child to make a plan for what to do when he or she is overwhelmed – when life becomes too intense. This plan should include a way to relax and redirect his or her energy away from the emotional throngs of intensity.
  4. Should the explosion happen anyway, it is important to remain calm and create a distance between your emotions and the child’s. Anger and frustration always beget more anger and frustration, so it is really important for the adults working with the child to stay emotionally neutral.
  5. Take a breather. This goes for the child and the adults. The best way to create the distance I talked about above is to remember to take a break and calm down.
  6. Remember to focus on the good behavior you want to see. All too often, we get into a pattern of responding to the negative behaviors strongly (because these behaviors emotionally hook us) and not responding enough, to the positive behaviors. The result – more negative behaviors. So, do a mental inventory and make sure to focus your time and energy on the positive behaviors.
  7. Behavioral outbursts, whether internal or external, are teachable moments. Yes, they are frustrating and annoying, maybe even infuriating. But they are still teachable moments. Take the time to redirect the behavior, focusing on teaching the GT child how to understand and redirect the behavior.

The bottom line to all of this: Intensity is not a bad thing in and of itself. Intensity is passion, the kind of passion we use to create. But the way in which the GT child copes with his or her intensity can be a problem. Utilizing some of the strategies above can go a long way to helping both kids and adults embrace the intensity and recognize it for what it is – a wonderful aspect of what it means to be gifted in the first place!


Christine Fonseca has worked in the field of education for more than a decade. Relying on her expertise as a school psychologist, behavioral consultant, speaker, and parenting expert, she has been a resource for parents and children in understanding the social and emotional needs of gifted children. She is the author of Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students and 101 Success Secrets for Gifted Kids. You can learn more about Christine and her work at


  1. This article gives me hope! Only… Where do we find a good family therapist to assist us with our sons individual intensities? Or how can the one we have learn more? Because I feel like we need a ton of help.

    Comment by Noelle — July 2, 2012 @ 12:47 am

  2. As a Mom of three adult gifted children and educator that works with highly capable students, I thank you for sharing this information. It is not easy to talk about our own children and the emotional cycle that a gifted child can experience as they grow from life experiences. I appreciate the step process within the article, I found communication with each of my children both at a young age and now as adult gifted helps them to navigate easier. I also found that my children did better knowing they had someone on their team to share their innermost feelings, anxiety, or other emotional blocks they were feeling. As my children, started to communicate they sometimes would struggle with their feelings and how to express them in a positive way. I would set a special time, aside to talk with each of my children to go over their day. Sometimes there was nothing out of the normal, and we would just chat, but they soon learned this was the time to freely share their innermost thoughts with me. Our conversation would create a pathway for them to move past what held them back or in some case gave them the ability to navigate around the obstacle that was a struggle for them. Over time, it created a natural communication style between us and transformed the negative behavior patterns. The pattern of communication and behavior changes does not form overnight, think baby steps and value what is working. I enjoy my relationship with my adult gifted children it has been worth all the tears, fears, and doubts that I would get here. Seeking others for support; joining a SENG Model Parent Group, calling a professional to help validate and guide parental choices all great stuff. Enjoy this path you are on with your child, reach out to others and give yourself credit for what is right for this too soon shall pass, and you will look back and say I made it work too! I wish you all the best.

    Comment by ks — May 7, 2014 @ 4:15 pm

  3. […] Helping kids cope […]

    Pingback by Sir Patrick, Frida, & Holistic Learning – SLISing — July 14, 2016 @ 9:23 am

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