Children with emotional sensitivity require a different kind of support. Here are four simple steps to help your emotionally intelligent child thrive.
She was bouncing off the furniture in the living room, as usual.
“Can you answer these questions for me, B? I’d like to send your responses to a friend of mine.”
She teetered on the arm of the couch, her own arms outstretched for balance.
A safe landing into the pillows.
“Sure.” Flushed cheeks; ragged breath. She stood up and readied for another pass.
“Okay. Number one: What is your biggest interest or passion?”
“Singing.” Bounce. “Dancing.” Bounce. “Parkour.”
“It’s okay! I’m fine!!!” She stood up, brushed herself off. “What’s next?”
“What do you want to tell the world about being gifted?”
“Nothing,” she said, her voice muffled as she turned a somersault. “I’m not gifted. Don’t you know I can’t read?”
We sat in the late August sunshine, observing the winery lawn from our picnic table at the top of the hill. B was a few weeks shy of two, her little legs displaying that gorgeous baby chub.
“Mama,” she whispered. “Look. Why won’t that mama give her baby any water?”
I followed her gaze to another table several yards away. A woman struggled with a toddler much younger than B, repeatedly moving a plastic water bottle out of the baby’s reach. They were too far away for us to hear their conversation, but the body language was clear.
The mother was tired, frustrated, and hot. The toddler was cranky and thirsty.
I felt a tiny form press into my side.
“Why, mama?” another whisper, heavy with the scent of tears. “She’s thirsty. And she wants a nap.”
B can read, alright. Not books – we’re still working on that. Rather B’s literacy skills lie in emotion, in her ability to identify, analyze, and evaluate the slightest of social cues. It was present even in infancy; her behavior was the bellwether for our family’s emotional state. It’s grown larger and more intense as she’s gotten older: she is an empath with a profound emotional IQ.
B does share other traits of intellectual giftedness with her siblings. She potty trained herself at 18 months because “diapers are unnecessary.” She requires constant supervision lest her oratory skills foment a neighborhood revolution. She is witty, precocious, and insatiably curious, but in her mind, that’s not enough to classify as gifted.
It’s only enough to make her feel like an outlier, an outcast too sensitive for her own good.
The Negative Impact of Emotional Overexcitability
When Dabrowski established his theory on overexcitabilities, he included emotional sensitivity as one of the five. But his wording proved a little problematic: “Overexcitability” lends a perception of neuroticism, branding it an issue rather than a gift.
B has picked up on this inherently. Her internal conflict, self-critical nature, and constant anxiety form a perception of inferiority. It doesn’t help that mentors and friends alike tend to abreact to her sensitivity; I once overheard her co-op instructor complaining about tears shed during a class discussion on rays (as if on cue, B arrived at my side for assurance that she would not, in fact, develop radiation sickness from the x-ray she got at three years old).
What are we doing to these emotional wunderkinder? In a world seemingly devoid of empathy, why are we demonizing their ability to feel with depth and sincerity, dismissing that skill in favor of proficiency in STEM?
Children with high emotional IQs are gifted, and they need our attention and support. How do you foster a positive self-concept in a child with a high emotional IQ?
4 Ways to Support an Emotionally Intelligent Child
Validate your child’s feelings
I get it. It’s frustrating to deal with the constant barrage of fears and anxieties. But minimizing or downplaying the fears as trivial or unimportant only communicates the message that we don’t care.
Be open to what she has to say
Listening and hearing are two different things. When your child expresses a need to talk, sit down, remove distractions, and take in what he is saying. Be willing to work through those emotions with him in the way he needs it most.
Make it clear you appreciate what makes him tick
Emotional sensitivity is a strength, not a weakness. Let your child know you admire this trait, and focus on the good that comes from such a characteristic.
Offer reassurance when emotions are high
Help your child discover ways to express and work through what he is feeling, whether it be through writing, talking, drawing, or physical exercise. Take part in the activity together so he knows he is not alone.
Embracing and fostering emotional intelligence as giftedness has enormous benefit, and the evidence isn’t just anecdotal.
In 2001, researchers Mayer, Perkins, Caruso, and Salovey published the results of their study evaluating the benefits of and relationship between emotional intelligence and giftedness. In a small survey of 11 adolescents, each with varying levels of Emotional and Verbal IQ, the cohort determined that “those with higher emotional intelligence were better able to identify their own and others’ emotions in situations, use that information to guide their actions, and resist peer pressure than others.”
What sort of an impact would it have on our society if this were a primary focus? What sort of difference would there be in our culture if sensitivity were an asset, not a weakness?
Our emotionally sensitive children have what the world needs. It’s up to us to give them the support they require.
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