Emotional Giftedness of a 4 Year Old
By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D
Our 4 year old son, while not formally tested, is highly gifted. He has had
a love of numbers and letters at a very early age and was reading by the
time he was 18mths. He has a photographic memory and is now reading and
doing maths probably at 10 year old level. He continually amazes us but
my question is how can we make him tougher, not so sensitive/affectionate
with his peers. His peers like to play tackle while he prefers to hug and
Don't get me wrong, he loves to play outdoors and run around but
his peers seem tougher and i guess in a way more aggressive in their play
(at a toddler level of course) and we would like to see our son more like
that as our fear is that once he starts school in 2014, he may be alienated
or worse, bullied, because he is too sensitive and affectionate (we know,
normal for gifted children). He currently attends a Montessori kinder
and while he loves attending, he is very sensitive to the other children and
often assists the other children with their activities (finishing puzzles /
activities for them).
We want to start him in a sport this year, is there anything else we can
do or do we just accept that this is how he is?
Your description indicates a gifted child with distinct traits in terms
of emotional sensitivity quite common amongst the gifted. First and
foremost, parents need to understand gifted children with heightened
emotional sensitivity. Being aware is very important and it is quite
clear that you understand that his gifts may make him a little different
from his peers, which is something parents need to accept and help
children accept their difference as well.
In terms of emotional sensitivity, gifted children tend to have both
passion (depth of feelings) and compassion (sense of caring). Passionate
people appear to form deep attachments - they think with their feelings.
Compassion is the sense of caring most gifted children show for others
(as in the case of your son), which enables them to make commitments
from a desire to decrease the pain they see others suffering (e.g.,
helping other kids complete their work - he may see them as struggling).
He may, in time to come feel more compassion that may cause some
emotional pain (e.g., relate intensely to the suffering of the world
around them). These children would focus on the potential of people
rather than on their faults, therefore they can be very forgiving as
well. This is emotional giftedness.
Perhaps even now of in time to come, you may find that your child is
highly empathic and are able to somewhat experience the pain of others.
An incident at school (which may not have anything to do with them) may
upset them so much that they would appear moody all day but unable to
explain why. Unfortunately, with so many feelings they experience,
especially when they are very young, it becomes hard for them to
differentiate if the feelings are directly or indirectly connected to
them. Therefore, it is crucial that they learn to differentiate their
own feelings and experiences from others - they need to learn to feel
with the others rather than feel for others.
You will also find that he would continuously help other children to
enable him to “ease their suffering” - the ultimate goal would be to
make the other person happy. When they feel unsuccessful, they may just
withdraw and alienate themselves instead. This is because they feel a
sense of great responsibility for the feelings of others. Some cope by
avoiding negative situations (situations that may produce negative
feelings), which in turn has a negative outcome - isolation and possible
disconnection from other children.
Parents may use a few strategies to intervene. Understanding the depth
of your child sensitivity is important. Monitor situations when your
child gets easily influenced and upset. Help them understand that they
are not responsible for every negative outcome and that everyone
involved is responsible what happens and for their own feelings as well.
You may use soft toys to create a situation to teach your son given his
tender age. You can also use mental imagery for example building an
invisible wall to show separation of feelings.
Many highly emotional gifted children would give happily - an act that
gives them satisfaction that they had made someone else happy. E.g., in
cases of natural disasters, these kids need to do something to help them
feel that they have made a difference, however small it may be for
adult. Parents should allow and encourage this as the act is very
emotionally rewarding for them. However, they need to learn that giving
or helping indiscriminately may cause the other party to feel a “sense
of obligation” to return the favour. Parents need to help children
Getting him involved in sports is an excellent way of indulging in
physical activities. It may not make him any more “aggressive” than he
is now, but it helps the mental & emotional balance as the energy is
channeled elsewhere. Allow him a variety of sporting activity and see
what he enjoys most. Try not to force him into anything, as that would
be detrimental. Try not to think too far ahead about his sensitivities -
help him understand his intense feelings bit by bit. He will always be a
sensitive child - all he needs is to understand himself and distinguish
his feelings from others. The fact that you are aware of his emotional
intensity, I believe he is in good hands and would be able to manage
well in formal school. An interesting read for you:
Gifted children: Emotionally immature or emotionally intense?
All the best in your journey!