by Elke Keuler


– in discussion with presentations on the „Phänomenologie der Hochbegabung (Phenomenology of Giftedness)“ in Webb, Meckstroth, Tolan: Hochbegabte Kinder, ihre Eltern, ihre Lehrer – ein Ratgeber, Bern/Göttingen/Toronto/Seattle 2002 (3rd edition), page 21 -41. (See bibliography.)

Performance and talent are only one side of giftedness. Often gifted children are also particularly emotionally sensitive. This is also emphasized by the Polish psychiatrist and psychologist Kasimierz Dabrowski (1902 – 1980), whose theory is presented in the first part of the book by Webb and others.

I find it particularly interesting how Dabrowski classifies certain behaviors and special sensitivities (high sensitivities of the senses) of gifted children, which I have already observed myself.
He distinguishes five congenital special sensitivities („overexcitabilitis“ – abbreviated OE), which occur in gifted children in different mixtures and intensities and strongly determine their personality:

– psychomotor
– sensory
– intellectual
– imaginary and
– emotional OE.

… in a nutshell…

In her third of three required literature tasks in the IHVO Certificate Course, the author deals with the often observed special emotional intensity of highly gifted children.

She combines her experiences at the kindergarten with the findings from the above-mentioned specialist literature.

Learning to appreciate special feelings

I am particularly interested in the latter, the special emotional sensitivity of gifted children. Gifted children often feel themselves as „out of order“ because they feel affected in situations that others overlook. Such children need help to accept and appreciate their special feelings. Otherwise there is a danger that their emotional tensions will lead to physical symptoms such as headaches or irritable stomachs.

Dabrowski describes that gifted children can perceive more stimuli than others – which I have also observed. At the same time, however, these children are often not yet able to „sort“ their many perceptions. Since sensory overload can lead to „inner chaos“, all children must learn to channel stimuli and set priorities. In my opinion, the gifted child also needs the support of adults for this.
For the work in the kindergarten it is necessary that teachers and parents are aware of these sensitivities, understand them correctly and can offer the child the necessary help.

High sensitivity as an opportunity

I find it positive that Dabrowski does not only consider the particularly pronounced sensitivities of gifted children to be stressful. He also sees a chance for the children to be able to achieve an individual personality concept at the highest level on the basis of these sensitivities – if things run optimally. This also depends on the reactions of the people who deal with these children on a daily basis.

My experience has shown that gifted children are particularly sensitive to interpersonal interactions. A change in vocal pitch or behaviour is perceived directly. They feel particularly intense and may suffer more – even in difficult situations that do not affect them personally.

The average is regarded as the standard

The process of emotional development is part of the development of the whole personality. I often have the impression that in our society we offer hardly any room for individuality. A tendency towards the norm, towards the middle, is clearly discernible. The average is the yardstick for „normal“ performance.
It is also clear what pressure gifted children are under, who often experience themselves as „different“.

Promoting unconventional strategies

In contrast to the average gifted, the strength of gifted people lies in their ability to achieve goals by other, sometimes unconventional means. Because kindergarten teachers and school teachers often only know or accept ready-made procedures and solutions, gifted children find it difficult to live and learn. They have too little room for individuality and creativity.
It would be desirable for teachers not only to tolerate unconventional strategies, but also to discuss and work out individual solutions with the children, to advance and encourage them.

High demands on pedagogues

I find it astonishing that even where there are school programmes for the gifted, the focus is on repeating facts, which inevitably means that the proportion of individual, creative work is lower than possible.

Working with gifted children and young people is a very demanding area. It demands not only a high level of commitment from the educator, but also innovative and flexible thinking.
If the strengths of the child, its divergent thinking and unconventional world view are not recognised and encouraged, self-esteem doubts, inner emptiness, boredom and – what I find particularly bad – loneliness grow.

Kindergarten teachers who are not trained in the field of giftedness often develop the feeling that the children are questioning their authority. This shows which personal prerequisites teachers have to bring with them in order to be able to understand and adequately advance gifted children – not only intellectually, but also emotionally. These questions should play a greater role in the training of kindergarten and school teachers.

Integrating the gifted

Gifted children have to be integrated without having to adapt them to the average norm under pressure. Gifted children and mostly their parents need „back support“ again and again.
An individual advancement of gifted children is only possible if one says goodbye to some given structures and thus offers room for new structures.

Again and again I have encountered the prejudices and myths about gifted children, which are also addressed in the book by Webb and others. And not only in my kindergarten, but also in our counselling network.

For the gifted child, it can have fatal consequences if, for example, it is mistakenly diagnosed as „hyperactive“. This makes it clear how little doctors often know about the subject of giftedness.
When I think about how many mistakes a gifted child can be at the mercy of and how serious the consequences can be, I see how important it is to further educate people about the phenomenon of giftedness.

Protecting children from isolation

Gifted children are often far ahead of their peers in terms of language usage, which leads to communication difficulties. This is why they often look for older children or adults to talk to. This can lead to little or no contact being established within the peer group.
Also in this context, the attitudes and actions of the adults who deal with the child are important. If, for example, parents are proud that the child exchanges ideas primarily with adults, they will hardly take the initiative to open up opportunities for the child to establish other relationships. The child threatens to isolate itself. This problem should be tackled at an early stage through targeted assistance from the adults involved (parents, educators, teachers) in order to support the child, enable a positive attitude towards life, and protect it from isolation and loneliness.

Avoiding excessive demands

Enlightenment is also necessary when adults – based on the intellectual maturity of the child – demand that it always behaves appropriately mature. His behaviour is age-appropriate: It can quarrel with siblings about toys, even if he may have dealt with nuclear energy shortly before… For many parents and other adults involved, this discrepancy is difficult to understand.

I find the thought that there should be something like an „optimal intelligence“ frightening. Does this mean that being intelligent is all well and good, but please only for as long as it is not uncomfortable or a challenge for others ?

Comment by the course instructor:
This concept of optimal intelligence, which appeared at Hollingworth as early as the 1940s, means that gifted people are often too far away to achieve anything significant and to gain recognition by their environment.
Of course, both are connected, as you also suggest in your critical question: If the very gifted person does not find access to similarly qualified people in time, then he may be prevented from being socially accepted and achieving great things. From this results – in our opinion already in kindergarten – the pedagogical task of bringing gifted children together with other gifted ones. In this way the course can be set towards understanding through others and socially recognized achievements.

On the one hand (intellectually) gifted children are neglected in and by our society: their abilities are not seen, they are often denied adequate support. On the other hand, attempts are made to press them into any norms. The energy used for this should be better translated into efforts to support the children and above all to understand them!

Comment by the course instructor:
Yes, and also the exceptionally highly gifted – which in our opinion can only be achieved through intensive mentoring.

In addition to emotional overload, however, gifted children still suffer above all from intellectual understrain: they spend a lot of time waiting: waiting for them to learn something new; waiting for others to come after them, even though the solution has long been clear to them. This certainly creates a lot of frustration.

The urge for self-determination and perfection

Gifted children strive especially for self-determination and perfection – as Dabrowski also emphasizes. Many of them demand the same rights as older people and often have a pronounced sense of justice.
In practice, the urge for self-determination should also be allowed in situations in which it is possible. However, if their ideas cannot be put into practice at the moment, it is necessary to talk to the children about it.

If the child strives strongly for perfection, one should help him on the one hand to be able to implement the ideas, but on the other hand also make him aware that some abilities need time to develop – even if „the head is already further ahead“. This applies, for example, to fine or gross motor skills.

Help in case of asynchronous development

Under the title „Hochbegabung: Fluch und Segen“ (Giftedness: Curse and Blessing), Webb and others describe more difficulties arising from asynchronous (temporally divergent) developments in the cognitive, emotional and physical realms, for example. Internal tensions and frustrations are cited as consequences, which in turn can lead to certain tasks or plans being abandoned or not being addressed at all.

Kindergarten teachers are then particularly challenged to accompany the child in its overall development with a high degree of sensitivity.

Gifted children are far ahead of their peers. This does not necessarily apply to all interests and abilities. In the kindergarten, it is easier for gifted children to find suitable children for their various interests. If the kindergarten teacher realises that the child has difficulties here, she can help them make contact or form interest groups.
See also: Advancement in Small Groups – Possibilities and Advantages

Especially with younger children such a mediation is helpful, because the older children do not always want to deal with younger ones on their own.

Learning to understand oneself

An important educational task for gifted children is to help them develop an understanding of themselves and their giftedness.
This becomes clear when a gifted child initially does not understand that other children are not interested in unusual topics with the same intensity. It is therefore not only a matter of supporting the child in his or her areas of interest, in his or her curiosity, and advancing it further. Conversations help the child to understand itself better and to experience that it is OK the way it is.

Gifted children sometimes deal with issues such as world peace or core moral issues. They are stunned by the fact that others do not share their curiosity and see content differently. Even if they understand the content because of their intellectual ability, this does not necessarily mean that they can process or understand it emotionally. So they must still learn, for example, that humans make also errors and solutions don’t evenly lie on the hand directly.

Confusing and at the same time enormously stressful can also be for these children: On the one hand adults cannot understand why the child argues with topics such as atomic energy and environmental protection, and on the other hand the same persons expect that it later on as an adult feels responsible for these topics.

The children need the support of adults to explain content and help them process and understand their feelings.

Difficult handling of double messages

Our society often sends out contradictory double messages on the subject of giftedness: On the one hand, young talents and gifts are highly valued and rewarded. On the other hand, adults repeatedly try to push gifted children into a „normal form“. It is easy to imagine how much the children suffer from this ambivalence. The ambiguous behaviour of adults affects their relationship and trust in them.

Like all children, the gifted also want to belong. This can lead them to define themselves about what they do best and then show this to the outside world. However, when it comes to intellectual achievement, it often triggers the known (negative) reactions of others.

Some children then change their strategy: in order not to attract attention, they keep their knowledge and skills „behind the scenes“. This again shows the dilemma in which gifted children find themselves.

It also happens that parents define their gifted child mainly by the performance it shows, and that the child consequently only attaches its own value to the performance. I can imagine very well what is triggered emotionally in this child if he is worried about not being able to live up to his own expectations or those of his parents.

Tragic refuge in solitude

I find it problematic and above all tragic when gifted children consciously withdraw from their peers. Out of fear of rejection, no attempt is made to make contacts at all. Webb and others write in this context about „loneliness as a refuge“, which could also become a „prison“.
That can only mean for me that such children are unhappy if they have no friends at all.

Although gifted children also seek loneliness in order to live out their creative abilities undisturbed, Webb and others continue to write. It makes no sense to force them into group activities.

Comment by the course instructor:
Instead of loneliness, we would prefer the term „temporary seclusion“.
We understand loneliness as the absence of other people to whom the individual has good connections. Even gifted people do not really seek this state. That fits also to your next sentences.

For me, the logical conclusion is that adults first have to find out what the children are interested in. Then projects or activities can be offered in which the gifted find other children who share their interests.

Against incomprehensible rules

Gifted children like to question rules, customs and traditions. If they are not logical to explain or are simply irrational, their logical thinking makes it difficult for them to accept these limits or rules.

It becomes particularly critical when adults, who nevertheless possess so much power (in the eyes of children), behave contradictorily in their opinions and attitudes. It seems equally incomprehensible when adults are unable to cope with problems whose solutions seem so obvious.

It is even more difficult for the gifted to understand that hardly anyone but themselves seems to notice this incompetence. I think these children doubt not only the adult, but sometimes themselves as well, depending on their self-esteem. It is understandable that such experiences can lead to existential crises at an early stage.

See also:
Disturbing Stupidity of the Adults.

An Extraordinary Little Girl, in particular the sections
6. Feelings / sensations and 10. Death and grief.


Date of publication in German: 2017, May
Copyright © Elke Keuler, see imprint.