The Emotional Characteristics of Gifted Children

Gifted children differ not only in their intellect but also in their way of experiencing emotions. Find out more here.
The Emotional Characteristics of Gifted Children
José Padilla

Written and verified by the psychologist José Padilla.

Last update: 07 February, 2023

High-capacity or gifted children tend to learn incredibly quickly. However, not everything is simple for them. In fact, although they may progress faster than their peers, they often require support to manage their emotions and deal with certain social situations.

In addition, the complexity of their development isn’t only observed in their intellect, but also in their emotional realm. For instance, they often have to face situations in the social sphere, consistent with their academic level, but for which they’re unprepared at the level of emotional management. In effect, their vital intensity isn’t characterized by feeling more than others, but by the particular way in which they experience the world: as more alive, penetrating, intense and complex.

Boy with glasses thinking about the trick questions
Gifted children are more emotionally sensitive to their environment.

Gifted children 

These children aren’t all the same. Every one of them has their own qualities that make them into a particular individual. That said, there are multiple traits that they have in common, although not all of them exhibit them within the same area. Here are some of them, according to Clark (2008).

Cognitive traits

  • Great powers of abstraction.
  • Interest in problem-solving.
  • Voracious reading habits.
  • Wide vocabulary.
  • Intellectual curiosity.
  • Critical thinking, skepticism, and self-criticism.
  • Goal-directed behavior.
  • Ability to study independently.
  • Diversity of interests and abilities.

Creative traits

  • Creativity and inventiveness.
  • Good sense of humor.
  • Good imagination skills.
  • Open to stimuli.
  • Intuition.
  • Flexibility.
  • Self-acceptance and disregard for social norms.
  • Commitment to self-selected work.

Affective traits

  • Unusual emotional depth and intensity.
  • Sensitivity or empathy for the feelings of others.
  • High expectations of self and others.
  • Greater self-awareness.
  • Need for emotional support.
  • Need for coherence between abstract values and personal actions.
  • Advanced levels of moral judgment.
  • Idealism and sense of justice.

Behavioral traits

  • Spontaneity.
  • Enthusiasm.
  • Focused on their passions.
  • Resist changing activities when absorbed in their own interests. Extremely energetic.
  • Need little sleep or downtime.
  • Constantly ask questions.
  • Insatiable curiosity.
  • Impulsive, anxious, and energetic.
  • Determination in areas of importance.
  • High levels of frustration.
  • Volatile temperament, especially in terms of perception of failure.

Now that you have a general idea of the characteristic traits that can identify a gifted child, we’re going to focus in-depth on their emotional dimensions.

The emotional dimension of gifted children

Many people tend to think that gifted children are little introverts, with a tendency to isolate themselves. They might also see them as rather neurotic and unkind, etc. However, these are nothing more than stereotypes. What’s more, some studies claim that there are a series of prejudices about giftedness that are socially perpetuated and make people believe that these kinds of children struggle socially and emotionally.

Gifted children aren’t necessarily withdrawn, as people often tend to think. Nor do they have marked problems relating to others or are particularly anxious, depressed, or suicidal. As a matter of fact, gifted individuals might be less prone to depression, anxiety, or suicide (Reis & Renzulli, 2004; Martin et al., 2010; Eklund et al., 2015).

In addition, they can demonstrate similar levels of well-being and stress to those of the average person. Likewise, they can be just as agreeable and conscientious, and possess social skills as good as anyone with average intellectual abilities (Baudson, 2016).

However, not all gifted children function well in emotional and social dimensions, just as not all average people, intellectually speaking, know how to deal with their emotions.

What we want to emphasize is that not all gifted children experience emotional and social problems, as people often tend to believe. When researching the affective problems that gifted children might possess, we found a series of studies that shed light on the subject. However, these findings can’t be generalized. That’s because, as we mentioned earlier, not all gifted children are the same.

Mother talking to her son thinking about why we can't be friends with our children
Gifted children have a tendency to be perfectionists and worry a great deal.

What does research suggest?

Research on the subject of gifted children produced the following results:

  • Gifted children are more emotionally and physiologically sensitive to their environment.
  • Gifted students (9 to 15 years old) with low self-esteem are vulnerable to emotional imbalance. Boys experience more behavioral and emotional problems than girls.
  • Gifted children have a lower level of self-disclosure/openness and self-concept. In addition, as their age increases, their levels of empathy and social skills decrease.
  • Gifted Students have higher negative moods. They’re reflected in lower levels of subjective well-being and emotional intelligence than in non-gifted students.
  • Gifted children tend to exhibit higher scores on worry, hypersensitivity, social concerns, and perfectionism.
  • Gifted children scored higher in depression and described themselves as more inattentive, with low social functionality. Furthermore, they had a worse perception of their physical health status.

As you can see, there’s no hard and fast rule that can be applied to gifted children. Some investigations offer results that are compatible with the hypothesis of a greater vulnerability to anxiety and mood disorders. On the other hand, others offer data that reject this hypothesis. Moreover, some make the claim that gifted children may experience relationship problems while others state the opposite.

Therefore, these studies allow us to affirm that gifted children may or may not experience affective problems, just like non-gifted children. Indeed, it must always be remembered that not everyone is the same. For instance, some of us are stronger in certain emotional traits than others. At the end of the day, each and every one of us is different.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.