Understanding Giftedness
Understanding Giftedness

Nurturing the Emotional and Social Development of Gifted Students: Affective Education | Understanding Giftedness | HKAGE

To nurture the gifted, intellect is not the only aspect parents should be concerned about. Every child needs to be loved, appreciated, and cared for; gifted children are no different. Some gifted children develop more intense feelings or emotions towards their surroundings than other children, and if their emotional needs are not addressed, negative behaviour may emerge, which can adversely affect both their cognitive and emotional development.

Affective Education for Gifted Children

Many gifted children are happy, well-adjusted, and balanced individuals who do well in school. However, some of them may feel distressed as their learning and affective needs are being neglected or their affective characteristics are not understood or accepted. The following paragraphs identify and describe some common issues faced by the gifted.

Affective Education: Socio-emotional Development of Gifted Children

Further Reading: Dispelling the 5 Common Myths about Giftedness
Further Reading: Is the Child a Gifted Student? Definition of Gifted Children 

Affective Characteristic #1:Asynchronous Development

Gifted children often have their intellectual, physical, emotional, and social abilities develop at different rates and to different extents. This uneven development is called asynchronous development.


Six-year-old children usually have a general opinion on starvation problems, saying, “They don’t have anything to eat, poor thing!”.

A six-year-old child with the intellectual ability of a twelve-year-old would, however, have a thought about the issue of poverty and fairness. If their social maturity is developed relatively slowly, they may feel unhappy as they may not be able to find peers who share their views.

Affective Characteristic #2Overexcitability

Overexcitability (OE) describes an intensified ability in responding to stimuli. Five types of OE were suggested by Kazimierz Dabrowski, a Polish psychologist, namely psychomotor, sensual, imaginational, intellectual, and emotional.

Five Types of Overexcitability
CharacteristicsPotential Problems
1. Psychomotor OE
  • Have a high level of energy, lots of movements, and athletic activities
  • Talk fast, gesture a lot, and may have nervous tics
  • Could be disruptive as they are unable to sit still, when nervous, display repetitive actions such as finger tapping
2. Sensual OE
  • Have heightened sense proclivity to sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch
  • Feel uncomfortable with some sensory inputs
  • Are easily distracted and thus affect concentration
3. Intellectual OE
  • Are very inquisitive and curious
  • Have an urge to solve problems and understand the truth
  • Enjoy theoretical and moral thinking
  • Develop deep angst toward the moral and ethical problems they see in the world
4. Emotional OE
  • Have high sensibility
  • Have complex emotions
  • Have strong emotional ties and attachments in relationships
  • Become intensely sensitive and feel hurt easily, overreact behaviourally or emotionally
  • Tend to consider the implications of their actions rather than taking action
5. Imaginational OE
  • Have a heightened sense of imagination
  • Strong visual thinkers, use lots of metaphors
  • Feel bored with learning in the regular classroom and are easily distracted

Affective Education: Socio-emotional Development of Gifted Children

Further Reading: Nurturing Gifted Students: How do Parents Get Along with Their Gifted Children?
Related information:  Parent Education Programme/Workshop/Other Support

Affective Characteristic#3:Perfectionism

Children who adopt healthy perfectionism tend to set high performance goals. When they fail, they are usually able to accept reality, move on, and learn from their mistakes with the hope of achieving better results in subsequent attempts. Their high-performance goals foster both a skill at overcoming disappointment and a zest for improvement.

On the flipside, children who are unhealthy perfectionists tend to be overly concerned about their mistakes. They believe that others will only respect them if they are “perfect”. To avoid failure and looking like a “loser” to others, they may opt to withdraw themselves from whatever activities they are asked to engage in.

Potential Problems Caused by Unhealthy Perfectionism:

  • Spend too much time on a task, regardless of time and efficiency
  • Refuse to attempt
  • Dislike challenges and tend to choose simple tasks
  • Set an unreachable goal, which could lead to a loss of confidence when they “fail”


Affective Characteristic #4:Feeling Like Being Different

Some gifted children are likely to feel disconnected from their peers due to their unique abilities and interests, or their thoughts that they struggle to articulate effectively. As a result, they perceive themselves as different from others and may feel uncertain about getting accepted by their peers. If parents are not aware of the emotional needs of gifted children, they may feel unloved and neglected, and may, in turn, refuse to open up, as they think no one will ever truly understand them.

Potential Problems Caused by Feeling Being Different:

  • May be rejected by the peers due to their unique interests
  • Feel lonely and helpless as they can’t find peers who share the same interests
  • Lose confidence
  • Choose not to show their giftedness, i.e. masking giftedness
    Gifted children stand out among their peers due to their advanced intellectual development compared to their chronological age. They tend to hide their gifts to avoid being accused of showing them off and to seek social acceptance. However, once gifted children establish the habit of hiding, a turnabout attitude would be very difficult. Consequently, their gifts would be wasted, and they are deprived of the intellectual satisfaction they should experience.

    Why Gifted Children Mask their Giftedness?
    • To achieve social acceptance
    • To avoid drawing special attention
    • Fear of failure and fear of losing face
    • Feel stressed about being different

    Potential Problems Caused by Masking Giftedness
    • Loss of motivation for learning
    • Lack of security
    • Academic underachievement

    (The underachieving gifted may develop feelings of helplessness and inadequacy, which will affect their confidence, and once these negative feelings take hold, it become challenging for parents to change them.)

Further Reading:  Nurturing the Potential of Gifted Students (Part 1): Academic Potential - Mathematics, Chinese, Science, High-level Intelligence
Further Reading: Nurturing the Potential of Gifted Students (Part 2): Non-academic Potential - Visual and Performing Arts, Leadership, Physical Fitness