Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13

Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students: Helping Kids Cope with Explosive Feelings (2nd ed.)

reviewed by Lindsay E. Lee & Todd Kettler - November 15, 2016

coverTitle: Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students: Helping Kids Cope with Explosive Feelings (2nd ed.)
Author(s): Christine Fonseca
Publisher: Prufrock Press, Austin
ISBN: 1618214578, Pages: 215, Year: 2016
Search for book at Amazon.com

In Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students: Helping Kids Cope With Explosive Feelings, Christine Fonseca explores the affective attributes of giftedness and provides readers with several coaching strategies to prevent and manage emotional outbursts in children and adolescents. Her book utilizes vignettes to provide examples of three diverse gifted children at different points in their development. It also shares role-playing scenarios to model how conversations may progress in emotionally charged moments. The strategies provided by the author build open communication, show parents how to adjust their parenting to allow gifted children to become part of the problem-solving process, and encourage an authoritative approach for parents and educators.

Fonseca defines emotional intensity as “strong and intense emotional reactions to various situations” (p. 28). These reactions can include positive aspects such as high energy, happiness, or excitable frivolity. In contrast, emotional intensity may also include crying spells, extreme anxiety, or explosive outbursts. Fonseca claims that gifted children occasionally lash out at their caregivers when they encounter obstacles. At the beginning of the book, Fonseca attempts to dispel the myth that all gifted students are high achievers and sociable among their peers. She discloses that in actuality these learners sometimes fall prey to underachievement and social maladjustment.

Throughout the text, Fonseca provides accounts of gifted students’ lives in the form of vignettes and role-play scenarios. These vignettes follow three gifted students: Maria, an 8-year-old student, who is unaware that her bossy attitude has caused peer relations to suffer; Andrew, a 12-year-old student, who is seemingly unmotivated, underachieving, and not completing work at school; and Emily, a 16-year-old student, who is a high achieving perfectionist having a difficult time handling her anxiety. Through these fictional accounts, Fonseca aims to address the emotional intensities of gifted children of various genders, temperaments, and developmental stages. Additionally, the vignettes address emotionally intense behaviors in both home and school environments to showcase the potential behavioral differences in each setting.

Fonseca asks parents to reflect on their home environments and disciplinary choices through worksheets and checklists included in the book. This reflection is the starting point for building a solid foundation to facilitate two-way communication both at home and in classrooms. She argues that giftedness can lead children to become easily angered or frustrated and they may potentially display their frustration through “passive, subtle expressions of protest” or “aggressive outbursts” (p. 79). The author stresses the need to form common emotional language and teach relaxation techniques. The text also recommends activities such as a movie technique to help children understand their own emotional escalation pattern.

When children are in the middle of an explosion and parents are caught off guard, Fonseca recommends adults should use the time away technique to remove themselves from the situation. This cooling off period allows parents to remind themselves of their objective and approach the situation logically even if the child tries to instigate a negative reaction. After the child calms down, Fonseca advocates using debriefing strategies, like the mirror technique and behavioral reflection, to use emotional explosiveness as a teachable moment. As emotional coaches, parents can be more effective in providing children the tools necessary to be self-sufficient and resilient toward the negative aspects of their emotional intensity. Using active listening, facilitating assistance toward their goals, and finding inspiration from their dreams can transform gifted children’s perception of communication with adults. The role-playing scenarios provide explicit examples of how wording affects the receptiveness of feedback from parents to children. Instead of speaking in absolutes or hard directives, parents should ask probing questions allowing children to achieve a self-realization through the problem. Moreover, Fonseca stresses parents must maintain their emotional composure and not allow the sentiment of the situation to dictate their responses. The author encourages movement from behavior management to a genuine understanding of the gifted child to mold resiliency.

Fonseca has a background in school psychology and also works as a parenting coach. Her idea of emotional intensity is set against the backdrop of Kazimierz Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration (TPD) (1967, 1972). TPD was developed in the tradition of grand theories of personality, which are ambitious attempts to explain developmental patterns such as personality development, human functioning, and psychopathologies (Mendaglio, 2008). TPD is not widely accepted in either the theoretical or research base of educational psychology. However, because some of Dabrowski's research focused on talented subjects, the theory has a moderate following in gifted and talented education, especially for parents of gifted children.

While a few educational psychologists in the field of gifted education have integrated TPD into the understanding of the gifted personality, the practitioner arm of the field has been mostly drawn to Dabrowski’s concept of overexcitabilities (see Mendaglio & Tillier, 2006 for an explanation of how this concept has been understood beyond the context of TPD). Overexcitabilities in the context of TPD are heightened physiological experiences related to increased sensitivity. Dabrowski (1972) articulated five overexcitabilities and one of these was emotional. Emotional overexcitability is characterized by physical expressions of emotion, extremes of feeling, strong affective memory, and intense concern with death, fear, and guilt. Emotional overexcitabilities may be associated with increased risks of depression or suicide. Dabrowski contended that overexcitabilities were necessary to move to the highest levels of development, which resonates with the mission of gifted and talented education. Moreover, many parents and teachers find overexcitabilities representative of interactions with gifted children, hence the popularity of the idea.

When Fonseca writes about emotional intensity in gifted children, she is referring to the Dabrowskian construct of emotional overexcitability (according to her references), but she makes no attempt to situate her discussion of emotional intensity into the developmental trajectories of TPD. While the book offers parents of gifted children some helpful advice on teaching children to manage their affective responses, Fonseca’s treatment of the topic suffers from a couple of weaknesses.

First, the author overgeneralizes affective characteristics of gifted and talented children and adolescents. For instance, in her third chapter, she argues “gifted individuals truly view the world through a highly unique lens” (p. 27). She follows this statement with the suggestion that, “[m]ost of the problems associated with giftedness are linked to these intensities” (p. 27). Fonseca also suggests that, “[g]ifted children are intense in all aspects of their lives” (p. 27). These generalizations are not consistent with the research on social and emotional development in gifted children and adolescents. She further argues gifted children are prone to erratic mood swings, claiming these moods are “the very nature of their giftedness” (p. 28). Again, these generalizations are not consistent with published research (see Neihart, Pfeiffer, & Cross, 2016) and Fonseca does not offer any references to substantiate her argument.

Secondly, Fonseca’s treatment of emotional intensity among gifted children could be improved by making a stronger connection to current research in emotional regulation among children and adolescents. For instance, MacDermott, Gullone, Allen, King, and Tonge (2010) identified three factors associated with emotional regulation: (a) emotional control, (b) emotional self-awareness, and (c) situational responsiveness. Through modeling and informal coaching, children and adolescents can develop in all three of these areas. These factors are similar to the suggestions made by Fonseca, but the study of emotion regulation is more grounded in mainstream psychological science and practice than is the theory of positive disintegration.

Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students takes on an important topic for parents and educators of all children. Some gifted children may fall victim to emotional intensity, but children who are not identified as gifted may as well. The tools provided within the text are excellent for any parent or teacher trying to establish effective communication and develop emotional regulation in their child or student. The author utilizes basic conflict resolution techniques and advocates for emotional detachment and objectivity. Again, this approach is not mutually exclusive to parenting gifted children but can be utilized in virtually any relationship. Fonseca’s tone is informative and pragmatic and her recommendations to parents are valuable. What remains unclear is whether emotional intensity is a psychological construct leading to higher levels of development or simply evidence of undeveloped emotional regulation. This question does not take away from the practicality of the author's ideas, but it may inform subsequent work on the topic.


Dabrowski, K. (1967). Personality-shaping through positive disintegration. Boston, MA: Little Brown.

Dabrowski, K. (1972). Psychoneurosis is not an illness. London, UK: Gryf.

MacDermott, S. T., Gullone, E., Allen, J. S., King, N. J., & Tonge, B. (2010). The emotional regulation index for children and adolescents (ERICA): A psychometric investigation. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavior Assessment, 32(3), 301–314.

Mendaglio, S. (2008). Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration: A personality theory for the 21st century. In S. Mendaglio (Ed.), Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration (pp. 13–40). Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Mendaglio, S., & Tillier, W. (2006). Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration and giftedness: Overexcitability research findings. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 30(1), 68–87.

Neihart, M., Pfeiffer, S. I., & Cross, T. L. (2016). The social and emotional development of gifted children: What do we know? (2nd ed.). Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: November 15, 2016
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21739, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 7:00:54 PM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Article Tools
Related Articles

Related Discussion
Post a Comment | Read All

About the Author
  • Lindsay Lee
    University of North Texas
    E-mail Author
    LINDSAY E. LEE is a doctoral student in Educational Psychology at the University of North Texas where she focuses on gifted and talented education. Her primary interests include resiliency of gifted adolescents and advanced learning design in the social studies.
  • Todd Kettler
    University of North Texas
    E-mail Author
    TODD KETTLER is an assistant professor in Educational Psychology at the University of North Texas. His teaching and research focus on gifted and talented students and innovative learning designs. His most recent book, Modern Curriculum for Gifted and Advanced Academic Students, won the 2016 Legacy Award for best scholarly book of the year in gifted education.
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue