15 Things Your Child With Emotional Overexcitability Might Say

15 Things Your Child With Emotional Overexcitability Might SayPeople with emotional overexcitability feel things intensely. During the course of a single day (or hour) a child with emotional OE might go from dancing with joy to rolling on the floor in the depths of despair and back again. Many are acutely attuned to other people’s feelings and care deeply about loved ones’ wellbeing, sometimes to a degree that gets in the way of them meeting their own needs.

Children with emotional OE experience deeper, more complex emotions than many adults around them realise is possible for a child their age. These are the children who in generations past were told (and sadly sometimes still are) to ‘toughen up’ or ‘stop being so sensitive’.

Some, like my daughter, find it easy to share their feelings verbally. Others struggle to express the extreme emotions going on inside them – even to themselves. These children can grow increasingly frustrated and end up releasing their feelings in a sudden torrent, much to the bewilderment of those around them.

If you have emotional overexcitability you may well have recognised yourself and your child from what I’ve said already. If not, here are some clues.

15 Things your child with emotional overexcitability might say . . .

I love you” Yes, most children say this, but a child with emotional OE will say it as he embraces his best friend so hard that she falls over. Or through eyes brimming with tears as she struggles to contain the intensity of her love. Or, just before she goes to sleep on Christmas Day, in a long and poignant text message, accompanied by 27 multi-coloured hearts.

I hate you” This one will be accompanied by a facial expression that leaves you in no doubt that he really means it! (At least in the moment he’s uttering the words.)

We need to help her” Said about a stray dog, a homeless person begging, or a toddler crying in the park. These children feel what others feel and are deeply affected by those feelings, often giving rise to a compelling urge to help.

What should I do?” The heightened empathy these kids feel can mean they tend to put others’ feelings above their own needs. They might have a strong desire to do something but be paralysed by second-guessing what they believe someone else wants. Meanwhile the other person is completely unaware of the problem because the child doesn’t want to upset them by bringing it up!

My daughter had some coaching last year to help her understand more about her OEs. During one session (which she later shared with me) she talked about the clothes she wears on Scout camps. Being a good mummy, I’d always bought the exact (unisex) items written on the kit lists.

Meanwhile, the other female Scouts had started to wear more fashionable clothes, and Cordie wanted to do the same (we’re talking girl-cut combat trousers here, not high heels). But because she’d always seen me buying the exact items from the list, Cordie felt that practicality and economy were of paramount importance to me, and was afraid to tell me what she really wanted.

Of course once I discovered what was going on, I was able to reassure Cordie that her feelings mattered, and now we both enjoy shopping for pretty-coloured fleeces and cute bobble hats. 🙂

I want things to stay the same” Children with emotional overexcitability can develop deep emotional bonds with family, friends, animals, places and things. As a result, they often want everything to be permanent, and can struggle with changes like moving house or school.

So when you’re planning a trip away you might hear . . .

I can’t go on holiday without Harvey!” [the dog]

And when you suggest pruning their wardrobe . . .

But why can’t I wear this T-shirt any more?” (about a garment whose hem is now just above his navel).  My mum once cut the arms off a cardigan I insisted on wearing long after it had become threadbare. I retrieved the sleeves from the bin and made her take this photograph of me ‘wearing’ the dismembered cardi for the last time.

15 Things Your Child With Emotional Overexcitability Might Say

I’ve said something that upset her” People with emotional overexcitability can spend hours worrying about little things they’ve said that might have upset or caused offence to another person.  (One strategy that can help assuage a child’s anxiety is to acknowledge the validity of her feelings while gently reassuring her that the other person probably isn’t experiencing what happened in the same way.)

You’re my best friend” If you have emotional overexcitability you have a strong need for depth and intensity in relationships. A child might move from one short-lived friendship to another, never feeling fulfilled.  If they’re lucky enough to find a kindred spirit, they will be passionate and loyal friends.

However, their need for depth in relationships can cause them to overstep other people’s boundaries and scare away the people they’re trying to connect with. So you might hear the heart-breaking words …

Why won’t they let me play?”  When a child with emotional OE does experience a friendship intensely, he expects the friendship to last for life and might mourn for months when a new friend doesn’t want to play any more.   He can also become upset when his intense feelings aren’t reciprocated. Even the most confident child with emotional OE can feel lonely and might even be prone to being bullied.

I just want to die” I remember reeling in shock the first time I heard my son say these words. What on earth could lead an eight-year-old to say such an awful thing? I’ve since found out that it’s not at all uncommon for kids with emotional overexcitability to express sentiments like these.

When a child with emotional OE feels completely overwhelmed by a negative emotion, he doesn’t have the experience to know that the feeling will pass, and he feels like it will last forever. Parents of teenagers with emotional OE have told me that, for similar reasons, as these young people get older they can be prone to bouts of ‘what’s the point of living?’ existential depression.

This is the best day ever!” Other times – when he’s won a game, is eating a delicious meal or is about to play with his favourite cousin – your emotionally OE child can light up the house with his radiant gladness. Maybe even on the same day as he’s told you he doesn’t want to go on living.

Which isn’t to say that this young person’s emotions are superficially felt. On the contrary, these children are genuinely capable of experiencing a breathtakingly wide range of intense and complex emotions in a short space of time.

Turn it off!” While children with sensual OE are sensitive to input coming through their senses, kids with emotional OE react strongly to the content of what they experience. These children might be so moved by a story, TV programme or the words of a song that they become quite distressed.

When my daughter was six she loved the movie High School Musical. We were listening to the soundtrack in the car one day when Cordie suddenly stopped singing and shouted “Turn it off!”

I turned round in surprise to see tears streaming down her cheeks. It wasn’t until later that I figured out that her upset had been triggered by the lyrics of a song in which the lead characters break up. (“I’ve got to move on and be who I am. I just don’t belong here, I hope you understand. We might find our place in this world someday. But at least for now, I gotta go my own way…”)

Now she’s 12, my daughter’s learned to be more discerning about what she watches and listens to and is better able to communicate what’s going on inside, but when she was little I had to be very vigilant to help her manage the strong feelings that could be aroused by the most unlikely triggers, like Barbie movies or kids’ picture books.

These children can also be very upset by by real world news events, and may need special care and attention at home if tragic stories have been discussed in school.

My tummy hurts” People with emotional overexcitability often respond physically to their emotions, with anxiety-induced headaches or stomach aches. This can be a useful clue about what’s going on inside a child who has trouble finding the words to describe what they’re feeling.

Arghh!” When their intense feelings become too much for the child to hold in, they might suddenly overreact to a minor setback with disproportionate meltdowns. Kids who have difficulty expressing what they’re feeling are especially prone to this.

“Adults can help these children distinguish between their feelings and behaviours. … There is a delicate balance in honoring a feeling and managing its expression.”

(Living With Intensity)

And then there are the many things children with emotional overexcitability don’t say . . .

You can be sure that for every feeling he verbalises, a child with emotional OE experiences many more emotions that aren’t expressed.

Some children learn to hide their sensitivity to protect themselves, even becoming quite withdrawn. Other children’s intense feelings simmer inside them, causing an increasing amount of inner distress until they suddenly pour out like lava from a volcano.

Even children who never seem to stop talking (like those with psychomotor OE) are likely to feel myriad complex emotions for every one they give voice to.

* * *

The positive side of emotional overexcitability

Of all the OEs, emotional overexcitability is the one I most wish I’d known about when I was growing up. Over time I’ve found strategies for managing my intense emotions – journalling, for instance – but I always thought there was something wrong with me for being so sensitive. It wasn’t until I learned about emotional OE at a PowerWood workshop  last year that I finally began to value this part of myself (yep, there were tears).

As the mother of two children with emotional OE, I’m helping my kids learn how to manage their emotions, but – even more importantly – I want them to know what an asset emotional overexcitability can be. While not every emotionally OE child will grow up to be Gandhi or Mother Theresa, everyone who has this innate personality trait has the drive to improve themselves and make a difference in the world. They were made this way for a reason and the world needs them, just the way they are.

Over to you

  • Do you or your child have emotional overexcitability?
  • How do you help your emotionally OE child with friendships?
  • What are your tips for helping your child to express his emotions?

I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or on the Laugh, Love, Learn Facebook page.

If you have any questions about any of the overexcitabilities please feel free to drop me an email. Psychologist and OE expert Simone de Hoogh is now working with me here at Laugh, Love, Learn. We’d love to know what’s on your mind so we can provide answers to any concerns you might have.

* * * 

This is the final part in my series on the five types of overexcitability. See also:

Part 1: 7 Signs Your Child Has Psychomotor Overexcitability

Part 2: What Is Sensual Overexcitability?

Part 3: The Ups and Downs of Imaginational Overexcitability

Part 4: 6 Things You Need If Your Child Has Intellectual Overexcitability

Next week I’ll be talking about the positive role of overexcitabililties in personal development and how we can teach our children to appreciate their OEs. Fill in the Follow by Email box below to get it straight to your inbox.

15 Things your child with emotional overexcitability might say

Emotional Overexcitability – Resources


PowerWood – Emotional overexcitability

Jade Ann Rivera – How to identify and cope with overexcitabilities, part 1 of 5: Emotional overexcitability

SENG – The gift of emotional overexcitabilities


Living With Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability and Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents and Adults (Daniels and Piechowski)

Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults (James T Webb)

15 Things your child with emotional overexcitability might say

To find out if you or someone in your family has overexcitabilities, take the free online OE questionnaire at the PowerWood website. (Results come back by return email.)

15 Things Your Child With Emotional Overexcitability Might Say

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21 thoughts on “15 Things Your Child With Emotional Overexcitability Might Say

  1. I’m really enjoying your new blog. So relatable! We’ve heard so many of these and often in a short time frame.

  2. Just this past week, my 9 year old saw two different animals on two different movies die and he had a really hard time with it. While I was watching The Walking Dead in my room, he was supposed to be in his own room. He just happen to walk in my room at the very moment that zombies were eating a horse and it took me almost an hour to calm him down. He’s just like I was when I was kid. I had a hard time watching Old Yeller back in the day because I hated watching the dog die. I knew how to comfort him because of my own experiences and I was able to explain to him that it was a TV show and that the animals weren’t really dead. Even knowing this though, he can’t watch anything that kills animals or children. He started saying he wanted to die when he was 4 years old and someone very close to him died. It was very hard for him, even at that age. I love this article! Thank you for the information on this.

    1. Michelle,

      Your son is very lucky that you understand how he feels and know how to support him. I can imagine how you felt when he wandered in during The Walking Dead! Many times we’ve had to pause a programme while we help a child calm down.

      Thank you for sharing what your son said about wanting to die. I was so shocked when I first heard my son say that. For me, realising that other children (with OEs) do the same helped so much.

      Thank you for your encouragement, I really appreciate your comment.

  3. It’s often very difficult for ‘normal’ people to perceive those with emotional OE other than the notion that the OE people are being unnecessarily dramatic. As with many other pyschological conditions(?) it is very difficult to determine whether it is a genuine case of OE or that the child is over-reacting due to other factors. Awareness of a possibility of OE at play certainly broadens the scope for further investigation which also helps to point one in the right direction to seek appropriate support. It’s seldom a straightforward case, is it? 🙂

    1. Hwee, You’re so right. With high-able children in particular it can be very difficult to unravel what’s going on. Misdiagnosis is a real risk, but so is missing a psychological disorder or learning disability which might be difficult to detect because of the child’s high-ability or OEs. I’ve been exploring that recently and I’m touching on it in my post tomorrow. Thank you so much for contributing to the conversation. 🙂
      PS Sorry for the delay replying to your comment, I somehow missed it!

  4. This is really really interesting. The whole way through, I’m like….’yes, yes, yes, yes!!! Yes!!!!!’ (and yes those exclamation marks really were needed to express the intensity of my yesses!)
    This. is. me.
    It’s so cool there are other people who feel the same way 🙂
    I avoid the news at all costs because it affects me so deeply, and whilst I think I am probably a secret extrovert, I have become an introvert because of the sheer intensity of emotions being with people causes in me.
    Looking forward to your next post!

    1. Claire- that’s exactly how I felt at the PowerWood workshop!
      I completely understand what you say about extroversion/introversion. 🙂
      So lovely to know you’re a kindred spirit. Thank you for reading!

  5. You should attend the 12th International Dabrowski Congress July 14-16 2016 In Calgary AB. Canada.It is always amazing and speakers are incredible. (2 years ago Linda Silverman and the author of living with intensity plus many others)
    Here is the website if you are interested. http://Www.dabrowskicongress.com

    1. Robyn, I would LOVE to go to the Dabrowski congress! I’m not sure it will be possible for me this year (I’m a homeschooling mum in the UK) but one day… 🙂 I enjoyed looking at the website and dreaming!

  6. Crikey, that sounds an intense existence for a little dot. Great advice here, thank you. And thank you for sharing with #coolmumclub

  7. Hi Lucinda – we met at the workshop in London last year. I love your website and what you are doing for powerwood! I am still lingering on the edges of understanding OE for my family, but we certainly hear a lot of these things. Certain music cannot be played – if it is too meloncholy or in a minor chord, or a total meltdown will happen. And my second daughter has often expressed in the last year how she thinks she shouldn’t be here and that she thinks she is going to die – she is the one who hugs every adult she connects with such intensity they just don’t know what to do.
    Very glad to have found your website and I hope to get don to powerwood this summer to join the tribe!
    Thanks for your work 🙂

    1. Hi Amanda – I remember you! It’s really good to see you here, thank you so much for reading and for stopping to leave such a lovely comment.

      I love the examples you give of your girls’ OEs. Melancholy or minor chord music meltdowns – wow. Does your daughter also enjoy music intensely? What a lovely gift, when she’s able to manage her sensitivity. Your other daughter’s hugs sound wonderfully powerful, too!

      It would be fab to see you at the PowerWood camp and to meet your daughters!

      Thanks again for your encouragement and support. 🙂


  8. Hi Lucinda,
    I have so much to still think about after reading your posts. This one in particular was hard on me. I was the one telling my 4 year old son to toughen up while watching rated G movies. During the last movie, the Good Dinosaur, I actually had to walk him out of the theater because he was crying so loud. While outside, I asked him why he was so upset. He said to me ” too many bad thing keep on happening to him.” I knew something else was going on. He was truly feeling sad. My little guy has always been very sensitive, and very kind. I am learning more about him every day.
    Just to add one more thing, If we ever give him anything with an insect or spider on it, he will jump up and down screaming something like: This (NAME ITEM) is my life! We found it funny first, but now I am understanding that he is just beyond excited and this is the way he expresses his feelings.
    Thank you for your posts. I look forward to reading more.

    1. Hi Silvana
      Your comment really made me feel that you understood what I was trying to say in my post – thank you!
      Your son sounds so sensitive and empathic. I’m sure he’ll use his gifts to make a beautiful contribution to the world.:)
      I love your examples – I’d love to use them as examples in a future post, if I may?
      I completely empathise with what you say about wanting your child to toughen up. I often think how much easier it would be if my children weren’t so sensitive. I’ve even found myself expressing the sentiment aloud in my more frustrated moments! But I think my kids realise when I say things like that it’s just a ‘glitch’ and that in reality I appreciate them just the way they are. I’m sure your son knows that too.:)
      Thank you for your kind words – I appreciate them very much. It’s so nice to have you sharing my journey of discovery.

      1. Hi Lucinda,
        Go ahead use any examples. I just read this post to my husband. After reading the 15 things above, he said: “It is so him.” He will be reading the other post with me. As I said before, you are helping us learn about our Little Guy.
        One more example? While I was at work, both kids were given a special tool to tap trees. Big Sis lost hers, and Little Guy happily gave her his. When I was told of what had happened, Little Guy was right next to me. I looked deep in his eyes and I could see him with a big smile but just about to cry. I know why he was becoming teary, he knew he had done something nice. He was so proud of himself, he was experiencing pure joy!

        1. Hi
          Thank you for your permission – you have such a beautiful way of describing your children in a way that moves me to tears, too. I don’t think there are many better feelings than the joy of contributing to another human being. I am definitely adding that to my list of emotional OE positives!
          Your son is so lucky to have a mother who gets him on the level you do. 🙂

  9. I love this article Lucinda…reading it for the second time and I realized how much of this has been my whole life, it just explains everything! I do get triggered by songs all the time, It was really embarrassing at a toddler class when “you are my sunshine, my only sunshine” came on, – I used to sing it to my pregnant belly- I was desperately holding back tears. Also when someone lost on a game show – he wanted to use the money to buy equipment for his child with special needs- tears tears tears! Let alone movies, I actually don’t watch them anymore they will just haunt me for days!!!

    1. Oh what a beautiful place the world is, with people as exquisitely sensitive as you in it, Hannah. ☺️ I can completely relate to your toddler class experience. I think that song has brought me to tears before, too. (Along with others too numerous to recall!) I know emotional OE comes with a downside, but on the whole I feel so blessed to have the capacity to experience the world & what others create in it so intensely. Thank you for your uplifting comment, Hannah!

  10. Thanks so much for writing this! My four year old gifted child says so many of these things. In researching some behaviors that also make the list for “Oppositional Defiant Disorder,” I came across your article. The information you share is so helpful and reassuring, as I am now better able to connect the dots and see how what has been concerning me is due to OE. I look forward to learning more about supporting her in regulating her emotions.

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