As much as gifted education focuses on the remarkable cognitive abilities of gifted children, balancing intelligence quotient with their emotional intelligence, or IQ with EQ, is equally important. Parents and teachers of gifted children often point out emotional facets of giftedness, describing sensitivity, insight, empathy, and depth of feeling far beyond their students’ years.

But it’s important to remember that talking about the “thinking” part and the “feeling” part of giftedness is a false division: the head and the heart are inextricably intertwined, with one always influencing the other. Just as there is plenty of research about how our thinking affects how we feel, there is plenty of science demonstrating that how we feel affects what (and how well) we think as well. 


As adults, we’ve learned that it’s not always a great idea to display all of our feelings. Personal and professional experiences have taught us the skills to maintain our composure if the situation calls for it, even when feelings are running high. A display of obvious frustration, boredom, or anxiety is either counterproductive or socially inappropriate, and we consciously change face during contentious meetings, terrible dates, or on the first day of a new job. Even though what we feel on the inside isn’t always in sync with what we appear to feel on the outside, we can nonetheless call upon our cognitive abilities to regulate our emotions enough to keep from revealing our  true feelings or the degree to which we feel them.

The ability to recognize when it is necessary to display an emotion we may not actually be feeling — calm, interest, or confidence, for example — as well as how to appropriately display this emotion results only when many parts of the brain work together. It is a complex, dynamic process possible only when all of those parts are fully developed.

Because the parts of the brain responsible for cognitive control have a “slower maturational trajectory” than those in charge of emotional response (Martin & Ochsner, 2016), putting on a face is an understandably heavier lift for a child’s developing brain. For gifted children, balancing IQ with EQ is harder the younger the child is; as such, it is more difficult for them to rally the mental resources to pull off a convincing performance of an emotion different from what they are actually experiencing. Learning to regulate their emotional responses without suppressing their emotions is a valuable and healthy skill to develop as children set about discovering who they are and how they fit in the world.

Two students compare how they express an emotion in color and shape.

When young students draw what a feeling might look like, they may be surprised to learn that there are many similarities in the colors and shapes that they each chose.


Though adults understand intuitively that it is emotionally taxing to pretend to feel something they do not, there is additional evidence supporting this instinctive conclusion: not revealing externally what we are feeling inside — “keeping our composure” — makes the brain work harder, regardless of how intensely we feel the emotion we are trying to hide (Richards & J. Gross, 1999).

Experts on giftedness and gifted education often describe gifted children as having an acute awareness of how their abilities and interests differentiate them from their peers (e.g., M. Gross, 1989, 1998; Robinson, 1996). Long before they learn to master the art of keeping their composure, they may choose to create and display a different version of themselves at school in order to minimize their differences, in hopes that being more like others will increase their chances for friendship and connection. This is also known as the “forced-choice dilemma” of the gifted child (M. Gross, 1989).

In school, such a performance can be expressed in a variety of ways. There are gifted children who count to five (or ten, or twenty!) before raising their hand in class to answer a question, or who strictly limit themselves to raising their hand only three times in one school day. Some gifted child choose to intentionally underperform (purposely making errors on a spelling or math quiz, for example) so their grades don’t look as different from everyone else’s, while others may choose not to participate in an academic extracurricular activity, thereby depriving the Quiz Bowl or Math Team of their talents. A gifted child may even chime in, “Ugh, I hate History” between classes in an effort to conceal or minimize a passion for the subject and sound like other students despite not sharing the sentiment.

These choices may seem small, but many of them demand that the brain enlist considerable cognitive resources in a complex sequence to be successful (McRae, 2016). Additionally, the child must sustain such a performance throughout the school day, which includes a wide variety of classes, teachers, student groupings, types of academic tasks, and lengths of time over which the effort must be maintained. In other words, the show must go on despite numerous cues, set changes, and a revolving door of audience members!

Whatever specific behaviors students choose to modify (and to whatever degree), the entire sequence of evaluation and response modulation happens at lightning speed and takes a lot of effort — a lot of self-evaluation, metacognition, emotional intelligence, memory recall, social comparison, and even acting chops — to generate a response to one tiny moment of their day. Continuing to do this kind of work all day — while also endeavoring to actually learn things, of course — places tremendous demands on the growing brain.

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.  — Oscar Wilde


It is easy to feel sympathetic for any child who feels that it is necessary to put in all this invisible effort to gain social acceptance by suppressing their feelings and masking their abilities. We cannot forget, however, that thinking is not separate from feeling, and helping gifted children balance IQ and EQ only maximizes their cognitive capabilities.

Research bears out this conclusion (J. Gross, 2015); one experimental study concluded that emotional suppression has the “unfortunate consequence of consuming finite attentional resources that otherwise would be used to process information in the world.” Research further suggests that dampening the expression of oneself “consumes a fixed amount of cognitive resources, no matter how considerable or modest the behavior to be suppressed” (Richards & J. Gross, 1999).

While the neurocognitive dynamics of learning are complex, research also demonstrates that deciding not to do something consumes working memory that would otherwise be available for processing information, encoding memory, effective recall, and making mental connections (e.g., Ward et al., 2017). In other words, whether a child is choosing to enact certain behaviors to look like other students or choosing to suppress an authentic emotional response to the world around them — or both — the effort demands a chunk of their attention and therefore a slice of their brainpower.

Rather than asking students to use their cognitive power for suppressing their feelings or not being their authentic selves, balancing IQ with EQ is a key part of nurturing their self-awareness for healthy regulation of emotions. Programs geared towards gifted children should therefore seek to integrate the development of emotional and social intelligence with the task of meeting their multifaceted academic needs.


Supportive adults and teachers are key to modeling and nurturing emotional intelligence from children’s earliest ages. Talking about feelings, and offering tools and support for self-awareness and regulating big emotions will help your gifted children balance IQ with EQ. While it may take some time to develop habits that have not been practiced over many years in home or school settings (M. Gross, 1998), the brain’s own plasticity can further help students adjust — especially to an environment in which they don’t have to adjust who they are.

Being both socially accepted and authentically oneself is tremendously desirable. It’s also a state both parents and teachers of the gifted genuinely want for their children, but which may at times seem like an impossibility. But balancing IQ with EQ gives students a cognitive boost, allowing them to more fully unleash their remarkable brains and genuinely strive to realize their potential.

Middle school mentors learning a game to help younger students balance IQ with EQ.

Grayson’s Gryphons & Gryphlings Mentor Program pairs older and younger students together for fun, teachable moments. A few Upper and  Middle School Mentors are learning to play “Mad Dragon” in order to share this game with younger students at school who may need help in controlling feelings of frustration or anger.



Gross, J. J. (2015). Emotion regulation: Current status and future prospects. Psychological Inquiry 26, 1-26.

Gross, M. U. M. (1989). The pursuit of excellence or the search for intimacy? The forced choice dilemma of gifted youth. Roeper Review 11(4), 189-194.

Gross, M. U. M. (1998). The “me” behind the mask: Intellectually gifted students and the search for identity. Roeper Review 20, 167-174.

Martin, R. E., & Ochsner, K. N. (2016). The neuroscience of emotion regulation development: implications for education. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences 10, 142–148.

McRae, K. (2016). Cognitive emotion regulation: a review of theory and scientific findings. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences 10, 119-124.

Richards, J. M., & Gross, J. J. (1999). Composure at Any Cost? The Cognitive Consequences of Emotion Suppression. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 25(8), 1033-1044.

Robinson, N. (1996). Counseling Agendas for Gifted Young People: A Commentary. Journal for the Education of the Gifted 20(2), 128-137.

Ward, A. F., Duke, K., Gneezy, A., & Bos, M. W. (2017). Brain drain: The mere presence of one’s own smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research 2(2), 140–154.

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