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Two ways to teach your gifted kid to regulate emotions

Updated: Nov 21, 2022

Emotional Tanks

In an attempt to explain to our child what emotional intensity is like, Clinical psychologist Mark Kluckow did a beautifully visual experiment that has stuck with me.

Do this with your child today:

Pour water into a clear glass jug

Say:Tell your child,

  • Imagine this tank as your emotional tank.

  • Unfortunately, we only have one tank (not one for each different kind of emotion) and it’s hard to separate emotions.

  • Now we need to learn to control our emotions: otherwise our emotions control us!

Pour water into the tank till it overflows

Then say:

  • When we don’t deal with each emotions our tank our tank fills up? and one small thing can make our tank overflow

  • What does it feel like when your tank overflows and a small thing upsets you terribly?

Have your son or daughter squeeze food coloring into a number of different ramekins and label each colour as a feeling, for example

  • Red for anger at a school nemesis

  • Yellow at the joy of celebrating a birthday

  • Purple for the deep bruise of a loved one dying earlier that year

  • Green for when someone laughs at you

Now pour each ramekin into the jug of water and watch the colours swirl and dance together until they become - a brown cloudy mess.


  • Our Emotional tank becomes a brown cloudy mess and might make our tummies hurt or give us a headache

  • It’s impossible to deal with the sadness or even enjoy the joy: because it’s all mixed together.

Now start the experiment again.

This time when the colour swirls, add only a drop or two of bleach to each colour as it is added - the water will become clear.


It’s wiser to deal with each emotion as it comes. You can NAIL the emotion

  • N is for ‘naming’ the feeling

  • A is for ‘accepting’ the emotion – it’s neither good nor bad

  • I is for ‘investigate’ the feeling – is it useful to me? is it based on something true?

  • L for ‘Let it go’ – do I need to do something or do I simply let the feeling go and not even go into my emotional tank!

How different would it be if we equipped our kids to deal with their complexity instead of denying its effect until it makes them sick.

Explain the Ladder of inference

Gifted kids can sometimes allow their superpower ( their big brains) to cause unnecessary anxiety: they can climb a ladder of inference.

We take a little bit of information and make it mean what it really doesn’t – we scurry up a ladder of possible explanations that gets us far from the truth and causes us anxiety.

For example,

The first rung of the ladder : Dad comes home from work a little grumpy and tired and his daughter notices him not giving mom a kiss when they greet. The little girl thinks ‘dad is cross with mom’.

The second rung of the ladder: “What’s for supper?” Dad says, oblivious of the offence. The girl notices Mom looks sad and thinks: ‘Dad has hurt Mom’s feelings, they will probably have a fight’..

The third rung: Without anything else being said the girl thinks, “ I wonder why they are mad? It might be because of me.”

The fourth rung: “I am not a good girl, I am difficult to live with.”

Rung five to 13: By the time supper is ready mom and dad have shaken off the friction, but their daughter has reached the top rung of the ladder where they’ve announced a divorce and neither of them want to live with her!

For a gifted child with intense emotions we can multiply her power of inference by ten.

Even though what she has imagined isn’t true the feelings she feels in response are very real: Anxiety is hardly surprising.

Perhaps introduce this; To help your child, say:

When your foot hits the first rung,

  • Stop and take a couple of deep breaths

  • now do your emotional regulation –NAIL that feeling

Our kids can respond instead of react; their big brains can make a difference early on the ladder. Once they have scurried up to higher rungs it’s so hard to NAIL those feelings.

Once the ladder was in our family vocabulary we could remind one another that we sometimes climb a ladder that isn’t real and l only causes anxiety.

If you haven’t heard this month’s episode of the Wonderfully Wired podcast with Mark Kluckow on giftedness, you need to! Mark offers so many insights and tools – find it wherever you get your podcasts or click here

Emotional intensity is one of the kinds of intensities you might notice in your gifted child. Find out more about Giftedness and Intensity in this 45 minute video teaching by Elle.

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