Do you have a physiologically gifted child?

I had never heard this term before. I was looking for research about practicing (which I do a lot) and one coach who helps athletes, Leah Lagos, had resources for physiologically gifted kids. She recommends that parents of PGC (because there’s an acronym for everything) pay careful attention to the child’s overwhelming emotions. Parents should use a 3-step formula that includes developing a sentence to describe the fact, the feeling, and the need.

I could probably have used that in every emotional situation I’ve ever been in. But also, my younger son is very emotional. So I kept reading.

Some of the traits of a physiologically gifted child are:

  • Higher heart rate in stressful situations
  • Strong ability for sensing/perceiving emotions
  • Innate abilities to connect with others
  • Very sensitive to changes in sound and/or touch
  • Need quiet/alone time to maintain equilibrium

In the past, I think I would have identified this sort of child as one covered in the book, The Highly Sensitive Person — a book I received ten years ago from a woman who worked for me.

I fired her. But I see now that very sensitive people like her are not bad, just different; it’s a natural part of people’s biology rather than a conscious choice to be a pain in the neck. And people with this sort of brain can see and do things that other people cannot.

My younger son gets upset about a huge range of things that I would never care about. He feels everyone else’s emotions and can’t stand when people around him are not happy. But his high empathy is actually what allowed him, even at age six, to empathize with a composer and feel the music as he plays it.

But actually emotional empathy alone doesn’t necessarily make a child physiologically gifted. Remember, I got this term from a sports psychologist. People who are very in tune with their own physiology are good at translating what they see to what their body does.

Before my cello-playing son was playing cello he played soccer. He played with kids five or six years older than he was. Parents would tell me my son was a soccer god and he should be on a travel team. But when I asked a soccer coach, he said there was no telling how well my son would play soccer later on. He explained that what we were seeing was my son could translate what he sees into what he tells his body to do better than other kids. That’s his gift.

It was an interesting distinction. I don’t know if I like the term “gifted” though. I believe that everyone is gifted at something — it’s a core value of the whole personality type system and I see it in action all the time. But I also see that school doesn’t reward most gifts. School is a very narrow part of life, and it’s definitely no place for the physiologically gifted.

The same gift helps my son do so well playing cello, and now that I’ve read about Leah Lagos, I think it’s part of being physiologically gifted. To be honest, if it didn’t benefit my son so much in cello, I might have thought he’s got something wrong with him. (And I wouldn’t be the only one — here’s a place that specializes in neurofeedback therapy for physiologically gifted kids.) I mean, like all ESFPs,  he doesn’t read much and he’s not interested in abstract thinking. I don’t really ever meet people like that. Well, I guess I did when I played pro beach volleyball, but I confess it’s also probably a big reason why I quit pro beach volleyball.

Parents tell me all the time that they think kids should learn how to do stuff they don’t like because that’s what life is. But I know that’s not how life is. We don’t spend our adult life doing stuff we are terrible at doing. And the physiologically gifted do not flock to hard-core corporate environments.

I know because the highly sensitive woman I fired now sends her highly sensitive friends to me to find out about all the reasons why I fired her — and tell them what they should be doing instead of going to an office every day.

15 replies
  1. Zellie
    Zellie says:

    I love that you’re looking into neurofeedback. It can be helpful with stress, self-regulation, attention as well. I notice this place uses a specific system only on the central strip. There are other approaches to address connectivity and other issues if this approach is not effective in a particular case.

  2. sarah
    sarah says:

    Love that you are reading about neurofeedback. :) and did you know, highly emotional kids, will often have one, or both, ears turn red? That’s one of the ways you can tell they need to calm down first, vs trying to reason.

  3. Zellie
    Zellie says:

    I think I’ve missed the point. It isn’t that there is something wrong with being sensitive or physiologically gifted. There can be difficulty managing emotions, stress, sensory input, executive functioning for anyone. Neurofeedback doesn’t “cure” giftedness. It helps the brain be more flexible and adaptive to the demands on it.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      If everyone were great at managing their emotions then humanity would reflect that. No art, no literature, no music, no impassioned speeches that go a little too far but rock the community. We need everyone. The range of humanity is what makes humanity so incredible to be a part of. And encouraging kids to be part of that range is what parenting is about — not pushing all the kids to be the same.


      • Zellie
        Zellie says:

        Even if we tried we could not train the emotions out of people or make them the same.

        Anyone can become extremely activated in an emergency. After traumatic events a person can become “stuck” in a hypervigilant state to the detriment of other situations that are not emergencies as in PTSD as an example. An autistic person can be so fearful that any public situation can cause such a fearful state that he/she cannot function. Some people take drugs for that. Neurofeedback is a different way to manage stuck brain patterns.

  4. Kyle
    Kyle says:

    I know lots of people who are not interested in abstract ideas from the dance scene. It really helped improve my attitude, since I did not value these people enough before if I’m honest.

  5. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I enjoyed this post. Also, it has many good links and links to other links and so on that it got to the point I was several “layers of links” away from this post. The second link led me to the FFN formula which you point out is “a 3-step formula that includes developing a sentence to describe the fact, the feeling, and the need.” The first step of that formula made me think of the necessity and importance people in science place on identifying and describing facts. That includes precise definitions and a good vocabulary. My point is it’s not enough to know scientific ideas and formulas. You have to also articulate them and communicate them effectively. First to yourself and then other people. The three-step formula, though, with all steps together is used differently here.
    I can see where your son would perform well in sports. I will even go as far to say that playing an instrument is a sport. I say that because of the eye-hand coordination necessary. The physical dexterity coupled with knowledge learned through correct training. Sports are normally associated with much physical exertion and body contact in many cases but I think a case can be made for many common elements here. It makes sense to me there would be many physiologically gifted people in professional sports.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Not everyone. But an XSFP will be gifted emotionally and physically.

      SPs are great athletes. I have a non-proven theory that ESTPs are the best team sport athletes and ISTPs are the best individual sport athletes. And if you change the T to an F they become highly sensitive and it intereferes with their ability to compete at elite levels.


  6. INFP Liz
    INFP Liz says:

    Hi Penelope,
    I like this post. And think it’s true. My brother, who is 10 years younger than me, would fit PGC. He started golfing on his own when he was 2, just picked up an old club in my garage and taught himself. And he is super sensitive/empathetic. When he was little, he and my dad found a bird nest and kept it in a shoe box. The next day, my brother was in tears because he had taken the birds home and so returned it to the tree. He is now 19 and school was not his thing. He was in “sped” classes (because he didn’t have good organization/ memorization skills essentially) and I think it just depleted his confidence. He tried a semester of college, and quit. I want to help guide him but dont know the best approach. Do you have any advice?

    • Mark W.
      Mark W. says:

      I think the best advice is mentioned in your comment which is boost his confidence. How that’s done depends on him and his personality. I would recommend he try some different jobs/activities that appeal to him and discover what works best for him. There are many successful people who don’t have a college degree. The college experience and a college degree can be useful. However, it’s not for everyone and it doesn’t make sense to me that so many companies in their job listings include college as a requirement. The two most important traits he should always possess – initiative and life-long learning – would serve him well. Those two things should be mastered in college but a person doesn’t have to go to college to master those things. Also, it’s great that you want to help him which reminds me that a network would be a great asset to him.

  7. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    My niece is like this. At first I thought she was ESFP but we took your Quistic test and she got ESTP. She plays varsity soccer in school since grade 8 when her school opened varsity soccer to girls. Their team was first runner up in the area.

  8. CindyAllen
    CindyAllen says:

    You just described my younger son. He actually took his first step at 7 months old. At one year old, I found him standing on my kitchen counter, with cupboard door open, holding the exacto knife I had hidden on the top shelf. How he knew it was there… he got up there….is beyond me. I lived in terror trying to keep him alive after that : ). I had to padlock all tool boxes, hid them in closets and push furniture in front of the closets, to keep him from getting at them. It didn’t stop him from trying…..

    This cracked me up. ” And the physiologically gifted do not flock to hard-core corporate environments.” No, they do not….. My son is 21. He manages a group of buildings at a medical research campus. He gets to move around all day doing different things, climbing, dangling over, on and outside of dangerous places, putting on a hazmat suit and respirator to enter testing areas, driving to different areas…..He needs variety. He needs to move around. He needs to use his body. He did not go to college. He just got a 10% raise and almost makes as much as his brother who is an electrical engineer specializing in radio frequency engineering.

    • CeeCee
      CeeCee says:

      I’m afraid my eight month old is going to need that kind of work, but she’s a girl and who will hire her for it? I feel like most body based work for women hinges on perceived attractiveness as much as skill. And you can’t do it until it until you’re sixty.

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