I’m delighted to introduce guest blogger Rebecca Howell, Education Consultant at the National Association for Gifted Children in the UK.
As the Education Consultant for the NAGC, Rebecca supports parents of gifted children and teachers through the information and advice service, membership materials, training and research. She has developed the successful Parent Matters series of parent workshops which reaches parents across the country through NAGC’s events and through schools.
With three children of her own, she is all too familiar with the issues that gifted children have! Her background is in educational research and governance.
Young gifted children, especially those who suffer from Psychomotor Overexcitability*, can be very active, always on the go and wanting to be constantly engaged in an activity. Many parents of young gifted children who are very active despair that their child won’t sit still at the dinner table, eagerly rush into things before they’ve heard all the instructions and never seem to get tired. Teachers often complain that these children fidget a lot, shout out in class and don’t seem to be listening (minds wander when not fully engaged). My own son, now 13 years old, is one of these children and as a youngster wanted to be physically involved in everything that was going on around him, leaving me no time for rest or relaxation and his teachers finding that he wouldn’t sit still. Many parents calling the UK’s National Association for Gifted Children’s information and advice service also struggle with this aspect of their child’s character and seek advice about the best way to handle it.
Understanding why a child is so active is the first step to handling this kind of behaviour as it is important that the child feels accepted. For some children it can actually be very uncomfortable to have to sit still or for their activity to be restricted. With this understanding should come a more positive viewpoint of the behaviour and less criticism for it, leading to greater self esteem for the child. Once it is understood that some gifted children are like this and about the different aspects of this characteristic, many adults are better able to tolerate and account for it.
Young gifted children who are very active need a lot of exercise so it is best to build this into a routine for them by taking up a regular activity or using family time to get out and about. Opportunities to run around should never be missed and break times offer the perfect time for both exercise and creativity. If the child has sat still for a while, whether this be at an adult’s request or voluntarily, they will need to expend some energy in physical activity to be able to act calmly and do what is asked of them.
However, the activities that will tire them out most are those that also have some intellectual challenge in them. The child’s need to move around may well be stronger at times of stress or when they are tired, hungry or anxious. These children need to move around to occupy their minds when they are not engaged in a task, so providing suggestions for what they can do next will help them to remember to focus on something else. It is important not to provide prescriptive tasks all the time so that they are able to find these things for themselves to preserve their creativity and get them used to occupying themselves. In particular cases such as at the dinner table or when travelling, it can be useful to ask questions to get them thinking about something in depth to keep their minds occupied.
Negative behaviour in school is likely to be linked to whether the school (or teacher) is flexible and accepting, and to whether the level of challenge is appropriate for the child. As stated above, when a child is fully engaged with a task, they are more likely to be able to stay in one place and better able to keep on-task for longer. Therefore, if the level of work is challenging for the child, they will be more interested in and focussed on it.
It is often mundane tasks that are most difficult for children who are so active. Multiple instructions are almost impossible for them to carry out because their minds become distracted, often before the first task is complete. Their priority and interest is in far more complex matters than putting their shoes on / cleaning their teeth / tidying their room and this leads to them being unable to keep their minds focussed on these things. Such children often frustrate their parents by not being ready to leave the house on time, forgetting to do things and losing their ‘stuff’. It is important to understand that this is not naughtiness or deliberate on the child’s part, rather that they have a lot going on in their mind that takes over the everyday and mundane. Adults can help a child with this by issuing one instruction or request at a time and giving gentle reminders when they become distracted and perhaps by devising simple systems to help them remember crucial events or keep track of important objects.
Whilst a young gifted child who is very active can be exhausting to be around, they can also be very rewarding to care for and teach as their appetite for learning is insatiable and their creativity leads to startling observations and leaps of imagination! Adults need to have the courage to ask deeper questions, guide to unfamiliar places and look after themselves to make sure they are fit for the task!
*Psychomotor Overexcitability is one of the five Overexcitabilities described by Kazimierz Dabrowski in his Theory of Positive Disintegration, characterised by surplus energy due to enhanced excitability of the neuromuscular system.