Many high potential children have a deep understanding of topics, may be at the top of their year group or always win at strategic board games. At the same time, in the same way as any other child, they may worry about coming last in a fun run, believe that they’ll never ever get picked to read in school assembly or fret for days over an embarrassing moment.
Learning how to fail and recover from failure is an important part of growing up. Some children with high learning potential lack the experience of failing that others discover early in their lives, and without those important experiences it can be a lot harder for them to bounce back when they do finally meet challenges that are outside of their comfort zone.
Is My Child Resilient?
Your child may be resilient beyond their years in their learning: for example, they can be so determined to learn about their favourite subject that they keep trying in different ways. However, if your child displays signs of anxiety, fear and even anger after something goes wrong, then emotionally they may need help to develop their resilience. Sensitive temperaments faced with a chain of “things going wrong” will need careful strategies to help them recover.
Children with high learning potential – even those who aren’t really competitive by nature – tend to have high expectations that they will succeed regularly. It can be reflected in the attitude of other children and adults, who tell them that they’re “clever”. But whether they win at chess or in a Maths competition, real winning comes from having strong coping skills. Identify the area that is a challenge for your child: it could be practical tasks such as getting dressed and out of bed for school on time, a spelling test or not panicking before going on stage. Talk to them about the challenges.
Disappointment over losing should be handled with praise: talk to your child about how proud you are that they put in effort, focusing on what went well, such as staying with a difficult task (for example showing working out for sums, or doing a park run even if they felt scared about a slow time). Explain that competition is good for teaching perseverance.
Explore growth mindset with them – for example say: “You’ve really understood what to do so would you like to start thinking about…” or “You’ve done really well to learn from that, it makes you stronger.”
There’s also the element of meaningful participation, where your child should learn to take pride in the fact that they have gained new skills.
Competitive in the classroom but not so much at sport? Try an activity that the whole family can do, so that you can giggle at each other’s efforts. Archery, ice skating, yoga, even air hockey to name a few.
The Social Minefield – The Other Side of the Gifted Coin
The social minefield posed by playtimes is often cited as the most worrying part of the day by children with high learning potential. Teach your child some calming techniques – counting to ten and walking away if there is name-calling, recalling positive messages from friends and families (for example: “Don’t listen to them, you are a kind person) and tell them how crucial it is to speak up and talk to the playground supervisor or a teacher when something goes wrong. If they ask how that relates to being smart, tell them it’s emotional smartness – a skill far more important for later years in life than they realise. Develop their sense of humour too – read them funny stories, and if you model humour when life gets difficult, then your child is more likely to copy your positivity. Even a simple smile doesn’t go amiss as a resilience strategy! For pre-schoolers and Reception age, try Virginia Ironside’s The Huge Bag of Worries or The Hugging Tree by Jill Neimark. Older children might like Survivors by David Long and Kerry Hyndman.
Ensure that your child has activities that push them outside of their comfort zone. This will get them used to taking intellectual risks and to develop adaptability.
New activities build resilience because they help children to learn confidence in a different setting. They’ll learn to enjoy putting effort into something which means they’ll get better at it. There are lots to choose from: climbing, an unusual language or board game (Abalone, Qwirkle), Bikeability, creating a home STEM corner…
Show Them How to Switch Off
Had a gruelling day? Model how to cope for your child. Rather than being in a huff, vocalise about it: “Work was a bit stressful so I’m going to have an early night after a relaxing bath” or “I didn’t feel well but chatting with my friends over coffee made me happy”. While you’re portraying a realistic picture of how your day went, you’re showing your child how to find positive ways to respond calmly.