High learning potential children, especially those who display Intellectual Overexcitability, are highly curious and voracious in their pursuit of knowledge in their areas of interest. This might seem like a perfect trait for this lockdown – being able and willing to occupy themselves independently ad infinitum and allowing parents to get on with their own work – however, it is not always quite that simple! How can we ensure the wellbeing of intellectually overexcitable children (and ourselves!) during extraordinary times?
1. Understand their overexcitability
Above all else, a child with intellectual overexcitability needs support and understanding of their overexcitability. Never underestimate the reassurance a child receives when they know that their parents “get it”. As parents, make sure that you understand your child’s overexcitability by reading up and researching it, then you will be best placed to know how to support them and to show that you understand them. This will be a very valuable source of reassurance in this unsettling time.
2. Brace yourself for a mismatch between their interests and their schoolwork!
Unfortunately, the hope that this overexcitability will lead to a child devouring the schoolwork set by their teachers and an easy ride for parents as a result, is quite often a naïve one to say the very least. Sadly for the blood pressure of parents, a child having intellectual overexcitability in no way guarantees that their enthusiasm and voracity will be directed towards the national curriculum; they may very well have their own (very determined!) ideas about what they want to research or learn whilst in lockdown.
It is true that in some cases there is an interest in the work set by school, albeit often with a desire to delve deeper (which, in these stay-at-home times might be more doable than ever), but the fact is, unfortunately, it is not a given. It may be, therefore, that during these already trying times, there are battles raging across the country between parents trying to get their child to complete work set by their school and intellectually overexcitable children with their own, very different ideas about what they want to spend their time studying.
Every family will have a different idea on how fiercely the battle should be fought, or whether it is a less appropriate war to wage in these already embattled times. The stage of your child’s education and the appropriateness of the level of work sent home may also be determining factors in any such decision. Either way, have confidence in what feels right for you and your child; these are firsts for us all so there is no rule book. If you need to discuss things with their teacher, then do so, every teacher understands that this is not a normal learning situation and that families have to work out the best way for them to balance the demands of work, school and also the wellbeing of their child (and themselves!) in these strange and unnerving times.
3. Take this opportunity to allow them to follow their interests
If there is time for them to pursue their own interests (after their set work is completed, perhaps?), then use this unique time to allow them to really express their overexcitability; to really enjoy all sorts of extended flights of fancy; to really get stuck into their passions. Being able to find a positive in such a strange situation will be important for their wellbeing, and make the unsettling time much more bearable.
4. Liberally loot our lockdown resources!
Even the most independent-minded child with intellectual overexcitability may benefit from new ideas and the possibilities of new rabbit-holes to dive into, especially if unsettled by the current situation. Whether to find new resources in their area of interest, or to provide ideas to mix it up a bit and try something new (for example, the challenges in our 50th Anniversary Challenge Booklet), the lockdown learning resources on our website offer a huge amount of ideas and inspiration.
5. Think up a daily stumper…
…for an open-ended, see-where-it-goes type starter for ten which can get their intellectual juices flowing. For stumper inspiration, have a look at our Plus Portal questions on social media, or read our “Thunks” blog. You could also have a look at our advice sheet, Developing Critical Thinking Skills, PA702, for even more ideas.
6. Encourage independence
Whatever their starting point, now is a good time to gently work young people towards their next level in independent learning (whilst always ensuring age-appropriateness, of course!). Not only is it good for you when you need to get work done, but it is also good for them too. It provides a very welcome positive, in the form of both a well-earned sense of accomplishment and an increased sense of agency, as they are able to more independently satisfy their intellectual overexcitability. Whether it is simply heading to the encyclopaedia or dictionary instead of a parent, or really taking control of their learning by developing their self-regulation skills (see our advice sheet, Helping Children Develop Self-Regulation Skills, PA324), encouraging independence in their learning may be good for the whole family!
7. Keep an eye on their emotional wellbeing
This is a strange and unsettling time for us all, and a child with Intellectual Overexcitability is by no means immune to anxieties about the situation. Indeed, due to their asynchronous development, they may well have a heightened awareness of current events but not the emotional skills that would enable them to deal with it. Understand that this is a potential issue and keep an eye out for signs. Look out for anxiety, reassure them, and remember that, however high their cognitive ability, they are still children in an unsettling situation. Never expect their emotional resilience in this lockdown to equal their intellectual understanding of it. Talk things through if needed or gloss over and stick to pure reassurance if that feels right for you and your child.
8. Make time for relaxation
As important as it is for us to help intellectually overexcitable children to pursue their intellectual interests and express their overexcitability, it is also important to be aware of the times when you need to help them to stop and switch off instead. Factor in calming activities to each day; for example, a relaxing walk for your daily exercise, a bit of meditation or guided relaxation, listening to relaxing music, or by creating a calm corner in their bedroom dedicated to chilling out.
9. Check out our advice sheets on overexcitabilities
Have a look at our advice sheet PA610, Hypersensitivity (Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities), for an overview of all five overexcitabilities, and also PA612, Enthused About Learning, for more specific advice on Intellectual Overexcitability.
10. Look after yourself
It can be full-on parenting a child with intellectual overexcitability. Constant questions and sheer relentlessness, whilst great attributes in many ways, can be exhausting at the best of times. Add into the mix a global crisis and a lockdown where everyone is together 24/7, and things get even more exhausting! Without their teachers, friends or extended family to share the burden of either inquisition or disquisition, and with new and unique pressures squeezed into one locked-down household, it is all the more important to find tiny ways to relax wherever possible. Occasionally take the exercise allowance on your own if you are able to or find your own calm corner where everyone else is strictly banned; your own wellbeing is important, too. If it feels difficult to prioritise yourself, then remember that the better you feel, the better you can support your fabulous, yet exhausting, overexcitable children!
About the author: Caroline Hooton-Picard is an adviser for Potential Plus UK. She has a background in mental health, having worked for Suffolk Mind and also in private practice, and has a first class degree in Philosophy from the University of Essex. She also has a High Learning Potential daughter who keeps her very much on her toes!