The Energetic Gifted Child

Gifted children often have high energy levels. Having a lot of energy is a great sounding characteristic, at least we all wish we had some, but to a mom with a young whirlwind, it can be discouraging. There are some techniques you can use with a bright, energetic child that could make all the difference in your homeschool.

What does a child with a high energy level look like? One child may have a behavior pattern that looks a lot like Attention Deficit Disorder; in fact, he may have even been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. Another child may be able to go long hours working on a project without break. Still another needs to be “in on” everything happening around her. Usually, it is some time in baby hood when we first notice the problem. Your baby may “never” sleep, or at least it may seem that way. Have you ever prayed for just one more hour of rest? Your little one may follow you around on all fours, which doesn’t sound so bad to this grandmother, but at the time you may get a little tired. Later on, this same child may always want your attention, or to be “entertained”. These children are normal gifted youngsters and simply have high energy levels. The ability to juggle several things at once successfully is a wonderful ability, but that ability may need to be trained into your child. Teach him to make use of that energy for constructive purposes and you will have given him a gift.

Because the gifted child may look and act like the ADD/ADHD child, the experts tell us that many highly gifted children have been misdiagnosed ADD or ADHD because of this characteristic of high energy levels. Some are given drugs to compensate for a nonexistent condition, while others are placed into special classes for problem children.

Still, any child with lots of undirected energy is going to be a problem. If that child happens to be bored, as in a normal schooling situation, then the behavior is likely to be a significant problem. Many teachers see your gifted child who has a high energy level, compare him to the children in her experience and decide that the problem is with the energy level not the giftedness. They assume the problem is the child, not the academic schedule.

Homeschooling teachers may have a problem too, when they use a standard curriculum that has been designed for the normal child in a normal classroom. In a previous issue we have discussed the asynchrony of gifted child and have gone over some ideas about how to accelerate them, by compacting and testing. How to direct the energy? Just running to keep up with a toddler is not enough. We must be able to harness that energy so that we can keep up, so that the child actually learns something, and so that he isn’t getting into trouble. All of these things sound like I wrote them for a three year old, but as any mother of gifted teens knows, it is true for them, too. Unfortunately, for teens, anger can also show up when energy is misdirected.

Here are some ways to direct the energy:

1. Get the child involved in the learning process. This is the number one thing you must do at home for your child. If you don’t know what he is interested in, ask. Is he interested in electronics (and you know nothing about that), and then let him investigate the field and just report back in to you what he is doing.

Become a facilitator instead of the teacher. My definition of a facilitator is the one who writes the checks and provides the wheels.

2. Look for similar materials for texts in higher levels. For example, a bright 5th grader may be able to use a low ability (or large print) high school level text. Later on, the same child will use an advanced placement text, but for now, merely high school level is great. In addition, this does two things, the child knows that you are serious about him being challenged, and the child has the feeling that it really is OK to be beyond the norm.

I have a student who is doing well in pre-algebra and who bought a college algebra text for the future. He let me know that he could not wait to get into that text, so we let him go. Algebra is the same whether you call it Algebra I or college algebra, but the format the instructions are a bit different as the college text is written for older students. Why not just go ahead into the higher-level text, nothing is lost, especially when you realize that the student is in 7th grade?

3. Remember that physical activity is very important for our young people. It does provide an outlet for excess energy and will help your student stay on task longer when he is doing academics. When my own were home, I would suddenly say, “Hop up and do 25 jumping jacks.”  Or ” Do a quick 25 push-ups.”  This is good for refocusing, too, in those times after lunch when the words tend to blur and the mind gets off track.

What about the kid who has energy but still doesn’t get his work done? Three hours on a math lesson, for example, is too much and is especially so for a child gifted in mathematics. Here are some time-tested teacher techniques for keeping a child on track:

  1. Remove everything from the desk except the piece he is working on.
  2. Use a kitchen timer to keep him aware of time.
  3. Study the same thing in the same place everyday (or every time you do that subject) Note: Don’t use the bed for schoolwork.
  4. Break up the assignment into manageable subtasks. (This works for us moms, too.)
  5. Use an assignment list.
  6. Have him be accountable to someone else for work done. Just a weekly check-up is fine.
  7. Give him time to daydream, but not during Latin.
  8. Use his distract-ability for educational purposes: Ask him random questions requiring creative answers (not-memory). The creative thinking required will usually help keep him working at the other task, too. This is especially helpful if your child is able to process several things at once.

A gifted child may have very high energy levels, a level which can cause a problem in a normal classroom or in homeschool. In this article, we have gone over some techniques you can use which your energetic child. Please leave a comment if you have other ideas that work. Always remember that energy is good, more energy is better, and, like other gifts, is a gift from God.

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  1. annemcd August 25, 2010 at 5:28 am #

    Very interesting and insightful! I have a question– do you think this energy would manifest itself in "noise" when the child is still? My 9yo son can sit still, but he fidgets a bit, then grunts, hums, clears his throat– just can't seem to keep his 'insides' still when his body is! I can't tell if this is something to discipline for social reasons, or learn to ignore because he can't help it?

  2. esther August 29, 2010 at 1:10 pm #

    I think that is very possible. My 4yo has the same trouble. Have you ever gone for a run or done some physical exercise to calm your spinning brain? You might try it with your son. Take a lap around the yard, or the pushups or jumping jacks suggested here. See what happens!

    I can think of other manifestations, too. Did you ever study better with a little outside noise going on? Read better while humming or do math better while singing bits and snatches of whatever? I think it might be related.

  3. Catherine June 13, 2011 at 8:54 pm #

    This post seems to be taken from an article by Kathleen Julicher originally published in the Home Educator’s Family Times.

    • esther June 13, 2011 at 9:03 pm #

      Catherine, yes it is, in fact Kathleen posts her articles on here frequently, and holds the copyright. Since I updated the website, a lot of her articles no longer have her name and signature on them, I’ll fix this one since you bring it to my attention.

      (I’m Kathleen’s daughter) :)

      Happy Homeschooling!

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