It can be quite difficult to tell the difference between “normal giftedness” (I cracked myself up typing that) and intellectual overexcitability. After all, aren’t some of the hallmarks of giftedness a heightened sense of curiosity and a drive to understand? Well, yes… but the child with this overexcitability takes it to a whole new level.
Intellectual overexcitability is the gifted child’s curiosity on steroids.
I had been teaching for almost a year at a very sweet, non-traditional school for the gifted. It was my first year teaching, and I was having a blast! I remember the director had given me one directive: “Help them learn whatever they want to learn and guide them to understand themselves while they do it.” It was bliss.
A young boy of about eight had been enrolled, and I could tell right away that this child was going to need to talk… a lot. Bless his heart.
Neither a student nor a teacher could utter a word without this child asking a question. Keep in mind I am not a teacher who talks a lot; I do not believe in standing up and orating at my students. And I could not get more than three sentences out of my mouth without this kid nearly exploding with questions. Add to that the fact that this child had no concept of what an “inside voice” sounds like, and we had a problem.
When he wasn’t asking questions, he was reading. He had books stashed everywhere! He had them in his book bags of course, but also crammed inside pockets of winter coats and his lunchbox. He would sometimes bring an extra bags of books… you know, just in case.
I once watched this child attempt to play soccer and read at the same time. No joke.
It sounds funny but really this was extremely difficult, not just for the people around him, but also for him. Relationships were very difficult; people who tried to relate to him never felt a sense of mutuality. They felt like sounding boards. And he spent a lot of time feeling misunderstood and undervalued. Poor pumpkin.
Does your child seem to have an insatiable curiosity, bombarding you with question after question? Does she philosophize on a range of topics from Star Wars to climate change to gender dynamics in the classroom? Do these musings sometimes take the form of rants and pontifications? Does she choose inopportune moments to make these thoughts known?
That’s the intellectual OE driving many people crazy, sometimes earning your child a reputation as a pathological know-it-all.
Honestly, the thing I’ve found to be most helpful when coping with the intellectual OE in my students is the cultivation of mindfulness, a mental state achieved by focusing awareness on the present moment, calmly noticing one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
For example, when the above mentioned student entered into my world, I introduced the “mindful minute” exercise. Here’s how it works:
I have them sit silently for one minute, instructing him or her to focus on their breath or heartbeat. I encourage them to empty their mind, and after a minute has passed I have them silently ask themselves, “What is my most important thought or question?”
The child then expresses their most important thought or asks their most important question, and we have a brief discussion about it. If he or she still has more to share, they submit their ideas in writing until the time comes for another mindful minute. (Later, I have them choose their top 3 to 5 written thoughts and questions for further research on Wikipedia Kids or another safe database).
I try to space out the mindful minutes by at least an hour, but when I see my student about to explode with questions all over again, I ask them to go through this process again. I take the time to explain to them why it is important to do so.
I tell them, “You have so much good stuff to share, and most people can only take in a little bit of that good stuff at once. They are only human, and humans have limits. I know you want people to listen to you, and I want that too! This is the practice that is going to get you heard more.”
Asking your gifted child to slow down and consciously choose what they are going to say not only gives the people around them a break, it helps your child develop the self-awareness and control that’s going to help them make the best most self-connected choices possible.
Has this or a different approach helped your child to cope with their imaginational OE? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.