High learning potential children, especially those who display Sensual Overexcitability, have a heightened awareness of one or all five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. Children with sensual overexcitability can be sick from the smell of certain foods or as toddlers will hate to walk on grass in their bare feet. They may overreact to certain loud noises or dislike certain foods because of the feel of the food in their mouths. On the other hand, they very often find great joy in their intense appreciation of beauty, whether in writing, music, art or nature. How do we support our children with sensual overexcitability during this difficult time?
1. Understand their overexcitability
Whilst by no means a panacea, the most effective first step in supporting a child with sensual overexcitability is to read up on it and understand it. From this starting point, a parent is always then best placed to effectively support their child and provide the comfort and reassurance that comes from that child knowing that their parents “get it”.
Any suggestions that they are “overreacting” to whatever smell, sound, sight etc. is distressing them is at best unhelpful, but at worst, detrimental to their wellbeing. They need to know that their overexcitability is understood, that it is okay, and that they will be supported to help manage it; never shamed for having it in the first place. Gaining a really good understanding of this overexcitability not only helps a parent to support them effectively, but also places a parent in the best position to advocate for their child when others show that they have not yet understood it.
2. Look after their emotional wellbeing and prioritise relaxation
Whilst it might seem impossible to forget the situation when you are holed up together with no way out and barely any peace, it is easy to forget about the impact this situation may be having on your overexcitable child. They may not be expressing their fears or anxieties all the time, but it does not mean that they are not there. Being aware of this and being there to listen to worries, to reassure, and to provide cuddles for that emotional and tactile input, is an important element of support.
Factoring relaxation into the day is another key way to support their sensual overexcitability. As indirect as it may seem, the link is often stronger than it first appears: the calmer a child with sensual overexcitability is, the easier they will tend to be able to manage their sensitivities. But more than that, many general relaxation strategies can be of direct assistance to a child with sensual overexcitability. The calm corner of the house that they can go to for a sensory break (aka away from their siblings!), some yoga or guided relaxation, or perhaps a comfortingly calm audiobook or piece of music, these all have the benefit of directly supporting many of the needs of a child with sensual overexcitability. As such, ensuring that these relaxation needs are met on a daily basis can be of immense support to a child with sensual overexcitability at this time.
3. Create a top ten of sensory saviours
Getting your child to come up with their Top Ten of sensory helpers is a really positive way to help them with their sensual overexcitability. Firstly, it gives them a very welcome sense of control over their overexcitability and how to manage it. Such a sense of agency can really boost their self-esteem and general sense of positivity, which can, in turn, help them to better deal with their overexcitability. It can also help to ensure that they have a set of strategies that really help them; not ones chosen by others that don’t. It also has the not insignificant benefit of being a useful, proactive activity to keep them occupied for a while during these long lockdown hours!
The list might include their top comforts or strategies that help their overexcitabilities in other ways. Their softest teddy, their go-to blanket, and their favourite soothing music all might make the list alongside, perhaps, a homemade card to bring out to show they need some alone-time, or all sorts of other small helps for their overexcitability. As long as they feel it helps them and gives them that comfort that they require, then it can make the Top Ten! Allow them to be creative with their ideas; as long as they are age-appropriate and pass the parent test, they can be as unconventional as they like!
Their involvement in the process also improves the chances of them being willing to apply the strategies when needed. It is extremely rare to get away with parenting a child with high learning potential without encountering at least a few examples of dazzling feats of often totally self-defeating, but utterly entrenched all the same, shear stubbornness. Yet even the most obstinate of HLP children will be less likely to refuse strategies they came up with themselves. The avoidance of a battle of wills is a useful consequence both for your child and their overexcitability and for your life as their parent!
Ultimately, by creating their Top Ten they will then always have that go-to list to refer to whenever they need a little support for their sensual overexcitability, giving a sense of reassurance and support that may be particularly welcome at this time.
4. Take this time to work out the best support plan for their overexcitability
…and try to keep it consistent, even among the chaos of lockdown!
If you already have a plan in place, then now is a good time for a quick evaluation; to step back and see what works and what doesn’t. If you’ve yet to devise a plan, then now is a perfect time to do it. It might be a strange and unsettling time, and it might be busy and chaotic at home, too, but now may still be the perfect time to try new things, jettison what clearly doesn’t work, and feel confident in the knowledge that both will be as positive as each other.
This lockdown may well provide a unique opportunity to gain insight into what may or may not have been working at school. Being at home with them, 24/7, especially by being involved in their learning (whilst by no means a carbon copy of their school experience), may give parents essential feedback on what works during a “school day” and what does not, and thus an opportunity to create a much more bespoke plan of support for their child. Feel free, of course, to loot their own ideas from their Top Ten, too! Trying a few different things may mean that you discover a real gem of support that can be fed into their day from now on. Equally, realising that something doesn’t work, accepting that and not keeping it in the mix is positive, too. There’s nothing more demoralising than something ill-suited or ineffective remaining in any support plan: at best it just isn’t of any use, but at worst it may lead to a child feeling that the “not working” must then be their fault.
What you find out during these days of lockdown can then be fed back to school, so that your child’s sensual overexcitability can be supported appropriately on into the future. It may well be that the headphones work but the calm corner at school needs a slightly different set up; or perhaps it will become clear that what is already in place needs to be done at more regular intervals for the best outcomes. Feeding this kind of information back to school (if then acted upon) ensures the best possible support, which can, in turn, be positive for their concentration, behaviour, the avoidance of frustration and their general wellbeing. It is also, of course, likely have a positive effect on their academic achievement, too.
5. Use the exercise allowance
As well as helping with wellbeing in a general sense, exercise can also help a child with sensual overexcitability by providing the opportunity to stimulate and satisfy the more abstract and intangible needs of their overexcitability. A walk, for instance, can really feed the joy of a child with sensual overexcitability by providing that all-important access to nature and the opportunity to enjoy the beauty in it. Be it big or small; be it an uplifting view or the loveliness of a ladybird, getting out and about by using your daily exercise allowance can be a key way to nourish your child with comforting, positive and uplifting sensory data.
In the same way, if you have a garden, allow ample time for your child to explore, investigate and enjoy all that can be found in it. The micro-focus on a daisy, or the gazing up at the skies, or anything in between, can all feed the needs of a sensually sensitive child.
6. Manage expectations
During such a strange and unprecedented time, there may be elements of regression concerning a child’s overexcitability. The emotional impact of this lockdown and the entire situation surrounding this global pandemic is such that any pushes for progress concerning any sensory issues may best be delayed for other times, and any regressions allowed for and accepted.
Food may seem even more unpalatable than usual; noises of siblings more frustrating than normal (almost definitely!), and comforts from their younger years may crop up again to become part of their daily routine once more. Conversely, some children may find themselves liberated by the lack of school and the often exhausting associated sensory difficulties, and self-choose some attempts at progress. All or any of this is okay. As long as they are fed and secure, and know that they are supported and understood by you, you are winning, and they are okay. Anything more, unless positively chosen by them, is for another day.
7. Enjoy the freedom not to conform!
This lockdown may not, of course, be without its educational pressures; be it online lessons or the general school workload that is still expected to be completed, and certainly no one is suggesting that such a solitary situation is ideal long-term – however stressful school life might be for a sensually sensitive child – but there may well be a certain relief to be found in this break from the usual hustle and bustle and from the brief hiatus in the need to conform in the usual way.
Enjoy the mini-break from stressful school situations, and have the confidence to do things the way that best supports your child’s sensual overexcitability and general wellbeing. This may look very different to other people’s lockdown life, but carve your own path and enjoy the temporary break from the incessant expectations to conform.
8. Keep them occupied
Visit the lockdown learning resources area on our website for an embarrassment of ideas and inspiration to keep them occupied during this lockdown. They may find some great ideas for new activities in their favourite subject, or perhaps find a brand new interest. Either way, keeping them occupied during this most peculiar staycation can help to keep their minds positive and away from any worries and concerns that may make the management of their sensual overexcitability more difficult.
9. Have a look at this NAGC advice sheet for more great advice on how to support your high learning potential child during this pandemic: Supporting your Gifted Child during Covid-19
10. Look after yourself!
It is not just our children who are finding the lockdown challenging. Being a parent of a child with sensual overexcitability can be intense, exhausting, and unforgiving. Whilst we support them and love them unconditionally, this does not immunise us from the worry, fatigue or frustration. In a time that is tough for children and grown-ups alike, and when it is perfectly possible that there are sensual overexcitabilities amongst the grown-ups too, take any opportunity for rest or relaxation that comes your way. Of course, they may well be few and far between when you are locked down with no escape from the juggling of parenting, work and general coping with a once-in-a-lifetime crisis, but all the more reason to take them if they do arise. Be it an opportunity to hide in a room with a cup of tea if the rest of the household are gainfully employed in one way or another, or the occasional solo usage of the exercise allowance to get a bit of a break, do all you can to look after your own wellbeing during this unprecedented time. As a parent, you’ll be so much better placed to support your sensually overexcitable child if you do!
For even more information on overexcitabilities, have a look at our advice sheet PA610, Hypersensitivity (Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities), which gives a useful overview of all five overexcitabilities.
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!