Transitions can be hard for any child, but when you add in the complexities of a profoundly gifted (PG) or twice exceptional (2e) learning profile, the issues with transitions may become more intense. In some situations, typical PG and 2e traits can be an asset, such as intense focus in an area of interest, wandering curiosity, high personal standards, or being very independent. However, when it comes to the multi-tasking demands of the modern classroom, these behaviors may become an obstacle to keeping your child on track.
Asynchronous development, a hallmark of the gifted child’s profile, may hinder executive functioning skills, which play a vital role in task-initiation, follow-through, and transitions. Executive function is a broad term that encompasses at least 13 skills (though other professionals break this down differently, such as “The 3 Areas of Executive Function”). While your gifted 5th grader might be able to perform high school geometry, they are still building the executive functioning skills required to self-regulate and switch their attention to a new task when needed.
In addition to their asynchronous development of executive functioning skills, gifted children often come with intensities, or overexcitabilities. Overexcitabilities (OEs) are another core trait of many gifted children. The term stems from Kazimierz Dabrowski’s work which identified the 5 areas of hyper-sensitivity for gifted and talented students: psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational or emotional. Whether their OE is physical, intellectual, or otherwise, regular classroom stimulus may put their OEs into over-drive, which can preoccupy their attention or lead to behaviors that may seem off-task.
There may be many additional reasons your PG or 2e child struggles with multi-tasking in and outside of school, such as anxiety or undiagnosed dyslexia. If their inability to start, finish, or transition between tasks is significantly affecting their ability to enjoy daily life, then it might be worthwhile to seek an individual assessment from a tester experienced in gifted children to help identify and support the root cause of the challenges.
In addition, the following tips may help parents and educators provide scaffolding for the child who struggles with transitions.
Setting Clear Expectations
An easy step to miss when trying to help children who struggle with transitions is making sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to expectations around how to spend class time or how to approach an assignment. It may seem straightforward, but something as simple as “Do your math homework” may be interpreted differently by the teacher, the parents, and the child. A teacher may expect the math work to be shown on paper, even if the child can solve the answer in their head. The parents may expect that the child sits down for one full hour to quietly work through the assignment. The child may place an expectation on themselves to re-invent math altogether and stare at the first problem for four hours. As this scenario shows, what may be implicit to some children may need to be explicit for children with PG and 2e profiles to help them understand what is being asked of them.
Preview activities in writing and verbally so the student expectations are clear. Clarifying expectations can involve describing the upcoming task, when students will need to transition to a new task, sharing what issues may come up and letting children know you’re there to help.
Prompting children while they are working can help get them back on-track if they have lost focus or provide positive reinforcement by encouraging them when they are on target.
Reviewing the process with children after they have completed a project can help build self-awareness. If expectations weren’t met, you can support the child by identifying better strategies to use next time.
Setting Clear Boundaries
Executive functioning, which include the suite of skills we use to complete a task, is often an area of challenge for students with PG and 2e profiles. Executive functioning is one of the last skills children acquire, which is why many children have challenges initiating a task, time management, and follow-through. When it comes to transitions at home or school, it may be helpful to create clear boundaries around how much time a particular task should take. Well-meaning parents and teachers who offer multiple time-extensions on assignments often perpetuate the cycle of procrastination and further derail other scheduled activities.
To help children build the skills needed to help students with time management and awareness, parents and teachers can try creating clear schedule boundaries using the following steps:
- Use kitchen timers and visual clocks to help them better conceptualize how much time should be spent on a given task.
- Give a verbal cue to wrap up a task when a transition to a new task is impending.
- Keep routines and schedules similar between school and home to help build a consistent system
Calming strategies and reset rituals
Even with clear expectations and boundaries, transitioning between tasks, projects, or focus can be difficult and may require additional supports to help a child successfully navigate all that is asked of them. Reset rituals are typically short, easily accessible, and sensorial practices that help a person reset before and/or after a transition. They might be put in place when preparing for daily transitions, like before bedtime, or can be used during the many smaller transitions during a busy day. The following are a few examples of calming and reset rituals for individuals or families:
For the individual
Setting the A.M. Scene – It’s a marathon, not a sprint! Don’t cram the morning with additional stressors as you will likely drain your battery before lunch. Try taking the first 20 minutes of wakefulness to slowly come into your senses by quiet journaling, meditation, light stretching, or just looking out the window. This will give your body the slow ramp into the day it needs.
Starting a Task – Breath in through your nose for four counts, hold your breath for four counts, and breath out through your mouth for four counts. This may help clear your mind of the anxiety that builds up before starting a task.
In the Middle of a Task – Take a moment to walk away from a task with a movement break. Stand up and walk around if you can or even stretch while seated to keep your blood flowing and mind focused.
Finishing a Task – Positively reinforce your hard work with something pleasant – maybe it is a favorite flavor of Chapstick, listening to a high energy song, or giving yourself a fun sticker. Whatever it is, a little self-congratulation promotes healthy routines in the long run.
Refresh – If you’re feeling stuck or have moved through several transitions already, it might be time for a longer reset. Take a 10 minute walk, have a snack, or do something that is the opposite of what you were doing before to help replenish your battery. For example, don’t write a post on Facebook if you were just working on an essay. Instead, take a break from writing by dancing!
S.O.S. – If your mind is starting to spin off the wheels, try calming yourself by naming something in your immediate surroundings for all five senses to ground yourself in the present. What can you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste at this time?
Preparing for the P.M. – Turn the lights down and remove distractions from the bedroom an hour before bedtime to help cue your brain that it is time for sleep – that includes putting your phone away!
For the family
If you’re a family that is sharing the same space for work, school, and home life, it might be helpful to use the senses to carve out different times of day and help the whole family transition and reset as needed.
Lighting cues can help create natural transitions between times of day. You can use warm, soft light in the morning to promote wakefulness, then lots of natural and direct light during focus hours, and finally bring things back down with dim or indirect light to relax after the day.
Musical cues are a fun way to promote different moods or reset throughout the day. Make family playlists to give each other a boost during the afternoon dip or set the scene for quiet family reflection after an eventful day.
Smell cues often happen naturally, like waking up to the smell of morning coffee, but these powerful signals can also be used to help mediate transitions throughout the day. Your family can spritz a citrus Febreze product to signal an upcoming work break or pick a calming tea to brew at night to promote relaxation.
We hope these tips will help your child and family navigate all there is to do, but you can find additional ideas and supports from the following articles:
- Child mind Institute – How Can We Help Kids With Transitions?
- Council for Exceptional Children – Time Management for Gifted Kids
- Davidson Institute – What teachers can do to help with time management
- Institute for Educational Advancement – 15 Strategies for Managing Your Gifted Child’s Intensities
- Seth Perler – Systems Checklist and Daily Habit Cheat Sheet
- Understood.org – Pre-correcting and Prompting: An Evidence-Based Behavior Strategy
- Understood.org – 10 Tips to Help Your Child Follow Directions
- Wisconsin Association for Talented & Gifted – 37 Techniques to Calm an Anxious Child