Dealing with High Levels of Energy of Gifted Children
By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D
My wife and I have a son who turned 2 in May and I have a
couple of questions regarding his development.
My wife and I were both pretty gifted academically - I have
two degrees in theoretical physics from Cambridge and she
topped her university in Medicine and is a clinical
researcher at Imperial. Partly due to the fact that my son
attends a nursery whilst we are at work, I am a little
concerned about his development. His social skills are
advanced and, similar to my wife, he seems to have a
phenomenal memory - he seems to remember things the first
time he encounters them. His reasoning skills seem pretty
good as well.
However, he is physically and mentally hyperactive, as
indeed I was, and he seems unable to focus on anything other
than his Thomas the Tank Engine toys/programs for long
periods, and I seem unable to sit him down long enough to
teach him numbers, the alphabet etc. I do try in an
unstructured way (e.g. counting the stairs whilst walking
etc.), but again his focus is pretty short-lived.
He also does not sleep until very late, and often not at all
during the day, meaning that often he sleeps 9 hours a day
in total - something I think may be insufficient and could
impair his development. Often he is tired, but forces
himself to stay awake using various cunning tactics, often
circumventing our own!
Could you advise as to the best way to address the concerns
regards limited attention span and lack of sleep?
A: Your boy obviously has his
parents' genes, as studies revealed that over 60% of IQ is
said to be contributed by genetic factors. So, yes, he is
above average and what you are experiencing is quite common
amongst parents of gifted children.
Their attention span is usually limited to areas of
interests, and once they indulge in activities that they
find meaningful to them, they tend to be so engrossed in the
activity and sometimes forget everything around them. You
are doing the right thing by introducing learning in
creative ways. It may not work immediately but slowly, it
would. What is important here is to create learning that is
meaningful to him – the only way you will be able to get his
attention and even interest. If he is so engrossed with
Thomas programs, use them to teach him other things such as
Maths or even alphabets. You would need to be creative here
to get his attention. At the same time, do not despair if
you find that it may not work. This whole process of dealing
with gifted children requires “trial and error”. That is
hard work but the results are often fruitful.
On sleep, this is in fact a rather commonly noted
characteristic of gifted children compared to their non
gifted counterparts. The main cause is due to their high
levels of energy that causes them to require less sleep.
It's like their minds take time to shut down due to active
cognition. Don't force them to sleep as it would only
frustrate parents, and kids get agitated and irritable as
well. One way may be to tire him out; use that extra burst
of energy he has (don't prior to bed time, though!). When he
is mentally and physically tired, he may sleep easily. Allow
him some quiet time before falling asleep. You can be with
him to ensure that he does not jump out of bed and do other
things. Create a rule and a time to sleep and abide by it to
make it a habit. If he keeps saying that he can't sleep,
suggest that he shuts his eyes and rests. Slowly, this may
Do not worry too much if he is not getting the recommended
hours of sleep. For his age, usually between 10-12 hours is
required. Having said that, being gifted (not true for all
gifted children though – some gifted children sleep a lot)
perhaps nine hours is sufficient. One way to tell is whether
he is getting enough sleep is by observing if he is showing
signs of tiredness and fatigue, crankiness, etc. If he is
functioning well, the amount of sleep he is getting is
probably sufficient. Good luck and have a great parenting
Below are sleeping tips for children (not only gifted
children, but you may find them quite useful. This is taken
from ClubMom Sleep Issues Expert Elizabeth Pantley (View
this article online at
Eight Sleep Tips for Every Child: Stepping stones to a
good nights sleep
Up to 70 percent of children under age five have sleep
problems. Sleep issues are complicated and have many causes.
They're hard to deal with because when children aren't
sleeping, parents aren't sleeping, and that lack of sleep
affects every minute of every day for every person in the
family because lack of sleep isn't just about being tired.
Sleep has a role in everything - Dawdling, temper tantrums,
hyperactivity, growth, health, and even learning to tie his
shoes and recite the ABCs. Sleep affects everything.
1. Maintain a consistent bedtime and awaking time.
Your child's biological clock has a strong influence on her
wakefulness and sleepiness. When you establish a set time
for bedtime and wake up time you "set" your child's clock so
that it functions smoothly.
Aim for an early bedtime. Young children respond best with a
bedtime between 6:30 and 7:30 P.M. Most children will sleep
better and longer when they go to bed early.
2. Encourage regular daily naps. Daily naps are
important. An energetic child can find it difficult to go
through the day without a rest break. A nap-less child will
often wake up cheerful and become progressively fussier or
hyper-alert as the day goes on. Also, the length and quality
of naps affects night sleep - good naps equal better nights
3. Set your child's biological clock. Take advantage
of your child's biology so that he's actually tired when
bedtime arrives. Darkness causes an increase in the release
of the body's sleep hormone - the biological "stop" button.
You can align your child's sleepiness with bedtime by
dimming the lights during the hour before bedtime.
Exposing your child to morning light is pushing the "go"
button in her brain - one that says, "Time to wake up and be
active." So keep your mornings bright!
4. Develop a consistent bedtime routine. Routines
create security. A consistent, peaceful bedtime routine
allows your child to transition from the motion of the day
to the tranquil state of sleep.
An organized routine helps you coordinate the specifics:
bath, pajamas, tooth-brushing. It helps you to function on
auto-pilot at the time when you are most tired and least
5. Create a cozy sleep environment. Where your child
sleeps can be a key to quality sleep. Make certain the
mattress is comfortable, the blankets are warm, the room
temperature is right, pajamas are comfy, and the bedroom is
6. Provide the right nutrition. Foods can affect
energy level and sleepiness. Carbohydrates can have a
calming effect on the body, while foods high in protein or
sugar generate alertness, particularly when eaten alone. A
few ideas for pre-bed snacks are: whole-wheat toast and
cheese, bagel and peanut butter, oatmeal with bananas, or
yogurt and low-sugar granola. Vitamin deficiencies due to
unhealthy food choices can affect a child's sleep. Provide
your child with a daily assortment of healthy foods.
7. Help your child to be healthy and fit. Many
children don't get enough daily physical activity. Too much
TV watching and a lack of activity prevents good sleep.
Children who get ample daily exercise fall asleep more
quickly, sleep better, stay asleep longer, and wake up
feeling refreshed. Avoid activity in the hour before bedtime
though, since exercise is stimulating - They'll be jumping
on the bed instead of sleeping in it!
8. Teach your child how to relax. Many children get
in bed but aren't sure what to do when they get there! It
can help to follow a soothing pre-bed routine that creates
sleepiness. A good pre-bed ritual is story time. A child who
is listening to a parent read a book or tell a tale will
tend to lie still and listen. This quiet stillness allows
him to become sleepy.
Work with these eight ideas and you'll see improvements in
your child's sleep, and yours too.