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COVID CRAZY: Tips for Parenting the High Energy, Exceptional Child at Home During Isolation

You've seen the Instagram posts. Beautifully rendered daily schedules promising order, tranquility and intellectual stimulation for all ages. You've read the homeschooling posts, too, all of them. You know, the ones that promise that your active child will be busy with a (full!) cup of water, a paintbrush, a chalkboard easel and some good-old-fashioned creativity. In your "spare time" (I'm laughing out loud at this), you peruse fellow parents’ haggard posts on Facebook, their posts depicting their two sweet toddlers, busying themselves while watching cartoons on a tablet...that they haven't broken...somehow. For families of extremely active children, it can be hard to relate.  

But folks, I'm going to get real right now. These posts are not for us. They are quite simply not geared toward to the extreme, active, in-your-face child. Nope. Sorry. These glamorized, sterilized depictions of childhood are simply unrealistic for many children, let alone our children. What they do depict are ideas for the average child. And they may work. Most of the time.


Now, don't get me wrong. Children thrive on scheduled routines. It provides them with consistency, it lessens anxiety as it always answers the question of "What is coming next?" and it can actually decrease your workload once you get it right. Activities are key in keeping kids intellectually engaged and busy. But these one-size-fits-all methods of home schooling, these online learning platforms that expect your child to just sit still, well, it just doesn’t work for all children. It can’t. Why?

Because children are individual beings with unique characteristics and, as such, learn differently and behave differently.

It is up to parents and caregivers to adapt to the child they are given. It seems relatively obvious but, during a worldwide pandemic with limited resources, these facts can be hard to swallow and can seem downright impractical.


But there is a way around this. That is, you can parent an very active, exceptional child during a worldwide pandemic without pulling your own hair out!! When dealing with any child, but especially a child with ADD or ADHD, a highly energetic child and/or an exceptional child, it is of upmost importance to keep their bodies and minds busy. When children’s bodies are minds are engaged, they simply do not have any additional resources to get into mischief! This means that, as a caregiver, it is your responsibility to provide your children with activities that engage the entire being. Sound overwhelming? It doesn’t have to be. Below is a list of my own tried and true strategies to educate and stimulate a (very, very) active little on the home front. All it takes is a little advanced planning and an understanding that your child is going to need a little more TLC.


1. Make a Realistic, Visual Schedule.


Children with high energy levels do well with visual schedules that allow for some flexibility. When children know what is happening next, and are able to physically move a schedule to indicate what has been done and what needs to be done, they feel like they are part of the daily process and they are learning by engaging their muscle memory. In order to help your child find a routine at home, I would suggest going to the Teachers Pay Teachers website to find a printable (and oftentimes free) daily schedule that you can post on your fridge. You can customize these schedules to be as detailed as is necessary for your child. Alternatively, you can involve your child in drawing up your own. If you have a child like mine, who struggles to remember daily tasks like brushing his teeth, your schedule can say something like “Wake up” [picture of child waking]”, “Make my bed” [picture of child making bed], “brush teeth” [picture of child brushing his teeth] etc.


This strategy can be especially helpful for children who struggle with control and transitions. If your child has meltdowns easily or is into “negotiations”, an “If/When” schedule can be very helpful. For example, your visual schedule could say “If I…brush my teeth” [picture of child brushing his teeth], “I can…use my tablet for 15 minutes [picture of tablet]”. But remember, flexibility is key. If you or your child is having an off day or you see that your child needs to release some tension, change the activity. Just make sure to post a visual reminder to make sure that you and your child stay on the same page. This strategy is especially useful if your child is struggling to come to terms with a new schedule that is now outside of school.


2. Look to Pinterest…and Step It Up (Several Notches).


Pinterest can still be a great resource! There are tons of ideas out there that can be adapted to children with exceptionalities. Let’s say that you found a STEM project on Pinterest that uses baking soda, vinegar and food colouring to make mini eruptions. Now, for the average child, you would simply lay out the tinted vinegar with a tray of baking soda and tell them to go to town and have fun. You would pour yourself a cup of tea and enjoy the fifteen minutes of peaceful bliss. Ha! Not in our world!

There would still be mess but the tray probably wouldn't be launched across the room or used as a weapon. You know exactly what I mean.

For us, we need to make sure that our child is engaged fully in the activity, both body and mind, but to the extreme. Here is how you can make the same activity “high energy friendly”. Set up your child at a child-height table while standing (feet and legs are engaged in standing). Cover your child in a smock (this is going to get messy). Have your child pour the baking soda into a heavy vessel (hands are engaged, vessel cannot be easily thrown). Have them play with the baking soda with his or her hands (hands are engaged). Have your child pour vinegar into a squeeze bottle (hands are engaged, squeezing can release tension). Add a few drops of their favourite colour of food colouring yourself (your child is making an autonomous choice). Have your child squeeze vinegar into the baking soda and mix with their hands to their delight (senses are engaged, hands are engaged). Ask questions as you go (mind is engaged, social skills are being utilized). What colours can you make with the different colourants? Does the amount of vinegar play a role in the reaction? How does the mucky vinegar and baking soda mixture feel in their hands? Expect this activity to last about half of the time that is indicated on the Pinterest post then clean up, and move on to a different activity once your child’s attention span runs out.

With advanced planning, you can have several activities lined up to occupy your child. My tip? Look up any activity that involves getting messy and using your hands. Kinesthetic learning opportunities are great for children with high energy levels.


3. Get Outside!


Listen, I know how hard it can be to get outside. The gear, the tantrums, the bathroom breaks…it is really hard, especially when you have more than one child in your care. But it is SO WORTH IT.

Outdoor environments are Earth’s natural sensory bin and the great outdoors engages all children physically, mentally, socially and spiritually.

It is so good for them and so good for you! So, plan ahead for the weather and get outside! In order to make things easier, have your gear and snacks ready the night before. Dress for the weather so that everyone stays comfortable. If you have the resources, invest in gross motor activities that employ reasonable risk like a climbing wall. Let your child explore. An exceptional child is a curious child. Allow your child to jump in the puddle, squish mud between his fingers and to lick the worm (hey, my kids have done it)! Remember to engage both the body and mind. Garden, exercise, turn on the hose, and always ask engaging questions.


4. Snacks on Snacks on Snacks!


I don’t need to tell you that low blood sure and ADD/ADHD is not compatible. I also probably don’t need to tell you that a constantly moving body constantly burns calories! This means that the exceptional and energetic child needs consistent, healthy fuel to maintain a positive mood. And this means snacks. Lots of snacks. When I am going through my day with the kids, I always make sure to surreptitiously have a plate of healthy food options around the area in which they are playing. The food always gets eaten without a fuss because it is “on their own terms”. No one is forcing anyone to sit down and eat at a table, no one is halting their playing to have a snack break. They are just constantly grazing. And that makes for happy kids and a happy Mamma.


5. Release your expectations.  

In a world that is completely out of control, where most parents are dealing with extreme stress, additional financial burden due to loss of employment and loss of income, and where families all over the world are dealing with physical (and emotional) isolation, it can be very easy to lose your cool with the ones that you love the most. Try to check in with yourself first. Are you feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed? Our moods can so easily be transferred onto our little ones. It is imperative that we look after ourselves so that we can look after our children. Pour yourself that cup of tea, put in earplugs and sip it hot. Allow your child to explore outdoors while you take in some fresh air yourself.

Parental burnout is real and even more so for parents of kids with exceptionalities. Look after yourself.

At the same time, it is important to realize that our children are living in the same environment as we are. Perhaps they are overhearing your conversations about loss of income, or are internalizing and trying to make sense of the new rules that come with COVID-19, like washing their hands more often and keeping socially distant. It is a mistake to think that young children do not pick up on these stressors and feel it themselves. You can expect that the majority of children are feeling a global change right now but when you take into consideration the perceptiveness of the exceptional child, well, you can imagine how emotionally sensitive they must be feeling right now.


Now is the time to release antiquated educational models such as that children learn best in school-like environments. Home isn’t school and school isn’t home. You do not need to chain your child to a desk for learning to happen. Quite the opposite, there are so many amazing learning opportunities to be had at home with family.

Play together. Learn together. It really can be that simple.

Now is also the time to allow for flexibility. If your child refuses to participate in today’s classroom Zoom call, then that is ok. If your child feels the urge to tear, hit or rip, gently guide them outside and let them tear around. If your child asks questions, answer them honestly in a language that they can understand. Acknowledge that processing takes time for children with ADD and ADHD and underlying emotions can oftentimes be masked by “bad behaviour”. Be patient with your child. Be patient with yourself. With the right tools in place, home can once again be a source of invaluable learning potential…and you can avoid going Covid crazy!


Do you have any tips or tricks in dealing with your exceptional child during this worldwide pandemic? I would love to hear from you!

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