Helping a highly intellectually curious and precocious 4-year-old
January 12, 2012 9:32 AM   Subscribe

How can we help a precocious, highly curious 4-year-old who gets really anxious and frustrated if he can't channel his energy towards doing something?

My best friend's son is 4 (turning 5 this year) and loves to learn, to explore and experiment, to challenge himself. However, according to my best friend, he seems to be frustrated because he has nowhere to channel all that energy to, and he gets frustrated and anxious about it.

This originally started because he was once at a kindy where he was the youngest kid and a lot of his friends were about ready to head to primary school. However, after a case of misconduct by the staff, he was moved to another kindy where he was the oldest kid and where the teachers are far more interested in trying to get him to improve his handwriting than in supporting his intellectual curiousity. Since then my best friend has been at a loss for how to keep her son occupied - especially since there's been recent stressors in the family (deaths and illnesses) which is stressing out her son more.

According to her:
* He reads to himself and often tries to work out challenging unknown words
* He's been known to try and conduct science experiments around the house but gets stuck due to his small stature and his age (e.g. he tried to set up a pulley system but found himself too short to get the height he wanted)
* He's tried kid's capoeria, but got frustrated with it after a while (I don't know why)
* He likes LEGO but apparently needs more bricks to keep going
* He often records made-up songs and poetry into his mum's phone
* He has a deep compassion for animals; he teaches his relatives about how to care for them, and once when brought to the zoo he expressed strong concerns about how the animals were being cared for

My best friend often says he reminds her of me, and I do see a lot of similarities - we both get anxious and frustrated if we can't channel our energy and curiousity into something to do. I wonder if part of his frustration is not being immediately good at something and feeling like a failure as a result, which is something I do recognise in myself. When I was his age my savior was the house computer (and later the Internet); I know he has his mum's old iPhone but I'm not sure if he has computer access, especially since they've had issues getting internet in their house for a couple of years now (hopefully this will change soon).

As I write this I feel like the kid needs some sort of yoga or relaxation class, so he can learn to chill out and accept doing *nothing*. I would have recommended circus classes as well, but none exist in their area.

What else can we do to help? My best friend is a single mum with a regular job that occasionally involves weird hours; she had taken a break from the workforce to take care of her son. They live with her family and they chip in to take care of him, but sometimes finding help has been challenging. I live in a different country from them, and I had thought about writing letters from his Auntie Batty (he knows who I am, and recognises my voice if nothing else) with some puzzles or fun things to do - what could I give him that will indulge in his love of learning but still would be relatively age-appropriate?

A mother at a loss thanks you!
posted by divabat to Education (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Not sure if my response is really going to help. I'm only replying because believe or not I remember doing mini-experiments at that age. From reading this, I wonder if the parent needs to calm down because this sounds like normal child behavior and if you build something and it doesn't work, then you still learn something (and of course we are not happy if our inner world does not match what we try to create).

I do remember something that a relative gave me as a gift, though, that really helped fuel further experiments (and it was also consistent with the interests you list above). I googled around and they don't make it anymore but I found something similar. Anywho, a subscription to a science type magazine for kids that included articles about nature, the world, art projects.When I was a child it was called World magazine and it was made by National Geographic. Google came up with these magazines instead -- if I were you, then I would look at them first before getting a subscription. But the one that I had did address nature, caring for wild animals, different countries, art projects and gave enough information to give me new ideas to explore and try to implement. It wasn't just receiving the magazine that made it fun, though.My mother often "pretended" not to see my experiments and let me try the crazy art project described in the magazine. It was letting me explore these things/ideas on my own that made it enjoyable and memorable.
posted by Wolfster at 10:04 AM on January 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

One of the best things that I've purchased to channel my child's energy is a jogging trampoline ... just one of the little ones. When my kids start being wild, I tell them to go do X number of jumps of the trampoline. They often choose to bounce around on it on their own, though.

The butterfly/insect kits sold at places like Insect Lore are great, too. We have a butterfly treehouse that has gotten a huge amount of use over the past few years. During the summer we hunt for our own butterfly eggs/caterpillars and raise them.

A kid that enjoys science experiments would probably enjoy cooking, too!
posted by Ostara at 10:16 AM on January 12, 2012

One word: meccano.
posted by flabdablet at 10:35 AM on January 12, 2012

Four is a little young for a child to develop "stick-to-it-ness" but this did make me pay attention

He's tried kid's capoeria, but got frustrated with it after a while (I don't know why)

He got frustrated because he couldn't master it easily, I'm pretty sure. My own son had this same issue, and we made sure that he got lots of big-muscle exercise--riding a three-wheeler, a scooter, playing outside, kid gymnastics, etc.. Organized classes might be too much, but lots of running around, rough-housing with dad/mom, etc.. A tired kid is a happy kid.

He can't chill out in yoga if his body is growing and bursting with energy. He's not an adult. He needs to master himself and the best way to do that is to get lots of outdoor play and exercise. Find him a "manny"--an older boy who'll play with him.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:46 AM on January 12, 2012

I disagree with ideefixe - if he's old enough to get around, he's old enough to start learning self-control (although mastery may be a few decades alway.)

Your question reads as though yoga or relaxation class are not options - why not?

As far as things he gives up on or is frustrated by, could your friend give him tasks such as spending seven more minutes with the Legos bricks he has or other forms of asking him to spend more time and think more deeply about something he thought he was done with? ("More time" is a very short time. This is just an exercise to ask him to re-think "done" and revisit whatever he was engaged in.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:27 AM on January 12, 2012

I was 4 when I learned to knit, and the best part of that was that the person who taught me told me that of course I was doing just fine. The knitting fairies would come in the night to check my work. And of course, when I woke up my work was always perfectly orderly.

So. If there is an adult that he can knit with a few times a week, that might be a way to go. But 4 is probably too young for unsupervised knitting, because of the frustration involved in messing up but not knowing how to fix.

(Right, I realized as an adult that she had been the knitting fairy.)

I would also suggest short meditation recordings. Some focus on relaxing the body, some focus on emotions, etc. I like meditation oasis, which is on itunes.
posted by bilabial at 11:28 AM on January 12, 2012

Oh the yoga classes are options, I just like ideas for more :)

I think part of the trouble is finding playmates that are able to keep up with him, but I like the idea of a manny!!
posted by divabat at 2:03 PM on January 12, 2012

The first thing I thought of when I read that he gets frustrated without a place to channel his energy, I thought "theater." I have exactly the same problem--I always need to be channeling my energy into something or else I start feeling crazy--and theater and the performing arts in general are awesome ways to be creative and get tired out. Are there children's theater after school programs in your area? If you're anywhere near the NYC area I can recommend you some (though I doubt it, as you said there are no circus classes and I'm sure we have that here.) Circus is along the right track, I think. Dance classes? Maybe start him on an instrument?
posted by Emms at 3:49 PM on January 12, 2012

One thing to do is check out a book from the library regarding science experiments for kids. I worked at an after school program once and I was pleased to find all kinds of neat books on science experiments. If he likes that kind of thing, the possibilities are really endless you just have to get the right books to guide you.
posted by bananafish at 4:26 PM on January 12, 2012

They're in Malaysia, where options are limited, but they are in the capital and near the expat area so they'd had more options than most. The local libraries there honestly quite suck! I could get him a book or two though as a gift.

The theater option makes me think of magic, which I was obsessed with as a kid. Hm!
posted by divabat at 11:20 PM on January 12, 2012

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