How to Use Emotional Overexcitability to Nourish Your Soul

emotional overexcitabiity

Self care is a necessity, not a luxury, for those of us blessed with parenting differently-wired children.

Raising and advocating for our kids in a world not designed for them can take its toll, especially if we have sensitivities of our own.

Most of us are all too aware of the challenges overexcitabilities bring, but let’s not forget that OEs also allow us to experience the good things in life more intensely.

This post is the first in a series looking at self care through the lens of each of the OEs, starting today with emotional overexcitability.

Soul-nourishment for people with emotional overexcitability

We folk with emotional overexcitability feel things intensely.

Even a short errand can leave us feeling drained after we see a homeless guy begging outside the supermarket and a frazzled mum shouting at her toddler in the checkout line.

We’d love to be able to give the homeless man a warm bed for the night and to scoop up that toddler and tell her it’s not her fault her mummy yelled.

We can’t right all the wrongs in the world in one day. But by being compassionate with ourselves we’ll find ways we can make a difference – even if it’s just by being the kindest, wisest parents we’re capable of being.

10 Ways to use your emotional OE to nourish your soul

(1) Take 5 minutes to meditate on an uplifting emotion

Choose a positive emotion – fun, peaceful and playful are among my favourites. Slowly repeat the word to yourself, enjoying the memory of times you felt that way. You might be surprised at how the word – and the feeling – pop up at random times later in the day.

I do this before I get out of bed every morning – before any negative momentum has had a chance to get going.

Bonus: List as many positive emotion words as you can and make them into a word cloud. I felt wonderful after making the one above!

(2) Spread a little joy by performing an act of random kindness

Research shows that kindness makes us happier, boosts our immune systems and improves our relationships by elevating our oxytocin levels.

The random element is important here. People with emotional OE are drawn to helping others, and when our reserves are low we risk draining our own resources in the process.

By looking for opportunities to be randomly kind, we introduce an element of playfulness that shakes away resentment and rewards us with a healthy hit of feel-good chemicals.

(3) Tap into the healing power of animals

Spend time with a loyal pet, do a google search for ‘cute baby your favourite animal’ images, or watch an OE-friendly nature documentary with your kids (ie not one where the baby gazelle gets picked off by the cheetah).

Even watching cat videos boosts energy and positive emotions, with studies showing that the emotional payoff outweighs any feelings of guilt over time-wasting.

Being mindful of your intentions is key here. Cleaning out the cat litter or hamster cage doesn’t count, though brushing or walking the dog might.

(4) Tune into the good news

By most accounts the world is a safer, better place now than it ever has been – but you wouldn’t know that from the mainstream media.

When you need reminding of all that’s good in the world, turn off the TV and spend five minutes looking at the heart-warming stories over at The Good News Network.

(5) Drop through negative emotions

When you feel overwhelmed by negative emotions, try this exercise I use with my therapy clients:

First ask yourself, ‘What’s the name of the emotion I’m feeling right now?

Don’t think too hard – whatever comes to mind first is okay. Name the emotion out loud.

Then ask, ‘If I were to drop through this emotion, what’s the emotion underneath that?

Close your eyes and imagine yourself physically dropping through the emotion. Repeat these two questions until you find relief.

I’ve had clients drop through layers of emotions for between 5 and 45 minutes. Eventually they always get to the feeling of peace that is at the core of who we all are.

(6) Keep a list of positive aspects

Make a note of nice things that happen or that you appreciate in a List of Positive Aspects. Mine includes entries like, ‘Ate the first tomato from this year’s plants’, ‘Nice email from C’s French teacher’ and ‘Beautiful autumn trees’.

Both the act of writing and looking back over my list help nourish my soul.

(7) Make a regular date with your partner

When you have kids, it’s easy to find your life running in parallel from your partner’s. A few months ago my husband and I decided to get intentional about spending regular quality time with one another. (Quality time as in, not slumped in front of the TV together after a busy day at work.)

Every Sunday morning we now walk our dogs together then have coffee at an outdoor cafe. (A treat for me because my husband doesn’t really understand the point of having coffee out, so I feel loved just by him being there with me!)

We chat about each others’ weeks, the children, and then once all that’s out of the way we usually find ourselves talking about something completely different and really interesting, which reminds me why we married each other and makes me feel excited about sharing the rest of my life with this man.

smiling couple in autumn woods - emotional overexcitability

Bonus: Take a selfie on each date. Did you know that taking selfies can increase happiness and gratitude, decrease stress and deepen connections?

(8) Watch an episode of your favourite comedy show

The Big Bang Theory, The Middle, Modern Family, Friends… Writers of these shows are paid big bucks to activate our feel-good systems.

I challenge you not to feel better after watching an episode!

(9) Connect with an uplifting friend

If, like me, you’re an intense type who’s inclined to spend every moment you’re not with your kids being ‘productive’ (working (paid or voluntary), doing admin, organising the home or practising cello), you may have a tendency to let friendships slide.

People who have emotional OE have the ability to enjoy deep, lasting friendships. Be sure to make time for the uplifting people in your life – and be willing to let go of those who have the opposite effect.

(10) Feel awe

When I posted this photo on Instagram, I captioned it: ‘Sometimes I feel so full of awe at the magnificence of nature. I feel at once tiny and insignificant and yet extraordinarily loved, as if nature is putting on a spectacular event just for me.’

beach at sunset - emotional overexcitability

Later I discovered that psychologists consider awe to be ‘one of the most pleasurable and motivating positive emotions’ (Jane McGonigal, Superbetter).

Awe also changes our perception of time. When we feel awe for a moment or two, we feel we have more time for our own goals, are less impatient, and are more likely to volunteer time to help others.

The good news is that we don’t have to wait until we happen to see a beautiful sunset or magnificent waterfall to feel awe – we can also enjoy the effect by watching videos of things we find awe-inspiring, or by writing a few sentences about a time we experienced awe.

Resources and hat tips

Top 3 tips to up your energy and resilience level (if you have emotional OE) PowerWood (article)

5 Side Effects of Kindness David Hamilton (article)

Watching cat videos boosts energy and positive emotions The Independent (article)

The Good News Network (website)

SuperBetter Jane McGonigal (book)

How taking selfies and these types of photos can increase happiness and gratitude, decrease stress and deepen connections Hey, Sigmund (article)

Living With Intensity Susan Daniels and Michael Piechowski (book)

Your Rainforest Mind Paula Prober (book – see my review)

What are overexcitabilities? (article on this blog)

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Do you have emotional OE?

How do you nourish your soul?

I’d love to hear from you!

* * *

Next time I’ll explore some ways we can use sensual overexcitability to nourish our souls. To be sure not to miss that, leave your email address in the Follow by Email box at the top of the page. 🙂

 

How to Find a Mentor For Your Sensitive and Intense Child

How to Find a Mentor For Your Child

In this post I share 10 practical considerations about how to find a mentor for your child. And I tell the story of how I found mentors for my twice-exceptional son and gifted daughter.

Why find a mentor?

Making friends is difficult when you experience the world differently from almost everyone you meet.  That’s my experience as an adult, so imagine how much  difficult it is for children to find kindred spirits!

And if a child can only socialise for short periods at a time because he’s still learning to manage intense overexcitabilities, then the job of finding friends becomes positively Sisyphean.

The no.1 predictor of lifelong creativity

Leading creativity psychologist E Paul Torrance found that the number one predictor of lifelong creativity and personal fulfilment is the extent to which children fall in love with a future vision of themselves.

But when a child is constantly being told he’s too much (talkative, sensitive, fidgety – whatever) and can’t even connect with his peers, how can we expect him relate to successful adults who appear (to him) to handle life effortlessly, let alone imagine himself as one?

Mentors can bridge the gap

We can help our kids bridge that gap – to begin to see themselves as the happy and successful adults we want them to become – by connecting them with relatable adults who remember being just like them.

Adults who once faced the same challenges our children face now. People who can share with our kids what they learned on their journey to overcome those challenges and leverage their strengths.

Mentors, to act as role models – beacons of hope, even – for our children.

How to find a mentor for your child

Finding a mentor may seem like a tall order, but once you start looking you might surprise yourself with your resourcefulness and who you notice crossing your path.

How we found a mentor for my 2e son

My introverted 11-year-old son has intense OEs. Like many kids with sensory issues, he endures haircuts with a tense grimace punctuated by shrieks of pain as the comb brushes too hard over his scalp or a speck of hair torturously prickles his neck.

Fortunately when my son was just three-years-old we found a hairdresser who not only snipped as quickly and carefully as she could, but who reassured me that her son (14 years older than mine) had been exactly the same when he was younger.

Throughout our many salon meetings over the last eight years I’ve enjoyed hearing how our friend’s son has, to his mother’s amazement and delight, matured into an intelligent and charming young man. Elliott gained a first class psychology degree, has a long-term girlfriend, and is now running a coaching company teaching kids how to use their emotional intelligence to become happy, successful adults.

Even though he’s busy growing his business, Elliott was eager to meet my son and engage him in fun activities through which they can get to know one another.

Elliott doesn’t flinch when my son throws his racket across the tennis court when he misses a point, and he has infinitely more patience than me when it comes to Yu Gi Oh and Pokemon.

Although they’ve only met a few times, I know Elliott is there when my son needs an understanding friend. And because he has eavesdropped on the many conversations I’ve had with Elliott’s mum over the years, my son truly believes that Elliott once faced very similar challenges to those he now struggles with, and that he overcame them to become the happy, successful adult he is today.

How we found my daughter’s mentor

My extroverted 12-year-old also has OEs, but she doesn’t struggle with regulating her emotions to the same degree my son does. My daughter’s biggest challenge is finding other people with whom she can share her intense passions, like her love of linguistics.

As with my son, my daughter’s mentor is the (adult) child of a family friend, a lady who runs book groups for homeschooled kids. When we first met, Kate remarked that Cordie reminded her of her eldest daughter who was home-educated until she was 16 and who now studies languages at Cambridge.

Around the time Jasper began working with his mentor, it occurred to me that Cordie might benefit from a similar relationship with Kate’s daughter, M. M works hard  to pay her way as a student and she had to travel a distance to meet us, so I offered to compensate her for her time.

On their first mentoring meeting I left the girls chatting away in a coffee shop. When I returned an hour later, my daughter was beaming and eager to share all she’d talked about with her older friend.

As a bonus, M followed up with a lovely email to me in which she listed all the resources she’d recommended to my daughter.  M is back at university now, but I know that the girls will meet again and I’m sure that M will be an inspiration and role-model for my daughter as she forges her own path into adulthood.

Mentoring – 10 Practical considerations

How to find a mentor

1. What is your child’s biggest challenge? Look for a mentor who has overcome similar obstacles.

2. Who do you know? Even if you’re an introvert like me, you probably have a wider network than you realise. Ask trusted friends if they can think of anyone who fits your wish list.

Before the first mentoring meeting

3. Prepare your child. Even if they already know the person, explain why you think the mentoring relationship will be useful. Be willing to let the person go if the chemistry doesn’t work. No matter how perfect the relationship looks on paper, if your child doesn’t trust him, mentoring can’t happen.

Mentor: a trusted counsellor or guide.”

Merriam-Webster

4. Prepare the mentor. Explain what you hope your child will gain from the relationship. Help establish rapport by sharing a little about what your child enjoys doing and what he’s interested in.

5. Clarify any payment or bartering arrangements. I’m upfront with my kids this. Just as we pay for them to be taught piano and guitar by more experienced musicians, there’s no shame in showing that we value the time and experience of the young people who’ve kindly agreed to act as their mentors.

The first meeting

5. Where will the first mentoring meeting happen? Ideally find somewhere your child and her mentor can talk without being overheard or interrupted. If your child energetic, do they need access to outdoor space? My son and his mentor chatted for ages on our trampoline!

6. Do you need any supplies? Would your child like to play a game or do a craft with her mentor as they chat? Would snacks help?

After the meeting

7. Discuss the meeting with your child and his mentor, separately. If appropriate, ask the mentor to jot down for you any resources she thinks might benefit your child.

8. Respect the mentoring relationship. Don’t require your child to tell you more than he’s comfortable sharing about the meeting, and don’t ask the mentor to undermine your child’s confidences. Even if you’re paying, the success of the relationship depends on mutual trust between your child and his mentor.

9. If the first meeting goes well, either set a date for another meeting or agree to stay in touch and meet again in a few months.

10. Last but definitely not least, appreciate yourself for being a great parent to your sensitive and intense child. Even if your first attempt at finding a mentor didn’t work out, you’re doing your best – and that’s good enough. 🙂

* * *

Does your child have a mentor?

How did you find him or her?

How do they add value to your child’s life?

* * *

Are you navigating the highs and lows of raising sensitive and intense children? I’d love you to hear from you in the comments or on the Laugh, Love, Learn Facebook page. And don’t forget to leave your email address in the box at the top or bottom of this page to receive my regular posts direct to your inbox.

Finally, if you found this post useful, please consider sharing it on Facebook. 🙂

how to find a mentor for your child

This post is part of a Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hop. Click for more inspiring articles about gifted children and the role of mentors.

The Mistake Most of Us Make When Our Children Feel Sad

when our children feel sad

‘Why does my child react hysterically to sad parts in books, and get obsessed with that page (or the book) coming to an end? I said “Spot the dog was sad” and he was bawling even though I was trying to move forward and show he was happy in the end.’

This wonderful example of emotional overexcitability was posted by a mother on the PowerWood Facebook group. Her son was just 18 months old. (The mum kindly gave me permission to share her words here.)

As adults we find it unfathomable that a child could be rendered hysterical by a story about Spot the dog. But even very young children with emotional OE experience deeper, more complex emotions than many adults realise is possible.

I remember being baffled when my own four-year-old daughter shouted at me to turn off a Barbie movie she’d begged to watch. And similarly shocked when she began sobbing as we played her favourite High School Musical CD in the car.   (She later explained that ‘Barbie’s stepmother and sisters were really mean to her’ and that ’Troy just sounds so sad in that song (sob)’.)

Our children’s sadness triggers our pain

The heightened compassion, empathy and sensitivity that our emotionally OE children possess are hereditary personality traits. So if your child has emotional OE, you may well have it, too.

And just as our children absorb the pain of others, so we are acutely sensitive to their feelings. When one of my children is upset, I can become deeply uncomfortable and feel an intense urge to make them feel better as quickly as possible.

As the Facebook mum eloquently put it, ‘his heartbroken crying is like a reflection of my darkest moments.’

Why we shouldn’t always follow our instincts

But although the urge to make our child feel better seems like an instinct, we’re better off pausing before we rush in to reassure our child that ‘it’s only a story’ and that ‘everything turns out in the end’.

When we’re upset we revert unconsciously to the parenting model we inherited from our own childhoods. And for the many of us who were trained as children by the well-meaning big people in our lives not to show negative emotion, that’s not helpful.

Mindfulness author Sandy Newbigging spoke about this at a conference I recently attended.

‘We tell our kids, “Don’t be sad!”’ says Newbigging.  ‘But sadness is okay. It’s conflict with an emotion that causes suffering and stress.’

Instead of rushing our children on from sadness, he suggests that we allow them the freedom to fully experience and process their emotions.

Can you imagine how scary and isolating it must feel to a young child to be gripped by a strong emotion and to feel that no one else gets it? (‘What’s wrong with me?’) Or worse, to see us becoming stressed? (‘There must be something really wrong!’)

Our sensitive children need to know that we understand how they’re feeling, and that those feelings are okay.

Compassion = Love + Wisdom

In his talk Sandy Newbigging illustrated what compassion (love + wisdom) looks like with a cute series of stick man drawings something like this:

when our children feel sad - parent looking at child stuck in hole stickman drawing
It’s hard when we see our child stuck in a difficult place …

 

stick man parent & child stuck in hole - when our children feel sad
… but when we join them, we’re stuck too
when our children feel sad - giving stickman in hole a ladder
If we can put aside our judgements and love them wherever they are, we can access our wisdom…

 

when our children feel sad - stick men beside hole
…to help them to get unstuck and move on.

How not to get triggered when our children feel sad

It takes time and practice to be able to hold space for our children without getting triggered ourselves.

We need to take care of our needs and do the work to heal our own unprocessed pain. And when we acknowledge that expressing all their emotions is a healthy part of our children’s development, we take a big step forward in that healing process.

“It’s important to remember that … you can’t actually hold space for long if you haven’t also received the same kind of loving space yourself.”

Holding Space (Mothers Awakening)

So when intense feelings overwhelm our emotionally OE children, let’s not jump into negativity with them.

Let’s rejoice that they feel safe expressing themselves. Let’s give them time to process their big emotions. And let’s remember that these young people’s sensitivity and empathy will lead them into deep and fulfilling relationships throughout their lives and probably help make the world a better place.

Focusing on these positives might just give us the strength we need stay present and give our children what they need most – a loving container for their big feelings.

Resources

Emotional OE

15 Things your child with emotional overexcitability might say – LLL blog post

An Introduction to OE – PowerWood flyer

Living With Intensity, Susan Daniels & Michael Piechowski – book

PowerWood Facebook group – a place to share ideas, information and encouragement about intensity, super-sensitivity and hyper-reactivity (OEs).

Holding Space

Holding space (Mothers Awakening) – article

What it really means to hold space for someone – article

Sandy Newbigging

Find out more about Sandy Newbigging’s ‘Calmology’ work and his six no.1 bestselling books here.

* * *

Has your child ever cried at a picture book, a Barbie movie, or a Disney soundtrack?

How do you stay connected without jumping in the hole with them?

I’d love to hear from you!

* * *

If you enjoyed this post I’d love you to share it on Facebook. Find me there at Laugh, Love, Learn.

And don’t forget to leave your email address in the box at the top or bottom of the page to receive my regular articles about life  in an intense and sensitive family direct to your inbox.

How to Handle a Meltdown in a Public Place

how to handle a meltdown in a public place

How do you feel when your child has a meltdown in a public place?  Does adrenaline course through you? Does heat radiate through your body up to your flaming cheeks?

Maybe, like me, a dozen inner voices echo around your head,

“I knew we shouldn’t have come.”

“He’s three/seven/eleven years old now. Surely this shouldn’t still be happening?”

“If I’d called him over for a drink five minutes ago, this wouldn’t have happened.”

“Everyone must be thinking what a spoilt brat he is. I bet they blame me.”

“Why can’t I just relax for once like those other parents?”

That’s exactly how I felt when I glanced up to see a boy banging my son over the head with a dodgeball at a trampoline park. As I raced over, not sure of what had happened before but knowing exactly what was going to happen next, my son launched himself at the boy. By the time I reached the court, my son had fled and an angry dad was trying to get my attention. As I turned to follow my son, the man shouted, “That’s right, just walk away when I’m talking to you!”

Looking back on that day, I thought about how much I’ve learned over the past few years about how to handle a meltdown in a public place.

We can’t always help getting triggered; seeing our kid causing mayhem in a crowded place is about as stressful as it gets. But we can plan ahead to manage the fallout in the least damaging way.

Five steps to handling a meltdown in a public place

Step One – Be as well-rested and soul-nourished as possible

A full night’s sleep may not prevent your child melting down, but you’ll handle things better if you’re not at the end of your rope to start with.

Step Two – Focus on your child

When other people are angrily clamouring for your attention after an incident, it’s easy to forget your child. But he’s the one who needs you first.

Check your child is safe. No matter what he’s done, avoid yelling. If you can manage it, offer a hug. Touch reduces stress and releases oxytocin, which promotes bonding.

My son and I hug many times each day, but even loving touch is too much when he’s flooded with negative emotion. Instead I give him water, tell him I love him, and lead him a secure, quiet place.

Step Three – Face the music

If you can, return to the scene of the meltdown.

After the dodgeball incident I approached the other parent and said, “Sorry I walked away when you were talking. I needed to know my son was safe.”

Let any other people involved have their say. They’ll feel heard and you’ll discover more about what led up to the incident. This will help you understand what triggered your child so you’ll be better prepared to talk about what happened with him later.

Thank the other people, apologise if appropriate, and explain – in your preferred way – that your child has special needs. (In my book, all children who get over-stimulated in public places have ‘special needs’.)

At the trampoline park I discovered that my son had marched onto the other team’s side of the dodgeball court and started shouting at them at close range for not following the rules. The other boy’s mother told me that her son had special needs too, which explained why he reacted the way he did. Both parents  thanked me for going back to talk to them.

Step Four – Help your child calm down

If your child is still overwhelmed when you return, do what you can to minimise stimulation in his environment.

After what happened at the trampoline park my daughter and I respected my son’s need for quiet and drove home in silence without listening to our usual audiobook.

We stopped at a drive-through Starbucks for fruity iced drinks to help my son cool down and feel better about the outing. Some people might see this as rewarding ‘bad behaviour’, but I don’t want my son to be put off visiting the trampoline park – it’s an important outlet for his psychomotor energy as well as an opportunity for him to get fit and to practise social skills and self-regulation.

Step Five – Talk with your child about what happened

Once your child is completely calm, gently and non-judgementally ask him about the incident. If he gets re-triggered and can’t talk about it say, “I can sense you’re still feeling upset. Let’s talk about this later. I love you.”

I’ve learned that there really is no point trying to have a constructive conversation when my son’s angry – it’s impossible to engage the reasoning part of his brain.

When your child eventually is calm enough to be able to discuss what happened, show that you understand what triggered him and appreciate the positive intention behind his behaviour (however hard to find).

After my son’s trampolining meltdown I said, “I can see that you have a deep sense of fairness, and that caused you to have a strong reaction when you thought the other children were breaking the rules. That sense of fairness will serve you well in your life. Let’s think about ways you can manage the strong feelings you have when something unfair happens in the future.”

Should you make your child apologise after a meltdown in a public place?

You’ll notice none of my steps include dragging an overwhelmed child back to the scene to apologise. I know social convention says I should, but it’s something I gave up a long time ago.

Children rarely choose to ‘misbehave’. When my son mixes with other people in busy public places he will get over-stimulated and – until he learns to handle his intense emotions – meltdowns will happen. If we never went out, he’d never learn to manage his reactions.

My son knows how to say sorry. Sometimes he spontaneously apologises after a meltdown, other times everyone just has to move on. Until other parents have walked a mile in my shoes I won’t worry about their judgements.

Be kind to yourself

Finally, don’t forget to appreciate yourself for the way you handled the situation. Public meltdowns are one of the hardest parts of parenting sensitive and intense children, especially if you have OEs yourself.

Even when things don’t go to plan, appreciate your positive intention and the fact that you did your best in challenging circumstances.

When was the last time your child had a meltdown in a public place?

How did you handle it?

Which of these steps works best with your child?

Have I said anything you disagree with? I’d love to hear your point of view. (Please be kind ;))

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Photo credit: Kenneth Dagenais

5 Things Pixar Can Teach Us About Parenting

5 things pixar can teach us about parenting

What does raising kids have in common with running the world’s biggest animation studio? More than you might think, I discovered when I read Creativity Inc,  the inspiring memoir by Pixar founder Ed Catmull.

Catmull describes his book as ‘an expression of the ideas that … make the best in us possible’. I couldn’t sum up my parenting aspirations any better.

The book (full title: Creativity Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration) concludes with 37 starting-point principles for managing a creative culture.

‘Creative culture’ is a label that fits our quirky family well, so I got to thinking how Pixar’s wisdom might apply to us. The quotes below are all taken from Catmull’s principles.

1. ‘The desire for everything to run smoothly is a false goal …

… It leads to measuring everybody by the mistakes they make rather than by their ability to solve problems.’

‘Run smoothly’ probably isn’t a phrase that will ever apply to life in our family. Luckily we like rollercoasters.

As a parent I try to provide a safe and comfortable environment for my sensitive children, but my goal isn’t to avoid triggers at all costs.

Instead I trust my children to use challenges as opportunities to practise managing their intense reactions in situations they’ll face throughout their lives. Problem-solving trumps perfectionism.

2. ‘Engaging with exceptionally hard problems forces us to think differently’

Think back to life before you had your first child. What did you imagine being a parent would be like?

I know my own fantasies didn’t include being hauled into school week after week to be chastised for my 4-year-old’s behaviour. Or taking an 18 year career break to homeschool my children. Or grappling for words to explain to skeptical sports coaches, scout leaders and other parents that my child isn’t a spoilt brat, he just experiences the world differently.

But if I hadn’t faced those challenges, I’d never have sought coaching from the person who inspired me to remove my kids from school. I wouldn’t have immersed myself in the wonderful teachings of John Holt, Alfie Kohn and Peter Gray. I wouldn’t have reached around the world to kindred spirits whose wisdom and kindness contribute to my life every day. And I wouldn’t be planning a future career making the world a better place for differently-wired kids.

3. ‘Be wary of making too many rules …

… Rules can simplify things for managers but they can be demeaning to the 95% who behave well. Don’t create rules to rein in the other 5% – address abuses of common sense individually.’

The only rule when I was growing up was that I had to do what my mother said. If I didn’t, Mum would say, “You’re not going to Kate’s for tea after school tomorrow!” But I always knew that if I said sorry and behaved impeccably, my mother would relent and the playdate would be back on.

Even as a kid I could see that this worked better than the rules-based regimes that operated in my friends’ homes.  My siblings and I had an incentive to mend our ways, and Mum benefitted from cooperative kids.

In contrast, when my friends were naughty, their parents had to put up with them scowling round the house until the punishment had passed. Rules were rules, after all.

Life is much easier for me than it was for my mum. I have a supportive husband, a reliable income and an understanding of my own and my kids’ quirkiness. I don’t ask my children to do exactly as I say, and we don’t punish. But I do think my mum was onto something when she rewarded behaviour that matched her family’s values instead of dogmatically enforcing a rigid set of rules.

4. ‘For greatness to emerge, there must be phases of not so greatness …

… Our job… is to protect new ideas from those who don’t understand that in order for greatness to emerge, there must be phases of not so greatness. Protect the future, not the past.’

Differently-wired kids have so much to contribute to the world. But when they spend time around people who don’t understand their uniqueness, they can grow to believe that their differences are defects they need to fix or suppress.

The  idea I need to protect is my kids’ vulnerable self-image.  When they appreciate their authentic selves my children are much better placed to learn to manage their sensitivities and positively channel their intensities.

There will be times of not so greatness along the way, but given the right support I trust that my children will find their greatness.

5. ‘Do not fall for the illusion that by preventing errors you won’t have errors to fix …

… The truth is, the cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.’

Trying to avoid parenting errors means trying to be the perfect parent. Which of course doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t stop us exhausting ourselves in the process.

When I try to be perfect I’m vulnerable to extreme parenting as I manically try to follow the latest expert advice.

‘Should I ban all electronic devices and send my kids out to play in the woods all day, or should I be the perfect unschooler and let my son play World of Warcraft till 4am every night? Should I only buy organic food, or should I let them eat McDonalds for lunch every day if they ask to?’

Everywhere I turn, someone has a different opinion of what perfect parenting looks like. When I strive for perfection I lose touch with my own inner parenting compass.

So I won’t try to be perfect. I’ll make errors, I’ll fix them, and I’ll model happy imperfection.

5 Things Pixar can Teach us about parenting

Creativity Inc is filled with inspiring stories of mistakes that made Pixar stronger, and this philosophy underpins many of Catmull’s other principles, for instance:

‘Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It’s a necessary consequence of doing something new.’

and

‘Trust doesn’t mean that you trust that someone won’t screw up. It means you trust them even when they do screw up .’

Which of Ed Catmull’s principles do you relate to most? I’d love to hear from you!

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Have a wonderful week!

Why We Laughed the Day Our Cat Died

How do we help intense and sensitive children cope when a pet dies? If your family’s anything like mine, you threw out the rule book about what you ’should’ do in these situations long ago.

When we lost our cat this week, I just focused on being present to what my kids needed, moment by moment. Coaches refer to this as  ‘holding space’.

Kids who have OEs often have vivid imaginations and an incredible sense of humour. Mine amazed and inspired me yesterday in the way they used those qualities to bring to bring light into a sad day.

Bad news

We took our sweet cat for a check-up on Tuesday morning when she appeared, thin and weak, after several days’ absence. At lunchtime the vet phoned to say that Flissy – whose birth in our playroom six years ago Cordie and Jasper watched – had terminal cancer. By 5pm the three of us were at Flissy’s side while she was gently put to sleep.

Honouring complex individual reactions

My children reacted to the news quite differently from one another.

While my 11-year-old son burst into tears, his 12-year-old sister remained dry eyed. A stranger might say she almost smiled. I was reminded of how Cordie used to get into trouble at pre-school for ’smirking’ at inappropriate moments.

Thankfully I know my daughter. I know how deeply she feels things, and I know how hard she works to find strategies to process her intense emotions  I honoured her reaction, (while part of me was thankful that my son, at least, wanted the hug I craved too).

The healing power of laughter

After gentle cuddles we left Fliss to enjoy her final afternoon in peace, and set off for the river with our dogs.

The jokes started in the car. I’ve shared some below. I warn you – the humour was dark. If you’re upset by conversations about dismembered feline corpses you should stop reading now.

The children talked about getting a new cat, giggling at the blatant tastelessness of having that conversation before Fliss was even gone. My daughter googled local pets for sale. We joked about arranging to pick up a new cat on the way back from the vets later.

An eavesdropper might have thought us heartless, but I knew that humour was helping my kids cope with something that might overwhelm their sensitive and intense souls if they focused on their grief for too long.

The intensity of our shared experience brought an extra loving dimension to our interactions that afternoon. Sibling bickering subsided as the children raced roly-poly style down hills and competed to invent the silliest cat names.

Dark humour on the way to the vet

We laughed through our tears as we drove Flissy to her final vet appointment. My son’s humour became darker.

“I hope they give her nice drugs before they get the chainsaw out.”

* *

J: “You know, we needn’t have paid the vet to do this. I could’ve just swung her around in the carrier. I’ve always wanted to do that.”

Me: “Maybe we could ask the vet if we could have a moment alone with Flissy afterwards. We’ll pop her in the carrier and you can have a little swing?”

* *

“Do you think they’d let me keep a paw? Or maybe her head?”

Saying goodbye

In the vet’s surgery tears rolled down our cheeks as we stroked Flissy’s warm, velvety fur for the last time and felt her tiny body go limp beneath our hands.

Before settling up I asked the vet, “Do you still have that swing outside?”

The children ran out to play. (No cats were swung.)

Home alone

As we drove home my son said sadly,

“I keep thinking of all those experiences she never got to have. Meet a panda … eat her first diamond.”

I suggested he might have a future as a grief counsellor. For the right sort of person.

“Yeah, they’d have to have a very black sense of humour,” he replied.

Back home, I quietly removed Fliss’s food bowl from the counter.

“How about we ditch dinner and order Dominoes pizza?” Jasper suggested. ” We could watch that episode of The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon gets all the cats.”

And that’s what we did.

“I feel so sad,” he said softly at bedtime.

“I know sweetie. I do too.”

We hugged.

How Do I Know If My Child Is Highly Sensitive, Has SPD, Is Gifted or Has OEs?

 

how-do-i-know-if-my-child-is-highly-sensitive-has-spd-is-gifted-or-has-oes

I started this blog to connect with other parents raising quirky kids, so I’m always pleased to hear from you. A kindred spirit recently asked this great question:

 ‘How do I know if my child 1) is highly sensitive, or 2) has a sensory processing disorder, or 3) is gifted, or 4) has some of the OEs? How do we as parents determine when intervention is needed? I have had to work through a lot of issues with my child(ren). Sometimes want to completely throw in the towel because it’s exhausting and difficult even while we have some extra-special times too. The problem is I know public school would not do better for them than what I can currently provide. I am also a sensitive mama and get really overwhelmed or akin to triggered by some of the meltdowns that can happen. How do I determine which of these different ways of thinking applies to my child? I can glean ways of interacting with and support them, but I do know there is occupational therapy and other supports available for 2e kids or those with SPD. What would you recommend? Thank you so much. I appreciate your time and whatever advice you can give.’

Let me start out by saying I’m not a professional in child development, just a mum of two differently-wired children. I hope that by sharing my experience I can help you navigate the sometimes confusing abundance of information out there.

(1) Highly sensitive

I read Elaine Aron’s Highly Sensitive Persons when my children were about 6 and 7. While much of it resonated, we had a lot going on that high sensitivity didn’t explain.  HSP didn’t address the intense energy, incessant questions, intense drive and the (sometimes aggressive) competitiveness we were dealing with, for instance.

(2) Sensory processing disorder

When my son was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder at age 8 I felt so relieved to finally have an explanation for what was going on. At last I had a way to explain his unusual behaviour to friends, family and teachers (or so I thought)!

However, after a year of occupational therapy there was no change in my son’s behaviour. During a football course run by the OTs I noticed how different Jasper was from all the other kids who had sensory issues.  I realised that there must be something else going on besides SPD.

(3) Overexcitabilities (OEs)

A couple of years later the words, ‘Intense? Sensitive? Easily overwhelmed? Reacts out of proportion?’ jumped out at me from a flyer. They led me  to a PowerWood workshop, where I learned about the innate personality traits known as  overexcitabilities.

As I listened to the characteristics and challenges of emotional, imaginational, sensual, intellectual and psychomotor OE, I wept with relief. Finally someone understood. THIS was what was going on with my son! And not just him, but also my daughter and myself, too.

(4) Giftedness

At the OEs workshop I discovered that there’s a lot of overlap between OEs and giftedness.  Not everyone with OEs has a high IQ, and not everyone with a high IQ has OEs. But the high degree of co-morbidity means the gifted community provides invaluable resources to support families dealing with OEs.

How do we as parents determine when intervention is needed?’

I’m guessing from your question that you’ve read about high sensitivity and that it didn’t  provide all the answers.

Take the OEs questionnaire

My next step would be to take the overexcitabilities questionnaire and read the excellent description of OEs in the PowerWood OEs flyer. If you discover that your child has OEs, remember they’re not a disorder. They’re personality traits that can bring many benefits as well as challenges. Individuals with OEs often experience above-average creativity, energy and enjoyment of life, for instance.

Parenting coaching

Consider having an introductory chat with a parenting coach who specialises in OEs to find out more about how they apply to your family. Skype coaching with OEs expert Simone de Hoogh helped us enormously.

Identify your specific concerns

Shift your focus away from puzzling over what theory applies and ask yourself,  ‘What challenges does my child needs help with?’ Are you worried about her inability to focus on learning? Her social behaviour? Anxiety? Identifying your specific concerns will help guide you towards solutions and the people who can provide them.

Occupational therapy

Occupational therapy can be a great support to some families. Read about sensory processing issues. If you think OT might help, consider consulting a therapist. My son enjoyed his OT sessions but they were expensive and when we’d seen no behavioural changes after a year we stopped them (by which time Jasper was getting bored anyway).

Educational psychologist assessment

Read the Columbus Group definition of giftedness. How (if at all) might having your child assessed by an educational psychologist help? The answer will depend on your location and circumstances.

We homeschool in the UK, and an assessment with an ed psych helped us identify asynchronies and twice-exceptionality.

The psychologist identified issues like (relatively) slow processing speed and working memory, mild dyslexia, and dysgraphia.

The information and resources the psychologist recommended has helped me meet my children’s needs better. It also got us into the system for accommodations (such as the ability to use a keyboard in exams) later down the line.

‘Sometimes I want to throw in the towel because it’s exhausting and difficult. I am also a sensitive mama and get triggered by some of the meltdowns’

I hear you! Raising these amazing kids can be super-tiring. Intensity and sensitivity are hereditary traits, so it’s not surprising we get triggered by our children.  Let me give you a virtual hug and reassure you that you’re probably doing much better than you’re giving yourself credit for.
I’m glad you recognise that, ‘public school would not do better for them than what I can currently provide.’  You’re an intelligent, loving mum who understands her children better than anyone else does. Appreciate yourself for the great job you’re doing. Forgive yourself when you don’t always live up to your high standards.  Prioritise meeting your own needs. When you do, you’ll have more energy to be the kind of parent you want to be. Have realistic expectations of everyone (including yourself). Appreciate small victories, and take one day at a time.
Tilt Creed - How do i know if my child is highly sensitive, has SPD, is gifted or has OEs
The TiLt Parenting Creed – click to visit the TiLt website

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What are your favourite resources for raising differently wired kids?

What professional support has been most helpful to you?

Do you have a question of your own?

I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

Resources

High Sensitivity

The Highly Sensitive Person: How to thrive when the world overwhelms you by Elaine Aron (book)

Happy Sensitive Kids (blog)

Sensory Issues

Understanding Sensory Issues  10 informative articles about sensory issues in children

Sensory STUFF My Little Poppies (blog)

Sensual OE

OEs

OE questionnaire (a great starting point – highly recommended)

OE info (PowerWood flyer all about OEs – highly recommended)

Living With Intensity (book) by Susan Daniels & Michael Piechowski

Giftedness and twice-exceptionality

GHF (Gifted Homeschoolers Forum)

SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted)

Your Rainforest Mind by Paula Prober (book)

General support

TiLt Parenting Inspiring website for parents of differently-wired kids, including weekly podcast and blog (recommended)

Understood.org Resources about all kinds of learning and attention issues with useful tips for getting professional support (US website)

Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults (book) by James T Webb et al

Self-care

Why our intense children trigger our suppressed pain

5 Keys to staying sane as a mum to sensitive, spirited kids

Why raising our personal baseline is they key to parenting our intense and sensitive children

A surprisingly powerful tool to raise your energy and resilience (downloadable MP3 meditation recording)

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Header image by Alexa Fotos

5 Reasons I’m Glad My Sensitive, Intense Kids Aren’t Going Back to School Next Week

5 Reasons to homeschool sensitive intense kids

This photo appeared on my Instagram feed last week, captioned it “Back to school hell.”  I imagined the noise, the jostling and the hot, stuffy atmosphere as frazzled parents waited to have their kids’ feet measured.

When your child has overexcitabilities (OEs) a simple shopping trip can be a full-on sensory assault, even without the crowds. Life is a lot easier if you can visit stores when everyone else is in school.

Of course, avoiding busy shops isn’t the only reason I home-educate my intense and sensitive children. Here are a few other reasons I’m glad my kids won’t be going back to school next week:

1. I don’t have to explain my children’s complex needs to new teachers

Overexcitabilities are unheard of in most schools. I’d never heard of them either when my kids were at school, but I knew that each time my son and daughter changed classes we were in for a bumpy ride as we waited for new teachers to get them.

It started on my 4-year-old’s first day in reception. Cordie came home distraught, which surprised me as she’d always enjoyed nursery.

“Miss Bellamy made me stand in the corner because I wouldn’t put away the Barbies at tidy-up time. But I didn’t play with the Barbies. I hate Barbies! She should’ve let me tidy the dressing-up clothes.”

That night my little girl had a nightmare.

“I dreamed the Wicked Witch of the West cut off my legs and made me stand in the corner,” she sobbed.

Off I went to the school to try to explain my daughter’s profound sense of justice to a well-meaning but skeptical teacher.

My twice-exceptional son had an even bumpier ride.

After a  relatively smooth start, his teacher went on maternity leave. She was replaced by substitute teachers whose job-sharing arrangement prevented either of them from getting to know my son as anything other than a nuisance.

My kids have been homeschooled for six years now. While I still have to advocate for them, I’m deeply grateful for the freedom we have to choose coaches and tutors who understand and appreciate their intensity, and to walk away from those who don’t.

2. My kids are free to learn what, how and when they want

One of the biggest advantages of homeschooling is that non-average children don’t have to work at grade level for all their subjects.

Once they’ve mastered material, they needn’t waste time going over it until their classmates catch up. Equally, there’s no shame working on a skill they’re struggling with even if other kids their age have already mastered it. And delays in one area don’t have to impact learning elsewhere.

So instead of being held back by his difficulties with the mechanics of handwriting, my dysgraphic son can record his thoughts quickly by typing or dictating to me.

And his mild dyslexia is an opportunity for me to read aloud while my kids engage their psychomotor energies crafting, drawing or playing with magnetix. Yes, there are interruptions, usually in the form of spirited discussions about what we’re reading – or something utterly tangential –  and that’s a good thing.

3. They can play outdoors whenever they want

Everyone knows that exercise and fresh air are good for us, so I was stunned when my son was punished at school by being made to stand by the fence during playtimes. Did his teachers really think that was going to make him behave better?

Another afternoon he was told he wasn’t allowed to play in the class garden for the following three days because he refused to come inside the moment the teachers told him to.

At home my kids benefit from being able to play outside whenever they like. I admit I’ve been known to feel irritated when my son runs off to the trampoline in the middle of a maths problem. But when I look back I usually realise he’s done us both a favour.

Time out gives everyone a chance to clear their heads and return better able to focus on their learning goals.

4. Learning is flexible, quick and efficient

When my daughter gave up school to make time for her extracurricular interests she didn’t, of course, give up academic learning. In fact she probably learns more at home. Being able to work at her own pace plus not wasting time shuffling between classes means homeschooling is very time-efficient.

And if your child throws herself into her passions with the intensity of an Olympic athlete, you’ll probably both appreciate her being able to take some unscheduled downtime now and then. When you’ve spent the weekend hiking with Scouts, a lazy Monday paves the way for a much more productive week than having to get up at the crack of dawn for school.

5. We can accommodate and engage overexcitabilities

It’s difficult to learn when you’re constantly being triggered by uncomfortable sensations.

Little things like hunger, thirst or needing to use the bathroom all deplete the willpower kids need to manage their OEs.  Scratchy school clothes, the chatter of other students and the flickering of lights can all contribute to a state of overwhelm and hyper-reactivity that’s unconducive to learning.

At home, kids can wear comfy clothes and go barefoot. They can work in silence, or with the dog in their lap, or while listening to relaxing music. In this calming environment my children can channel all the good things OEs bring – intense curiosity, energy and imagination, for instance – towards their learning goals.

5 Reasons to homeschool sensitive intense kids

My friend’s photo reminded me of this picture I took shoe shopping with my kids three years ago, just after the school term started. Back then I knew nothing about OEs or why my kids were so sensitive and intense.

What I did know was that homeschooling was the right choice for us.

* * *

Do you homeschool your children?

What are the biggest advantages for your family?

I recognise that homeschooling isn’t an option for every family. If your kids do go to school, do you have any tips about how to support them?

I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

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Extracurricular Activities for Children Who Want to Do Everything

Extracurricular Activities for children who want to do everything

“Why do you make your daughter do so many extracurricular activities?”

I nearly choked on my tea. “Is it because you feel guilty for taking her out of school?” A woman asked me this at a kids’ birthday party when my daughter was 6.

Make my daughter do extra-curricular activities? She couldn’t have got it more wrong.

My daughter had gone to a school that ran dozens of extracurricular clubs. She signed up for as many as 5-year-olds were allowed. Out of school, she wanted to do rugby, football, judo, singing, dance and drama.

If I dragged my heels finding an activity she wanted to do, my daughter would google local classes and hand me the phone. “I really want to try it, Mummy. Pleeease?”

She loved every one of her activities. But she was becoming exhausted.

It’s not that our schedule was abnormal. Several of her friends had the same busy lives. The difference was that those kids didn’t throw themselves into everything with the same intensity as my daughter.

The result? I never got to see my sweet, fun-loving girl. All her family got was the grumpy, worn out child that was left at the end of each day.

“We can’t go on like this, sweetie.” I said. “What would you like to give up?”

Cordie looked at her brother, who’d been homeschooled for a term. “Maybe I could give up school?”

Passionate about everything

From martial arts to gymnastics, through art classes, scouts, climbing, wake-boarding and ice skating, my daughter’s problem has always been fitting in everything she wants to do.

Having an introverted brother with OEs has brought even more activities along the way: my daughter goes along to keep her brother company. Then a few weeks later he drops out (or is dropped), by which time Cordie’s an enthusiastic participant in her own right!

Multi-potential and extroverted, at 12 my daughter’s showing no signs of slowing down.

Do you have a child who wants to do everything, too?

If you do, you’ll know it brings many benefits – and a few challenges, too.

The benefits of being into everything

  • I adore my daughter’s zest for life.
  • I love how her life is enriched by the enormous range of people she mixes with.
  • I’m in awe of her extraordinary physical fitness.
  • I love that she’s learning leadership and team skills.
  • And I adore that she’s spending her childhood discovering what she loves to do.

I guess I just never anticipated there’d be quite so many things she’d love to do!

The challenges of being into everything

When you have a child who wants to try – and excel at – everything, you have to:

  • Help her manage her energy.
  • Remind her she needs downtime: to cuddle pets, to read, to doodle.
  • Encourage her to leave space for spontaneous pleasures.
  • Be the (sometimes unwelcome) voice of reason, suggesting now and again that something has to give.
  • Appreciate her drive for excellence, while letting her know that it’s okay to do some things just for fun.
  • Remind her to make time to work towards her academic goals.
  • Support her as she manages her relationships. Children with emotional OE crave depth in friendships, which may be difficult to satisfy when you only see friends and acquaintances once or twice a week.
  • Balance siblings’ needs. Keep them happy if they have to go everywhere with you. Even when they’re old enough to stay home alone, you need enough time and energy to meet their needs.
  • Manage your own energy. All that chauffering can be exhausting! If you’re an introvert, try listening to audiobooks in the car together. Maintaining your personal baseline is vital when you’re parenting kids with OEs.

Supporting our children’s unique needs

If my kids weren’t so very different from one another, I might worry that I’d done something wrong to create such extreme characters.

I might have wondered if I really was ‘forcing’ my daughter to do extracurricular activities. Or I might have worried that I wasn’t exposing my son to enough opportunities.

But with just 16 months between them and an identical upbringing, my kids’ choices are plainly their own.

So wherever your kids are on the extracurricular spectrum – trust that you’re not getting it wrong.

Our children each have their own paths to forge in this world. Our job is to love unconditionally, to support when needed, and to help each child flourish as the unique individual he or she was born to be.

Extracurricular activities for children who want to do everything

Related Posts

Choosing Extracurricular Activities for Children with Overexcitabilities Finding extracurricular activities for an introverted child with intense OEs.

What’s it like being a tween with overexcitabilities? Video (and written) interview with my 12-year-old daughter in which, among other things, she talks about how much she loves her activities.

Homeschooling and Extracurricular Activities – How Much Is Too Much? A post from my homeschooling blog when my children were 8 and 9.

* * *

Does your child want to do everything?

How do you help them find balance?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments or on the Laugh, Love, Learn Facebook page. 🙂

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Choosing Extracurricular Activities for Children with Overexcitabilities

 

Choosing Extracurricular Activities for Children with Overexcitabililties

When your child has overexcitabilities (OEs), meeting his extracurricular needs isn’t as simple as finding a class.

This post is about

  • the challenges we face finding outlets for our children’s intense energy and
  • strategies for when extracurricular activities don’t go the way we planned.

When children have OEs…

  • They may have heaps of energy, but not be able to cope with organised sports
  • They might have dozens of interests but struggle to fit them into the 168 hours in their week
  • They may be driven and competitive, but melt down when they lose
  • They may not get the concept of doing something just for fun – they have to be the best at everything
  • They might be passionate about learning new things, but their asynchronous development makes group classes difficult

Finding extracurricular activities for your intense and sensitive child

My homeschooled son is sensitive, hyper-reactive and introverted. He has all five overexcitabilities including intense psychomotor OE.

Finding outlets for his asynchronous physical, social and creative energies has always been a challenge.

Challenge #1: Other kids

Most group activities involve waiting for your turn. And when kids are bored, winding up the ‘weird’ kid provides a welcome distraction.

Their behaviour isn’t malicious. Boys fidget as they wait in line. They bump into each other. And when the sensitive child gets jostled, he reacts. He’s already starting to feel overwhelmed by the noise, bright light and waiting, so it doesn’t take much.

‘What will happen if I ‘accidentally’ touch him with my foot again?’ wonders the bored kid.

So begins a cycle which ends in the sensitive child getting thrown out of the class. He is the one who has ‘over’-reacted – the others were just being ‘normal little boys’.

Parenting coaching helped me see the positive intention in my son’s behaviour in situations like this.

The ‘death-stare’ he gives other kids when he’s feeling overwhelmed is an adaptive (constructive) behaviour, designed to get the other kids to back away.

Walking out of an ice-skating class after 5 minutes and shutting himself in the toilets is better than kicking off at the girl who accidentally skated into him.

When we understand what’s going on, we’re much better equipped to support and advocate for our children.

Challenge #2: Other adults

Dealing with others’ judgments is one of the toughest challenges when you’re raising children with OEs.

As a child I was mortified if I ever got in trouble, so I learned to be a good girl. Then – because the Universe likes us to grow – I was blessed with a son who, through no fault of his own, regularly behaved ‘inappropriately’ according to societal norms.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve found tears stinging my eyes as someone’s berated me about my son’s behaviour.

Parenting coaching  with someone who understands OEs has also helped me deal with other adults. (See When extracurricular activities don’t go as planned, below, for more about this.)

Challenge #3: Coaches and teachers: To mention your child’s OEs or not?

What do teachers do when a child ‘misbehaves’ in class? They pull him aside, stand up close and demand an immediate apology. All of which is guaranteed to send an already-triggered child completely off at the deep end!

Should you try to avoid that scenario by telling the teacher about your child’s OEs? Or is it best not to anticipate  trouble and hope for the best?

I once naively assumed that the teacher of a Lego robotics class for gifted kids would know about OEs. I privately told him of my son’s sensitivities and asked the teacher to give him time and space if he became overwhelmed.

My son later complained that the teacher loudly told him to, “Stop getting so overexcited!” whenever he was waiting for the other kids to catch up, which embarrassed and upset him.

Other extracurricular teachers, however, have been very supportive. My son’s karate teacher gave him time and space to calm down, helped him avoid over-stimulation, and – most importantly – didn’t make a big deal out of incidents.

Karate didn’t last because my son couldn’t keep still long enough to watch the higher grades (an important part of learning martial arts). But leaving on his terms after a period of self-reflection was much better than being thrown out.

Challenge #4: Competitiveness

Lots of children dislike losing at games and sports, but kids with OEs can be intensely competitive. If they also get overwhelmed in noisy groups, losing can trigger epic meltdowns.

What I’ve learned here is to have realistic expectations.

Although my son is naturally athletic, team sports don’t work for him. We stick to non-competitive sports and give him plenty of practice losing at games at home, where intense reactions can be safely supported.

When extracurricular activities don’t go as planned

Here are a few things I’ve learned, through experience and coaching:

1. Keep your baseline high

Try to schedule difficult conversations – whether with a teacher, another parent, your child or your partner – for a time when you’re calm and well rested. Build up emotional credit with your child before discussing any issue likely to trigger him.

Use these 4 tools to reduce your own anxiety.

2. Look for the positive intention in your child’s behaviour

Remember – he doesn’t want to behave this way. Let him know you understand his difficulties and acknowledge him for adaptive behaviours, however small.

Create a foundation on which he can learn strategies for handling situations better in future.

3. Don’t worry about what others are thinking

In conversations with teachers and other parents, remind yourself that they probably aren’t as triggered by what’s happened as you (especially if you have OEs of your own). Chances are, they’ll soon forget all about the incident, so try to distract yourself from ruminating about their reaction.

4. Prioritise your relationship with your child

Don’t pressure your child to continue an activity that isn’t working for him. Encourage him to get past his initial reaction and give it a chance but if he still hates it, let him quit. He might choose to come back when he’s better able to cope.

More than once I’ve been guilty of making both my son and I miserable trying to force an activity to work. The relief we feel when I finally let go is enormous. I’m rewarded with a happier child and a better relationship with him.

Meeting your child’s extracurricular needs in other ways

Kids with OEs are bright, creative, and here to forge their own paths in the world. They won’t be scarred for life just because they can’t join Cub Scouts or a soccer team.

Whenever I’ve had a panicky moment about extracurricular activities, I ask myself, ‘What am I worried about my son missing out on?‘ Then I think about other ways we can meet those needs.

Exercise

My son has strong psychomotor OE so this has always been a big challenge for us. Here are a few of the outlets we’ve found for his abundant energy:

  • trampolining in the garden
  • jumping on oversized beanbags and cushions
  • skipping (jumping rope)
  • swimming (we found a special needs swimming class at our local leisure centre so I could exercise while my son swam)
  • scooting / biking / hiking as a family. Walks in the woods also offer tree-climbing
  • ice-skating – Many UK ice rinks offer concessionary entry for homeschoolers on Friday afternoons, so your child can skate alongside other kids without having to interact with them (unless he chooses to)
  • play equipment outside at home. Monkey-bars are a favourite in our family
  • soft-play centres – we spent many rainy afternoons in our local soft play centre when my kids were younger
  • gym – our local gym allows kids of 11 and older to work out at dedicated times. My son loves being able to watch videos on his iPad while he works up a sweat on the elliptical-trainer. (I work out on a nearby machine. It’s mind-boggling what an 11-year-old with psychomotor OE can get up to on a cross-trainer.)
  • climbing – at the local climbing wall. Great for using up energy and increasing emotional and physical stamina

Skills and hobbies

In today’s climate of abundant online courses this is perhaps the easiest of the extra-curricular needs to meet. Websites like DIY.org are full of ideas and resources.

If you opt for private tuition (for music, for instance) remember you may need to try out several teachers before you find the right match for your child.

Socialisation

The advantages of group activities are well-documented, so how do you help your child make friends and become a team player if he can’t join in?

The most encouraging research I’ve heard of on this subject was an American study which showed that the students who were socially best-adjusted at university were homeschooled children who had only socialised within their immediate families. (I’ll edit when I find the reference.)

My son’s never lasted long in any organised group, but somehow along the way he’s met a few good friends he regularly chats with online and occasionally meets up with. He gets on well with his four cousins, regular experiences losing games within the family, and has plenty of negotiating and diplomacy practice with his sister!

Another option is to find a mentor for your child (an understanding older teen or young adult, maybe). We have a  friend in his 20s who’s harnessed his own OEs with great success. My son loves hanging out with him, on the trampoline or playing his favourite role-playing card game.

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What about multi-potentialite extroverts?

I’ve focused here on the challenges of finding extracurricular activities for my introverted son.

Your child may be more like my daughter – an intense, multi-potentialite  extrovert who wants to excel at every activity she hears about. See Extracurricular Activities for Children Who Want to Do Everything.

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Resources

Websites

PowerWood coaching for families dealing with OEs

DIY.org – Ideas

Books

The Gifted Teen Survival Guide by Judy Galbraith and Jim Delisle

Living with Intensity by Susan Daniels and Michael Piechowski

Your Rainforest Mind by Paula Prober

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What are your biggest challenges finding extracurricular activities for your child?

How do you meet your child’s physical, creative and social needs?

I’d love to hear from you!

Choosing extracurricular actvities for children with overexcitabilities blog hop

This post is part of a GHF blog hop. To read how other GHF bloggers handle the challenge of finding extracurricular activities, click here.

 

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