How Overexcitabilities Can Help You Learn – And How They Can Hold Children Back in the Classroom

How Overexcitabilities Can Help Us Learn

Can the intensities and sensitivities that often come along with high ability help us to learn? Or do they get in the way of learning?

Earlier this year I co-wrote an article about overexcitabilities and education for a MENSA newsletter. My fellow author Simone de Hoogh* had lots of interesting insights about how each of the OEs might affect a child’s experience of classroom learning. You can read our article below.

Shortly after I wrote the piece, I had my own eye-opening experience of being back in the classroom, when I took a week’s intensive Spanish course. (Let’s just say I have renewed empathy when my children occasionally grumble about their classes.)

I’ve written about these first-hand insights in a separate post, which I’ll share next week.

How overexcitabilities can help you learn – and how they can hold children back in the classroom

Too many bright children aren’t recognised as gifted and talented because the overexcitabilities (OEs) that may come with their high intelligence prevent them from achieving in a school environment.  This is not only harmful for the young people concerned – it’s also a waste for society.

According to Kazimierz Dabrowski, the more OEs a person has, the greater their development potential and their drive to improve not only their own life but also the world around them.

Dabrowski viewed overexcitabilities as innate personality traits. He identified five  types of OE, each one of which can be a double-edged sword. When supported, OEs can contribute positively to a child’s ability to learn, but in the wrong learning environment these OEs can severely impact a child’s development.

People with overexcitabilities experience life differently from those who do not have the traits. They are often intense, hyper-sensitive and react strongly to stimuli that others don’t even notice. OEs can also bring above-average energy, pleasure, creativity, interests and empathy.

Here are some of the ways OEs can affect a child’s experience of learning:

Psychomotor OE

Psychomotor OE brings abundant energy, drive and zest for life. But when a person with this OE is stressed, their urge to express their psychomotor energy grows stronger.

Imagine what happens when a well-meaning teacher who doesn’t know about OEs (and often doesn’t realise how bright her pupil is) tries to keep a child from being ‘disruptive’ by occupying him with busywork.

As the child gets more stressed (because he finds the work boring), he finds it impossible to contain his energy and becomes more and more fidgety. Being required to keep still increases his stress levels further. He’s caught in a vicious circle.

Children with psychomotor OE can find themselves in a catch-22 situation: they can’t focus on under-stimulating work, which means they don’t achieve enough to be identified as gifted and therefore offered work more suitable to their level of intelligence.

Intellectual OE

Children with intellectual OE are deeply curious and can focus for extended periods on complex issues that interest them. However their deep thirst for knowledge can give rise to incessant questioning and an inability to accept ‘because I say so’ as an answer.

These young people also have a strong sense of justice and an inability to tolerate unfairness of any sort. In adult life this drive to understand and deep sense of justice will serve them well, but at school their tendency to argue and question authority can be seen as disrespectful and challenging.

Imaginational OE

Imaginational OE, meanwhile, can bring great creativity.  But in the classroom a creative child’s tendency to go off on tangents is not usually welcomed by a teacher who needs to get through the curriculum.

Children with imaginational OE are often seen as distracted and showing a lack of respect, which means they learn to repress rather than appreciate the creativity which could later be channelled towards new inventions and future solutions to world problems.

Sensual OE

Individuals with sensual OE are capable of deeply appreciating art, nature, music and other sensory experiences.

But their acute sensitivity to stimuli can make the noise, lights, smells and general hubbub of the average classroom unbearably overstimulating, rendering children with sensual OE incapable of doing their best work.

Emotional OE

Dabrowski saw emotional OE as one of the most powerful traits contributing to personal development. Children with this OE are often deeply empathic and sensitive to others’ needs.

But at school these young people’s strong emotional reactions and their need for depth in relationships can leave them vulnerable to bullying.

Children with emotional OE can also be deeply affected by news topics discussed at school, and may struggle with the mature themes in books they are assigned if their reading level is more advanced than their chronological age.

Similarly, they may struggle to contain and process their emotions after being shown films that may be age-appropriate but which affect them much more intensely than others.

Unfortunately many teachers aren’t aware of the social and emotional challenges OEs can bring, and even those who are informed struggle to accommodate the needs of these twice-exceptional learners within the confines of the school system.

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This is a big topic which I know I’ve only touched on here. I’d love to hear from you and then maybe write in more depth about aspects of OEs and learning that you find interesting.

How do your children’s OEs affect their experience of learning?

How do you support them?

Do you have any other questions or comments about OEs and education?

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* Simone de Hoogh,  Parenting Consultant and ECHA Specialist in Gifted Education, was inspired by her experiences raising her two (now adult) children to set up PowerWood, the UK’s leading not-for-profit organisation committed to raising awareness and supporting the emotional wellbeing of families dealing with the intensity, hyper-sensitivity and super-reactivity (OEs) that often accompany high ability.

If you’d like support dealing with OEs, join me, Simone and other kindred spirits at the friendly PowerWood FaceBook group.

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I hope you’ll come back next Monday to read about my week as a student. In that post I’ll be sharing a few ideas my time in the classroom gave me about how we can support our intense children’s learning. To be sure you don’t miss it, just leave your email address in the box below or above left and you’ll receive my weekly posts straight to your inbox. 🙂

 

Hat tip: Thank you to Devon Goodwin, editor of the British MENSA Education Special Interest Group newsletter for coming up with the title of this post!

Help Twice-Exceptional Children by Supporting Their Parents

Help 2e Children by Helping Their Parents

I was pleased to see that the Huffington Post recently commissioned a new series, Young Minds Matter, which is:

“… designed to lead the conversation with children about mental and emotional health, so youngsters feel loved, valued and understood.”

The Duchess of Cambridge launched the series with her excellent post, Let’s Make a Difference for an Entire Generation of Young Children.

When the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum suggested I write an article for the series, I turned to my friend and mentor Simone de Hoogh, who I knew would have plenty of wisdom to share. Simone didn’t let me down, and our co-authored piece was published in the Huffington Post today.  You can also read it below.

Please feel free to share on FaceBook, Twitter etc. 😉

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Help Twice-Exceptional Children by Supporting Their Parents

By the time my son was six, other boys his age had outgrown tantrums but Jacob still had meltdowns apparently out of the blue. He couldn’t tolerate play dates for longer than 20 minutes. And surely it wasn’t normal to take 15 minutes to put on socks?

To help our son my husband and I sought professional advice. Several experts later we received an answer: Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Our son’s meltdowns were the result of his brain struggling to receive and respond to the messages his senses were sending. Armed with our diagnosis, we enrolled Jacob for occupational therapy.

After a year of therapy, during which we saw little change in our son’s behaviour, we signed him up for a football course run by the practice. Although Jacob was happy to join the other children, he never lasted more than 20 minutes before storming off in angry tears. I asked the head therapist why the other kids with SPD could cope, but not Jacob? She suggested that he might have ADHD and advised us to consider medication. After all, we didn’t “want to miss the narrow window in which he can learn socialisation skills.”

I felt desperate to help my child but without a clue how to start. We were faced with numerous possible diagnoses—SPD, ADHD, ASD—none which really fit. Was I creating the problem by protecting my son from overwhelming situations? Should we instil more discipline? I knew my child, how desperately unhappy he often felt. I knew that if Jacob were capable of behaving like other children, he would behave like other children.

It would take another two years to discover the truth. Why so long? Jacob isn’t gifted within the UK definition of the highest-achieving ten per cent of school children; he is ‘twice-exceptional’ (2e). Children who are 2e combine a neurological diagnosis of giftedness with an additional special need, such as dyslexia, ADHD or other learning challenge. Jacob has a set of innate personality traits often found in the gifted known as Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities (OEs). People with OEs are intense. They may have excessive energy or love to touch things, or the buzzing of  overhead lights may drive them nuts. As children struggle to manage their strong reactions and emotions, they often display socially unacceptable behaviours.

I first learned about OEs at PowerWood, a UK community which supports 2e children and their families. Founder Simone de Hoogh, a qualified ECHA Specialist in Gifted Education, explains that “the further you get from the middle of the population bell curve, the less reliable the criteria for diagnosis become, because the sample size is so small.”

So how do we go about understanding what 2e children need? How do we teach them to meet their needs so they can develop into emotionally resilient adults? Human behaviour is strongly influenced by our environment, so one of the fastest ways to effect change is to change the environment. Most children have a family member as their primary caregiver, so if we want to help 2e children learn to manage and channel their intense natures, we need to empower their families by:

Reframing ‘normal’

For 2e children, ‘anti-social’ behaviour may be a normal response to a challenging situation. If we focus less on diagnosis and more on understanding the behaviour, we can help parents see challenges as opportunities for growth.

Informing parents and teachers

We can empower caregivers by providing them with information and tools to support 2e children, but first we need to relieve parents of the burden of self-doubt. Only then are parents ready for the strategies and knowledge that will help their kids.

Creating supportive communities

If we want 2e children to accept and appreciate themselves, we need to foster supportive communities for their families, where parents feel safe and respected rather than judged and blamed.

Our 2e son still has meltdowns, struggles in groups and has to move his body to focus on maths. But now we realize that Jacob’s intensity and sensitivity are the reasons for his behaviour, we’ve stopped worrying about what’s wrong with him and can instead focus on the child in front of us, educating him about the positive side of his twice-exceptionality and teaching him ways to manage his OEs.

We’ve found tremendous support from PowerWood, the UK’s leading not-for-profit organisation committed to raising awareness and supporting intense and sensitive 2e children, and from GHF, an abundant source of information and encouragement. With these communities at my side I’m optimistic I can help my son find his place in the world.

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{Thank you, too, to the GHF team for all your support and fabulous editing.}

To receive my weekly posts about life in an intense and sensitive family direct to your inbox, don’t forget to leave me you email address in the box below or top right. 🙂 

How I Crashed and Burned Because I Didn’t Follow My Own Advice

IMG_1370as

This time last week we were excitedly packing our sunglasses and swimsuits, about to jet off for a fortnight in southern Spain. We know El Puerto de Santa María well. We spent a month here early last year, and my 12-year-old did a language course here in October.

Cordie was excited about learning more Spanish and we were all looking forward to relaxing in the sunshine and playing in the sea.

But then …

… the weather took a Freaky Friday turn. While England is basking in sunshine and temperatures in the high 20s (80F), here in Spain we’ve got cool grey skies, rain, and gale force winds, with no let-up forecast until the weekend we’re due to fly home.😂

IMG 1387

… because of a lack of other students, Cordie was placed in a Spanish group well below her ability and was panic-stricken at the prospect of not learning anything during her 40 hours of classes.

… my 11-year-old son, who’s been complaining for months about being forced to come here {we are so evil}, bounces around the tiny apartment we’re renting, letting the entire block know how he feels about being here whenever we suggest he takes a break from his iPad (or – heavens above – come for a walk on the beach).

… and then there’s my dear husband, who’s using his precious holiday allowance away from a stressful work environment, and has spent the week mooching around without a clue what to do with himself.

In Top 3 Tips to Up Your Energy and Resilience Level, Simone de Hoogh writes:

“Emotional OE people have the tendency to put everyone else’s needs before their own, because it is so hard for us to relax when someone else is suffering. The more tired we are, the harder it is to distance ourselves from others’ feelings and to make the distinction between what we feel ourselves and what others are feeling.  So we feel the deep need to fix until we are finally free… “

Boy, did I do that last week!

I talked to the staff at the Spanish school so Cordie wouldn’t feel she’s wasting her time there. Thanks to homeschooling, I’ve never before needed to advocate for my bright, asynchronous daughter, but this week I got a glimpse of what other parents go through and – oh my goodness – how I sympathise! Meanwhile having emotional OE herself, Cordie was horrified at the thought of me upsetting anyone, so I had her stress to contend with on top of my own.

I spent hours alternately entertaining and calming my son, often long after I wanted to be asleep.

I mediated between stressed-out, stir-crazy  family members.

I listened to my husband and racked my brains for ways to help him enjoy himself.

As the only driver here, I chauffered everyone around (driving an unfamiliar car on the ‘wrong’ side of the road).

I helped Cordie with her Spanish homework (usually at 9.30pm, when she felt like doing it).

And as the only Spanish speaker, I did all the grocery shopping, restaurant ordering and negotiating with the apartment staff.

In short, I ran around trying to make everyone else happy.

Guess what? It left me a wreck.

As Simone says,

“But there is always someone in emotional need, whether it is a child, family member, or a pet. If we don’t prioritise ourselves, there will never be a time to recharge and we will end up eternally exhausted and we even might become depressed.”

Because I have emotional OE, my stress was of course compounded by making myself wrong for not appreciating my blessings. How could anyone complain about being on holiday with their healthy loved ones? (We all know how much that kind of thinking helps, right?)

I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that by Thursday I realised quite how low my resilience and energy levels had sunk.

I hate neglecting my family when I can see that they’re in need, but unless I meet my own physical, emotional and intellectual needs, I’m no good to anyone.

So I went back and read my own words about the importance of raising our personal baseline and about how to stay sane as a mum to sensitive, spirited kids.

I listened to Self-Care for Parents as I meditated.

I didn’t beat myself up for not following my own advice; I reminded myself that mistakes are part of learning.

I told myself that I’m doing a good enough job of looking after myself.

And once I felt a bit better, I felt my creativity return and began to think of other ways to meet my needs – like planning a day out in Seville, and signing myself up for Spanish classes next week.

Who knows, maybe the sun will even come out? ☀️

10 Things That Happen On Birthdays In Overexcitable Families

11th birthday cake - overexcitabilities and birthdays

What are birthdays like in your house? Are they peaceful, happy occasions, when children play nicely all day long while their smiling parents celebrate another successful year in their child-rearing career? Or are they more like this …

(1) The pressure starts to rise months in advance as the birthday child begins tortuous deliberations over what present to choose. A week before the big day he’s narrowed it down to two options. You misguidedly try to help by offering to get both, whereupon your son bursts into tears, wailing, “But that would be so selfish!”

(2) By the eve of his birthday the pressure has mounted to meltdown levels. When you go in to kiss him goodnight, you naively ask if he’s looking forward to his birthday and are dismayed to be told, “No, it’s going to be awful! Just like last year.”

As you cast your mind back to the fun he seemed to be having at the theme park you visited on his last birthday, your son continues, “And just like Christmas. Why did we have to be at their house! Why couldn’t we have stayed at home?”

You grope for a way to stem the tide of vitriol and turn the mood to pleasant birthday anticipation. “You’re looking forward to your presents, aren’t you?” But it’s too late. “No! It’s awful having to pretend I like my presents when really I hate them! Like that rubber octopus that the eyes broke off within a week!” (Referring to a stocking-filler squidgy toy he played with 24/7 until not only its octopussy eyes but most of its tentacles were worn away.)

You eventually calm your distraught son by reassuring him (fingers crossed) that in the morning when he opens his presents from his immediate family he can be completely honest in his reactions to his presents.

(3) The big day dawns and birthday boy wakes, smiling and refreshed. He glances happily at the little pile of wrapped gifts and opens the card his sister hands him. Each card then has to be opened before any presents are unwrapped, “because I’ve opened one card now. It would be unethical to ignore the rest.”

(4) You’re delighted when your son asks to go to the climbing wall as his birthday treat. All that exercise will help use up some of his psychomotor energy in preparation for the sugar rush that is birthday cake.

Kids climbing blindfold - overexcitabilities and birthdays(5) Less auspiciously, he wants to follow up with ten-pin bowling. Despite your best efforts to end up in last place yourself, your heart sinks as birthday boy’s final ball barrels into the gully, an enormous zero flashes onto the scoreboard, and the inevitable meltdown ensues. You drive home in silence.

(6)  Your daughter, whose latest passion is watching cake-decorating videos, has decided to decorate her brother’s birthday cake with his favourite video game character. She’s planned it all out in her imagination but despite your gentle suggestions that she practise, she’s never actually made icing, drawn the design or used a piping bag before she attempts the project on the big day.

Temmie birthday cake - overexcitabilities and birthdaysYou’re thrilled at the result of her efforts, but your daughter  is tearfully crestfallen at the apparent chasm between the cake she designed in her imagination and the one she’s managed to create.

Many hugs and the birthday boy’s exclamations of delight later, big sister is consoled, and you all sing Happy Birthday.

(7) Birthday boy helps himself to an enormous slice of chocolate cake and you brace yourself for the sugar roller coaster ride.  All goes well as the kids run straight out to the trampoline, though when they contort arms and legs into monster limbs using one of their dad’s sweaters, you suggest they move the game onto a less bouncy surface.
kids playing monsters on trampoline - overexcitabilities and birthdays

(8) Disaster. Wagamamas doesn’t have a side table available for dinner. The four of you squeeze onto a bench in between a dad with his two daughters and a twenty-something couple. You smile apologetically as birthday boy expresses his feelings about having to share a table. Times like this you really want to explain that your son is not Veruca Salt, he’s just incredibly sensitive to noise, light and touch (on the best of days, let alone at the end of an overwhelming, sugar-fuelled birthday).

(9) Back home from the restaurant, your daughter finally cracks from the pressure of being nice to her brother all day. You spend fifteen minutes cuddling, wiping tears and appreciating her for being such a lovely sister.

(10) 10:30PM. Birthday boy comes to show you he’s solved the 3D wooden puzzle Grandma send as a birthday gift and to describe the life cycle of a star he’s just learned about in his new space encyclopedia. He hugs you tightly and tells you he’s had the best birthday ever. You collapse into bed smiling, exhausted and relieved.

(How many days until the next birthday..?)

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What are birthdays like in your house?

What are your top  tips for maximising the fun and minimising the meltdowns?

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

 

Don’t forget to write your email address in the box below or at the top left to receive my weekly posts about life in an overexcitable family straight to your inbox. 🙂 

5 Keys to Staying Sane as a Mum to Sensitive Spirited Kids

Staying Sane as a mum to sensitive spirited kids

A few weeks ago I wrote about why it’s important to take care of ourselves if we want to make changes in the way we parent (something I have to remind myself of every single day).

I shared some of the ways I do this in a recent guest post over at Motherhood the Real Deal. Would you like to read it?

5 Keys to Staying Sane as a Mum to Sensitive Spirited Kids

Being a mum to sensitive, intense or spirited children is a bit like regular parenting, but with everything that normally happens in a month squeezed into a day. With a few extras thrown in, like meltdowns that don’t stop at toddlerhood but continue into the teens, and having to explain your child’s behaviour to every disapproving adult he meets.

You know those days when you bounce out of bed, full of good intentions?

“Today I’m going to allow plenty of time to get out of the house!”

“I’m going to be so patient today!”

Even (on really good days), “Today’s the day I’m going to say ‘yes!’ to finger-painting, play dough and hide-and-seek!”

… continue reading 5 Keys to Staying Sane as a Mum to Sensitive, Spirited Kids over at Motherhood the Real Deal.

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What helps you recharge so you have more energy to be the kind of parent you choose to be?

How have you been kind to yourself today?

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

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I’ll be back next week talking about what birthdays are like in an OE household. (You’ll like it if you liked my OE Families on Vacation post.)

Don’t forget to write your email address in the box below to receive my weekly posts about life in an OE family direct to your inbox!

Why Being British Stopped Me Finding Help For My Twice-Exceptional Child

british and twice-exceptional

Back when I was still trying to figure out why my intense son was so different from other kids I did a lot of research online. (Read ‘Spent hours googling Why does my child have so many meltdowns? How to parent my explosive child without losing my sanity,’ etc.)

One of the terms I came across on US websites was ‘twice-exceptional’ (sometimes shortened to ‘2e’).  The GHF defines twice-exceptional as referring to a child who ‘is both gifted and has identified learning differences or other emotional or mental health disorders’.

Although my intuition told me that my sensitive, intense, intelligent son fell within the definition of ’twice-exceptional’,  I felt very uncomfortable using the term, even in my own mind. The dictionary defines exceptional as:

Exceptional: 1. unusual; not typical / 1.1 unusually good.

Who was I to go around describing my son with a word that others might construe as meaning ‘unusually good’, let alone doubly so?

I also disliked the word ‘gifted’. I knew my son was bright, but aren’t all kids gifted in their own ways? Besides which, Jasper’s intense emotions often felt more like a burden than a gift.

If it weren’t for the use of these words and my cultural prejudice against them, I might have found answers and support a lot sooner.  I suspect that many British parents of kids with overexcitabilities have a similar experience.

The Dutch lady who tried to ask British parents about giftedness

Simone de Hoogh’s experiences with her own bright, sensitive, intense children inspired her to found PowerWood to support children with OEs.

When Simone, an ECHA Specialist in Gifted Education, moved to the UK from her native Netherlands she was shocked by how giftedness is perceived here.

Simone’s first surprise was her discovery that in Britain hardly anyone uses the word ‘gifted’. The UK government defines the term to include the top 10% of children who achieve consistently high academic results, so as to warrant their inclusion in the school’s Gifted and Talented Register. When, as part of her research, Simone began asking parents about giftedness, their reaction was actively hostile. Most Brits, Simone discovered, perceive giftedness as elitist and as conferring even more benefits on already overly-advantaged white, middle-class children.

Children who fall through the cracks

It became apparent to Simone that the official UK definition of ‘gifted’ excludes many high-able children, like (i) those who aren’t achieving due to socio-economic factors (like a lack of time or space to do homework), (ii) kids with unrecognised learning disabilities (like dyslexia or sensory processing issues), and (iii) those with a high level of overexcitabilities.

Simone could see that out of all these groups of youngsters whose high ability was not being recognised (and who were therefore under-stimulated and often unhappy at school), kids with overexcitabilities were the worst served by existing institutions. She set up PowerWood to fill this gap and support children and families dealing with OEs.

Simone’s challenge was how to connect with her target group in a country in which the concept of ‘overexcitability’ was practically unheard of. In the US, OEs are rarely mentioned except in the context of giftedness. In the UK, however, Simone found that it was only by avoiding any mention of giftedness that she could reach the people she was trying to help.

(Incidentally, the latest research suggests that OEs are not only found in the highly able. Nor do all highly able individual have OEs. But where OEs are present, they are usually more intense in the highly able, which Simone suggests is one reason they’ve been considered an aspect of giftedness for so long. The other reason is that the highly able are more likely to go searching for, and find, answers about themselves and their children.)

What twice-exceptionality looks like in our family

Both my children have overexcitabilities, but my son’s are more extreme. Cordie and Jasper have been home-educated since they were 6 and 5 respectively.  I suspect that if they’d stayed in school, Cordie would have been identified as gifted but Jasper would not.

Jasper’s every bit as able as his sister – more so, in some areas – but already after two terms of school I could see that his intense, hyper-reactive behaviour and in particular his need to constantly be in motion was beginning to get him labelled as a naughty trouble-maker.

The teachers were obsessed with Jasper’s handwriting – I once spent an entire 10-minute parents-evening session being shown the ‘snappy-snap crocodile’ pencil grip which I was supposed to make my 4-year-old practise daily.

Jasper has sensory issues which cause him to feel overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of a typical classroom. And he has mild dyslexia, which probably wouldn’t have been identified or supported at school because, like many high-able kids, he was able to compensate for it and therefore ‘keep up,’ which is often the only thing teachers have time to be concerned with.

Is twice-exceptionality recognised in the UK?

The UK equivalent of twice-exceptionality is DME – ‘dual or multiple exceptionality’. DME refers to a child who is not only exceptionally able but also has one or more special need or disabilities. I’d never heard of the term until I began researching this blog post, which shows how often it’s used.

Unfortunately there are no real advantages to being identified as having DME, unless a child is lucky enough to have a teacher with the means and inclination to support him or her. Children on the Gifted and Talented Register are given enrichment opportunities of an academic nature (though funding for such activities is negligible) but the kind of practical and emotional support twice-exceptional children need is pretty much non-existent.

Homeschooling a twice-exceptional child

I’m so thankful that I’m able to home-educate my twice-exceptional son. At home Jasper can leap around the room as he solves maths problems, take trampoline breaks whenever he needs to, and read quietly on his own when he’s over-stimulated.

He can dictate to me or use a keyboard to write his stories. He can ask the incessant questions his intellectual overexcitability stirs up in him without being seen as disrespectful or a know-it-all. And when Jasper starts describing his new invention in the middle of a fractions problem I can listen and even help him take notes, knowing that the maths question can wait, while my son’s intense imagination needs to be nurtured and appreciated right now.

Gifted, twice-exceptional or DME – how we feel about these words doesn’t matter. In the US they’ll probably help you find community and support. Here in the UK they may not. What matters is that we embrace the incredible neurodiversity that nature has created, and ensure that every child is loved, appreciated and supported as the precious individual that he or she is.

Resources

Websites (UK)

PowerWood – An Introduction to High Ability in Children

Special Educational Needs Magazine – Young, Gifted and Special

Support for families dealing with overexcitabilities – PowerWood Facebook Group

Websites (US)

Gifted Homeschoolers Forum – Resources: Twice-Exceptional (2e)

Books

Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults by James T Webb

Living With Intensity by Daniels & Piechowski

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Do you use the word ‘gifted’?

How do you accommodate your twice-exceptional child’s special needs?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments on at the Laugh, Love, Learn Facebook page!

GHF Blog Hop - British & Twice-exceptional

To read more about what makes high-able 2e kids twice-exceptional, visit the other blogs in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hop.

If you’d like to receive my weekly blog posts in your email inbox, don’t forget to  leave your email address in the box below. 🙂 

A Surprisingly Powerful Tool To Raise Your Energy And Resilience

Self-Care for Parents

One of my favourite ways to boost my energy and resilience levels is to listen to guided visualisations or meditation recordings.

When I was working as a therapist I often made recordings for my clients. They found that by listening every day for three weeks or more they were able to make the changes they were looking for more easily, and that the changes were permanent.

I made the recordings short enough – around 6 minutes – so that even the busiest person could find time to slip on a pair of headphones, sit back and relax while allowing themselves to be guided towards their goals.

Today I thought I’d share one of my recordings with you. I made this to help me stay connected to what’s important to me as a parent. I also asked the lovely members of the PowerWood Facebook Group for ideas – thank you to everyone who responded – I think I’ve incorporated all your suggestions!

Why should I listen to ‘Self-Care for Parents’?

Here’s how you might feel after listening:

* more relaxed

* able to focus more on positive behaviour than negative

* knowing when to gently guide and when to give space

* more in tune with what’s important to you (and less bothered about the opinions of those who don’t understand your family the way you do)

* able to see the funny side of things more often

* more playful

* more creative and resourceful

* calmer

* less likely to be triggered even in situations that used to overwhelm you

* able to head off problems before they escalate

* more in tune with what’s important to you

All these benefits will increase with regular listening (ideally every day for 3 weeks, then after that whenever you feel like it).

When to listen to ‘Self-Care for Parents’

The recording’s designed to be listened to while you’re relaxing with your eyes closed, so either sit or lie down in a safe, comfortable place where you’re unlikely to be disturbed. (Don’t listen while you’re driving or doing the ironing!)

Will I dance like a chicken after listening?

If anyone would like a transcript of the recording to see what they’re going to be listening to, please let me know. Don’t worry, I won’t make you dance like a chicken. 😉

How to download ‘Self-Care for Parents’

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I’d love to hear how you get on

I’m committing to listening to the recording every day for 3 weeks, starting today. I’d love you to join me and share what changes you notice, in the comments below or at the Laugh, Love, Learn Facebook page.

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Thank You

I’ve been blown away by the response to my last post, Why Our Intense Children Trigger Our Suppressed Pain, which was probably the most personal and scary thing I’ve ever written.

I owe an enormous ‘THANK YOU!’ to the thousands of people who shared it. You’ve helped so many people connect with PowerWood, and boosted the PowerWood FaceBook Group into an even more supportive community. Looking at the FaceBook profiles of all the new members was such an uplifting experience. What a caring, compassionate group of people!

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Last, but more important than anything, a message to my mum: I love you so much. I appreciate every single one of your many, many little and big kindnesses over the years. I’m so lucky to have you in my life. Thank you for being you.

❤️

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Why our Intense Children Trigger our Suppressed Pain

Why our Intense ChildrenTrigger OurSuppressed Pain (1)

I remember lying in the bath with my daughter when she was just a few weeks old, feeling simultaneously exhausted and utterly overwhelmed by the intensity of my love. Tears began to flow, and at some point I became aware that I was weeping for myself. For what I’d never had.

My mum got pregnant with me when she was eighteen. Unsupported by her own parents, she made an unsuitable marriage to my father and descended fast into post-natal depression. When I was two she couldn’t take it any more. One sunny afternoon she took two photographs of me on London’s Turnham Green – and then she left. I lived with relatives for a year.  My mum later  told me that she didn’t know what love was until my half-brother was born when I was five.

As I held my newborn baby in my arms in the bath that day, letting the tears flow down my cheeks, I resolved that my daughter would always know the strength of my unconditional love for her.

newborn bath

As part of my work for PowerWood I’ve had the privilege of meeting lots of parents of intense and sensitive children.  Their children’s overexcitabilities all look quite different, but every single mother has told me she only discovered she had OEs herself as part of the process of trying to understand her child.

That was my experience, too. I went to a PowerWood workshop to find out what was going on with my son. Little did I suspect that within a few hours I’d be crying tears for myself, for the very first time feeling accepted and understood for who I really am.

Over the weeks following the workshop I got to thinking about how my own mother’s sensitivities, like the way she has to rush through the Ikea marketplace because she can’t bear the smell of the candles. And I thought about how her mother, my grandmother, used to complain constantly about her ‘nerves’ and was once addicted to tranquilisers.

Our children’s sensitive, hyper-reactive nervous systems are a product of their genes. Genes our ancestors carried down the generations, way further back than we can remember.

What this means is that most of us were raised by sensitive, intense parents struggling with their own OEs and without anyone helping them with the daunting task of bringing up a family of spirited children.

How did they manage? Our parents did the best they could with what they had. They taught us to suppress our strong emotions because they thought that would serve us best in the world – and to keep them sane enough to raise us. 😉

Many of us, especially if we were girls, grew up suppressing our anger, our anxieties and our idiosyncracies. Some of us learned to act like completely different people from who we were inside.

And then we had our own children. We felt that unconditional love and we resolved to do things differently. But when we resolve not to repeat the patterns of our own childhood we’re up against a couple of obstacles:

(i) Evolution. Like it or not, we’re programmed to repeat what our parents did. As far as our neurological programming’s concerned, it worked. We survived our childhoods and lived long enough to have kids of our own. Evolution doesn’t favour change.

(ii) We lack role models. The more challenging our own childhood, the less of an unconscious example we have of how to raise kids the way we want to. (And of course we also have a dearth of conscious role models showing us how to parent our non-average children.)

To overcome these obstacles and forge our own path as parents requires a huge amount of energy, time and practice.

We’ll make mistakes – they’re an inevitable part of learning. We need to take care of ourselves so that we have the energy to make the changes we want, and we must be gentle with ourselves when we stumble.

When our children get angry and upset, when they never stop talking or shouting, when they lash out and throw things, our OEs are triggered. We get angry and upset. We might even throw things too.

We’re shocked by the intensity of the emotions our children arouse in us – emotions we were told not to feel, were never allowed to express, and so never learned to manage.

But it’s not too late, for us or our children. Our kids need us to be their place of safety. They need us to be in charge of our emotions so that we can help them deal with theirs.

So let’s be kind to ourselves. Let’s meet our practical, emotional and intellectual needs. Let’s forgive ourselves for our mistakes. Let’s surround ourselves with people who understand what we’re going through. And let’s remind ourselves that what we’re doing is good enough.

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Thanks to Simone de Hoogh for sharing the ideas I’ve talked about here, and for unfailingly reminding me to be kind to myself.

If you’d like support dealing with OEs in yourself or your child, contact Simone at PowerWood or join me at the PowerWood Facebook group.

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How were strong emotions dealt with when you were growing up?

What have you discovered about yourself since having children?

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

10 Things that Happen to OE Families on Vacation (that probably don’t happen to other families)

10 Things that Happen to OE Families on Vacation

1. When getting ready to pack (a week in advance), you pull up your ‘Holiday list – winter’ document from your computer and save a new ‘2016’ version, colour-coded according to the location of items. You then spend half an hour meandering through lists from bygone years, growing teary-eyed as you cast your eyes over things like sippy-cups, toy cars and bedtime song cassettes.

You later arrive in the mountains to discover you haven’t brought your daughter’s ski gloves, while your non-OE friend who packed without the assistance of a list hasn’t forgotten a thing. How do they do that?!

2.  The middle-aged couples on two separate nearby tables ask to be reseated in the hotel restaurant because your exuberant son doesn’t understand the idea of an inside voice, let alone a polite restaurant voice.

3. You find yourself explaining Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration to your daughter who wants to go skiing but is feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of getting into all her gear. ‘So if you use your wonderful imagination to envisage all the fun you’re going to have out on the mountains, and if your brain could break down the process of getting ready into bite-sized chunks, what would you do first?’

4.  You’re not the least surprised when your son, who’s been leaping around at breakfast shouting, ‘C’mon! Let’s hit the slopes!’ announces, exhausted, at bedtime, ‘I never want to go skiing again!’ In fact, you could have written the script.

5.  You run your hands through your freshly-washed hair in the hotel elevator, then turn around and are shocked to see your daughter on the verge of tears. ‘I’m sorry! I just can’t take the smell of your hair combined with Jasper’s humming in this small space!’

6.  Your husband asks, ‘Do you mind if I eat pistachio nuts?’ as you enjoy a pre-dinner drink together in your hotel room. ‘Sure,’ you say, reaching for your headphones and white noise app.

7.  Your 10-year-old wears the same T-shirt for seven days straight because he doesn’t like the colour of any of the other six you pulled out of his wardrobe when you packed the suitcases.

8.  Your daughter’s thrilled to discover there are 15 sequels to the book she’s reading at the start of your holiday. She finishes the series on the flight home.

9.  At breakfast on your last day, while contemplating the eight hour journey home, you have a lively family discussion about teleportation, time travel, worm holes and the nature of consciousness – subjects no one ever tires of.

10.  You experience the blissful sensation of ASMR as you drive home past glassy Italian lakes and  breathtakingly vast snow-capped Alps.

P1070627small

Every single one of these things truly happened to us last week. So come on, tell me – is it just me?

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What’s your favourite family vacation story?

Anyone else get blissed-out on scenery?

How do you deal with the overwhelming task of packing?

Why Raising Our Personal Baseline is the Key to Parenting Our Intense and Sensitive Children

Why Raising Our Personal Baseline is the Key to Parenting Our Intense and Sensitive Children

Have you ever resolved to make a change in the way you parent?

Perhaps you want to stay calmer when your child has a meltdown, or allow more time for everyone to get ready for school?

Maybe you want to be a better listener when your son tells you about his latest project, or be more understanding when your daughter refuses to join in the swimming class you’ve just driven 30 minutes to get to?

The life cycle of a parenting goal

Whatever your goal, if you’re anything like me, you wake up in the morning feeling inspired, energised and eager to roll out the new you.

Everything goes well for the first few hours of the day (or the first few minutes).

The kids join you in bed for five minutes of snuggles before you all get up. Teeth-cleaning becomes a fun game everyone enjoys. You don’t rush your son as he selects a T-shirt that feels just right against his skin. You skilfully defuse an argument about who gets to feed the guinea pig his celery stick before anyone ends up in tears.

And then …

You realise you forgot to charge your phone the night before. You spend an unplanned-for 10 minutes scraping ice off the car windscreen which makes you late for your doctor’s appointment. The washing machine refuses to drain (with your daughter’s football kit trapped inside). Your youngest has a meltdown because he forgot to bring his blue bunny on the journey to the supermarket. And you get home to discover the hall full of feathers leading to a decapitated pigeon in the sitting room. (Maybe only cat owners will understand this last one.)

Ten minutes of vacuuming feathers and scrubbing blood off the skirting board later (all the while fending off one child’s questions about bird anatomy while reassuring the other that you’re sure the pigeon didn’t suffer), you think about cooking dinner.

By this point you are most definitely not the parent you dreamed of being during those first, promising moments of the day.

Life happens. Our delightfully intense children behave in their wonderful, full-on ways from the moment they bounce out of bed in the morning until the second they fall asleep at night. And we react to all this through the kaleidoscope of our own overexcitabilities.

How I gave up trying to be the perfect parent

I used to fantasise about having a pause button for my life. When I felt myself getting overwhelmed I would press pause and instantly create an hour’s peace, in which I could recharge and become the perfect parent I dreamed of being.

Over the years I’ve realised that it’s not only the pause button that doesn’t  exist – neither does the perfect parent.

What I can do is ensure that I’m as good a parent as I can be at any point in my life (and that’s good enough).

How do I make sure I’m as good a parent as I can be? By building up what Simone de Hoogh* calls my ‘baseline’.

What is our personal ‘baseline’?

How high or low our baseline is depends on the combination of our energy level and the strength of our resilience.

Energy

The amount of physical and emotional energy we have is the difference between feeling like we’re sinking or swimming in our lives.

Sometimes we have barely enough energy to keep our heads above water.

Other times we bob along, happily on top of things.

At times we might even have an abundance of energy, with enough spare to try new things. These are the times when we’re able to take steps towards our parenting goals and help our children deal with challenges.

Resilience

Our resilience, meanwhile, affects how we react to the little (and big) problems life throws at us. If our resilience is low, we’re easily upset when things go wrong. Even small annoyances can escalate and ruin everyone’s day.

But when our resilience is high, we can use problems to help us move towards our goals. When we know what we don’t want, we know better what we do want. This is what psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski had in mind when he referred to using our OEs as energy for self-directed emotional growth. (I talked a bit about Dabrowski’s theory in this post.)

What drains our personal energy?

Our personal baseline is usually highest when we wake up in the morning.

Then, throughout the day, the energy element of our baseline takes a hit each time one of these kind of things happens:

  • we behave differently from how we feel
  • we hold back from expressing ourselves
  • we don’t respect our limits (e.g. we say no when we mean yes, or we don’t do what we promised)
  • we resist physical urges, like eating, drinking, or needing to go to the loo (bathroom 😉 )

We can’t avoid these hits completely – certainly not while we live in families!

But raising our baseline can help in two ways.

How raising our energy helps

(1) The higher our baseline is, the more hits we can take before we crash.

(Psychologists call this point when we run out of will-power ‘ego depletion’, but that doesn’t sound quite dramatic enough to me.)

(2) When our baseline is high, we make better choices and can plan ahead.

So the big question is, how do we raise our baseline?

What can we do to top up our energy levels and boost our resilience?

I’ll be looking at this question over the next few weeks, starting with a guest post on 31 March over at Motherhood The Real Deal. I hope you’ll join me.  Update: My guest post 5 Keys to Staying Sane as a Mum to Sensitive and Spirited Kids will now feature at Motherhood The Real Deal on 15 April. I’m pleased to say that the reason for the date change is because Talya, the lovely mum behind Motherhood The Real Deal, took some self-care time out over Easter. 🙂

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What changes would you make if you had abundant energy?

How do you take care of yourself when your reserves are running low?

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

An OE Family on Holiday

I’m just back from a week’s skiing in Italy with my lovely family. Since I’ve been writing this blog I’ve been noticing more and more the quirky experiences we have that I suspect most other families don’t. I jotted down some of the things that happened to us on our recent travels to share with you in a light-hearted post next week. 🙂

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* Huge thanks to Simone de Hoogh for sharing the ideas I’ve talked about in this post. Simone is a parenting consultant specialising in supporting families dealing with overexcitabilities. To find out more about her work, visit the PowerWood website, or click here to book a free one-hour Skype consultation with Simone.

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