Maths in a Quirky Family

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I’m just popping in here today to share a little story about maths and to let you know I’m taking the rest of July off from Laugh, Love, Learn to enjoy some sunshine.

While I’m away, you might be interested in having a look at my most recent post over on my homeschooling blog, Navigating By Joy. From an early age my fabulously independent, strong-willed children resisted all attempts to impose a maths curriculum on them. As with many things, in retrospect it turned out they knew best, and we’ve spent the last four years exploring maths together in all sorts of interesting and creative ways.

In my post How to Make Your Kids Love Maths I reflect on the elements of our curriculum-free approach to maths that have been most successful. I don’t discuss my kids’ OEs as such, but if you have bright, intense children you might find yourself nodding in agreement when I say things like “I did suggest that my kids learn their times tables, but they were having none of it,” or “In maths, as in life, they don’t accept anything unless they know why.”

While I’m on the subject, here’s a little behind-the-scenes example of what maths in our house is like…

Quirky maths

Jasper’s been multiplying and dividing numbers competently for years, but for some reason when we were dividing negative numbers last week he decided to take issue with the order of the numbers.

Jasper: “But why does the 12 come before the 6? Are you sure?”

Me: “I’m sure. Remember when we talked about how how multiplication is commutative – like washing your face and cleaning your teeth, whereas division – like putting on your socks and shoes on – isn’t?”

Jasper: “Yes I understand the order’s important, but why can’t the 6 come first?”

Me: “Well. Imagine you had 12 sweets and you wanted to divide them fairly between 6 children…”

Jasper: “But what if said sweets were mints? Or if there were things inside the sweets – some children might not like that. Or they might not like particular flavours of sweets. Plus, there might be allergies.

So a better metaphor would be 12 boards of wood and 6 carpenters. That way we would definitely know that the carpenters wouldn’t be allergic to the boards of wood, because otherwise they wouldn’t be carpenters.”

Me: “Quite. But either way, the 12 boards come before the 6 children, or carpenters or whatever, yes?”

Jasper: “Okay.”

I asked Jasper if I might share this story with you and he kindly agreed. I like to think that my jotting it down in the middle of our maths session showed him how much I appreciate his quirky take on life. 🙂

I’ll be back in August with more stories from a family that embraces its quirkiness. Until then, I wish all my friends in the northern hemisphere a summer filled with golden sunshine, refreshing breezes and the sounds of gently lapping water, and my southern hemisphere friends crisp blue-skied winter days and cosy, snuggly evenings.

How’s maths in your house?

Do you go off on tangents in the middle of teaching your children, too?

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

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Image by Pezibear

Why Sensitive People Need to Find Our Balance Before We Can Make a Difference in the World

Why sensitive people need to find our balancebefore we can make a difference

Most people with emotional overexcitability care passionately about making the world a better place. But if we’re not careful, our acute sensitivity to injustice and tragedy can leave us flooded by negative emotion.

So how do we find out what’s going on in the world so we can contribute positively without feeling  overwhelmed?  And how do we teach our sensitive children to find their balance?

One evening last week my 11-year-old son came to me in tears.

“I keep thinking our plane’s going to crash or the boat’s going to sink when we go on holiday.”

Despite his imaginational and emotional OE, Jasper isn’t prone to these kind of worries, so I was curious what had triggered him. He told me that after we upgraded his computer to Windows 10, world news stories had begun appearing automatically on his home screen. (“I see all the murders – everywhere!”)

I wonder if the reason Jasper hadn’t got anxious before is because I stopped following the news a long time ago.

I figure that if anything’s that important I’ll hear about it somehow. I see newspaper headlines at petrol stations and subtitled news programmes at the gym, and every fortnight I read the kids’ newspaper NewsAdemic.

I inform myself politically before I vote, I research which charities to support, and I counter the media’s distorted emphasis on tragedy by subscribing to the Good News Network.

The world needs all kinds of people

Some people can deal with life dispassionately and logically. They aren’t overwhelmed by their negative emotions, even when they look directly at tragic situations. Does that make them bad, uncaring people? Of course not. Society needs people who can respond to crises quickly and practically.

And the world also needs the people who are so sensitive and empathic, whose compassion runs so deep that it takes them a while to find their emotional equilibrium when bad things happen.

How do we find our balance?

Here’s my approach:

(1) Be careful what you’re exposed to. If watching the news on TV leaves you so stressed that you shout at your kids,  don’t watch it. If reading the headlines depresses and drains you, don’t read them. We’re no good to anyone – our families or the wider world – if we don’t take care of our own emotional wellbeing.

(2) Have strategies to help you recover when you’re triggered by upsetting events you read or hear about. Go somewhere green for a walk, watch your favourite comedy show, meditate, chat with an upbeat friend or read a funny novel – whatever works for you.

I’m not suggesting we slap a happy face sticker over our empty fuel tanks. We need to acknowledge and be present to our negative emotions. But we also need to know when and how to reach for better feelings.

(3) Increase your resilience by doing things that nurture your emotional wellbeing as part of your daily routine.

(4) Seek out a life philosophy that helps you make sense of the world. Whether it’s mindfulness, a spiritual faith, transforming pain into art, or finding solace and wisdom in a book – keep searching for what works for you.

Model a powerful outlook to children

I started writing this post to help me process the shock and sadness I felt last Friday when 52% of the population of my country – motivated, it seemed to me, by bigotry and short-sighted greed – voted to leave the European Union.

Cordie (12), who knows a lot about current affairs thanks mainly to the intelligent YouTubers she follows, was disappointed by the referendum result too, but she was puzzled by the intensity of my upset.

“I don’t understand why this is affecting you so much,” she said, with genuine compassion.

“Because … it’s our future,” was all I could reply, still reeling from the implications of what my country had just so casually thrown away.

“But Mummy, everything’s our future.”

Here was my little girl reflecting back to me the outlook I’ve modelled to her throughout her childhood. Life is so much more than one bad news story, however devastating it feels.

I gave myself another hour clicking sad, empathetic emoticons on my friends’ FaceBook feeds, then I sat down to watch The Big Bang Theory with my family.

Politics can wait until I’ve found my balance.

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

John Lennon

Further reading

Sensitivity, Empathy and Compassion Fatigue – What Can You Do?  Your Rainforest Mind

Top 3 Tips to Up Your Energy and Resilience Level – PowerWood

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How do you find your balance when world events  rock your world?

How do you help your children find their balance?

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

Don’t forget to leave your email address in the Subscribe by Email box at the bottom of the page if you’d like to receive my weekly posts direct to your inbox!

Supporting girls becoming women

Supporting Girls Becoming Women (3)

What do you remember about becoming a teenager? Three things about my thirteenth birthday stick in my mind. The first is being thrilled to receive a pair of blue and yellow suede ‘disco skates’. The second is my grandmother sucking in her breath and telling me, “You’re a teenager now. There’s trouble ahead!” And the third is that right after that I lost control skating down a hill and badly skinned my knees and chin.

Secular Western society doesn’t do much to mark the transition from childhood to adulthood. So when a friend recommended a group which supports girls as they move into puberty, Cordie and I went along and in June 2015 Cordie began ‘Girls Journeying Together‘.

Over the last year the girls have met up once a month to explore topics related to growing up. In world which puts a great deal of pressure on young women to look and behave in certain ways, I love the way Kim, who led the group, encouraged the girls to take regular quiet time to tune in with themselves, and to try always to be true to themselves.

While the girls met, we mums would chat over a walk or coffee, our conversation enriched by thought-provoking questions Kim gave us that complemented what she was exploring with the girls that month. In this way, the mothers were able to share our journeys as our little girls become women, which included reflecting on our own experiences of growing up. We found this process surprisingly healing, as we each let go of emotional baggage we’d unconsciously been carrying around since our own teens. I’m sure we all emerged better equipped to support our daughters and to enjoy our changing relationships with them.

We were also inspired by the positive experiences a few of the women had when they were our daughters’ age. Many of the mums recalled starting their periods as a time of secrecy and embarrassment, but hearing one woman talk of being taken out for a celebratory meal, and another being given a special gift to mark the occasion gave us all ideas for how we might do things differently with our own daughters.

An end-of-journey celebration

Last Saturday marked the end of the girls’ year together. To celebrate, Kim invited us mums to join our daughters for a ceremony and party. The girls were asked to prepare something which would show their friends a side of them they may not have seen – to talk about a hobby, for instance.  The mums, meanwhile, were asked to think about how our daughters have changed over the last year, and to be ready to hold a metaphorical mirror up to them, reflecting back how we see them.

Managing our overexcitabilities at an intense ceremony

Cordie and I relished the focus the final ceremony provided, but as we absorbed the intense emotional energy of the group, we also had to deal with our OEs.

The combination of my enthusiasm and my OEs means I worry about dominating groups. And while I’m worrying about whether if I’ve said too much (or too little), I waste energy monitoring myself, which leaves me less present to what’s going on around me. What I loved about the girls’ group celebration was that during Kim’s opening meditation she reminded each person in the group to be herself, “no need to be any different, however that is at this moment.  Not to have to perform or try to be anyway other than each of us are this evening.” With those beautiful words** I felt myself relax. I remembered that I was among loving friends and that it was the combining of our unique individual energies that made the space so special.  (Wouldn’t it be nice if we could see the whole world that way?)

Cordie also had a wobbly moment. For her presentation she chose to sing and play guitar. She sings beautifully, and even though nerves caused her voice to waver slightly, no one noticed and everyone obviously enjoyed her performance. But because she didn’t do her best, Cordie got very tense and upset, which took her attention away from the celebration. Fortunately Kim was on hand to provide loving reassurance (of the kind that we often hear more easily from a non-parent!) and Cordie recovered.

When it was my turn in the spotlight, during the ‘hold a mirror to your daughter’ ritual, I acknowledged not only Cordie’s courage in performing in front of the group but – even more important –  her growing willingness and ability to move through the intense negative feelings she sometimes feels. It’s not always easy, but when we’re stuck, simply setting an intention to change our negative thinking is an important step in setting ourselves free to be present to the joy that’s around us. Which in Cordie’s case included entertaining her friends with her singing and playing for most of the subsequent party. 🙂


Supporting Girls Becoming Women

** I wrote to Kim, asking her to remind me of the special words she used which so put me at my ease. Here’s part of her reply:

“Basically, as in girls’ group, I want everyone to feel ‘right’, however it is that they are feeling.  Too often we can make ourselves wrong, or think ourselves wrong, and that is one of the things that we seek to stop ourselves doing over the year in girls’ group – so that we can let ourselves relax and just be who we are, whoever that is today.”

Isn’t that beautiful?


Website – Find out more about Girls Journeying Together at Rites for Girls

Podcast – Listen to Kim speak beautifully about the challenges girls face growing up and how we can support them in this podcast.

Book – The Emerging Woman: How to Celebrate Your Daughter Growing Up by Kim McCabe

Rites of passage (webpage) – a look at how puberty rites and coming of age ceremonies are celebrated around the world.

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What do you remember about becoming a teenager?

How are you supporting (or did you support) your child’s transition into and through puberty?

Do you know of any resources about supporting boys growing up?

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

If you’d like to receive my weekly posts about life in an overexcitable family direct to your inbox, just fill in your email address in the box below or top right.

Laugh Love Learn Start Here Page and a Poll

Laugh, Love, Learn

I’ve been blogging about life in an intense and sensitive family for six months now, which means I have quite a few posts in the Laugh, Love, Learn archive.

I thought it might be helpful to organise them into a ‘Start here’ page.

If you’ve been with me since the beginning (thank you!) you might find the page a handy reference. And if you’ve joined me along my journey you may want to hop over and have a browse.

The more I learn about myself and my quirky family, the more I realise how many of us quirky types are out there, and the more passionate I become about connecting with you.

Would you mind clicking on one of the options below to give me an idea what you’d be most interested in reading about? Thank you in advance! 🙂

What would you most like to read about?

Everyday life in an OE family
Parenting intense and sensitive children
Homeschooling intense and sensitive kids
Thriving as an intense and sensitive adult
Other (please leave a comment!)


What’s it Like Being a Tween with Overexcitabilities? Interview with C(12)

What's it like being a tween with overexcitabilities?

This week my 12-year-old daughter Cordie chatted with me  on camera about what it’s like being a tween with the intensities and sensitivities known as overexcitabilities. Cordie’s been home-educated since she was six.

{If you’re interested, you can watch our full conversation on video below.}

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘Overexcitabilities’ (OEs)?

I think of quirky creators of good things.

What OEs do you have?

I think have all of them to one extent or another. I definitely have imaginational OE. I like creating characters and stories. I create characters all the time, and then you have to write a story for your characters to be in, for other people to fully understand them.

And I also have sensual OE. I get quite annoyed by a lot of sounds, but I like loads of different styles of music. I like certain textures, and I really hate other textures. And I’m very sensitive to tastes and smells – I really don’t like some candles, or Lush products.

How has what you’ve learned about OEs helped you?

Knowing about OEs has helped me understand myself and become more self-aware. It helps because you can unpick causes and consequences. And it means you can laugh about things afterwards because you understand what went on. And you can more easily prevent it next time (if it was something that you don’t want to happen again).

What would you say are the similarities and differences between you and other people your age?

I think I’m a lot more sensitive to throwaway comments people make. At this age a lot of people are quite competitive, and in our culture especially we’re quite used to putting ourselves down to seem more humble.

If someone makes a throwaway insult (even if they didn’t mean it to be) like, “Oh you’re ugly” or whatever – it really gets to me. And even though they probably don’t even remember it, if you have OEs it can really stay with you for a while and influence what you do.

What makes you feel good about yourself?

I’m really happy that I’m fit and that I do a lot of exercise, which is fun.

My main sport is karate – I do 4 hours a week. I’ll hopefully get my black belt next Easter, but even if I don’t I’m proud of myself for getting to this level. I also enjoy gymnastics, Scouts and ice skating. And guitar – exercise for the fingers!

Also, I’m pleased with myself for completing Key Stage 3 maths. One of my goals was to do an exam paper at the end of this school year. My friends who go to school were all doing exams and I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it too.

Do your OEs affect the way you learn?

Yes, probably. I can’t learn in some situations, and also it’s easier to revise if I have certain stimuli. I really like doing memorisation with music, for instance.

In maths my OEs help me think of different ways around a problem. If you’ve only learned a formula you might forget it but it’s helpful if you can think outside the box and find of another way to solve a problem, even if it’s not the way you’ve been taught.

What would you say is your biggest challenge right now?

Just generally in life? I don’t really have any challenges, I have a great life!  Maybe dealing with a whole family who has OEs all of their own! It’s intense because it makes you consider – especially with emotional OE – what you say, because someone can take it to heart, and you don’t want to set anyone off.

But it is nice because you can have really deep, loving relationships. And also it’s nice because we never really get into any big fights, we always forgive each other.

What makes you happy?

I love doing my exercise and also going to Stagecoach, where I do 3 hours of dancing, acting and singing. I enjoy doing all of my activities and hanging out with my friends, because I’m quite extroverted. I really enjoy talking to people.

So even though you’re home-educated you still have friends? 😉

Yes! I have a lot of friends from different circles. It’s funny because often one of my friends will have a mutual friend who we’ll bump into and they’ll talk about a certain person and I’ll ask, “Oh is that the person who…?” and they’ll be surprised and say, “How did you know that?!”

Most people my age don’t have such a wide circle because they just have their friends from their school, but since I do karate and all my other activities I know a lot of different people.

What do you do to relax?

Mainly I watch YouTube, that’s my main method of relaxation. I lie on my bed or on the sofa and watch whatever videos I want, which is really nice. I go through phases. At the moment I watch videos about nail art, science, games and cooking.

How do your OEs affect your relationships?

I think having emotional OE I I crave deep friendships, so if I’ve found someone I’ll want to be with them loads and loads and I’ll talk about them constantly. Often when I come back from somewhere I’ll just be talking about this one person the entire time.

It’s great if you have friends who also have OEs too, but even if they don’t, it helps if they understand your little quirks.

Is there anything else you want to say about OEs?

Having OEs is great! If you don’t have them, don’t worry about it – you have it a lot easier. But if you do, you’re a cool person and they’re really fun.

They certainly are. It’s never dull in our family, is it?


What makes your tween feel good about him or herself?

What would they say is their biggest challenge?

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

If you’d like to receive my weekly posts about embracing life in an intense and sensitive family, don’t forget to leave your email address in the ‘Subscribe by Email‘ box below or at the top left of this page. 

The Unexpected Lessons I Learned When I Went Back to School for a Week

The Unexpected Lessons I Learned When I Went Back to School

When were you last a student in school? However much we enjoy learning, few adults spend much time in an actual classroom after we leave formal education.

So when our children tell us what’s happened to them in class, it’s difficult for even the most empathetic parent to put ourselves in their shoes and understand how our kids feel.

This month I got a reminder of what it’s like to be a student. My 12-year-old daughter was taking an intensive Spanish course and, as the rain had cruelly dashed my fantasies of lazing on the beach while Cordie got to grips with the indefinite preterite, I took the opportunity to work on my own Spanish.

My week back in the classroom gave me a fascinating first-person insight into a subject I wrote about here last week: How overexcitabilities can help you learn … and how they can hold children back in the classroom.

The class

My Spanish class only contained 5 students, but we had quite different abilities and needs.

Two were 18-year-old German au pairs, one of whom should have been in the level below.  There was 20-year-old Maria from the Netherlands spoke fluent Spanish with a strong Andaluz accent. She was in class to perfect her Spanish grammar and idioms, and spent most of her time on SnapChat. Next was sweet Dorota, a 21-year-old teacher from Poland. And finally there was me, an opinionated lawyer-turned-therapist-turned-homeschooling-mum, whose fluent Spanish spent 22 years going rusty before I began to brush it off again during our month in Spain last year.

Our teacher José was intelligent and creative, but had his work cut out to meet the needs of even such a small group of diverse students.

Not for the first time I wondered, how do teachers manage to serve the needs of 30 mixed-ability children?

And – something I found myself pondering over and over during my week’s course …

What’s it like to be a highly able child with asynchronous development and OEs in a classroom with 29 other children?

Classroom reflections

When the class topic wasn’t stimulating to me, my attention would wander. I’d discreetly doodle or make Anki flashcards, visit the bathroom or get ahead with my homework.

As an adult I was choosing to be in class. Our teacher was smart and resourceful, we were only 5 students, and the school day was just 4 hours long. I had a high degree of autonomy and plenty of experience in how to manage myself in under-stimulating situations.

I couldn’t help contrasting what it must be like for a child who’s bored in class day after day, who has no choice about being there, and who doesn’t know how to manage her intense feelings and under-utilised energy.

When the class topic was interesting to me – when our teacher talked about his Masters degree in ‘Spanglish’, for instance, or we were deconstructing a particularly interesting example of the imperfect subjunctive – I found myself talking nineteen to the dozen, eagerly releasing my pent-up intellectual energy. Then I’d catch sight of the glazed expressions on the faces of my fellow students and feel terrible for having dominated the conversation.

It sounds crazy now, and if I hadn’t written in my journal about it at the time I probably wouldn’t believe it, but even with all my knowledge about OEs, I had to make a huge effort not to internalise my feelings of shame and wrongness for being so different from my classmates.

On top of all that there was the homework, which sometimes I really didn’t feel like doing after four hours in class. Homework only took me about 45 minutes and of course I had the choice not to do it. I sympathised anew with the 12-year-olds who, after a long school day plus extra-curricular activities, are expected to spend 90 minutes each evening doing homework.

And when my classmates chewed gum, I didn’t let my stress levels to get too high before I politely explained that I have misophonia. I’ve never known people chew gum so quietly after that!😂  Schools may not allow children to eat in class, but young people with sensual OE are subject to all kinds of other sensory stimulation which impacts their baseline and  makes it difficult for them to focus.

How can we support intense and sensitive children in the classroom?

My daughter’s an extrovert who enjoys the homeschooling classes she chooses to go to,  but occasionally she finds a session frustrating or boring.

She knows there isn’t always time to dive deeply into subjects she’s curious about, and she understands that not everyone’s as intensely fascinated by the same things she is. Still, her OEs make her hyper-aware of her negative emotions, which she has to work hard to manage.

My Spanish experience gave me much more empathy for my children when they share these kind of reflections with me.

Here are some ideas that occurred to me during my week as a student about how we can support bright, intense and sensitive children in the classroom:

  • We can listen to our kids and not dismiss what they say as whining.
  • We can help them learn about themselves, including about OEs, high ability and asynchrony.
  • In particular, we can show children how their OEs can help them learn – by making them curious, creative and enthusiastic, for example.
  • We can reassure our children that just because they’re different from their classmates doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them.
  • We can take an interest when our children bring up issues that have been superficially addressed in the classroom but haven’t been explored as deeply as they’d like. By giving them the opportunity to discuss topics in this way we can ease our kids’ feelings of frustration and keep alive their intellectual curiosity and love of learning.
  • If we sense that a child is being given too much busywork, we can talk to teachers and suggest that the child is given more autonomy to choose her own projects.
  • We can reassure our children that later in life they’ll have the opportunity to make friends from a much more diverse group of peers, whether that’s at university or as they move through life pursuing their passions and interests.

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When were you last a student?

Did you learn anything unexpected?

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

Don’t forget to leave your email address in the ‘Follow By Email’  box at the bottom of the page if you’d like to receive my weekly posts about life in an overexcitable family straight to your inbox. 🙂 

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


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. 🙂 

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