Choosing Extracurricular Activities for Children with Overexcitabilities


Choosing Extracurricular Activities for Children with Overexcitabililties

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

This post is about

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

When children have OEs…

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

Finding extracurricular activities for your intense and sensitive child

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

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

Challenge #1: Other kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenge #2: Other adults

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenge #4: Competitiveness

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

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

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

When extracurricular activities don’t go as planned

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

1. Keep your baseline high

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

Use these 4 tools to reduce your own anxiety.

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

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

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

3. Don’t worry about what others are thinking

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

4. Prioritise your relationship with your child

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

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

Meeting your child’s extracurricular needs in other ways

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

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


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

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

Skills and hobbies

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

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


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

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

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

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

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What about multi-potentialite extroverts?

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

Your child may be more like my daughter – an intense, multi-potentialite  extrovert who wants to excel at every activity she hears about. Next time I’ll write about the very different hurdles we face trying to accommodate her extracurricular needs.

Don’t forget to leave your email address in the Follow by Email box below to get that post  delivered straight to your inbox. 🙂



PowerWood coaching for families dealing with OEs – Ideas


The Gifted Teen Survival Guide by Judy Galbraith and Jim Delisle

Living with Intensity by Susan Daniels and Michael Piechowski

Your Rainforest Mind by Paula Prober

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

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

I’d love to hear from you!

Choosing extracurricular actvities for children with overexcitabilities blog hop

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


Photo credit

Disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate so if you buy something from Amazon after clicking on my links I will receive a few pennies to go towards hosting this blog. Thank you! 🙂 

How Not to Feel Anxious (Even When You’re About to Jump out of a Plane)

How not to be anxious

The air rushed past my face as I sat in the open doorway of the plane, 15,000 feet above the English countryside. A moment later I’d be freefalling towards the ground at 125 mph. Surely I should be feeling at least a bit anxious?

Here are a few of the anxiety-reducing techniques I’d been doing beforehand…

How not to feel anxious

1. Reframing physical sensations

You know that ‘butterflies in the tummy’ sensation you get when you think about something that makes you feel anxious? Physiologically, it’s the same as the feeling we get when we’re excited.

But, unlike William Shakespeare’s rose, the name we give to that feeling can make all the difference.

If we label the butterflies sensation nerves or anxiety,  the feeling will probably grow stronger and more negative. But if we call the feeling excitement, we’re likely to feel a final fleeting frisson as we acknowledge the trigger, before our nervous system returns to normal.

In the week before my skydive I got butterflies every time someone mentioned my jump. But whenever anyone asked if I was nervous I didn’t answer ‘Absolutely terrified!’ Instead I truthfully replied, ‘A bit. But mainly I’m really excited!’

Reframing is one of the simplest yet most powerful techniques I learned when I trained to be a cognitive hypnotherapist.

I encourage my kids to reframe, but I’m also careful to acknowledge authentic emotions. None of these techniques is about slapping a happy face sticker over an empty fuel gauge, but rather transforming negative emotions into more positive ones.

In the case of my skydive, joyfully living life to the full is one of my core values. So transforming my nervousness into excitement was congruent with my authentic self.

2. Power Posing

If I told you that standing like Wonder Woman for two minutes would make you feel more confident and decrease stress, you might be sceptical. But if you’d heard of Amy Cuddy’s research into how our physiology affects our mental state you’d probably give it a try, and you might be surprised at the results.

I tried out power posing last week after listening to Cuddy’s audiobook, Presence. I was amazed how a few minor adjustments in the way I hold my body had such an uplifting effect.

One afternoon Cordie was feeling a bit out of sorts so I invited her to power pose with me. “Two whole minutes?!” she grumbled. I suggested we time ourselves by playing a song on her phone. So there we stood, two wonder women in front of the mirror, jiggling our hips to Enrique Iglesias and giggling our heads off.

How not to feel anxious - Power Posing
Power posing before my skydive

Watch Cuddy’s TED talk, read her book or see James Clear’s excellent article about power posing to find out more.

3. The Escudero Method

Once upon a time, in another life, I used to attend board meetings with the heads of UK music companies.  I noticed in those meetings that whenever a junior employee spoke, they always took a sip of water straight afterwards.

When I later trained as a cognitive hypnotherapist, I discovered why: anxiety gives us a dry mouth.

During my training I also learned a weird hack which, like power-posing, works because of the way the body affects the mind.

The Escudero method was originally developed as a pain control technique by a surgeon who successfully performed dozens of operations without any anaesthesia. It also works wonders when you need a confidence boost.

Luckily I was skydiving with my lovely hypnotherapy tutor, who reminded me of the Escudero method when he noticed me sipping from my water bottle as we waited to be called to our plane. To feel more confident, all you need to do is gather saliva in your mouth. Just as smiling’s been proven to make us feel happier, it’s hard to feel anxious with a well-moistened mouth. Slightly gross, I know, but – hey – if it works…

4. 4-7-8 Breathing

I became a believer in the power of breathing techniques when I (a self-confessed wuss who used to pop a paracetamol at the first hint of a headache) comfortably gave birth to my son at home, without even so much as a whiff of gas and air.

4-7-8 breathing generates a ratio of carbon dioxide to oxygen that relaxes our parasympathetic nervous system and promotes a state of calm. All you do is inhale through your nose for a count of 4, hold for 7, and exhale through your mouth for 8. Rest the tip of your tongue between your palate and your top front teeth as you breathe.

I’ve been using 4-7-8 breathing a lot since I learned it from Simone de Hoogh. It came in very handy as our plane slowly climbed to the 15,000 feet from which I was to freefall.

Do these techniques really stop you feeling anxious?

So did I feel nervous in the moments before I jumped out of a plane and hurtled toward the ground at 125mph for 60 seconds before parachuting down to earth?

Amazingly – I didn’t!

Thanks to these techniques I felt incredibly calm from the second I boarded our plane until the moment I parachuted gently down to earth.  See for yourself in this (1 min 25 sec) video. I knew you wouldn’t be able to hear me shout, ‘I love this!’ during freefall, so as you can see from the thumbnail, I used sign language.💜

(You can see the full video (5 mins 53 secs) here.)

What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever gone out of your way to do?

How do you deal with anxiety?

Have you ever tried any of these techniques?

I’d love to hear from you!

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Your Rainforest Mind – Book Review

Your Rainforest Mind Book Review

Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth is a life-affirming book about ‘excessively curious, idealistic, sensitive, highly intelligent humans’. Author Paula Prober refers to these individuals as RFMs or ‘rainforest minds’.

I loved Your Rainforest Mind so much I read it twice in a row. This post has ended up far longer than I intended because it inspired so many thoughts I wanted to share. I trust that you, my fellow RFMs, will understand that!

Why should you read Your Rainforest Mind?

  • Because the countless examples of what it’s like to be an RFM will make you laugh and cry and feel validated for the amazing being that you are
  • Because the book is filled with practical strategies to help with the everyday challenges RFMs face
  • Because of the dozens of links to books, articles and websites for further research
  • Because after reading it you’ll be a hundred steps closer to knowing your place in this world
  • If you’re bringing up a young RFM, you’ll worry less and enjoy your child more

What is a rainforest mind?

I love the rainforest analogy. Not only does it neatly sidestep the controversial G word, but it captures the complexity of what’s  going on inside an RFM so much better than the word ‘gifted’. Likening people to ecosystems, the author explains,

“While all ecosystems are beautiful and make valuable contributions to the whole, rain forests are particularly complex: multi-layered, highly sensitive, colorful, intense, creative, fragile, overwhelming, and misunderstood … The rain forest is not a better ecosystem, just more complicated. It also makes an essential contribution to the planet when allowed to be itself, rather than when cut down and turned into something that it is not.”

Here are some of my favourite things about Your Rainforest Mind:

1.  The abundant examples of what it means to have a rainforest mind

When you grow up believing there’s something wrong with you because you’re so different from other people, you get used to camouflaging yourself to be accepted. Buried deep within, your authentic self yearns to be heard – and yet you don’t even realise the extent to which you’re denying it.

And then you read stories like the ones that fill this book, and you nod and you cry as you realise you’re not the only one who feels this way. And that beautiful, frightened child who survived by hiding her true nature all this time gradually begins to feel safe to come out and be seen.

A highly unscientific quiz

The book begins with a “highly unscientific” 23-question quiz to discover if you have a rainforest mind. One of my favourite questions is: “Have you ever called yourself ADHD because you are easily distracted by new ideas or intricate cobwebs, or OCD because you alphabetize your home library or color-code your sweaters, or bipolar because you go from ecstacy to despair in 10 minutes?” (Oh, yes!)

Your Rainforest Mind then continues to explore what having a rainforest mind means and the challenges it brings, illustrated with case studies from the author’s 25 years’ experience counselling RFMs. With every insightful example, my authentic self felt slightly more validated and the voice saying “there’s something wrong with you” became a little quieter.

2. Perfectionism explained

A few years ago I noticed how my kids both hate making mistakes, so I bought a book about perfectionism in children. That book put the blame squarely on parents’ shoulders. Perfectionistic kids, according to that author, are created by pushy, competitive parents.

Now, I admit I’m not the perfect parent (ha), but I’ve raised my kids with a keen awareness of the value of a growth mindset and intrinsic motivation. We unschool, and if anything I err on the side of not pushing them to achieve. So that book just didn’t resonate.

I now realise that that other author dealt only with extrinsic perfectionism and had no understanding of an RFM’s intrinsic drive for perfection – “That deep soulful desire for beauty, balance, harmony, and precision,” as Your Rainforest Mind author Paula Prober describes it.

While reading this chapter we heard from my daughter’s French teacher that she’d got 87% in her exam. Cordie was crestfallen. “I was hoping for more than that. I wonder what I missed?” As Paula says, “you may never feel satisfied because you strive for perfection. You keep raising the bar.”

3. Possibilities and choices

Sadness over the road not taken

Chapter four, Too many possibilities, Too many choices, deals with “the depth of [an RFM’s] sadness over the road not taken”. I was reminded strongly here of my daughter, who has experienced “the existential dilemma … in making choices” since she was a toddler.

I can remember three-year-old Cordie coming in after half an hour joyfully playing in the garden, then bursting into tears because,  “I wanted to colour my picture!” I was genuinely bewildered. No one had forced her to play outside instead of colouring.  It took me a while to figure out that she was sad simply because she hadn’t been able to do two things she loved at the same time.

Freedom to be multipotential

This chapter also discusses the challenge RFMs face in choosing a career path, bearing in mind their many and varied strengths, interests and passions. I found myself shouting ‘yes!’ when the author acknowledges that RFMs can be both scanners, who love variety and novelty, and divers, who choose one thing to examine thoroughly.

“Understanding your multipotentiality … can free you up to pursue many of your interests without guilt or shame.”

As a homeschooling mum who sometimes feels frivolous and guilty about the time I spend on my own hobbies and dreams, I resonated with the author’s client who said, “I’ve gotten so overwhelmed by the ideas and projects coming into my head that I’ve tried to convince myself that I could just turn them off and just be happy being a mom.”

This chapter also contains some great strategies for embracing our multipotentiality, which I’ll talk about in the next section.

4. Practical strategies

I’d have loved Your Rainforest Mind simply for the warm, validating way it describes RFMs. But, even better, at the end of each chapter are pages of practical strategies to help with the issues RFMs face.

One strategy I took on immediately was to make a  journal filled with ideas for projects and career possibilities. “Use it to write, draw, mind-map, list or plan without any attention to practicality or reality. These may never be developed, which is fine.”

I can’t tell you how much fun it’s been to write down all the instruments and languages I’d love to learn alongside my dreams of studying astrophysics, photography, horticulture, hair science and economics while being an expert gymnast [crying with laughter emoticon] … and that’s just a small sample from a long, long list!

One of the things I liked best about this exercise was being given permission to dream, plan and research just because I enjoy it. Yes, endless research can get in the way of producing results, but that doesn’t mean that from time to time we can’t do it just for fun.

Your Rainforest Mind Book Review

5. Authenticity, creativity and spirituality

I’ve spent most of my life feeling embarrassed about my lifelong search for spiritual meaning and connection with something greater than myself.

Brought up in an atheist family, at 12 I wrote long letters to God, at 14 I practised Buddhist chanting after reading about it in a teen magazine, and in my 20’s I sought secret respite from an unfulfilling legal career in the self-help shelves of my local bookshop. In my 30’s I attended regular personal development workshops and approaching 40 I discovered a life philosophy that has resonated with me to this day.

As I’ve grown older I’ve become more comfortable with the spiritually-seeking part of myself, yet I’ve always seen it as an aberration, somehow incongruent with my intelligence. So the relief I felt was visceral when I read Paula Prober’s sensitive discussion of authenticity, creativity and spirituality.

I resonated with Paula’s comment that from an early age most RFMs have a strong inner guidance system. I love the quote from one of my favourite authors, Steven Pressfield: “Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine ourselves to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.” I shed a tear as I read that RFMs often find it difficult to find the spiritual community they yearn for. And I empathised whole-heartedly with Paula’s many clients who found spiritual connection in nature.

6. Loneliness and the rainforest mind

“Loneliness may be the number one challenge for the RFM.”

This chapter talks about the difficulties RFMs face finding peers – in school, in the workplace, as partners, and as friends.

I find it difficult to talk about my personal experience even here, because I’m afraid of sounding like I think I’m better than other people, which is ironic considering I’ve spent most my life thinking there was something wrong with me because I’ve never felt comfortable or been fully accepted in groups.

I’m an introvert so I don’t need dozens of friends, but the better I understand myself, the more I’ve noticed how energised I feel after spending time around my more rainforest minded friends. Your Rainforest Mind has inspired me to overcome my fear of rejection and seek out more RFMs in my life, bearing in mind the author’s advice, “It is likely fellow RFMs will be shy or awkward for the same reasons that you are, so be brave and take the first step.”

Further resources

Your Rainforest Mind – author Paula Prober’s blog

Your Rainforest Mind webinar – hear more about RFMs and the book direct from Paula

Your Rainforest Mind has contributed enormously to my understanding of myself, my children, and my RFM friends, and I’d love for it to reach as wide an audience as possible. Please help by sharing this post . If you read the book perhaps you could even write your own review, on Facebook, your blog or Amazon.

To receive my weekly posts about life in an RFM family that embraces its quirkiness, don’t forget to leave your email address in the box below or top right, and to like the Laugh, Love, Learn Facebook page.

Have you read Your Rainforest Mind?

What was your favourite thing about it?

I’d love to hear from you, friends. 🙂



* I bought my own copy of Your Rainforest Mind and was not compensated for this review other than the pleasure of sharing a wonderful book. I am an Amazon affiliate so if you buy something from Amazon after clicking on my links I will receive a few pennies to go towards hosting this blog. 

Maths in a Quirky Family

Child 1423510 1280

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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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 (usually) weekly posts direct to your inbox! 


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

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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?

 * * *

* 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.

* * *

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!

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