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

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

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

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

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

The life cycle of a parenting goal

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

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

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

And then …

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

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

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

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

How I gave up trying to be the perfect parent

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

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

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

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

What is our personal ‘baseline’?

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

Resilience

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

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

What drains our personal energy?

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

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

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

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

But raising our baseline can help in two ways.

How raising our energy helps

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll be looking at this question over the next few weeks, starting with a guest post over at Motherhood The Real Deal –  5 Keys to Staying Sane as a Mum to Sensitive and Spirited Kids.

* * *

What changes would you make if you had abundant energy?

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

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

An OE Family on Holiday

I’m just back from a week’s skiing in Italy with my lovely family. You can read about some of our  quirky experiences  in this light-hearted post next week – 10 Things That Happen to OE Families on Vacation (that probably don’t happen to other families).

* * *

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

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6 thoughts on “Why Raising Our Personal Baseline is the Key to Parenting Our Intense and Sensitive Children

  1. Hi Lucinda,
    I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to visit and write a comment. I am feeling very lazy at the moment!!
    I wanted to ask you something. If you thought your child had excitabilities, but you weren’t 100% sure, would you share all you have found out?

    1. Hi Claire, I think your ‘lazy’ is probably my super-productive! My excuse is that I do best listening to how I’m feeling. 😉

      In answer to your question, I think I would share if I thought other people might benefit from hearing about my experiences. I’d make it clear that it was something I was exploring. When we share a journey of discovery there usually seem to be folks who’re having similar experiences (even if we haven’t found all our answers yet). You have a way of sharing that is always interesting to me!

      Have you seen the OE questionnaire, btw? It’s not infallible – when Cordie first did it she didn’t score as having OEs but she most definitely does. And I have more OEs than the questionnaire showed. Jasper scored highly for almost everything, though!

  2. I’m so glad you’re covering this. I frequently sit back after a tantrum (my daughter, not really me, honest) and think, ‘Well, you made a hash of that one.’ I try to chalk it up to experience and learn for the next time, but I’m tired and low on patience! Help is definitely required- I don’t believe in the mythical ‘perfect parent’ either, and genuinely believe that the only way to survive parenthood is experiential honesty, understanding and collaborative thinking- so Thankyou! I look forwards to your next post.

    1. That’s me after meltdowns too, Hannah. When we were on holiday (read: inside an OE pressure cooker) for the first time I noticed myself feeling more ‘in the zone’ juggling everyone’s needs. I’m sure this saved me from several tantrums of my own! Collaborative thinking is definitely the way to go. I used to drive myself mad thinking it was just me going through this stuff. So nice to know one’s not alone. 🙂

    2. That brought a wry smile – “Well, you made a hash of that one” is how I often feel after one of my daughters meltdown’s! Nice to know I’m not alone. Hoping that I will gradually get better at implementing Simone’s advice which unfortunately goes out of my head at these moments as I get so triggered myself…and sometimes proceed to have my own meltdown! Oh dear! So working on the not getting triggered bit is where I need to start. And I also really appreciate hearing about the struggles of other parents dealing with OEs (their own and their children’s).

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