Category Archives: Parenting

How to parent intense and sensitive children

The Joy of Shared Intensity

shared intensity

Overexcitabilities run in families. That’s why I write so much about handling our OEs around our intense children. All that energy under one roof can be ‘interesting’.

But there’s an upside to living in an intense family, and as my children get older I’m starting to realise how wonderful that can be.

Have you ever tried explaining one of your passions to someone who doesn’t experience life as intensely as you? If you have, you don’t need me to tell you about The Blank Look.

Only people who share our intensity can understand the visceral feeling of excitement we get when we’re gripped by a passion – The drive to know everything there is to know about something. The way our bodies vibrate at a higher and higher frequency until we feel like we might explode, our consciousness transcending this realm and leaping forth into the far corners of the multiverse. (Or is that just me?)

That’s how I felt the first time I saw my husband. It wasn’t him that triggered my passion, though. It was the music we were dancing to. My friends had wanted to hang out in a bar whose music desiccated my soul, so I cut them loose and headed somewhere the music made my heart sing.

Relationships that start in nightclubs aren’t meant to last. But now I understand intensity I know why, nineteen years on, I’m still in love with the man I met that night. Our intensity is what brought each of us to that place, and it’s what’s kept us together.

The intensity my husband and I share is also what gave us our awesome children.

The trouble was that after they were born, I couldn’t listen to music.

Every album in my CD rack triggered feelings too intense for me to handle. I’d end up filled with melancholy remembering moments from my past, or so excited I needed to go out dancing now.

Not very useful when you have to cook fish fingers for a couple of pre-schoolers.

I couldn’t listen to new music either, because until I’m emotionally connected with the lyrics, music sound like noise to me. And with two high-needs kids, I couldn’t handle any more noise.

* * *

Then my daughter discovered music.

For her thirteenth birthday we took her to see her favourite band live, and her passion for music exploded.

She bought herself an electric guitar, writes songs with her bass-playing BF, and they jam with their drummer friend whenever they can. She’s on a mission to listen to every pop punk band from the 70s to date.  And then of course there are the fandoms.

In case you don’t know what a fandom is, here’s how my daughter explained it in a video she made (before her passion for music got started):

‘The joy of fandoms is the community. Everyone else is as crazy about this thing as you are. Fandoms are a great place to express yourself. You can find so many kindred spirits.  You can write or create art, or you can just enjoy  being with people who are like you, which is a wonderful thing. If you feel like it’s weird to be a crazy fangirl/fanboy – it’s not weird! There are loads of people like you!’

My daughter (then 11) ‘Fandom Addiction: Fandoms. They are not a problem!

(You can see the appeal of fandoms for young people with OEs, can’t you?)

* * *

Thanks to my passionate daughter, music’s returning to my life big time. It’s so much fun knowing someone else who listens to the same song twenty times in a row because one line of lyrics gives her goose bumps. Who ponders aloud why she always gets a dopamine rush during a certain Twenty One Pilots song. And who loves it when I turn up the car stereo so we can bask together in Brendon Urie’s mellifluous vocal range.

Music’s giving me something wonderful to share with my daughter. I love my intense family. 🙂

* * *

Do you share your passions with your children?

Does music transport you to intense extremes?

I’d love to hear from you!

* * *

Do you live in an intense family, too?  I’d love you to join me on my journey learning how to live life to the max while keeping our balance and helping our children find theirs. Just write your email address in the box below to receive my weekly posts direct to your inbox. You can also like Laugh, Love, Learn on Facebook.

 

 

Image: Public Domain Pictures

How to Stay Sane When Your Kids Fight

How to stay sane when your kids fight - horses fighting

If you want to stay sane when your kids fight and help everyone learn from the process, you need to do three things:

1. Deal with the immediate situation

2. Recover (let go of all the negative energy you’ve absorbed)

3. Help your kids heal and learn from what happened

Here’s a crockery-smashing example from our family.

The Fight

I walk into the kitchen, feeling calm after meditating and looking forward to afternoon tea together. My children are arguing loudly about who gets to microwave their cocoa first.

Someone kicks someone else.

I throw myself between them to prevent escalation.

Unable to hit back, the injured child throws a full cup of cocoa across the room and swipes a jugful of milk off the counter as they storm out.

The Aftermath

1. Deal with the immediate situation

After checking the kicked child is okay, I spend the next half hour picking up broken china, scrubbing cocoa off cupboards, and mopping the floor.

On the outside I’m completely calm, but I know I’m holding back my emotions until it’s safe to process them.

I put the dirty towels in the washing machine and head for my room.

2. Recover

I tell my kids that I’m going to meditate, and quietly suggest they do something to help them calm, too.

Getting calm

As I begin listening to a guided meditation about relationships, tears begin to flow.

However good your boundaries, it’s difficult to be in the thick of intense negative energy without absorbing some.

I give myself an imaginary hug as the soothing words of the meditation wash over me.

Fifteen minutes later I’m feeling much calmer. But when I imagine talking with my children about the incident, I feel stressed again. I need to be fully regulated if I want to help my kids process and learn from what happened.

Healing

I decide to use a technique I’ve used many times with clients, my children and on myself.

The Fast Phobia Cure works by recoding the way the brain stores a traumatic event in our memory. It’s more complicated to explain that it is to do, so I won’t go through all the steps now, but if you’re interested leave me a comment and I’ll share the process in a separate post.  In the meantime, these instructions are the clearest I’ve come across (scroll down to How to re-programme your amygdala using NLP).

As I use the Fast Phobia Cure, I check in with myself to see how triggered I feel when I think about the fight. After cycling through the process four times, I can barely summon any negative emotion, but I’m left with a slight heaviness in my chest.

I’m on a roll now, so I tune into the heavy feeling and ask myself which direction it’s moving in. (Emotions are energy, so they can’t stay still.)

I imagine physically removing the feeling from my chest, flipping it over, and replacing it so that it’s  spinning in the opposite direction.

As I notice how much better that feels, I imagine the new, positive feeling spinning faster.

I change the colour of the feeling, from inky black to fluffy pink.

I breathe deeply and imagine golden light filling my body.

This whole process takes less than ten minutes, and leaves me feeling better than ever.

I’m ready to talk with my kids.

Note: Meditation and NLP are my go-to healing processes. Your will be different. Do what works for you. 🙂 

3. Helping children learn from what’s happened

There is no failure. Only feedback.

Robert G Allen

Every breakdown carries an opportunity for a breakthrough. But first we have to get to a place where we can think.

I sit quietly on the bed of the child who threw the mug. They’ve been looking at cute cat photos. I acknowledge them for doing something to help them get calm. I share the steps I took to feel better.

They say they feel better, but angry tears fill their eyes as they say bitterly, ‘But I’m I not ready to forgive XXX!’

We talk about how forgiveness isn’t about the other person – it’s about choosing to feel better ourselves. ‘Holding onto anger is like taking poison and expecting the other person to get sick.’

We go downstairs. The person who kicked apologises.

The child who was kicked hugs their sibling and says, ‘It’s okay. Anyone else would’ve kicked me a lot sooner. I love you.’

We all smile through our tears at this child’s quirky humour.

Over dinner, we discuss the argument that led up to the fight. Both children realise that it was caused by assumption and miscommunication. We talk about how arguments escalate when our window of stress tolerance is small. We decide to practise non-violent communication techniques soon.

If you have very young children

Don’t worry if your kids are too young to leave unsupervised while you go somewhere peaceful to process your emotions.

Do whatever it takes to stay sane in the moment, and retreat to do the healing work when your kids are in bed or another adult takes over childcare.

The important thing is to reach a point where you can stay authentically regulated while you talk with your children about what happened.

 * * *

Things around here are rarely this extreme, but I know we’re not the only ones who experience this level of physical and emotional intensity from time to time.

Let’s not feel shame.  Let’s appreciate ourselves for doing the best we can to help our awesome kids manage their intensity.

I feel quite vulnerable writing posts like this, but it’s worth it if it helps even one other person know they’re not alone. We’re all in this together.💜

* * *

Do you want to read more about living positively with intensity and sensitivity?  Leave your email address in the box at the bottom of the page to receive posts direct to your inbox.  You can also like Laugh, Love, Learn on Facebook.

 

Photo credit: SilviaP_Design

Navigating Family Life When Overexcitabilities Collide


when overexcitabilities collide - tigers fighting

When you’re a child with overexcitabilities, one moment you might be talking at the top of your voice and five minutes later you need absolute silence. Unfortunately – because OEs are hereditary – you probably live with several other intense and sensitive folk whose needs rarely coincide with yours.

If you’re not talking at top volume, you might be leaping around, dancing, whistling, clapping, fidgeting, playing the same piece of music for hours on end, arguing, sucking, chewing, crunching, banging or expressing your intensity in one of a million other ways that make you just a little hard to live with. And that’s even before we take into account the sensitivities of other family members.

So what do we do when our children are screaming at each other (or worse) because their needs are out of sync with their siblings’? And how do we stay sane in the process?

Conventional methods don’t work in non-average families

When one child is bugging everyone else, the conventional approach is to step in and make the ‘offending’ child stop their behaviour. Maybe even punish them for it.

But who is the ‘offending child’? Is it the one who had so much energy that he needed to bang his drum while stamping his feet for ten minutes straight, or is it his sister who eventually bashed him on the head to make him stop?

And in the midst of all that chaos, do we have the wisdom to make that judgment?

An alternative approach

Instead of waiting until OEs collide, let’s teach all our kids to approach life with the resilient attitude psychologists call an internal locus of control – a mindset that will not only create a more peaceful home, but will benefit them throughout their lives.

People who have an internal locus of control (ILOC) believe that what happens to them depends on what they do, rather than on events outside their control.  (In contrast, people with an external locus of control believe that what happens to them is controlled by outside forces.)

People who live mostly in ILOC tend to be happier, more confident and successful, have a strong sense of self-efficacy, and enjoy better physical health.

So how do we help our kids to grow up with this positive attitude?  ILOC begins with that holy grail of parenting children with OEs: self-regulation.

Teaching our children self-regulation

When our kids are triggered, they flip into survival mode: fight or flight are the only options available to them. We want to get them back into their thinking brains, which is where their power lies.

To do this, we need to do something we’ve been doing since they were babies – use our own regulation to help soothe them.

Think about what happens when a baby cries and a calm, loving adult picks her up and cuddles her. The baby hasn’t yet learned to self-regulate, so the adult helps. (Contrast what happens when a dysregulated adult tries to calm a crying baby.)

Our intense and sensitive children are no longer babies but they have bigger ‘engines’ than other kids. It makes sense, then, that it takes them longer  to learn to learn to control those engines.

Of course, staying regulated ourselves  is easier said than done when we’re trying  to cook dinner at the end of a long day and yet another scream emanates from the bedroom.

As parents we can improve our own ability to self-regulate in two ways: by de-activating our past-based triggers, and by taking care of own needs.

Healing ourselves

Most of us were raised in families where intensity had to be suppressed. We learned – or were made – to stuff down our feelings to keep the peace. We grew up to be more or less functional adults, able to manage our emotions when we needed to.

And then we had children, and those intense children pushed buttons we never knew we had, bringing to the surface years of suppressed pain.

I’m not suggesting every parent of kids with OE needs therapy, but if we want to stay calm in the face of their intense behaviours, we need to find some way to deal with our own issues. (Paula Prober’s book, Your Rainforest Mind is an excellent place to start.)

Daily self-care

As well as dealing with the big stuff, we need to take care of our day-to-day needs if we want to stay regulated in the midst of our kids’ OEs. (See my series on how to use our overexcitabilities to nourish our souls for some ideas.)

Helping children increase their window of stress tolerance

We can help children learn self-regulation skills by chatting with them (when they’re calm) about their window of stress tolerance.

Make lists together of things that make their window smaller, and things that make it bigger. (Younger kids might relate more to the idea of a bucket that gets fuller or emptier.)

For ‘Things that make my window smaller’ they might come up with: playing video games for too long, staying up late, eating too much sugar, being hungry or thirsty, for example.

Things that make my window bigger’  might include: going for a walk, playing outside, eating healthily, cuddling the pets, jumping on the trampoline, enjoying a good book, playing with clay.

When we talk with our kids about stress tolerance, we’re teaching them that they have more control over how they react than they may have realised.

But what if a child’s done all she can to take care of herself, and her sibling’s intense behaviour is still driving her nuts?

‘What can I do to make myself feel better?’

Next, our kids need to consider what (peaceful!) steps they can take to stop their sibling’s behaviour affecting them.

For instance, if noise is an issue, can they move to a different room or even outside? Can they use ear defenders or listen to soothing music or white noise?

Teach powerful communication strategies

We can also show our children how to compassionately negotiate with their siblings. I like the Non-Violent Communication (NVC) model, in which we refer to our own needs and use non-blaming language.

NVC can be practised in advance and then be used either in the moment, or later when everyone’s calm.

An example might be: ‘When I hear you making that noise I feel overwhelmed because I need quiet to concentrate on my schoolwork.  Would you be willing to do something quieter for a while?’

But shouldn’t we be teaching our kids to be considerate?

So far I’ve talked about helping our kids self-regulate so that they’re better able to deal with with their siblings’ intense behaviours.

What’s I haven’t talked much about is the intense behaviours that some might say are causing the problems in the first place.  Does this mean I think we shouldn’t encourage our children to be respectful of other people’s needs? Of course not. I’m just trying to rectify the balance. The refrain of ‘Be quiet!’ and ‘Keep still!’ follows too many of these kids wherever they go.

But intensity is a part of who our children are. It’s no easier to turn off than their sensitivity.

Home is a place where we should all be allowed to express ourselves as the vibrant, quirky individuals that we are.

And if we can teach our kids to cope with each other, they’ll be able to cope with anything. 😉

* * *

How do you manage when overexcitabilities collide in your family?

I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

* * *

How to stay sane when your kids fight

You might also like this post, about how we turned an intense, crockery-smashing argument into an opportunity to become closer and wiser.

To receive my regular posts about living positively with intensity and sensitivity, don’t forget to leave your email address in the box at the bottom of the page.  You can also like Laugh, Love, Learn on Facebook.

To read more families’ experiences of navigating gifted traits, visit these great GHF bloggers.

navigating family life when overexcitabilities collide - goats locking horns

Main photo credit: Castleguard

My 5 Point Plan For Enjoying Christmas with an Overexcitable Family

enjoying christmas in an overexcitable family

I admit it. I’m a recovering Scrooge.

From the time Santa stopped filling my stocking, the festive meant:

– Battling through hot, overcrowded shops while stressed-to-the-max trying to find perfect Christmas presents

– Having to stay up late making small talk at parties, instead of relaxing at home in my pjs

and, after becoming a parent:

– Negotiating the minefield that is:

Sensitive kids + Over-stimulation + Extended family

These days, I’m pleased to say,  I feel much more positive about the festive season. (Hurray!)

As with so many other aspects of life:

Understanding how my kids and I are wired means I can plan ahead  – not just to survive, but to actually enjoy Christmas.

Christmas biscuits - Enjoying Christmas with an overexcitable family

My 5 point plan for enjoying Christmas with an overexcitable family

1. Build up your baseline before Christmas

I used to wear myself out trying to do everything in the run-up to Christmas. Shopping, parties, crafts, baking…

These days I’m more intentional about what I say yes to.

If you and your kids enjoy doing crafts, baking and going to Carol concerts and parties – go ahead. Just don’t think you have to do it all.

For me December is about creating a soothing, cosy home. It’s a time to light candles, to uncork the cinnamon and frankincense aromatherapy oils, and to snuggle up under fluffy blankets.

2. Simplify shopping

It’s fun to give presents other people will enjoy, but I used to tie myself up in knots overthinking gifts and worrying whether people would like them.

Remember – people enjoy gifts given with love, so the better you feel when you’re choosing a gift, the more likely they are to appreciate it.

– If making home-made bath bombs and peppermint creams with your kids is fun for you, give people those.

– If you love books, take pleasure in choosing a books for everyone. Check out My Little Poppies’ booklists for inspiration. Most of my nephews and godchildren will be receiving something from her 10+ Picture Books for Gifted Children this year, or a copy of Sue Elvis’s The Angels of Gum Tree Road.

– For my own children, Christmas is a chance to stock up on sensory toys, craft materials and (for my teenaged daughter) pretty toiletries, and also to add to our collection of good quality toys like Lego and Geomag.

– I love taking photos, so for family I make personalised photo books and calendars. It takes me months to put these together, but I enjoy looking over our shared memories, and I can do it from the comfort of my sofa. (I use photobox.co.uk.)

3. Plan ahead for Christmas Day

Many of us feel constrained by other people’s expectations about where we should spend Christmas. Of course we want to show our love for older family members, but let’s also be mindful of our children’s needs.

That might mean inviting family to spend Christmas with you instead of you travelling, or staying away for a shorter period, or asking some of your guests to stay in local guesthouses instead of in your home. I’ve done all three over the past few years.

People often assume that children will be happy to share their bedrooms with young visitors, but for many sensitive children, having a space of their own to withdraw to when the rest of the house is full of noisy guests is essential. No one has minded when I explain my children’s needs, and we’ve all had a happier time together because my kids have been able to stay regulated.

If you do spend Christmas away from home, speak with your hosts ahead of time about your child’s needs. Ask if there’s a quiet space your child can retreat to, to recover from over-stimulation.  By doing so you’ll not only have a practical plan, but your hosts won’t think you rude if you and your child need to take a quiet time-out.

Similarly, make a plan with your kids. Tell them about the quiet space. Pack their favourite drinks, snacks, teddy, small toy or puzzle, audiobook with headphones, or earplugs – whatever your child needs to get regulated.

5. Prioritise your kids’ needs on Christmas Day

Christmas Day itself is a potent cocktail of overwhelm, both for us and our children. Think about what happens when you add together:

– Over-stimulated, hyper-sensitive kids

– Extra noise, extra people

– Unusual food served at irregular times

– Triggering food and drink (sugar for the kids, alcohol for the adults)

– Pressure (to have fun, to be grateful, to be polite, to be a good loser at games, to have perfect kids, to hug random relatives, to be seen to be a good parent…)

– Exhausted, stressed out parents

… and then you add a handful of overexcitabilities to that mix!

My 3-step-plan to avoiding Christmas Day meltdown

(1) Do whatever it takes to stay regulated yourself. For me this includes taking plenty of breathers away from the noise and stress.

(2) Keep an eye on your child. If you sense him becoming overwhelmed, gently suggest some quiet time.

(3)  If meltdown happens, stay calm – and stay true to your parenting values.

Don’t let disapproving onlookers trigger you into being the kind of parent they think you should be, instead of the parent your child needs.

You’ve spent years figuring out how your child is wired and how to help him be his best. Don’t second guess yourself trying to live up to someone else’s idea of what a ‘good parent’ looks like.

Finally – whatever happens (and however many meltdowns slip through your best laid plans) congratulate yourself on doing your best!

* * *

If you enjoyed this post, I’d love you to share it on Facebook to help other parents of sensitive kids connect with kindred spirits. 🙂

I’ll be back after Christmas with part 3 of my series on how to use your overexcitabilities to nourish your soul. To get that post direct to your inbox, just leave your email address in the box at the top right or bottom of the page. You can also find Laugh, Love, Learn on Facebook.

Merry Christmas!

The Mistake Most of Us Make When Our Children Feel Sad

when our children feel sad

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

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

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

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

Our children’s sadness triggers our pain

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

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

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

Why we shouldn’t always follow our instincts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compassion = Love + Wisdom

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

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

 

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

 

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

How not to get triggered when our children feel sad

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

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

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

Holding Space (Mothers Awakening)

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

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

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

Resources

Emotional OE

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

An Introduction to OE – PowerWood flyer

Living With Intensity, Susan Daniels & Michael Piechowski – book

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

Holding Space

Holding space (Mothers Awakening) – article

What it really means to hold space for someone – article

Sandy Newbigging

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

* * *

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

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

I’d love to hear from you!

* * *

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

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

How to Handle a Meltdown in a Public Place

how to handle a meltdown in a public place

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

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

“I knew we shouldn’t have come.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five steps to handling a meltdown in a public place

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

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

Step Two – Focus on your child

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

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

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

Step Three – Face the music

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

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

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

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

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

Step Four – Help your child calm down

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

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

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

Step Five – Talk with your child about what happened

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be kind to yourself

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

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

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

How did you handle it?

Which of these steps works best with your child?

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

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Photo credit: Kenneth Dagenais

5 Things Pixar Can Teach Us About Parenting

5 things pixar can teach us about parenting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. ‘Be wary of making too many rules …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Things Pixar can Teach us about parenting

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

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

and

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

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

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Have a wonderful week!

Why We Laughed the Day Our Cat Died

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

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

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

Bad news

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

Honouring complex individual reactions

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

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

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

The healing power of laughter

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

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

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

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

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

Dark humour on the way to the vet

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

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

* *

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

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

* *

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

Saying goodbye

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

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

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

Home alone

As we drove home my son said sadly,

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s what we did.

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

“I know sweetie. I do too.”

We hugged.

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

5 Reasons to homeschool sensitive intense kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That night my little girl had a nightmare.

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

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

My twice-exceptional son had an even bumpier ride.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. They can play outdoors whenever they want

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

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

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

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

4. Learning is flexible, quick and efficient

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

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

5. We can accommodate and engage overexcitabilities

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

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

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

5 Reasons to homeschool sensitive intense kids

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

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

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Do you homeschool your children?

What are the biggest advantages for your family?

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

I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

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Extracurricular Activities for Children Who Want to Do Everything

Extracurricular Activities for children who want to do everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passionate about everything

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

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

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

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

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

The benefits of being into everything

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

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

The challenges of being into everything

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

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

Supporting our children’s unique needs

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

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

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

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

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

Extracurricular activities for children who want to do everything

Related Posts

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

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

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

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Does your child want to do everything?

How do you help them find balance?

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

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