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

6 Eclectic Ways To Use Imaginational Overexcitability to Nourish Your Soul

 

6-eclectic-ways-we-can-use-imaginational-overexcitability

People with imaginational overexcitability have creative minds that need regular feeding. If we don’t get enough stimulation we can feel unfulfilled and bored by life. On the other hand, if we get too much stimulation we can have trouble switching off to relax and sleep at night.

And when we let our baselines get low, our active imaginations can create runaway anxiety, generating bleak scenarios in which our kids never make friends or learn to do anything except play videogames.

Here are 5 eclectic suggestions for how you might use imaginational overexcitability to nourish your soul:

1. Creative play

As busy parents we can find it hard to make time for our own creative needs, but doing so not only nourishes our souls but also shows our children that creative play doesn’t have to end in childhood.

If you’ve lost touch with your creative side, think back on what you used to enjoy before you had a family. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Art – Paint a picture, make a collage, draw a sketch, work a sculpture or try art journalling

Write – a story, poem, song, skit, blogpost, journal entry, or letter to a friend

Craft – flower-arranging, embroidery, woodwork

Design – a menu, garden, room, outfit, photo collage or app

Move – choreograph a dance, plan a workout or yoga sequence

2. Visit imaginary worlds

If you’re not in the mood for creating your own, let your imagination roam in someone else’s art by losing yourself in a story, watching a movie or play, or immersing yourself in poetry.

3. Solve problems by asking powerful questions

We can solve problems and work towards goals by asking powerful questions.

In his book, Secrets of Productive People: The 50 Strategies You Need to Get Things Done, Mark Forster writes, ‘At the heart of the questioning attitude is the simple psychological fact that once the mind has been asked a question it tries to answer it.’

Ways to use the questioning technique

Ask ‘Why?’ questions and follow up with ‘How?’ questions

Example

If your child keeps having meltdowns at his gymnastics class, you might ask,

‘Why does Sam have meltdowns at gymnastics?’ then

‘How can I help Sam stay regulated during gymnastics?’

Repeat questions

Ask the same question repeatedly over several days, without looking back on your previous answers. ‘Whenever a question is repeated it tends to start of a new train of thought in our minds,’ explains Mark Forster.

Use questions to generate ideas

Ask questions like, ‘What are my five best ideas for encouraging Ella to practise writing?’ or ‘What are my five best ideas for next year’s family holiday?’

‘In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have taken for granted.’

Bertrand Russell

Read more about how to use powerful questions on Mark Forster’s blog here and here.

4. Guided visualisation

We all know about the benefits of meditation, but if you have a busy imagination you might find your mind wanders too much to be able to meditate in silence. One solution is to engage your imagination with a guided visualisation.

You might imagine walking down a beautiful path in nature, or by the sea, or exploring a lush garden. Either make up your own, or listen to a recording.

Guided visualisation resources

WebsiteRelax For a While lets you stream visualisations for free or you can pay to download MP3’s

YouTube:  See 7 Best YouTube Guided Meditations  or search for ‘guided visualisation’

Apps: like Headspace or Buddhify

Family visualisations: When my kids were younger we loved Christiane Kerr’s delightful enchanted meditations CDs

Books: Creative Visualization, Shakti Gawain (a classic that got me started down this path more than 20 years ago)

Relax Kids: The Wishing Star, Marneta Viegas

5. Improve a relationship with the meta-mirror

If you’re experiencing conflict in a relationship, try using this meta-mirror NLP technique to free up your thinking and help you get unstuck:

(1) Describe the problem from your point of view

(2) Imagine stepping into the other person’s shoes. Describe how they would view the problem (use ‘I …’  statements)

(3) How would an impartial observer watching this problem describe it?  What would they see? (again, use ‘I… ‘ statements)

(4) Reflect on how these perspectives could help resolve the conflict

6. Play the ‘What If?’ game

This is a fun game you can play any time, any place with your kids. All you do is take turns asking and answering ‘What if?’ type questions.

Examples

‘What would you do if you had the power of invisibility?’

‘Where would you go if you could time travel?’

‘What do you think the world will be like in 2050?’

‘What would the world be like if cats were in charge?’

* * *

How do you use imaginational overexcitability to nourish your soul?

I’d love to hear from you!

* * *

You might also enjoy the other posts in this series:

14 Delightful ways to use sensual overexcitability to nourish your soul

How to use emotional overexcitability to nourish your soul

Next in this series, I’ll be reflecting on how we can use intellectual overexcitability to nourish our souls. Leave your email address in the box at the bottom of the page to be sure of receiving that post direct to your inbox. 🙂  You can also like Laugh, Love, Learn on Facebook.

 

Photo credit: Jill Wellington

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!

14 Delightful Ways to Use Sensual Overexcitability to Nourish Your Soul

autumn leaves - how to use sensual overexcitability

The modern world can be a stressful place for those of us with the intense sensitivity that sensual overexcitability brings.  We share a planet with more people and machines than ever before, and we spend less and less time in natural light.

On the other hand, those of us blessed with sensual OE can feel more intense pleasure in a single moment than our less sensitive friends might feel in a lifetime.

So let’s not take our gifts for granted. Let’s use our sensitivity by making time every day to enjoy simple pleasures that make our hearts sing!

14  Ways we can use sensory overexcitability to nourish our souls

Sensory experiences are deeply personal. Something that delights me could leave you cold or even trigger you, so I asked my lovely friends at the PowerWood Facebook group to help me with this list.

I hope you find something here that inspires you.

1. Light a fragrant candle

What is it about the stillness of a candle flame that gently calls us to the present moment and melts away the cares of the day?

Candles - how to use sensual overexcitability
Photo by Skeeze

2. Stand at an open window at sunrise

What colour is the sky? How does the air feel against your skin? Can you hear the sweet chorus of birds celebrating a new day?

3. Luxuriate in a hot bath or shower

Space NK bath oils - how to use sensual overexcitability

A generous friend gifted me a set of these mini Space NK bath oils many years ago. I’ve used them to enhance bath times ever since.

4. Hug a tree

Find a big old tree and wrap your arms around its trunk, rest your cheek against its warm bark, and feel the power of its primordial energy flowing  through you.

I do this most days. I like to bring a little laughter into the days of my fellow dog-walkers!

5. Cuddle up with a pet

Girl cuddling kitten and dog - how to use sensual overexcitability

6. Absorb the power of the ocean

Sign A walk on the beach is good for the soul - how to use sensual overexcitability

Many of my sensitive friends mentioned the sea as a favourite source of sensory pleasure:

‘I love the sea in every single possible phase… I need its stillness. Its wildness. Its power…. there aren’t enough words really. It comforts me on a level that I can’t begin to explain, raw and deep.’

‘It deals with all the senses in calming and exhilarating ways.’

‘I love wild crashing waves.’

‘Smelling ozone.’

7. Massage your cares away

Give yourself a mini-aromatherapy massage by smoothing on some scented body lotion.

8. Nurture a garden

When my friend Hannah signed up for an allotment (community garden) to give her kids the benefit of growing and nurturing food from seed, she found benefits she hadn’t foreseen:

‘Being there resets my self… The combination of fresh, clean air, wide open skies, mud and pollen is a powerful and rejuvenating thing… it’s not just the seedlings that are nurtured and nourished.  It is us – as a family, as individuals.’

Flowers - how to use sensual overexcitability
Photo by Hans

9. Indulge in the sensory pleasure of food

However much you enjoy cooking, when you have to provide nutritious family meals day after day, food can become more of a chore than a pleasure.

But If we’re mindful, food can be a wonderful source of sensory delight. It doesn’t have to be complicated – for me, the vibrant hues and fragrant aroma of freshly sliced watermelon are quite heavenly.

Watermelon - how to use sensual overexcitability
Photo by Condesign

If you also have emotional OE, you might find inspiration in The Emotional Cook recipe book.

What food nourishes your soul?

10. Hug someone you love

11. Get comfy

Slip out of all those buttoned and zipped-up day clothes and pull on your pjs. Even if it’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

12. Play your favourite music (loudly)

One PowerWood friend loves ‘listening to classical music … strings …  in the car while driving in the dark.’

Another said, ‘I love music. Especially in the car. Something euphoric with a strong baseline… Loud.’

I’ve found myself driving round the block a few times at the end of a long car journey, just to hear another song or two!

13. Brew a cup of fragrant tea

In a teapot if you have one. Or treat yourself to a proper cup of coffee and bask in its rich aroma before each sip.

‘I let the tea seep as I dream and breathe. Each sip is a celebration of health, vitality, and serenity. I am quiet with myself. I have faith in Being.’

Christine Ford

14. Feast your eyes on fine art

If you can’t make it to a gallery, explore online using an app like Art HD.

Claude Monet Jardin à Sainte Adresse - how to use sensual overexcitability

Do you have sensual overexcitability?

How do you nourish your soul?

Leave me a comment and I’ll add your favourite sensory experiences to this list. ❤️

Resources

What is sensual overexcitability?

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

4 Self-care habits every woman must embrace (blog post)

My senses, my gifts (blog post)

The art appreciation blog

Art HD (art gallery app)

* * *

For more ideas about how to use your sensitivities and intensity to nourish your soul, see my other posts in this series:

How to use emotional overexcitability to nourish your soul.

6 Eclectic ways to use imaginational overexcitability to nourish your soul

How to use intellectual overexcitability to nourish your soul (coming soon)

How to use psychomotor overexcitability to nourish your soul (coming soon)

To receive my regular posts about how to enjoy family life with intensity and sensitivity, leave your email address in the Follow by Email box at the top of the page. 🙂 You can also like the Laugh, Love, Learn Facebook page.

 

How to Use Emotional Overexcitability to Nourish Your Soul

emotional overexcitabiity

Self care is a necessity, not a luxury, for those of us blessed with parenting differently-wired children.

Raising and advocating for our kids in a world not designed for them can take its toll, especially if we have sensitivities of our own.

Most of us are all too aware of the challenges overexcitabilities bring, but let’s not forget that OEs also allow us to experience the good things in life more intensely.

This post is the first in a series looking at self care through the lens of each of the OEs, starting today with emotional overexcitability.

Soul-nourishment for people with emotional overexcitability

We folk with emotional overexcitability feel things intensely.

Even a short errand can leave us feeling drained after we see a homeless guy begging outside the supermarket and a frazzled mum shouting at her toddler in the checkout line.

We’d love to be able to give the homeless man a warm bed for the night and to scoop up that toddler and tell her it’s not her fault her mummy yelled.

We can’t right all the wrongs in the world in one day. But by being compassionate with ourselves we’ll find ways we can make a difference – even if it’s just by being the kindest, wisest parents we’re capable of being.

10 Ways to use your emotional OE to nourish your soul

(1) Take 5 minutes to meditate on an uplifting emotion

Choose a positive emotion – fun, peaceful and playful are among my favourites. Slowly repeat the word to yourself, enjoying the memory of times you felt that way. You might be surprised at how the word – and the feeling – pop up at random times later in the day.

I do this before I get out of bed every morning – before any negative momentum has had a chance to get going.

Bonus: List as many positive emotion words as you can and make them into a word cloud. I felt wonderful after making the one above!

(2) Spread a little joy by performing an act of random kindness

Research shows that kindness makes us happier, boosts our immune systems and improves our relationships by elevating our oxytocin levels.

The random element is important here. People with emotional OE are drawn to helping others, and when our reserves are low we risk draining our own resources in the process.

By looking for opportunities to be randomly kind, we introduce an element of playfulness that shakes away resentment and rewards us with a healthy hit of feel-good chemicals.

(3) Tap into the healing power of animals

Spend time with a loyal pet, do a google search for ‘cute baby your favourite animal’ images, or watch an OE-friendly nature documentary with your kids (ie not one where the baby gazelle gets picked off by the cheetah).

Even watching cat videos boosts energy and positive emotions, with studies showing that the emotional payoff outweighs any feelings of guilt over time-wasting.

Being mindful of your intentions is key here. Cleaning out the cat litter or hamster cage doesn’t count, though brushing or walking the dog might.

(4) Tune into the good news

By most accounts the world is a safer, better place now than it ever has been – but you wouldn’t know that from the mainstream media.

When you need reminding of all that’s good in the world, turn off the TV and spend five minutes looking at the heart-warming stories over at The Good News Network.

(5) Drop through negative emotions

When you feel overwhelmed by negative emotions, try this exercise I use with my therapy clients:

First ask yourself, ‘What’s the name of the emotion I’m feeling right now?

Don’t think too hard – whatever comes to mind first is okay. Name the emotion out loud.

Then ask, ‘If I were to drop through this emotion, what’s the emotion underneath that?

Close your eyes and imagine yourself physically dropping through the emotion. Repeat these two questions until you find relief.

I’ve had clients drop through layers of emotions for between 5 and 45 minutes. Eventually they always get to the feeling of peace that is at the core of who we all are.

(6) Keep a list of positive aspects

Make a note of nice things that happen or that you appreciate in a List of Positive Aspects. Mine includes entries like, ‘Ate the first tomato from this year’s plants’, ‘Nice email from C’s French teacher’ and ‘Beautiful autumn trees’.

Both the act of writing and looking back over my list help nourish my soul.

(7) Make a regular date with your partner

When you have kids, it’s easy to find your life running in parallel from your partner’s. A few months ago my husband and I decided to get intentional about spending regular quality time with one another. (Quality time as in, not slumped in front of the TV together after a busy day at work.)

Every Sunday morning we now walk our dogs together then have coffee at an outdoor cafe. (A treat for me because my husband doesn’t really understand the point of having coffee out, so I feel loved just by him being there with me!)

We chat about each others’ weeks, the children, and then once all that’s out of the way we usually find ourselves talking about something completely different and really interesting, which reminds me why we married each other and makes me feel excited about sharing the rest of my life with this man.

smiling couple in autumn woods - emotional overexcitability

Bonus: Take a selfie on each date. Did you know that taking selfies can increase happiness and gratitude, decrease stress and deepen connections?

(8) Watch an episode of your favourite comedy show

The Big Bang Theory, The Middle, Modern Family, Friends… Writers of these shows are paid big bucks to activate our feel-good systems.

I challenge you not to feel better after watching an episode!

(9) Connect with an uplifting friend

If, like me, you’re an intense type who’s inclined to spend every moment you’re not with your kids being ‘productive’ (working (paid or voluntary), doing admin, organising the home or practising cello), you may have a tendency to let friendships slide.

People who have emotional OE have the ability to enjoy deep, lasting friendships. Be sure to make time for the uplifting people in your life – and be willing to let go of those who have the opposite effect.

(10) Feel awe

When I posted this photo on Instagram, I captioned it: ‘Sometimes I feel so full of awe at the magnificence of nature. I feel at once tiny and insignificant and yet extraordinarily loved, as if nature is putting on a spectacular event just for me.’

beach at sunset - emotional overexcitability

Later I discovered that psychologists consider awe to be ‘one of the most pleasurable and motivating positive emotions’ (Jane McGonigal, Superbetter).

Awe also changes our perception of time. When we feel awe for a moment or two, we feel we have more time for our own goals, are less impatient, and are more likely to volunteer time to help others.

The good news is that we don’t have to wait until we happen to see a beautiful sunset or magnificent waterfall to feel awe – we can also enjoy the effect by watching videos of things we find awe-inspiring, or by writing a few sentences about a time we experienced awe.

Resources and hat tips

Top 3 tips to up your energy and resilience level (if you have emotional OE) PowerWood (article)

5 Side Effects of Kindness David Hamilton (article)

Watching cat videos boosts energy and positive emotions The Independent (article)

The Good News Network (website)

SuperBetter Jane McGonigal (book)

How taking selfies and these types of photos can increase happiness and gratitude, decrease stress and deepen connections Hey, Sigmund (article)

Living With Intensity Susan Daniels and Michael Piechowski (book)

Your Rainforest Mind Paula Prober (book – see my review)

What are overexcitabilities? (article on this blog)

* * *

Do you have emotional OE?

How do you nourish your soul?

I’d love to hear from you!

* * *

This post is part of a series on how we can use our overexcitabilities to nourish our souls. See also:

How to use imaginational overexcitability to nourish your soul

14 Delightful Ways to Use Sensual Overexcitability to Nourish Your Soul

34 Ways to Nourish Your Intellectual Overexcitability

How to use psychomotor overexcitability to nourish your soul (coming soon)

* * *

I’d love you to join me learning how to have fun in a sensitive and intense family. To receive my weekly posts direct to your inbox, leave your email address in the Follow by Email box at the top of the page. 🙂

 

How to Find a Mentor For Your Sensitive and Intense Child

How to Find a Mentor For Your Child

In this post I share 10 practical considerations about how to find a mentor for your child. And I tell the story of how I found mentors for my twice-exceptional son and gifted daughter.

Why find a mentor?

Making friends is difficult when you experience the world differently from almost everyone you meet.  That’s my experience as an adult, so imagine how much  difficult it is for children to find kindred spirits!

And if a child can only socialise for short periods at a time because he’s still learning to manage intense overexcitabilities, then the job of finding friends becomes positively Sisyphean.

The no.1 predictor of lifelong creativity

Leading creativity psychologist E Paul Torrance found that the number one predictor of lifelong creativity and personal fulfilment is the extent to which children fall in love with a future vision of themselves.

But when a child is constantly being told he’s too much (talkative, sensitive, fidgety – whatever) and can’t even connect with his peers, how can we expect him relate to successful adults who appear (to him) to handle life effortlessly, let alone imagine himself as one?

Mentors can bridge the gap

We can help our kids bridge that gap – to begin to see themselves as the happy and successful adults we want them to become – by connecting them with relatable adults who remember being just like them.

Adults who once faced the same challenges our children face now. People who can share with our kids what they learned on their journey to overcome those challenges and leverage their strengths.

Mentors, to act as role models – beacons of hope, even – for our children.

How to find a mentor for your child

Finding a mentor may seem like a tall order, but once you start looking you might surprise yourself with your resourcefulness and who you notice crossing your path.

How we found a mentor for my 2e son

My introverted 11-year-old son has intense OEs. Like many kids with sensory issues, he endures haircuts with a tense grimace punctuated by shrieks of pain as the comb brushes too hard over his scalp or a speck of hair torturously prickles his neck.

Fortunately when my son was just three-years-old we found a hairdresser who not only snipped as quickly and carefully as she could, but who reassured me that her son (14 years older than mine) had been exactly the same when he was younger.

Throughout our many salon meetings over the last eight years I’ve enjoyed hearing how our friend’s son has, to his mother’s amazement and delight, matured into an intelligent and charming young man. Elliott gained a first class psychology degree, has a long-term girlfriend, and is now running a coaching company teaching kids how to use their emotional intelligence to become happy, successful adults.

Even though he’s busy growing his business, Elliott was eager to meet my son and engage him in fun activities through which they can get to know one another.

Elliott doesn’t flinch when my son throws his racket across the tennis court when he misses a point, and he has infinitely more patience than me when it comes to Yu Gi Oh and Pokemon.

Although they’ve only met a few times, I know Elliott is there when my son needs an understanding friend. And because he has eavesdropped on the many conversations I’ve had with Elliott’s mum over the years, my son truly believes that Elliott once faced very similar challenges to those he now struggles with, and that he overcame them to become the happy, successful adult he is today.

How we found my daughter’s mentor

My extroverted 12-year-old also has OEs, but she doesn’t struggle with regulating her emotions to the same degree my son does. My daughter’s biggest challenge is finding other people with whom she can share her intense passions, like her love of linguistics.

As with my son, my daughter’s mentor is the (adult) child of a family friend, a lady who runs book groups for homeschooled kids. When we first met, Kate remarked that Cordie reminded her of her eldest daughter who was home-educated until she was 16 and who now studies languages at Cambridge.

Around the time Jasper began working with his mentor, it occurred to me that Cordie might benefit from a similar relationship with Kate’s daughter, M. M works hard  to pay her way as a student and she had to travel a distance to meet us, so I offered to compensate her for her time.

On their first mentoring meeting I left the girls chatting away in a coffee shop. When I returned an hour later, my daughter was beaming and eager to share all she’d talked about with her older friend.

As a bonus, M followed up with a lovely email to me in which she listed all the resources she’d recommended to my daughter.  M is back at university now, but I know that the girls will meet again and I’m sure that M will be an inspiration and role-model for my daughter as she forges her own path into adulthood.

Mentoring – 10 Practical considerations

How to find a mentor

1. What is your child’s biggest challenge? Look for a mentor who has overcome similar obstacles.

2. Who do you know? Even if you’re an introvert like me, you probably have a wider network than you realise. Ask trusted friends if they can think of anyone who fits your wish list.

Before the first mentoring meeting

3. Prepare your child. Even if they already know the person, explain why you think the mentoring relationship will be useful. Be willing to let the person go if the chemistry doesn’t work. No matter how perfect the relationship looks on paper, if your child doesn’t trust him, mentoring can’t happen.

Mentor: a trusted counsellor or guide.”

Merriam-Webster

4. Prepare the mentor. Explain what you hope your child will gain from the relationship. Help establish rapport by sharing a little about what your child enjoys doing and what he’s interested in.

5. Clarify any payment or bartering arrangements. I’m upfront with my kids this. Just as we pay for them to be taught piano and guitar by more experienced musicians, there’s no shame in showing that we value the time and experience of the young people who’ve kindly agreed to act as their mentors.

The first meeting

5. Where will the first mentoring meeting happen? Ideally find somewhere your child and her mentor can talk without being overheard or interrupted. If your child energetic, do they need access to outdoor space? My son and his mentor chatted for ages on our trampoline!

6. Do you need any supplies? Would your child like to play a game or do a craft with her mentor as they chat? Would snacks help?

After the meeting

7. Discuss the meeting with your child and his mentor, separately. If appropriate, ask the mentor to jot down for you any resources she thinks might benefit your child.

8. Respect the mentoring relationship. Don’t require your child to tell you more than he’s comfortable sharing about the meeting, and don’t ask the mentor to undermine your child’s confidences. Even if you’re paying, the success of the relationship depends on mutual trust between your child and his mentor.

9. If the first meeting goes well, either set a date for another meeting or agree to stay in touch and meet again in a few months.

10. Last but definitely not least, appreciate yourself for being a great parent to your sensitive and intense child. Even if your first attempt at finding a mentor didn’t work out, you’re doing your best – and that’s good enough. 🙂

* * *

Does your child have a mentor?

How did you find him or her?

How do they add value to your child’s life?

* * *

Are you navigating the highs and lows of raising sensitive and intense children? I’d love you to hear from you in the comments or on the Laugh, Love, Learn Facebook page. And don’t forget to leave your email address in the box at the top or bottom of this page to receive my regular posts direct to your inbox.

Finally, if you found this post useful, please consider sharing it on Facebook. 🙂

how to find a mentor for your child

This post is part of a Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hop. Click for more inspiring articles about gifted children and the role of mentors.

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 ;))

* * *

To receive my regular posts about life in a sensitive and intense family direct to your inbox, just leave your email address in the box at the top or bottom of the screen. You can also like the Laugh, Love, Learn Facebook page.

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!

* * *

If you enjoyed reading this post, I’d love you to share it on FaceBook. 🙂

Find me there at Laugh, Love, Learn and my homeschooling page Navigating By Joy.

You can subscribe to my weekly posts by leaving your email address in the box at the top of bottom of this page.

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.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...