When your child has overexcitabilities (OEs), meeting his extracurricular needs isn’t as simple as finding a class.
This post is about
- the challenges we face finding outlets for our children’s intense energy and
- strategies for when extracurricular activities don’t go the way we planned.
When children have OEs…
- They may have heaps of energy, but not be able to cope with organised sports
- They might have dozens of interests but struggle to fit them into the 168 hours in their week
- They may be driven and competitive, but melt down when they lose
- They may not get the concept of doing something just for fun – they have to be the best at everything
- They might be passionate about learning new things, but their asynchronous development makes group classes difficult
Finding extracurricular activities for your intense and sensitive child
Finding outlets for his asynchronous physical, social and creative energies has always been a challenge.
Challenge #1: Other kids
Most group activities involve waiting for your turn. And when kids are bored, winding up the ‘weird’ kid provides a welcome distraction.
Their behaviour isn’t malicious. Boys fidget as they wait in line. They bump into each other. And when the sensitive child gets jostled, he reacts. He’s already starting to feel overwhelmed by the noise, bright light and waiting, so it doesn’t take much.
‘What will happen if I ‘accidentally’ touch him with my foot again?’ wonders the bored kid.
So begins a cycle which ends in the sensitive child getting thrown out of the class. He is the one who has ‘over’-reacted – the others were just being ‘normal little boys’.
Parenting coaching helped me see the positive intention in my son’s behaviour in situations like this.
The ‘death-stare’ he gives other kids when he’s feeling overwhelmed is an adaptive (constructive) behaviour, designed to get the other kids to back away.
Walking out of an ice-skating class after 5 minutes and shutting himself in the toilets is better than kicking off at the girl who accidentally skated into him.
When we understand what’s going on, we’re much better equipped to support and advocate for our children.
Challenge #2: Other adults
Dealing with others’ judgments is one of the toughest challenges when you’re raising children with OEs.
As a child I was mortified if I ever got in trouble, so I learned to be a good girl. Then – because the Universe likes us to grow – I was blessed with a son who, through no fault of his own, regularly behaved ‘inappropriately’ according to societal norms.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve found tears stinging my eyes as someone’s berated me about my son’s behaviour.
Parenting coaching with someone who understands OEs has also helped me deal with other adults. (See When extracurricular activities don’t go as planned, below, for more about this.)
Challenge #3: Coaches and teachers: To mention your child’s OEs or not?
What do teachers do when a child ‘misbehaves’ in class? They pull him aside, stand up close and demand an immediate apology. All of which is guaranteed to send an already-triggered child completely off at the deep end!
Should you try to avoid that scenario by telling the teacher about your child’s OEs? Or is it best not to anticipate trouble and hope for the best?
I once naively assumed that the teacher of a Lego robotics class for gifted kids would know about OEs. I privately told him of my son’s sensitivities and asked the teacher to give him time and space if he became overwhelmed.
My son later complained that the teacher loudly told him to, “Stop getting so overexcited!” whenever he was waiting for the other kids to catch up, which embarrassed and upset him.
Other extracurricular teachers, however, have been very supportive. My son’s karate teacher gave him time and space to calm down, helped him avoid over-stimulation, and – most importantly – didn’t make a big deal out of incidents.
Karate didn’t last because my son couldn’t keep still long enough to watch the higher grades (an important part of learning martial arts). But leaving on his terms after a period of self-reflection was much better than being thrown out.
Challenge #4: Competitiveness
Lots of children dislike losing at games and sports, but kids with OEs can be intensely competitive. If they also get overwhelmed in noisy groups, losing can trigger epic meltdowns.
What I’ve learned here is to have realistic expectations.
Although my son is naturally athletic, team sports don’t work for him. We stick to non-competitive sports and give him plenty of practice losing at games at home, where intense reactions can be safely supported.
When extracurricular activities don’t go as planned
Here are a few things I’ve learned, through experience and coaching:
1. Keep your baseline high
Try to schedule difficult conversations – whether with a teacher, another parent, your child or your partner – for a time when you’re calm and well rested. Build up emotional credit with your child before discussing any issue likely to trigger him.
Use these 4 tools to reduce your own anxiety.
2. Look for the positive intention in your child’s behaviour
Remember – he doesn’t want to behave this way. Let him know you understand his difficulties and acknowledge him for adaptive behaviours, however small.
Create a foundation on which he can learn strategies for handling situations better in future.
3. Don’t worry about what others are thinking
In conversations with teachers and other parents, remind yourself that they probably aren’t as triggered by what’s happened as you (especially if you have OEs of your own). Chances are, they’ll soon forget all about the incident, so try to distract yourself from ruminating about their reaction.
4. Prioritise your relationship with your child
Don’t pressure your child to continue an activity that isn’t working for him. Encourage him to get past his initial reaction and give it a chance but if he still hates it, let him quit. He might choose to come back when he’s better able to cope.
More than once I’ve been guilty of making both my son and I miserable trying to force an activity to work. The relief we feel when I finally let go is enormous. I’m rewarded with a happier child and a better relationship with him.
Meeting your child’s extracurricular needs in other ways
Kids with OEs are bright, creative, and here to forge their own paths in the world. They won’t be scarred for life just because they can’t join Cub Scouts or a soccer team.
Whenever I’ve had a panicky moment about extracurricular activities, I ask myself, ‘What am I worried about my son missing out on?‘ Then I think about other ways we can meet those needs.
My son has strong psychomotor OE so this has always been a big challenge for us. Here are a few of the outlets we’ve found for his abundant energy:
- trampolining in the garden
- jumping on oversized beanbags and cushions
- skipping (jumping rope)
- swimming (we found a special needs swimming class at our local leisure centre so I could exercise while my son swam)
- scooting / biking / hiking as a family. Walks in the woods also offer tree-climbing
- ice-skating – Many UK ice rinks offer concessionary entry for homeschoolers on Friday afternoons, so your child can skate alongside other kids without having to interact with them (unless he chooses to)
- play equipment outside at home. Monkey-bars are a favourite in our family
- soft-play centres – we spent many rainy afternoons in our local soft play centre when my kids were younger
- gym – our local gym allows kids of 11 and older to work out at dedicated times. My son loves being able to watch videos on his iPad while he works up a sweat on the elliptical-trainer. (I work out on a nearby machine. It’s mind-boggling what an 11-year-old with psychomotor OE can get up to on a cross-trainer.)
- climbing – at the local climbing wall. Great for using up energy and increasing emotional and physical stamina
Skills and hobbies
In today’s climate of abundant online courses this is perhaps the easiest of the extra-curricular needs to meet. Websites like DIY.org are full of ideas and resources.
If you opt for private tuition (for music, for instance) remember you may need to try out several teachers before you find the right match for your child.
The advantages of group activities are well-documented, so how do you help your child make friends and become a team player if he can’t join in?
The most encouraging research I’ve heard of on this subject was an American study which showed that the students who were socially best-adjusted at university were homeschooled children who had only socialised within their immediate families. (I’ll edit when I find the reference.)
My son’s never lasted long in any organised group, but somehow along the way he’s met a few good friends he regularly chats with online and occasionally meets up with. He gets on well with his four cousins, regular experiences losing games within the family, and has plenty of negotiating and diplomacy practice with his sister!
Another option is to find a mentor for your child (an understanding older teen or young adult, maybe). We have a friend in his 20s who’s harnessed his own OEs with great success. My son loves hanging out with him, on the trampoline or playing his favourite role-playing card game.
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What about multi-potentialite extroverts?
I’ve focused here on the challenges of finding extracurricular activities for my introverted son.
Your child may be more like my daughter – an intense, multi-potentialite extrovert who wants to excel at every activity she hears about. See Extracurricular Activities for Children Who Want to Do Everything.
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PowerWood coaching for families dealing with OEs
DIY.org – Ideas
The Gifted Teen Survival Guide by Judy Galbraith and Jim Delisle
Living with Intensity by Susan Daniels and Michael Piechowski
Your Rainforest Mind by Paula Prober
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What are your biggest challenges finding extracurricular activities for your child?
How do you meet your child’s physical, creative and social needs?
I’d love to hear from you!
This post is part of a GHF blog hop. To read how other GHF bloggers handle the challenge of finding extracurricular activities, click here.
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