Tag Archives: Overexcitabilities

The Surprising Secret to Managing Overexcitabilities

Daffodils - The Surprising Secret to Managing Overexcitabilities - Laugh Love Learn

Have you ever felt happiness so intense, you just had to move your body? Or whoop with joy?

Most people only feel that good when they win the lottery or their favourite team beats their arch-rivals. But when you have overexcitabilities, you don’t need a big win to feel on top of the world.

Depending on your combination of OEs, everyday experiences like listening to music, skimming stones on a lake, or engrossing yourself in a story or hobby can all trigger euphoric states.

For me yesterday, it was walking my dogs on a beautiful spring day as hundreds of daffodils danced joyfully beside me in the breeze.

When you feel so good you have to skip

I’m not exaggerating when I say that my body was filled with such intense joy, I wanted to skip, dance, sing, and shout.

I smiled as I imagined what my fellow pedestrians would think if I followed my impulses. I contented myself with little bursts of jogging: ‘They’ll probably just think I’m in a hurry.’ 😉

Later, I got to thinking how children with OEs might feel:

The 11-year-old who’s so buzzing with excitement about a topic he’s researching that he can’t stop talking about it.

The 4-year-old who’s created a whole imaginary world with her toys.

The 7-year-old who wants to jump and sing and spin.

Learning to tone ourselves down

I thought about what it’s like to be a child. How would I have felt on my joyful walk if someone had suddenly demanded that I stop and sit down quietly?

I’d have struggled to comply. The energy inside me was so intense, I just had to move. If I had tried to stop, I’d have been acting against powerful inner guidance.  Maybe I shouldn’t trust my feelings? But they felt so good… Perhaps I shouldn’t trust the person telling me to suppress them? Over time, I might end up mistrusting both myself and the people telling me to tone myself down.

Managing OEs takes willpower and practice

When OEs are part of your wiring, they’re not something you can easily switch off or turn down –  at least not without a lot of internal stress.

No wonder these children ‘over’-react. When you’re using enormous amounts of willpower to contain your OEs, you don’t have much left to deal with the little upsets other children take in their stride.

As an adult, I know when it’s appropriate to tone down my intensity. And I have years of experience in doing so.

On my joyful walk, I knew to save my skipping for when I’d left the suburban street and was walking in the woods, with only my dogs to regard me quizzically as I danced and sang.

Straight afterwards, I had to take my car to the garage.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to focus while I was giddy with spring excitement, so to calm myself I switched off my music and focused on my breathing for a few minutes.

How can we help our kids learn these kind of skills?

Why children need to enjoy their OEs before they can manage them

My intense experience gave me fresh insight into how we can help children modulate their intensities:

1. Create opportunities for them to enjoy their intensity

We need to help children recognise and appreciate the joy their overexcitabilities can bring.

Kids with intense OEs get so much negative feedback about their behaviour, they can end up feeling as if they have to suppress their intensity all the time.

But when they have the chance to enjoy their OEs, they can begin to embrace their authentic natures. This is the first step towards calibrating  and managing their overexcitabilities.

We can support them by building into our children’s schedules plenty of opportunities for them to experience the joy their OEs can bring. And we can provide (physically and emotionally) safe spaces for the  expressions  intensity inspires.

2. Grow willpower, but reduce the need for it

Managing OEs costs willpower. We can minimise the drain on our children’s reserves by:

  • giving them as much autonomy and control over their schedules and their environments as possible, and
  • when they need to be calm, helping reduce the (internal and external) sensory stimulation that cranks up their intensities.

To prepare them for times when they have to use willpower to control their OEs, we can encourage children to identify and do things that increase their window of stress tolerance.

Finally, we can teach strategies for modulating their intensities, such as breathing techniques or engaging their rational brains to calm their emotions.

* * *

Bringing up children with OEs is hard work. We want our kids to become well-adjusted adults who can lead ’normal’ lives, so it’s not surprising that we focus on getting them to tone down their extremes.

But intense is these children’s normal.

So let’s help them appreciate the joy their intense natures can bring. Doing so might just be the quickest way for them to harness their awesome power – and use it to serve themselves and the world.

The Purpose of your life is joy - managing overexcitabilities - Laugh Love Learn

Do you ever skip in the woods?

How do your children enjoy their OEs?

I’d love to hear from you 🙂 

Main photo credit: LoggaWiggler,

How to Talk to Children About Overexcitabililties

Family of Giraffes - How to Talk to Children About Overexcitabilities - Laugh Love Learn

‘How do you talk to children about overexcitabilities?’ asked a friend recently. ‘What and how much do you share, and when in terms of maturity?’

Let’s start by asking whether we need to talk with kids about OEs at all.

Why talk to children about overexcitabilities?

Children with OEs know they’re different from other kids. Even if they aren’t aware of it within the family, as soon as they start mixing with other children and adults, they begin to notice.

What children don’t realise is that they’re not experiencing the world the same way as other people. So they think it’s their reactions that are wrong, which soon generalises to, ‘There’s something wrong with me’.

They wonder, ‘Why can’t I keep still at story time, when all my friends can?’

They get frustrated when their friends don’t follow the rules of the elaborate game they invented.

They’re driven crazy by the flickering light everyone else can ignore.

A story about a lost dog upsets them all day while their friends move on.

They feel rejected when no one wants to listen to them talk about their rock collection (again).

We need to let kids know what’s going on for two reasons:

1. So they know there’s nothing wrong with them

Children with OEs are different, but not broken or less than anyone else. In fact most have an even greater capacity to enjoy life than their peers.

2. To help them manage their behaviour

Talking with our children about their OEs is an important step in teaching them how to manage their extremes, especially in social situations.

Kids who don’t know about OEs are likely to internalise that there’s something wrong with them. They’ll respond by either trying to suppress their intensity completely or giving up and ‘acting out’ rebelliously.

When to talk to children about overexcitabilities

Kids with OEs are even more individual than other kids, and they usually develop asynchronously. You’re the expert on your child. You know what she can understand on an intellectual level and what she can handle emotionally. They way I explained OEs to my  with my 9-year-old son was very different from how I talked with his 10-year-old sister.

Choosing the right time to talk

Always pick a moment when both you and your child are calm and your window of stress tolerance is high. Avoid using the language of OEs to address behavioural problems in the moment, even if the behaviour was obviously triggered by overexcitable traits.

Should we use the word ‘overexcitability’?

I don’t much like the word ‘overexcitability’ (originally a translation from Polish).

I use it here because I want people to be able to find this blog, but I prefer terms like intensity, super-stimulability or just excitability.

Even ‘OE’ sounds too much like a psychological disorder or learning disability.

I’ve always used the word ‘overexcitability’ with my own children because sharing about it is one of my passions, but I see no reason to use the word when talking with younger children. As they get older it may be worth giving them the word in case they want to do their own research or find kindred spirits.

Young Children

With young children I would focus on addressing specific OE behaviours. Here are some examples, using the framework of the five overexcitabilities. (Note that each OE can look quite different from child to child – see the Children With Overexcitabilities flyer under the resources section below for a comprehensive guide.)

Emotional OE – ‘You care about animals and you feel sad when you think they’re unhappy or hurt. Your friend Saffy cares too, but you feel things extra deeply. That’s okay.’

Imaginational OE – ‘You have a really big imagination. When you play with your toys, it’s like they’re real. Not everyone can do that. When you share your ideas with your friends, they might not be able to imagine things as clearly as you do.’

Intellectual OE – ‘You wonder about everything! That’s why you ask so many questions. It’s great to be so curious. Not everyone wonders about things as much as you do. Sometimes they need some quiet time. Maybe you could write or draw your questions, so you can remember them for later.’

Sensual OE – ‘You hate the feel of scratchy clothes, and the sound of the busy train station. And you love stroking your soft bunny and listening to sea. Some people don’t notice those feelings and sounds.’

Psychomotor OE – ‘You have so much energy! You love to jump, and dance, and talk. Not many people have as much energy as you. Sometimes it’s hard for them to keep up.’

Older Children

As children get older we might want to talk about overexcitability in more general terms, showing them how their OE behaviours relate to one another.

Examples of the kinds of things you might say

‘You’re a bit more sensitive than most other people. You notice things they don’t, and sometimes people are surprised by how strongly you react. That’s because they don’t experience the world in the same way you do.’

‘You might be bothered by things other people don’t notice. But your sensitivity also means you can enjoy things more than other people. I know you really love the taste of chocolate ice cream, for instance! And cuddling Milly (the dog) makes you feel really good, doesn’t it?’

Metaphors

Older children might relate to more complex metaphors.

My son has most of the OEs, including psychomotor. We talk about how his engine runs faster than most people’s.

‘It’s like you’re driving a Ferrari and they’re driving a Ford. Because you have such a powerful motor, it’s going to take you a little longer to learn to handle your energy.  Sometimes other people can’t keep up with you, so you might want to slow down for them sometimes. You could even do a few laps on your own first.’

OE brings advantages and challenges

We can talk with older children about how OE is a difference which has its upside and its difficulties:

‘You love learning all about the things you’re curious about, which brings you lots of enjoyment. But you sometimes get frustrated when other people aren’t as interested as you are. They might not have time to answer all your questions.’

‘You feel what other people feel, which makes you a kind and thoughtful friend. But sometimes you give yourself a headache worrying about other people.’

Talking with children about these challenges is the first step to helping them learn how to manage them. (For instance, by finding positive ways to deal with anxiety.)

Teenagers

As they get older, young people may be interested in finding out more about the personality theory OEs are a part of.

According to Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration, individuals who have certain traits (including OEs) are capable of coming through life’s crises not only stronger but as more of their best, most authentic selves.

Adolescence can be a pretty intense time, so knowing about TPD might help young people reframe the challenges they’re facing, or at least give them hope that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

This article is a very accessible place to start:

‘Positive disintegration is what happens when a person lets go of the way he or she previously made sense of the world and rebuilds it in line with what s/he determines to be his/her own authentic values.’

Introducing Dabrowski’s Theory by Jessie, CounterNarration

* * * 

Have you ever spoken with your kids about overexcitabilities?

Do you have any tips to share?

I’d love to hear from you!

Resources

Overexcitabilities

Children With Overexcitabilities – click on ‘Download the latest OE info flyer by PowerWood’ for this great resource. Email me or Simone de Hoogh at PowerWood if you’d like a free colour copy of the flyer.

Living With Intensity by Daniels & Piechowski – book with chapters about children and adolescents with overexcitabilities

Children’s books about overexcitabilities

The School For Gifted Potentials by Allis Wade. My daughter and I loved this 2 book fiction series.

Laugh Love Learn articles about each of the overexcitabilities

15 Things your child with emotional overexcitability might say

7 Signs your child has psychomotor overexcitability

6 Things you need if your child has intellectual overexcitability

The ups and downs of imaginational overexcitability

What is sensual overexcitability?

Theory of Positive Disintegration

Introducing Dabrowski’s theory (CounterNarration website)

Perspective for the highly able: Dabrowski (PowerWood website)

Finding Treasure in Ruins (Aurora Remember website)

Are you bringing up children with overexcitabilities? Don’t forget to leave your email address in the Follow By Email box below to receive my regular posts about how to enjoy life in a sensitive and intense family direct to your inbox. You can also like Laugh, Love, Learn on FaceBook.

Finally, I’d love you to share this post with your friends on social media. Let’s help spread the word about OEs. 🙂

Image by Sponchia

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

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