Tag Archives: Parenting

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

How to Stay Sane When Your Kids Fight

How to stay sane when your kids fight - horses fighting

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

1. Deal with the immediate situation

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

3. Help your kids heal and learn from what happened

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

The Fight

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

Someone kicks someone else.

I throw myself between them to prevent escalation.

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

The Aftermath

1. Deal with the immediate situation

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

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

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

2. Recover

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

Getting calm

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

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

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

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

Healing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I breathe deeply and imagine golden light filling my body.

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

I’m ready to talk with my kids.

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

3. Helping children learn from what’s happened

There is no failure. Only feedback.

Robert G Allen

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

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

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

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

We go downstairs. The person who kicked apologises.

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

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

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

If you have very young children

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

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

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

 * * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

 

Photo credit: SilviaP_Design

How to Handle a Meltdown in a Public Place

how to handle a meltdown in a public place

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

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

“I knew we shouldn’t have come.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five steps to handling a meltdown in a public place

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

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

Step Two – Focus on your child

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

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

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

Step Three – Face the music

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

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

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

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

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

Step Four – Help your child calm down

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

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

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

Step Five – Talk with your child about what happened

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be kind to yourself

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

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

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

How did you handle it?

Which of these steps works best with your child?

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

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

5 Reasons to homeschool sensitive intense kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That night my little girl had a nightmare.

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

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

My twice-exceptional son had an even bumpier ride.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. They can play outdoors whenever they want

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

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

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

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

4. Learning is flexible, quick and efficient

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

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

5. We can accommodate and engage overexcitabilities

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

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

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

5 Reasons to homeschool sensitive intense kids

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

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

* * *

Do you homeschool your children?

What are the biggest advantages for your family?

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

I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

* * *

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Extracurricular Activities for Children Who Want to Do Everything

Extracurricular Activities for children who want to do everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passionate about everything

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

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

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

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

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

The benefits of being into everything

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

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

The challenges of being into everything

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

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

Supporting our children’s unique needs

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

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

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

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

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

Extracurricular activities for children who want to do everything

Related Posts

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

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

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

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Does your child want to do everything?

How do you help them find balance?

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

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I’m appreciatively linking up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers Weekly Wrap-Up.

Choosing Extracurricular Activities for Children with Overexcitabilities

 

Choosing Extracurricular Activities for Children with Overexcitabililties

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

My homeschooled son is sensitive, hyper-reactive and introverted. He has all five overexcitabilities including intense psychomotor OE.

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.

Exercise

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.

Socialisation

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.

Don’t forget to leave your email address in the Follow by Email box below to get weekly inspiration about enjoying life in a quirky family delivered straight to your inbox. 🙂

Resources

Websites

PowerWood coaching for families dealing with OEs

DIY.org – Ideas

Books

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!

Choosing extracurricular actvities for children with overexcitabilities blog hop

This post is part of a GHF blog hop. To read how other GHF bloggers handle the challenge of finding extracurricular activities, click here.

 

Photo credit

Disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate so if you buy something from Amazon after clicking on my links I will receive a few pennies to go towards hosting this blog. Thank you! 🙂 

Why our Intense Children Trigger our Suppressed Pain

Why our Intense ChildrenTrigger OurSuppressed Pain (1)

I remember lying in the bath with my daughter when she was just a few weeks old, feeling simultaneously exhausted and utterly overwhelmed by the intensity of my love. Tears began to flow, and at some point I became aware that I was weeping for myself. For what I’d never had.

My mum got pregnant with me when she was eighteen. Unsupported by her own parents, she made an unsuitable marriage to my father and descended fast into post-natal depression. When I was two she couldn’t take it any more. One sunny afternoon she took two photographs of me on London’s Turnham Green – and then she left. I lived with relatives for a year.  My mum later  told me that she didn’t know what love was until my half-brother was born when I was five.

As I held my newborn baby in my arms in the bath that day, letting the tears flow down my cheeks, I resolved that my daughter would always know the strength of my unconditional love for her.

newborn bath

As part of my work for PowerWood I’ve had the privilege of meeting lots of parents of intense and sensitive children.  Their children’s overexcitabilities all look quite different, but every single mother has told me she only discovered she had OEs herself as part of the process of trying to understand her child.

That was my experience, too. I went to a PowerWood workshop to find out what was going on with my son. Little did I suspect that within a few hours I’d be crying tears for myself, for the very first time feeling accepted and understood for who I really am.

Over the weeks following the workshop I got to thinking about how my own mother’s sensitivities, like the way she has to rush through the Ikea marketplace because she can’t bear the smell of the candles. And I thought about how her mother, my grandmother, used to complain constantly about her ‘nerves’ and was once addicted to tranquilisers.

Our children’s sensitive, hyper-reactive nervous systems are a product of their genes. Genes our ancestors carried down the generations, way further back than we can remember.

What this means is that most of us were raised by sensitive, intense parents struggling with their own OEs and without anyone helping them with the daunting task of bringing up a family of spirited children.

How did they manage? Our parents did the best they could with what they had. They taught us to suppress our strong emotions because they thought that would serve us best in the world – and to keep them sane enough to raise us. 😉

Many of us, especially if we were girls, grew up suppressing our anger, our anxieties and our idiosyncracies. Some of us learned to act like completely different people from who we were inside.

And then we had our own children. We felt that unconditional love and we resolved to do things differently. But when we resolve not to repeat the patterns of our own childhood we’re up against a couple of obstacles:

(i) Evolution. Like it or not, we’re programmed to repeat what our parents did. As far as our neurological programming’s concerned, it worked. We survived our childhoods and lived long enough to have kids of our own. Evolution doesn’t favour change.

(ii) We lack role models. The more challenging our own childhood, the less of an unconscious example we have of how to raise kids the way we want to. (And of course we also have a dearth of conscious role models showing us how to parent our non-average children.)

To overcome these obstacles and forge our own path as parents requires a huge amount of energy, time and practice.

We’ll make mistakes – they’re an inevitable part of learning. We need to take care of ourselves so that we have the energy to make the changes we want, and we must be gentle with ourselves when we stumble.

When our children get angry and upset, when they never stop talking or shouting, when they lash out and throw things, our OEs are triggered. We get angry and upset. We might even throw things too.

We’re shocked by the intensity of the emotions our children arouse in us – emotions we were told not to feel, were never allowed to express, and so never learned to manage.

But it’s not too late, for us or our children. Our kids need us to be their place of safety. They need us to be in charge of our emotions so that we can help them deal with theirs.

So let’s be kind to ourselves. Let’s meet our practical, emotional and intellectual needs. Let’s forgive ourselves for our mistakes. Let’s surround ourselves with people who understand what we’re going through. And let’s remind ourselves that what we’re doing is good enough.

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Thanks to Simone de Hoogh for sharing the ideas I’ve talked about here, and for unfailingly reminding me to be kind to myself.

If you’d like support dealing with OEs in yourself or your child, contact Simone at PowerWood or join me at the PowerWood Facebook group.

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How were strong emotions dealt with when you were growing up?

What have you discovered about yourself since having children?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The life cycle of a parenting goal

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

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

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

And then …

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

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

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

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

How I gave up trying to be the perfect parent

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

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

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

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

What is our personal ‘baseline’?

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

Resilience

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

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

What drains our personal energy?

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

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

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

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

But raising our baseline can help in two ways.

How raising our energy helps

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

What changes would you make if you had abundant energy?

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

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

An OE Family on Holiday

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

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

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