{GHF Blog Hop} Parenting and OE’s: Is Sensitivity Your Child’s Super Power?

Our house is bouncing constantly with overexcitability. If you are unfamiliar with that term,

Overexcitabilities (OEs) are inborn, heightened abilities to receive and respond to stimuli. They are expressed in increased sensitivity, awareness, and intensity. Each form of overexcitability points to a higher than average sensitivity of its receptors. As a result a person endowed with different forms of overexcitability reacts with surprise, puzzlement to many things, he collides with things, persons, and events which in turn brings him astonishment and disquietude.” (Dabrowski, 1964)

There are five types of overexcitabilities: emotional, psychomotor, intellectual, sensual, and imaginational. On a regular basis, the members of the family alternate between high levels of emotion, the need to move, and a desire to learn and do everything as often as possible. We each have various levels of sensory comfort and discomfort, and there is no shortage of imagination.
It can make life interesting.
For this post, I am going to focus on the emotional overexcitability, which is most likely my strongest of the OE’s, and we all enjoy a healthy dose of it.  

image: JD Hancock, text added by TSL

 

I have a tendency to take on others’ emotions and react accordingly. I can’t watch or read the news on particularly bad months. I feel the responsibility to make the world a better place, and my heart aches when I am unable to do so.

I cannot make it through an airport without tearing up. It’s a family joke at this point – but the soldiers in uniform meeting their families, the mother with two small children holding handmade “Welcome home, Daddy” signs, and the father nervously putting his 8 year old daughter on the plane by herself, wiping away a tear as the gate closes, send my emotions into hyper-drive.  
I am a big, sappy dork, and the more I accept it, the more pronounced it gets.
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B’s emotional OE often comes in the form of a desire for social justice. She has a sense of urgency and action, rather than tears, when it comes to those who need help. She zeroes in on the homeless, the animals, the families in need. She is unselfish and willing to do whatever needs done. She is extremely environmentally conscious and cannot fathom why we don’t all drive electric cars and use solar and wind power as much as possible already.
Her relationships with family members become volatile quickly. She flies into a rage, she defends with abandon, she loves with her whole heart and soul. She views herself more like a twelve or thirteen year old might, worrying about the blemishes on her face, what she is wearing in public, and how other people will see her.
She is intense. The asynchronies involved make emotions even more complicated, as she feels and thinks like an early teen, but reacts like the six year old she is.
*  *  *  *  *
C is our lover. She is one of the most empathetic children I have known. From a very young age, she would act out in response to my emotions. It took a few years to discover this was the impetus behind her behaviors, and now I refer to her as my emotional barometer.  It can be exhausting, as my bad day becomes her very bad day. We are both learning to adjust to each other. 
C dislikes most movies, especially movies that have a component of bullying, unkind/unfair behavior, or too many bad guys. She can assess when she has a lot of emotion boiling up inside and will ask to watch Spirit (a 2002 Disney movie about a stallion that leads his herd across the frontiers and meets many challenges), so she can “cry [her] sadness out.” I don’t know if I will ever become accustomed to the depth of her emotional understanding.
Her mood swings are hurricanes, but the cycle is becoming predictable. She begins with the quick and violent fury, followed by the passionate cry, then comes the hysterical laughter, and finally the apologetic hugs. She is learning her cycle as well, and I am hoping that with maturity, she will be able to fine tune it.
Both girls have a strong memory for feelings, and expect deep friendship among those they meet. They remember children’s names months after chance encounters at a random playland or the park. They form quick attachments to children of all ages, and are heartbroken when these fleeting acquaintances do not want to expand their friendships. B is overjoyed to begin working with the 8-12 year old group at gymnastics, with whom she fits in much more easily than her previous class. At just barely four, C’s best interactions are with the eight year old boy she plays video games with at the gym while I watch her sister’s class. But, again, asynchronies make these relationships unpredictable when emotions begin to overwhelm.
*  *  *  *  *
So, how does our family function with this circus of emotional intensity? How does my logic-embracing husband handle all of us?
 
I keep a favorite quote on my refrigerator from Corin Goodwin, and read it often.

 “The times when kids need your love most may be the times when they behave in the most unloving ways. Try to understand what is happening in their heads and their hearts, and address that first.”

Empathy and understanding are our foundations. We do our best to meet our children in their moment and support them.  I have adjusted my strategy from a “how can I fix this?” perspective to a “how can I help you right now?” perspective. This approach gives my girls ownership of their intensity, and validates their feelings. They do not want advice or distractions.  They want me to appreciate their sensitivity and let them express it.

We discuss our feelings a lot, and the girls are becoming more self-aware. We use “I feel” statements, and “You feel/you need…am I understanding correctly?” questions.  Yoga is helpful for regulating all of us, and playing outside together clears the mind. We embrace the ecstatically happy moments and hold on tighter during the soul-wrenching sad times. 
 
More than anything, we accept each other, overexcited emotions and all.  I hope with age and maturity, the girls will find that this abundance of intuition and feeling is a super power. Emotional overexcitability opens your eyes and heart to a glimpse of the world that most people never get to experience, and I am grateful for my view.


This has been successful for our family. What works for yours? Please let me know in the comments.

This blog post is part of the December GHF Blog Hop – Parenting OEs, 2Es, and Everything in Between. Check out the other talented bloggers insights on parenting gifted children here!

Resources:

Overexcitability and the Highly Gifted Child from Davidson Institute for Talent Development

Sensitivity in Gifted Children from Ian Byrd

Emotional Sensitivities from Gifted Kids Ireland

Parenting Emotionally Intense Children from Talent Development Resources  – (this article discusses how it feels to live in a society that does not value feelings – great perspectives!)


References:

Dabrowski, K. (1964). Positive disintegration. London: Little, Brown & Co. (Out of print).

 

{GHF Blog Hop} The Case of the Car Seat Fury

C hates her car seat. She has hated it from day one. When she was a baby, we rarely ventured more than 20 minutes away from our home unless we were prepared for Ultimate Scream Fest. B was the same way, but her cry was much more mellow and, as awful as it sounds, much easier to tune out when a longer car ride was inevitable. Still, the switch to the booster seat was SUCH a welcome moment for B, and the end of many degrees of stress.
C is almost big enough to make the switch. As in one-half inch and three pounds from the recommendations. The cautious side of me would like to wait another three or six months to promote her to the booster seat. We do a lot of highway driving, and I want her to be safe.
But on the other hand, the screaming and fighting when we get in the car is getting old. She is strong enough to be a problem, and I have to plan ahead 15 minutes to leave the house, knowing that there will most likely be an incident before we can go to our destination (frustrating, multiple times daily.). Once safely buckled, she moved the chest buckle down as far as she can (unsafe), pulls on the adjusting strap and loosens the belt (unsafe). She wiggles, she groans, she states where and how this car seat buckle is ruining her life. I don’t like to think it is affecting my driving abilities, but it probably is. She’s pretty distracting with the trying to escape and all. We need an extra 10 minutes once we reach our destination so she can compose herself and act appropriately. I tallied it up the other day. We went to three places, which means in and out of the car three times….so roughly an hour of our day (plus the time IN the car) was spent on C dealing with her car seat hatred. That’s like 30 hours of my life PER MONTH.
We tried the Ride Safer travel vest. That was a disaster for a week. B liked it, but it took away her independence, because her hands just weren’t quite strong enough or dexterous enough to maneuver the belts, so that added another 5 minutes to every trip, along with some extra frustration on both of our parts. (On those three trip days, that was another 15 minutes! 7 ½ more hours per month! All together, with Little Miss Scream, that’s equivalent of THREE DAYS spent on car seat trauma, you guys.) C didn’t like the feel of the vest around her body – it’s much like a water safety vest, and those are a whole separate calamity. She didn’t like that it held her still in the seat. She began to wiggle and groan and state how this seat belt vest was ruining her life.
So, I decided enough is enough. I bought the high back car seat this morning. I am just hoping that it isn’t too straight, or too itchy, or the car seat belt isn’t too “wrong” or whatever else she might come up with. My only other options are to stay at home the rest of my life or invest in some duct tape and really, really good ear buds to drown her out.
I’ve commiserated with other parents about this… what options have worked for you?
**Edited to add: The new booster seat seems to be working well, with the exception of one seat belt removal experience while in the car. C loves the colors, silver and purple, and is actually thrilled to go places now. She also promises she will never, ever remove her seat belt again while the car is moving. We arrived everywhere on time this week. No fits were thrown. It was a miracle!
This blog post is part of the GHF April 2014 Blog Hop. Be sure to visit these other fantastic bloggers’ posts on promoting health and wellness in the gifted/2e child!

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Sweet Sleep…or the Opposite

 

C told me from the backseat the other day, “No, I do not sleep on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, or 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 days. I only sleep on Mondays.”

Isn’t that the truth.

The girls have a regular bedtime schedule. They get their pj’s on and brush teeth around 7:30pm. We read together until 8pm. Hubby and I turn on their music, tuck them in, give goodnight kisses, leave. The girls have a small light in their room that is on a timer, and turns off at 9:30pm.

B usually stays up and reads until the light turns off, and occasionally we find her laying on her belly, book stretched out to reach the light from the hallway. She goes to sleep on her own when she is finished, and wakes up happy in the morning, so it works for us.

B was a LOVELY napper. When she was a baby, she set herself on a sleep schedule…napping from 9:30am – 11:30am, and then from 1pm – 4pm. I didn’t know how good I had it. I had time to blog, time to read, time to clean, all in a quiet, serene environment. When she woke up, of course, it was a different story, but those hours throughout the day were so revitalizing. She went to bed at 7:30pm, and slept until 5am, and although that was an early wake up call, she was almost always in a good mood upon waking, and would keep herself busy for awhile in the morning. She has always enjoyed her own space, so co-sleeping was never an option.

C, on the other hand…She tells me she does not like the dark, and does not like to close her eyes. When she was a baby, she would nap for 45 minutes during the day at the most, and only after crying and fighting until she had nothing left to give. Those short naps disappeared around 18 months. She would sleep for about 8 hours through the night, but often only if she was snuggled right next to me. She was intense for every single other one of the 15 hours and 15 minutes left in the day.

Whew. I am worn out again just thinking about it.

These days, she is still intense, she rarely naps and it only occurs if we are driving around in the late afternoon, and that is ALWAYS worse than her skipping the nap altogether. She wants me to snuggle her at bedtime until she goes to sleep, which although I love it and try to soak all the snuggling up that I can before she gets to be what she thinks is “too big for that”, my moments to myself and with my husband are few. If she does sneak in that nap, she is up for hours in the evening, and would like some entertainment, please. Most times, she is just tired and on the verge of hysteria and meltdown and the slightest thing sends her over the edge…it’s a tightrope event every night.

Then there is the morning. I set my alarm for 5:15am daily, hoping to have some quiet time for myself to drink my coffee and do some writing, but most days C is up by 5:40am.

“Mama! The sun is up, so I am up!”

After we watched Frozen for the first time, I started calling C “Anna” in the mornings…such similar wake up calls. 🙂

She is not always a pleasant little bird in the mornings like her sister, and I have learned to just stop whatever it is that I am doing and pretend that I have just been waiting for this early morning moment to greet her, when my mind is screaming, “Can I just get 30 minutes of peace here?”

It can be very difficult some days. The worst ones include me feeling drained of patience at bedtime and my last words of the night coming out short and frustrated, causing tears (her) and guilt (me). Others leave me feeling like I am just spoiling her and giving into to her every whim and if I would just toughen up and tell her no, everything would be better. But I think anyone who can empathize with my plight knows that is just not the answer.

So what to do? For now, I am adding more activity to our day, attempting to keep her going non-stop to avoid the nap, wear her out sufficiently without sending her over the OE cliff. This will be a difficult transition, assuming it works, for B and I, who are more of the quiet-homebody-never-leave-the-house-if-we-have-a-book types, and it may result in some meltdowns of a different color for her. Maybe me too, to be honest…but there has to be a solution, right?

I’d love to hear ideas that you have tried, what worked, what didn’t…because as I am sure you are painfully aware, what works one day may not work the next, and my bag of tricks could always use some refilling.

For now, I’ll rest, because that sweet, sassy face will be popping through my door to greet me soon…

Meltdown City

image: tiffany terry

C has crazy, scary, unpredictable meltdowns. It usually begins with something I say innocuously.

“Please take off your paint shirt before you go in the living room.”

Or something she does, or something that happens. Something I would never imagine would set off the cycle…

“I can’t button my pants!”

“My raisin fell on the floor!”

“I can’t reach that!”

“You put my syrup on top of my pancake instead of beside!”

…turn into yelling, angry face, awful words, hysterical crying, “please hold me, Mama, don’t go, just hold me”, tears streaming, turning into hysterical laughter and the exhausted calm and the “I’m so sorry, Mama. I was just so angry.”

We’ve tried deep breathing. We’ve discussed that all problems have solutions, if you can stay calm long enough to figure it out. It’s that “stay calm long enough” part that tends to be an issue.

She isn’t a spoiled kid, in fact, she is a wonderful, kind, empathetic girl. She doesn’t like to freak out. It exhausts her. She even knows she needs some self-regulation and asks to do yoga after she regains her sanity. (Thank you CosmicKids Yoga on YouTube. You are a necessity in this house.) I know that with time and maturity, (hopefully) she will improve her ability to manage her emotions.

Prior to staying home with the girls, I was an early childhood specialist, doling out advice to frustrated parents who didn’t know how to deal with their child’s out of control behavior.

“He’s doing that for attention. Just let him cry it out in his room. It may take some time. He is in control of you when you let his throw the fit in front of everyone. Remove him from the situation.”

I see now that despite the training and education I was drawing from, I had no idea what I was talking about. I want to go back and apologize to all of those parents. I had at that point so far only dealt with a very compliant 4 year old of typical fit-throwing abilities, and a classroom full of special needs preschoolers who spent just 3 hours of their day with me. I feel as though teachers often are absorbed into their bubble of time and space, and although what they (we) do is very important, we forget that we see our children but a fraction of their lives, and really can’t get the whole picture of what is going on with these kiddos. In my own circumstance, I can look back and see that although I felt like I knew these children inside and out, I knew just a small piece about them, and most likely not enough to venture into advice territory. Perhaps just active listening and compassion would have been a better choice. But alas…that was another lifetime ago.

For a long time, I just felt like an awful mother during C’s meltdowns. It was so frustrating, and time consuming, not to mention trying to keep a schedule and get anywhere on time is next to impossible when you don’t know when the hurricane is about to hit. I practiced my own advice, and found that tossing her in a room by herself only made things worse (as I had cautioned other parents that it would) but instead of eventually calming down, she would just become emotionally frantic. Threatening consequences, bribing with rewards, throwing my own fit…there was no solution and mainly made things worse.

My philosophies have grown and changed since my teaching days. I keep a quote from GHF on my refrigerator now, “The times when kids need your love most may be the times when they behave in the most unloving ways. Try to understand what is happening in their heads and their hearts and address that first.” I re-read it frequently.

The Explosive Child, by Ross Greene is the most helpful book about parenting that I have read in awhile. It gave me some answers, some strategies, and gave me hope that I am not the world’s worst parent. The Highly Sensitive Child, by Elaine Aron was encouraging as well, and helped me understand both of my little girls more completely.  I’ve learned that the most helpful thing I can do for C is weather the storm. hold her when she needs me to, and let her be. Sit on her bed, or lay beside her or hold her hand until she is able to calm down. Let her know that I support her when her emotions become too much, and improve my patience with her during the challenging times.

There are good days, and bad days, and there are just age-typical “I want my own way” days, which are an animal of their own requiring their own response. At the end of the day, though, I make it a point to have the girls find one or two of the best things about the day, and finish it on a positive note, concentrating on the happy moments and proud moments rather than the difficult ones.

Because as Roald Dahl wrote…” if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”