My last blog was about overexcitabilities, what they are, and how they affect us. It was late when I finished the blog. I was struggling through heavy eyelids to finish it, so I left out a huge part of living with overexcitabilities….how we cope. What are the ways to acknowledge, yet harness those overexcitabilities so that they don’t run you into the ground as a parent? I have heard numerous stories about parents who are at their wits end. They are exhausted, their patience is running thin, and they want to be more understanding, but they just can’t take one more “why” question, or one more tantrum, or they just can’t keep up with the unending energy any longer.
I’d love to tell you I have all the answers and give you a step-by-step plan of what to do to help ease these intense little minds, but every child is just so different it would be impossible to help completely. I’m still struggling to figure out how to help my own child with certain things, and I am no expert, but I can give some ideas and also tell you what we have done to try to help and maybe something will work in your family as well. If you are looking for a way to make these intense behaviors stop, you are reading the wrong blog. These OE’s don’t just stop. They can’t. They are a part of who your child is and we can’t change that. We can, however, find ways for them to channel these intensities to use them in a constructive manner to make them more enjoyable for all of you.
These little ones never stop moving, never stop talking, and never stop fidgeting. It’s a no brainer that for a parent, that non-stop energy can leave them feeling drained long before you turn out the lights at night (or if you’re like me, your energy is likely to be drained before lunch time every day). It’s easy to just sit down on the couch and pop in a movie to try and give yourself a break, but that could backfire quickly. Why? Sitting still will not make the energy go away. It will make them bottle it all up until they are allowed to release it and then it will all come out like the flood gates have been opened up. The best ways we have found to cope with a psychomotor overexcitability are:
- Provide opportunities for movement throughout the day. Go for a walk or bike ride, throw a ball, jump, have a dance party, play tag, whatever you need to do to let them move.
- Find a sport or activity that interests them. For us it’s taekwondo, t-ball, and drums. All 3 of these give him a chance to move and let out some excess energy.
- Take some time to really listen to what they’re telling you. Ask questions about their interests and then give them your full attention when they answer. This will make them feel like they have been heard and they’ll be more likely to allow you some quiet time later if you ask for it.
- Provide opportunities for free-play.
- Let them listen to music, give them a fidget (yes, I said fidget, but I didn’t specifically say a spinner…though they do work great).
- Include them in your household chores. Let them help you dust furniture, put dishes away, sort laundry, etc.
- Teach them how to relax. Have a relaxation/time-out/calming corner and teach them that it can be a choice to go there, not a punishment. Practice deep breathing.
I’m sure some people don’t see a problem with an intellectual overexcitability. How cool that your child loves learning, right? Yes, that’s a great thing, but an author and educator named Jade Ann Rivera described intellectual overexcitabilities as “a gifted child’s curiosity on steroids.” These kids don’t know how to stop learning and if they are young enough, the way they learn is by asking question after question after question. They always want to know why, or what if, or what happens when. We like to think that we always have the answers, but some of the questions they can come with just don’t really have an answer. Some examples would be,
-“How do we ever know if we’re actually awake? We could be dreaming.”
-“How many people are actually on Earth? This says that 278 babies are born by the time I read the last word on this page. Who counts them?”
-“Where do thoughts come from?”
Asher’s favorite question lately is simply “why?” Why did that just happen? Why do I have to go to bed right now? Why did you just ask me to put my shoes on? The questions can get quite tiring. Here are some ways to cope:
- Teach them how to find the answers to their questions on their own. Help them look it up, whether it’s in books, online, or asking an expert on the subject.
- Provide books and resources about things that interest them.
- Allow the child to develop and pursue their own projects.
- Seek intellectual peers for them to speak/play with
- Answer as many of those questions as you can, but do not hesitate to tell them “I don’t know” if you simply don’t. Offer to help them find the answer later if you don’t know. This helps them see that sometimes it’s ok not to know the answer to something, but there’s always time to find out the answer later.
- Try not to discourage that love of learning. It’s tough to be questioned constantly, but once that fire is burnt out it’s hard to rekindle.
I think it’d be safe to say all kids have imaginations, but an imaginational overexcitability is different. Their imaginations go beyond the typical. They have all the tiny details of their make-believe worlds planned out. Their minds can get away from them and get them into some sticky spots leaving them with fear and anxiety about certain situations. This is the side of imaginational OE’s that are not necessarily a fun thing to see. Some ways to help:
- Teach the difference between real and make-believe. A great way to do this is with movies and tv shows. Explain how the process of making a movie works. The thing that worked best for Asher was explaining actors and what they do. I told him that basically an actor is just a normal person playing pretend like he does, but they are just doing it in front of a camera for everyone to see.
- When they are in their own world, make sure they realize you are talking to them by saying their name, touching their shoulder, or stepping into their line of sight. This helps avoid being ignored or feeling like they aren’t obeying your commands. It’s very possible they simply do not hear you.
- Provide creative opportunities. Art tables, musical instruments (can be real or toy), paper and pencil, cameras, etc. Give them opportunities to express or act out what is going on in their minds.
- Teach them how to keep a journal or diary.
- Have the child use their imagination to solve problems.
- Create a make-believe scenario for something you want accomplished. “Let’s pretend that the floor is a lake and we have to put all the toys away in their boats (toy boxes) so that they don’t sink in the water.” Use every opportunity to create a game.
- Play along in their make-believe worlds whenever possible. This is another thing that we don’t want to discourage, but we want to help harness it.
“You want a peanut butter sandwich for dinner AGAIN!? You just had that for dinner last night and lunch today.” A sensual OE can make a child seem very picky and that can become a challenge. They only want to eat certain foods, wear certain clothes, and put themselves in certain situations. Some situations put them in uncomfortable positions. The best way to help them is to:
- Avoid offensive stimuli as much as possible.
- If you cannot, or don’t want to, avoid offensive stimuli try exposure therapy. Expose them to whatever bothers them in small quantities and then take it away. The next time expose them a little bit longer until they are used to the feeling and can handle it. This works well with foods.
- Purchase a pair of hearing protection headphones for noisy situations. These can be a life-saver. I mentioned that Asher loves playing drums, but doesn’t enjoy many loud noises. These headphones are the reason why he can enjoy it.
- Cut tags out of clothes. Avoid embroidery or logos sewn on to clothes. Do what you can to avoid any stitching or tags inside the clothing.
- If your child is a sensory seeking individual, offer things that satisfy that. Offer a chew necklace, a sensory brush, weighted blankets, punching bags, an iPod with headphones, etc. These would be great things to include in a calming corner.
Dabrowski felt this intensity was the most extensive of all of them. There is so much involved with this one and the complexity of it that it can be difficult to find the best ways to cope. These kiddos feel everything more deeply. They have intense feelings that are manifested in extreme ways. Sometimes they can make a huge deal out of something very insignificant. They can react emotionally or physically. Some throw tantrums, argue, scream, cry, etc. but some can get a stomach ache, sweating, heart racing, shaking, etc. These children are often accused of being “dramatic,” “drama queen/king,” or “overreacting.” However, they can also have very deep relationships with others because of their ability to sympathize deeply. They are misdiagnosed as bipolar, depression, or anxiety. Some strategies to try would include:
- Accept feelings and the intensity they are expressed as real, but develop a plan with your child of what they can do when they feel this way.
- Develop a “feeling vocabulary.” “I am feeling _____ and I need to _______.”
- Practice various situations with children and discuss what proper reactions would look like. Do not wait for them to happen in real life. This way when it does happen in real life they can remember what they practiced and have a plan to deal with it other than the fight or flight response.
- Use journaling to record feelings and reactions.
- Discuss what their reactions do to other people and how it makes others feel. “When you yell at your sister it feels scary to her and she is afraid you are going to hurt her.” Or even have others explain to the child themselves how it makes them feel. Children with emotional OE can understand this the most because they are able to sympathize. The goal is not to create a guilt trip, but to help them understand that others have the same feelings they do and they need to be mindful of them.
- Calming corner activities could include things like a timer, calming bottles, a binder or book that shows their reaction plans for each situation “When I feel _______, I _______ (When I feel angry, I take a deep breath and count to 10…I walk away…etc)”, noise canceling headphones, calming essential oil diffuser, pinwheel to blow (practices deep breathing), etc.
In general, kids with all overexcitabilities need consistency. They need to know that when a happens, b will happen. All kids benefit from a routine and clear boundaries. If they go to school, discuss these challenges with the teacher and work with them to provide ways to cope while at school (some schools already offer calming corners in every classroom or in a dedicated area of the building). I noticed the calming corner as a theme in a lot of these overexcitability coping strategies and we do not have one in our house. I think I have found my next step to take. I found an awesome list of ideas for things to put in a calming corner. Here it is…
The key with these things will be making sure these items stay in the calming corner and are used only for that purpose. I can see some of these things becoming toys for Asher and him taking them out of the calming corner and losing them. When your calming corner takes over your whole house it loses it’s purpose a little.
Hopefully some of these strategies can help channel intensities and make them a little more manageable. These overexcitabilities can be used to their advantage if used in constructive ways and these kiddos have the opportunity to be world changers. It is our job as parents not to change them, but to help them learn to use them correctly.