Our musically gifted child

When I was really young, I had a favorite song. “Red, Red Wine” by UB40. Not sure why it was that song. I just enjoyed the sound of it. I had no idea what I was singing about, but I just sang along whenever I heard it. Music wasn’t huge in my life at that point, but I was aware of it and it made me, like everyone else, feel good.

Around the age of 10 I started playing the violin. I was in orchestra in 5th grade and was taught the basics of playing the violin. It wasn’t until I was 13 that something sparked in me.

My brother had a friend across the street at our lake house that had a drum set. I tagged along one time and I got to play it. I had no idea what I was doing, but I immediately fell in love. After that, I would do anything to play the drums. Of course, my brother didn’t want me tagging along with him and his friend, so it was a constant battle to get over there and play. I can’t remember exactly what he told me, but it was something along the lines of, you’ll never play the drums. Drums are for boys and you’re a girl. That sounded like a challenge to me! Luckily, the parents were super nice people and told me I could come over and play anytime. They’d go out of town and give me the key to their house and I would not only take their dog out for a walk, but afterward I’d get to play those drums until my heart was content.

But my heart wasn’t content. I needed drums of my own. I began asking my parents for a drum set. You can guess the answer I got. I bugged them daily for years until they finally agreed to let me rent a set from our local music store. They sounded awful…and they sat right in the middle of my bedroom…but they were my drums and I loved it for the 9 weeks that I got to have them. Nevertheless, it sparked a love of music in me and I began teaching myself any instrument I could get my hands on. I still played violin and over time I also learned guitar, piano, bass, harmonica, and a little bit of trumpet. Any chance I got to play around with an instrument, I took it. I spent study halls in high school in the practice rooms on the piano, or a friend’s french horn, bassoon, saxophone, or just playing my violin to try and get better. I gained knowledge of music theory. I was in orchestra, choir, music theory, piano, dance, and music composition classes. The fire was burning in me.

 

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One of my favorite photos….yes, they’re all me.

To conclude this little story, though I could go into greater detail and make it much longer, I finally bought my own drum set in college and never looked back. Drums remain my main instrument and I love every chance I get to play. I’ve played shows, hundreds of worship sets, retreats, awards shows, revivals, and I practice at home any chance I get.

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All that to say, I was the pregnant lady with the headphones on my belly. I had no clue if it worked, but I was going to try. I wanted my baby to hear music before he even entered the world. I could only pray that he would even kind of enjoy music as much as I did. Well it worked.

I have videos of Asher as a baby, probably 6 months old with a toy that played a short little song when a certain button was pushed. Every time that song came on, he’d raise his hand, touch his thumb to his pointer and middle fingers, and move his arm side to side like he was conducting. His head would tilt to the side a little and his eyes would close. I’m not certain if he was imitating something he’d seen me do or if he was truly feeling the music. I remember it almost bringing tears to my eyes watching him as he did it repeatedly, each time that song came on. He’s a musical baby!

As soon as he was able to sit up, I’d sit him on my lap, put drum sticks in his hand, and let him drum on my drum set. Nothing good came out of it, but he never complained about it. Finally one day at around 18 months old, during our prayer time before bed, he would ask God to bring him some “brums.” We couldn’t really understand any other word he was saying but then we’d hear “brrrums.” Christmas was coming.

He prayed for “brums” every single night for 4 months until he finally got some “brums” for Christmas. It was just a little toy drum set, but it was all he needed…for now. We told him that they were from Jesus because he had prayed for them so much. All his other gifts were from Santa. But those drums? Those were from Jesus.

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Christmas morning with his new “brums”

Little did we know, those drums really were a gift from God. They ended up being Asher’s GIFT. If there weren’t so many books and movies already called “The Gift” I would write this story into a book and that’d be what I call it. I’m not saying he sat down at those drums for the first time and hammered out a drum solo Neil Peart style, but the passion was there from day 1. He got those drums just before he turned 2 and by the time he was 3 he had found the beat. He was playing basic beats and becoming more and more creative with them by the day. He had also gotten bored with his toy drums and had moved on to playing on my drums all the time.

We decided it was time for an upgrade. We sold his toy drums and got him a Ludwig Jr set. This set is the real thing, but for young people. He was so excited about them! We started making videos of his playing and posting them on YouTube to have a comparison of how far he comes over the years. He has already come a loooooong way. It is amazing!

He enjoys playing worship songs that he hears me play and his own original songs that he makes up. It’s been more recently that I noticed he was making up his own beats and playing them consistently every time, and then adding his own original lyrics as well. We have recorded one of them and we will be recording more in the near future.

I prayed for a child that liked music. I got a child that is a musician. A child with a passion for music. At 4 he is playing drums, writing his own music, listening to music, and is constantly singing something. He also has a violin that he has shown interest in learning, he is interested in the piano and guitar,  and he is slowly starting to show knowledge of reading music. There’s no telling where he will be in 5 or 10 years. It’s not going to take long though.

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How do I know this is truly something he enjoys? That’s easy. He asks me if he can go play drums. Daily. Several times a day. Not a day goes by that he isn’t playing drums. If he’s not on his drums, he’s singing something or tapping something on whatever surface he can find. If he didn’t enjoy it, I would be the one asking him to go practice. Drums are his thing, just like his mommy! My goal is to encourage that and make it easy for him to chase his dreams. At least easier than it was for me.

I have read and heard several parents talking about how there’s no way they would allow drums in their house. They talk about the headache it would cause and how they would need earplugs. I always wonder about that. Am I just weird because it doesn’t bother me? Maybe it’s because I’m a drummer too. Maybe it’s because my child showed potential from the beginning. I don’t know. All I do know is that my son has a gift, and I’m glad that he was given permission to find it.

 

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Sleep and the gifted child

I always hesitate to write this one because there are people who struggle with sleep daily with their children or with young infants.  I know it can always be much worse, so I have erred on the side of caution about this one. However, with Asher, sleep is such a weird topic. He sleeps well, but he also doesn’t sleep well.

When Asher came home from the hospital as a newborn, we had a bassinet in our bedroom that had been passed through my dad’s side of the family for many, many years. Pretty much every Thomas family baby has slept in this bassinet, so I was excited that Asher got to be a part of it too. We planned for him to sleep in it in our room for awhile. At least until we got settled into a routine. Little did we know, Asher had other plans from day 1.

We put Asher in the bassinet asleep and we got into bed to go to sleep as well. Twenty minutes later, he was awake crying. Got him settled down and back to sleep…twenty minutes again and he was awake. Every 20 minutes he was awake. He was not feeling the bassinet. Luckily my mother-in-law was staying with us so she was able to take him until he had to eat again so we could get a couple hours of sleep. She took him to his room and put him in his crib. He slept a full 2 hours and only woke up because it was time to eat. We’re still not sure if it was that he liked the mattress better in the crib, or the extra space, or just that he’d rather be alone to sleep, but from then on he slept in his crib.

He slept “through the night” by time he was 6 weeks old. By through the night, I mean the baby definition of “through the night” which is 5 hours. This was great, we thought. He’s a pro sleeper. We were wrong.

Now that he’s a little older, he sleeps all night 99% of the time. I know what you’re thinking…”That’s awesome! What’s the problem here?” Well he sleeps, but he doesn’t sleep well. His little mind never shuts off, so even when he enters a deep sleep he starts dreaming. As far as we can tell, his dreams are very vivid and full of energy, adventure, and movement. He tosses and turns, he snores, he moves his arms and legs, he sits up in bed, he talks, and on the rare occasion he walks around. I remember one night (when he was probably 2 years old), for example, he got up and ran in circles around his room and then slammed himself into the wall. He then got back up, laid back down in his bed and went back to “sleep” (though he was actually “asleep” the whole time). Just last night he apparently sat up around 1 am, turned his lamp on, then laid down and slept with his light on all night. I did not wake up for this, but my husband went in and turned his light back off when he got up for work. When we asked him what he was doing, he said “Uhhh, I don’t know…I think I was looking for Raon (his lion stuffed animal) or something and I couldn’t find him so I turned my light on.” This morning Raon still laid down at the foot of the bed, so he never managed to find him.

I usually go in to his room to check on him before I go to bed. Most of this is because I’m still the paranoid mom checking to see if he’s breathing. But a lot of it is also to straighten his covers or cover him back up, turn him right side up in his bed again (he ends up with his feet at his pillow quite often), or to tell him to lay back down if he happens to be sitting up. He’s just so restless.

Even through all of this restlessness, he still only gets about 10 hours of sleep on a good night. That is the bare minimum suggested for kids his age. Most 4-year-olds are recommended to sleep around 12 hours a night. Asher falls asleep around 8:30-8:45 at night and wakes up sometime between 6 and 6:45 in the morning. This morning, after his 1 a.m. adventures in stuffed animal hunting. I caught him awake at 5:30, and then awake for good at 6:25 a.m.

Even though he doesn’t sleep well or enough, he manages to function well throughout the day. He has his moments where he zones out or yawns or even gets a little grumpy, but most of the time you wouldn’t even know that he doesn’t sleep well. I guess this is because they say some gifted children can function on less sleep than other kids their age. It’s just so hard for them to sleep because of how fast their brains go and they can’t turn them off. I’ve read stories about other gifted children who don’t go to sleep until the wee hours of the morning and then they function on 4 or 5 hours of sleep. Like I said at the beginning, we could have it so much worse, but it’s still enough to cause concern.

We are tired. I have gotten used to the dark circles under my eyes. Yes, I need more sleep, but at the same time I look forward to the quiet time after he goes to bed (see this post about his overexcitabilities). Quiet time normally wins and I’m normally up too late for my 6:30(ish) wake-up call, but that’s on me. I look forward to, but I also dread that first day he sleeps in. I will be awake, checking on him, hoping he’s not coming down with something until I get used to the idea that he sleeps in. Then I’ll get some sleep. If not, well there’s always when he heads off to college.

 

The Lonely Kid in the Cafeteria

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Can we talk about this meme that has been making the rounds for quite awhile now? I’m sure you’ve seen it…the one about how we need to care less about how academically gifted our child is and more about whether they sit with the lonely kid in the cafeteria. Yeah…this one right here…
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There is so much wrong with this meme. The first time I saw it, I read it and I thought “well…yeah.” But then I thought about it more. It’s not easy to offend me, but this just rubbed me the wrong way.

First of all, no one chooses for a child to be gifted. Most of us do not care if our child is academically gifted or not, but that’s the card we were dealt. Children who are truly gifted are born that way. It’s not taught. I think the biggest problem in the meme is the use of the word “gifted.” Taking what I just said about how a child is born gifted and has no control over how gifted they are, let’s replace that word “gifted.” Let’s replace it with something else that someone is born with and can’t control….like autism, for example. So…”We need to care less about whether our children are autistic and more about whether they sit with the lonely kid in the cafeteria.”  Huh? I think that would raise some eyebrows, don’t you? It’s comparing apples to oranges. It doesn’t make sense!

Next, did anyone stop to think that maybe the gifted children ARE the lonely kids in the cafeteria? We all know that they are different than their peers. We also know that being different usually is not widely accepted in a school setting. Gifted kids are usually among the bullied and picked on. They struggle to make friends. They just might be the kids that are sitting alone in the lunchroom or playing alone at recess.

The other problem I have with this meme is what it implies. It kind of suggests that gifted kids are not kind. Why can’t a child be gifted AND sit with the lonely kid? I don’t think anyone is waking up in the morning and saying “Today I’m going to be gifted, so I won’t have time for any of those sad, lonely kids.”

Obviously, as a parent of a gifted child, I am not spending my days telling Asher that because he’s gifted he’s better than everyone else. That because he’s gifted he doesn’t have to be kind to others. Do I care that he’s gifted? Yes. I have to care that he is because I have to provide for his different needs. It would be wrong of me not to care.  But I would definitely love him the same if he wasn’t. Do I care if he’s kind to everyone he meets? Absolutely I do! I teach kindness daily! But should I care less about his giftedness because I want him to be kind? That’s like asking if I should stop worrying about changing the oil in my car because I want it to look pretty. It just doesn’t make sense!

Instead I think the meme should simply state “No matter who your child is, or what cards they’ve been dealt in life, we should care that they are kind to everyone.” The end.

An introvert raising an extroverted child

Let me let you all in on a little secret….I am an introvert.

Ok, fine. For those that know me you know this is no secret. I am a socially anxious introvert. I can’t hide my introversion. I can’t just put it away for awhile while I go hang out with a group of people. It’s always with me. I enjoy being alone. I prefer quiet. I’m always wondering what people think of me (and yes…I care). I prefer to just listen. Not to talk. I have a very small group of close friends. I’d rather hang out at home with my family than go out to a party. Oh and talking on the phone? Forget about it!

You know, I believe God has a great sense of humor. He gave me a child. A beautiful, amazing child. He knew His plans for me to be a stay-at-home mom. He knew I would be with this child all day, every day, as I homeschool him (I did not plan to homeschool, but God knew I would long before I did). He knew I would be in charge of making sure he has chances for socializing. But the funniest thing of all….He gave me an extremely extroverted child.

Since before Asher could talk he was talking to people. Yes, you read that right! I taught him to communicate with me through sign language before he could talk. He knew how to sign things like more, thank you, please, potty, mom, dad, sorry, milk, eat, etc. I read that this was a great way for babies to communicate and it helped cut down on tantrums due to being able to express his needs despite a lack of vocabulary. Apparently it also helps extroverted babies become social with everyone they came in contact with even at a very young age.

Though the cutest thing was, when you sign “thank you” your hand goes up to your chin and extends outward toward the other person. However, Asher would put his hand to his lips and extend outward, so everyone thought he was blowing them a kiss. This got a little awkward from time to time. Not to mention when he would sign “dad” to random men in the grocery store.

Anyway, the point is, Asher thrives on talking to people. I can see the difference in him when he has had some social time versus when he hasn’t. His eyes light up, he has a little extra spring in his step, and he smiles so much more. He doesn’t discriminate either. He will chat with babies, kids his own age, older kids, adults, senior citizens, pets, himself….I’m sure if he came across an alien he would want to know how it’s day has been. He will talk anyone’s arm off too.

Then there’s me. When I’m chatting with people I often find myself searching for words. I can’t find them. I want to respond, but I don’t know what to say. I usually can only mutter “yeah”, or “oh no.” I become uncomfortable and I feel like I’m being judged by my lack of words. When I think I have something to add I start to stutter, to slur my words, to get tongue-tied. Then I just want to run and hide. After a conversation with someone I am usually mentally exhausted and need to replay the conversation in my head to make sure it went ok.

So where Asher really gets a pick-me-up from chatting with people, I’m the opposite. However, I know I must persist. He needs to be social with whoever will allow him to be. So I can’t put my introversion away, but I can pretend that I did. For him.

Through him (and also a more extroverted husband), I have come out of my shell a great deal since he came around, but I still find myself keeping that shell around just in case I need to crawl back inside. I do still feel more comfortable in that shell, but I am capable of coming out for a little bit to stretch my legs….and my limits.

So…if Asher starts talking to you and I join him but don’t add much, if anything, to the conversation, please know I’m not being stuck up, I’m not mad at you, I’m not trying to be rude, I’m just listening. I’m enjoying allowing my extroverted child to thrive on something he needs to be happy.  He really doesn’t know a stranger and, though that can be a little unsettling at times, I admire that about him.

 

Young, Gifted, and Misunderstood

I recently saw the movie Gifted. Great movie, by the way! I smiled, laughed, cried, got angry, and cried some more. Though the main character wasn’t the exact match of my son, it was still great to see a movie that could raise a little bit of awareness about giftedness and help people understand it a little better. Though I enjoyed the whole movie, there was one line that was spoken by the main character that stood out to me. It has been in the back of my mind for weeks and I’ve wanted to write a blog about it. I’ve started it several times only to delete it all because the words just weren’t coming to me, but now…now I think I’ve got it.

The line that stuck out was when Mary (the main character) was participating in show and tell in school. She was showing the class her cat. If you haven’t seen the movie, you’ll need to know that her cat only has one eye. She explained to the class that her cat only has one eye, but she didn’t know how it happened and then she said this…
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I don’t think that line was supposed to be a big secret, hidden meaning because of the close up of her teacher’s face after she said it, but it definitely hit home in this house. Our son is no stranger to being misunderstood and it’s not an uncommon thing among gifted children.

Asher is only 4 and homeschooled, so the things that he is misunderstood about are a little different than other gifted kids. A lot of misunderstandings happen in the school setting among teachers, peers, administrators, and other parents. Asher’s misunderstandings happen at home, with peers his age, and around town.

A gifted child can sometimes take a person by surprise. Especially when they are young. Our son is tiny in physical size. When people look at him, they see a little toddler. However, wait until he starts talking to you and watch out! I don’t know how many times I’m asked how old he is in a single trip to the grocery store, but it’s a lot. People just can’t understand how a boy that small can make that many words come out of his mouth in that short of a timeframe….and they usually make quite a bit of sense! Asher is also quite proud to tell people that he is in first grade. People find it very hard to believe that a 4-year-old is in first grade so they usually ask me about it, like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

I also get the people that will ask me questions about him when he’s right next to me, like he’s unable to answer questions about himself. I usually will just repeat their question to him for him to answer. “How old are you Asher? Tell them how old you are.”

Recently we were at an event and there was a lady at a booth handing out samples in envelopes and handed me one. Asher immediately grabbed it from my hand and began looking at the words on the front of the envelope to see what it was. The lady looked at him and said, in a very condescending tone, “You can’t read!” Asher just looked up at her with almost a glare. I tried to sound as nice as I could as I gently told her that yes he could read and that he reads at a 3rd grade level. I didn’t stick around to hear her response. I know people don’t mean any harm by comments like these because they actually think that a child of his age would not know how to read, but sometimes it just bothers me. It’s comments like those that make children like Asher ask questions. “Why doesn’t that lady think I can read? Am I not good enough at reading? Am I not supposed to be reading?  Why aren’t I like other kids my age? What’s wrong with me?” I know for a fact we have heard Asher tell us that he will only be able to do some things when he reaches a certain age (“I’ll learn to tie my shoes when I’m 5.” “I’ll be able to make my own sandwich for lunch when I’m 7.”) In his mind, he has set limits on when someone is supposed to be able to do things and no earlier and I feel like comments like these are what puts these ideas in his brain…and it’s unfortunate.

One of the biggest things that Asher is misunderstood about is his personality. I’ve heard numerous people tell me, in these exact words, that “he’s just not like other kids.” He’s just different. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is. Asher has a hyper maturity about him. If it weren’t for his psychomotor overexcitability I think he would be seen as extremely mature for his age, but he just has so much energy that it’s hard for others to see his maturity. He has never been one to throw a huge tantrum about anything. He isn’t the kind of kid to refuse to eat his dinner because he wanted the orange plate and you gave him the blue one. He enjoys having conversations with adults. His understanding of how life works is unique for his age.

His favorite thing in the world is being able to “work” at various places when he is able. This has recently caused others to misunderstand him as people don’t get why a young child is behind the cash register and they don’t think he should be there. (Yeah, he probably shouldn’t be there, but it’s just what he thrives on. No one is making him do it. He literally cannot wait to get the opportunity.  I would describe his happiest moments as the ones where he is helping customers while he is “working”.)

Asher’s other happiest moments are when he is allowed to be a leader in something.  Unfortunately this can come across as bossiness to some people who don’t know him and his intentions. He is always pretending something and when he is given the opportunity to lead, he begins to pretend to be the “teacher” or the one in charge and can be known to just completely take over like he’s the boss. To a person who doesn’t understand this, he can be seen as trying to step on toes or take control. Then the mindset becomes, “You are just a little kid. Who do you think you are?” Really, at that moment, he is literally pretending to be the adult.

I really think Asher would rather be an adult. You always hear talk about kids saying they never want to grow up, but I think Asher is the opposite. He cannot wait to grow up.  Everything he seems to want to do in life are things that he is not “allowed” to do until he is older. He wants a job, he wants to drive a car, he wants to run a business, he wants to be on the worship team at church, he wants to be in charge, he wants to have grown up conversations, he wants to be allowed to do whatever he wants without having to ask first. When these are the things a 4-year-old wants in life, it’s easy to see how he can be misunderstood. As the parent, it’s heartbreaking and I don’t know how to fix it for him. People would tell me to “let him be a kid,” but sometimes I’m the one begging him to “just be a kid.” However, since he doesn’t want to just do kid things, I am always looking for ways to allow him to be “older” in his little tiny body. After all, the Bible does say “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12). 

He may be hard to understand, but it is my job as his parent to build him up to be self-confident and to reach his full potential. It has to be so hard to be a much older person in personality living in a preschooler’s body. I can only imagine the things he could do if he was able to reach his goals sooner than later. He may change the world one day…when he looks to others like he’s old enough.

Back to school- Advice for teachers of gifted children

It’s the end of July and, though it seems early, kids are headed back to school very soon. This is an exciting time for some with eagerness to see their friends, wondering who is in class with them, meeting teachers, and getting new school supplies and clothes. For some gifted children, this time can bring up feelings of fear and anxiety. Will I make new friends this year? Will the other kids in class accept me for who I am? Will my teacher understand me? Will I be forced to sit through another year “learning” things I already know? Will I like school this year? Here is a guide for teachers of gifted children to help make their school year as good as it can be.

~Every gifted child is different. Take some time to get to know them. Talk to them. Talk to their parents. See what makes them thrive, what they enjoy, what topics interest them. Also learn what makes them nervous, what overwhelms them, what makes them shut down, what can you do to help.

~Watch for bullying. Gifted children are prone to being bullied because of how different they are. They are perceived as the “know-it-alls,” “weirdos,” “teacher’s pet,” “suck ups,” you name it, they’ve probably been called it. Watch for a change in their behavior.  A bullied student will go from being confident in themselves and their abilities to slacking on purpose so that they aren’t seen as the “smart ones” anymore. They will pretend not to know the answers. They will stop asking questions they are curious about. They will purposefully miss problems on their math test so their grade lowers and they don’t appear as gifted as they are. It’s a slippery slope and once they’re on it, it’s hard to bring them back to their full potential.

~Statistically, a gifted child comes into a school year already knowing at least 50% of what will be taught in the coming year. Imagine having to sit through roughly 4 and a half months “relearning” things you’ve already known for years. I know I would become a grumpy mess and would probably cause a behavior problem. Boredom is an epidemic among gifted kids in schools. The only way to fix this is to stop classifying them by only their chronological age and put them in classes that meet their intellectual age. You may say “well…he’s not mature enough to be in class with the older kids.” Or “I don’t see him performing at the level of the older kids, so I don’t think he could keep up.” Try it…you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If it doesn’t work out, you can always go back.

~Some gifted children love being leaders. Use that to their advantage. If they know how to do something, let them teach it to the class if they want to. Let them help a friend if they’re struggling with a concept. Give them a special job in the classroom. Let them help you plan a lesson or dedicate who is in what small group. Some really enjoy feeling important or like they are in charge of something. However, only do this if they have shown interest in leadership. Some would rather not.

~Accommodate their overexcitabilities. Seat them in an area of the room where they can stand, rock, bounce, or fidget while they do their work without being a distraction to others.  Provide a calming/quiet corner. Take occasional brain breaks, like music and movement time, restroom breaks, a few minutes of free reading time, etc. Try not to punish them for things they can’t control.

~Don’t give busy work. If a student finishes their work long before others in the class, do not burden them with more of the same thing. They finished quickly because they get it. It’s mastered. Let them move on to something else that interests them. Let them research something on the computer, or read something in a book, or let them complete a job for you that you need done.

~Above everything else, if you have a student that is classified as gifted you must know that they didn’t choose this for themselves. Their parents didn’t choose it either. Though some think “gifted” can be acquired by drilling with flashcards, nonstop activity books, and constant quizzing, that does not give them a gifted child. It gives them a bright child who knows a lot about certain subjects. There is so much more to being “gifted” that can’t be drilled into their heads.

Don’t be afraid to step outside of the box and try something different. Educating a gifted child can be a challenge, but it is also a privilege. Every day is a chance for both of you (teacher and student) to learn something new. Have a great year!

 

 

 

Overexcitabilities Aplenty Part 2: How to Cope

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.

Psychomotor

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.

Intellectual

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.

Imaginational

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.

Sensual

“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.

Emotional

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, 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…

what-to-put-in-a-calm-down-box-for-kids-free-printable-list

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.

Overexcitabilities aplenty

If you live with a gifted child, chances are you know a thing or two about overexcitabilities (OE’s). A Polish psychologist named Kazimierz Dabrowski researched and identified 5 different areas where a child shows major intensity. Gifted children usually exhibit at least a few of these and one is normally dominant. We are no stranger to these overexcitabilities in this house. We see a little bit of all 5 here, but there are 2 that really stand out the most. Here are our experiences with all these overexcitabilities.

Psychomotor

Psychomotor overexcitability would be characterized by extreme levels of energy. They are constantly on the move, constantly talking, constantly doing something. They often need less sleep and when they do sleep they don’t sleep restfully. These children are often misdiagnosed as ADHD because of their high levels of energy, but the difference is that they CAN focus when they have the proper amount of brain stimulation. Some common characteristics of a child with psychomotor overexcitabilities are:

  • Constant, rapid speech
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Constant movement
  • Extreme energy
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Nervous habits and tics
  • Sleeplessness

This is one of the dominant OE’s with Asher. From the moment he wakes up in the morning to the moment he goes to sleep at night, Asher is on the move. From when he comes in our room at 7 in the morning he is talking. And talking. And talking. He gets excited and speaks so fast he forgets to take a breath. He paces back and forth across the room. He jumps up and down. He is very impulsive. When he sees something he wants, he goes for it and is usually so quick about it you don’t have time to tell him to stop. At bedtime, when he is starting to get tired, there is no such thing as starting to wind down and relax to get ready for bed. His tired time is his most intense time. His energy increases, his volume increases, and his motor is just running on overdrive. I usually describe it by saying he is bouncing off the walls. Even laying in bed while reading bedtime stories, he is tossing and turning, getting under his covers, getting back out from under his covers, playing with stuffed animals, playing with his hands, and finding any way he can wiggle his body. Then all of a sudden, he is still and he is out. It’s physically exhausting for us. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t considered ADHD, but then I read about psychomotor OE and realize that’s what we’re dealing with.

I wish this platform allowed me to share videos, because a picture just doesn’t do the job to show an example of psychomotor OE’s (and I do have a great video to share of Asher displaying it), but this picture is the closest I could get.

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Intellectual

Intellectual Overexcitability is what you would think of when you imagine a gifted child. It is characterized by the intense need to learn. They are always asking questions, always seeking answers, always thinking about something. Their minds never rest. Some common characteristics of intellectual OE’s are:

  • Deep curiosity
  • Love of knowledge and learning
  • Always reading
  • Asks questions constantly
  • Theoretical thinking
  • Analytical thinking
  • Deep concentration

Asher is a child that never really grew out of the “why” stage. For every explanation we give, he wants to know why. He has a deep understanding of the world and how it works for a 4-year-old and that’s because he is always wanting to know more. Some parents of gifted children struggle with deciding if they should tell their child that they are gifted. Asher wanted to know why he was different than others at a very young age. We didn’t hesitate to tell him, but he knows that there is nothing wrong with others and that his brain just works differently than other kids his age. He understands this rather well. He is always wanting to learn more about himself though, as you will see in this picture. He noticed I was reading a book about gifted children and he practically yanked it out of my hand and sat down and started reading it himself.
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Imaginational

An imaginational overexcitability is simply what it sounds like. They have intense imaginations that can lead them to a complex make-believe world. This can be a good thing and fun to watch, but it can also work against them when their imaginations can dream up all kinds of bad consequences to every situation. They are constantly asking “What if…” and they can develop some irrational fears of things they are not familiar with. Some characteristics of an imaginational OE are:

  • Vivid dreams
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Appreciation for magic; magical thoughts
  • Love of the arts and fantasy
  • Sense of humor
  • Imaginary friends
  • Detailed visualization

This is Asher’s other big one. The child’s imagination is downright amazing. It’s not enough for him to tell me “I’m pretending to work at an auto shop like Daddy does.” He is telling me every little detail about what it looks like there, who works there with him, what kind of cars are in there being worked on, what kind of courtesy cars they offer, what time he comes to work and goes home, the names of the customers that come to have their cars worked on, etc. This is just one example of many imaginary worlds that he lives in. I’d say 90% of his day is spent pretending something, with his imaginary friends. And he doesn’t stop there. It seems his dreams are pretty vivid as well because he will talk in his sleep and act out his dreams. Again, I wish I could post a video of this one, but here’s a picture of him pretending to be an air traffic controller.

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Sensual

These are the kids that have amplified senses. Sometimes they have heightened senses, but sometimes they have a lack of some of the senses. These are the kids that can’t eat certain foods because they don’t like the texture, or they don’t like the feeling of tags on their clothes. They can’t eat lunch with other kids in the cafeteria because the smell of all the foods combined mixed with all the noise makes them feel extremely anxious or even makes them sick. Characteristics include:

  • Appreciation for beauty
  • Sensitive to smells, tastes, textures of food
  • Bothered by the feel of different things on their skin (clothes, grass on bare feet, sand, etc.)
  • Craving for pleasure
  • Need for comfort
  • Sensitivity to pollution
  • Bothered by loud noises

Asher’s sensual OE is something I am still trying to understand it’s depth. We know he has issues with textures of food and some foods make him gag, but we are starting to believe that his sense of smell just plain isn’t there. He complains that he can’t smell anything. We have had an intense, overbearing smell around us before and he has been completely oblivious to it. This lack of smell could be what’s causing his aversion to certain foods because it affects his taste as well and he is only left with the textures of foods to help him “taste” them. He also hates getting dirty and sometimes seems bothered by loud noises. (see the main photo at the top of this blog post)

Emotional

These are your sensitive kiddos. The ones who feel everything more deeply. When they are happy, they are extremely happy. When they are sad, they are extremely sad. When they are mad, they are extremely mad. These children can become quite explosive and have been misdiagnosed bipolar. Traits of this overexcitability are:

  • Extremes of emotion
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Feelings of inferiority or inadequacy
  • Shyness
  • Loneliness
  • Sense of justice
  • Depression
  • Need for security
  • Sensitivity to change
  • Physical response to emotions

This is the one that Asher deals with the least. The only trait he possesses with this one is anxiety, but he does have quite a bit of that. As long as we can remember, he has played with his shirt. He rolls it around in his fingers and ties it in knots down around the bottom of it. At first we thought it was a security thing because he would do it while he took a bottle or a sippy cup of milk. Then it became more constant and his shirts would be a wrinkly, stretched out mess by the end of the day. Then came the nail picking. Then came the worst of all…though this has only happened a couple times. He gets so anxious about the unknown (imaginational OE) that he makes himself physically sick.

For example, we were on vacation in Florida and we were going to surprise him with a day at Disney. We kept it a secret for months. On the day we were going it was rainy in the morning, so we told him we were leaving our condo to go somewhere to look for dolphins. Well, as we got further and further from the coast on our trip inland to Orlando, his intelligence began to tell him we weren’t near the ocean anymore and the ocean is where dolphins live. He then became nervous that he didn’t know where we were going. We hit a huge traffic jam and he began telling us he just wanted to go back to the condo. We reassured him that it’s ok and he would have fun looking for dolphins, it would just take awhile to get there. He wasn’t buying it. He got himself so worked up that he nearly vomited in our car. The only thing that got him to calm down was giving him water and finally spilling the beans that we weren’t going to look for dolphins, but we had a surprise for him and it was something he was going to LOVE and have a ton of fun. By the time we got there and he realized what it was, he was just fine. Whew! He still talks about the time we were in the car and his tummy got yucky. Poor guy!

Living with the 5 overexcitabilities is both a challenge and a gift. There are times that we have to take a deep breath and hold on for the ride. With lots of reminders to ourselves, we are able to remember that these are not things he can control and we have to accept them and not try to change who he is. We as parents have to work toward a way to help him cope when things get to be too much for him. With proper coping skills and acceptance, he is able to thrive and use these OE’s to his advantage.

 

No really, I’m not bragging

It’s a common complaint among parents of gifted children. They can’t tell their friends about things their child does because they are accused of bragging. This is unfortunate.

Let’s look at two scenarios.

First, we have Johnny. He’s 6 years old and in 1st grade. Johnny loves Legos, being outdoors, and baseball. This spring, he has started to show an interest in learning how to ride a two-wheeler. Last week, in his determination, he got on his bike and rode without any help. He rode all the way down the street on two wheels by himself. His mother, in her amazement, got out her phone and took a video of him riding his bike. She was so proud and excited that she posted the video on social media for all of her friends to see. Her friends shared her excitement, praising both Johnny and mom both for their efforts. “Wow!” “Way to go Johnny!” “Look at him go!” “Great job teaching him Mom.” “Looks like he’s a pro!”

Next, we have Mark. Mark is gifted. He is also 6 years old. He loves math, space, and geography. Mark spends a big part of his day reading books and playing learning games because it’s what he enjoys doing. Last night his mother took him outdoors at night to look at the stars through his telescope. All by himself, Mark identified 10 of the major constellations and their location in the sky. In her amazement, his mother got out her phone and took a video of him pointing out the constellations and telling her which one it was. She was so proud and excited that she posted the video on social media for all of her friends to see. The response she got was not the same as Johnny’s mom. “Why do you always have to brag about how smart he is?” “Let him be a kid.” “He should be playing, not constantly being forced to learn.” “Quit pushing him so hard.”

Where did Mark’s mother go wrong? Both parents were encouraging things that their child enjoys doing. Both parents showed pride in their child’s accomplishments. Why did Mark’s mother get such a horrible response? Yes, Mark’s accomplishment was something that was far above average for his age, but he was simply doing something he enjoys doing. Mark’s mother did not go on social media to say “My kid is smarter than your kid and here’s why.” Unfortunately, people assume that this is the case.

It is absolutely normal for a parent to feel pride about things their child does, whether it’s academic, athletic, or just common every day life. Parents of gifted children are no different.

The things that they feel pride about are just different than other parents. Unfortunately because of the response they get, parents of gifted children are forced to keep their pride to themselves and they feel they can’t share anything with friends.

I am usually one to share my excitement and pride with my friends on social media. I apologize if this ever comes across as “bragging” because that is not at all my intent. I am simply a mother who is proud of her son and the things he likes and is able to do. Our normal, every day life is just different than most people’s normal, every day life and that’s ok.

We’re not better than you or anyone else. If I ever say that, then you’re allowed to accuse me of bragging, but until then….let’s just enjoy sharing our experiences with each other, no matter what they are.

 

Stand tall, my poppy

Often times, you will read or hear people refer to gifted children as “poppies.” Why is that? Where did the term come from?

The story goes that there was once a general who had just conquered a new territory. He didn’t know what he should do with the leaders of the defeated tribes. He could either choose to use them for their knowledge of the land and experience or he could imprison them for fear that they would cause an uprising. He asked his father for advice. His father took him to a field of poppies and, without saying a word, started cutting down the heads of all the poppies that had grown taller than the others. The general knew what he should do. He went back and killed all the defeated leaders.

The term “poppy” for gifted children is used to signify the tall poppies. The ones that have grown taller or faster than the rest. The ones that are at risk of being cut down to the same size as the others.  There are 2 ways that these tall poppies are at risk.

First is the risk of schools without programs or services for gifted children forcing them to remain in a classroom where they are not challenged to reach their full potential. Too many schools push for uniformity. They want all kids of the same age to be in the same grade level, no matter their academic level. If you are 7 and going to turn 8 in the next academic year, you are entering 2nd grade…no matter whether you’re performing at a 2nd grade level or a 5th grade level.

Those taller poppies are forced to sit through 6 hours a day of reviewing things they have already known how to do for years.

It’s what causes boredom in school…and when a child, any child, is bored…we all know what happens. They get restless. In school this causes a behavior problem. Behavior problems can sometimes cause teachers to fail to see their potential, causing them to be overlooked. Downward spiral fast….causing underachievement. 

The 2nd risk for taller poppies is peer pressure. When you are in school, you have a higher risk of being bullied if you are different than others. Gifted children are different. They speak differently. They act differently. They learn differently. As soon as they realize how different they are, they are sometimes tempted to change themselves to be like everyone else. They start pretending to not be as smart so others won’t know how different they are… again causing underachievement.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I used to work in schools before I became a mom. I have nothing against public schools. I also attended public school in the same district where I worked from K-12. This district had what was called Stretch classes that you had to qualify for. If you qualified, you entered a class that was in your grade level, but you did schoolwork equivalent with the next grade level up. I did not attend these classes, so I’m not sure how they lived up to that, but it sounds like a great idea. However, some gifted children perform far above their chronological age so one grade level advancement does not always do the job.

For example… Asher, if he was performing at a 4 year old level, would be entering a Pre-K class this fall. If we sent him to a school, this is where he would be forced to be. Why? The state law says that a child must be 5 before they can enter any public school in the state. There are some ways to get around it if your child has a birthday close to the cut off, but other than that you are forced to wait. Therefore, Asher with a February birthday, would have to wait until next year to enter kindergarten. Well, he passed kindergarten with flying colors LAST year in our homeschool. So by time he is actually 5 and able to enter kindergarten at a public school he will actually be performing at a 2nd and, depending on how fast he goes through 2nd, possibly 3rd grade level by then. It is very rare for a school to let someone skip 2 or even 3 grades.

I get it…and it’s a tough decision to allow your child to skip that many grades anyway. They will be exponentially smaller and less mature than their classmates. That’s where it gets hard. If your child skips grades they are at risk of being bullied for being small and also for being smart, but they will be working to their full potential. If you keep them back with other students their age, they are around the same size and maturity as their peers, but you are dealing with a bored child who probably will become a behavior problem and probably will not enjoy school.

So what are our options right now…

  1. Send Asher to Pre-K, knowing he will be back to learning things he knew when he was 1.5 to 2 years old.
  2. Try to get Asher into a private school for the gifted or a Montessori school that works at his faster pace. Yeah….we can’t even begin to afford that on a single income.
  3.  Homeschool- DING DING DING!!!

So the only solution we have, for now, is homeschooling. This is the best way to help our poppy stand as tall as he can without being cut down to be like everyone else his age.

Stand tall, my poppy!