February 21, 2010

The Dreamers and The Daydreamers - Raising "Intense" Children (Part Three)

For the dreamers, daydreamers and poets among our children, the world of the imagination is their area of intensity. A child with the overexcitability called the imaginational will be extremely creative, have a good sense of humor, a strong ability to visualize and love fantasy.

The challenge arises when what is happening in their imaginations pulls them away from what is going on externally. The story that they are writing in their minds is probably much more compelling than the parent asking something of them. These kids may be distractible and have trouble staying tuned in during class unless they are engaged and interested. They may meet the criteria for the inattentive type of attention deficit disorder. Finishing schoolwork or completing tasks can be a problem when children's own ideas send them off on tangents. Their imaginations can also lead them to visualize worst case scenarios, so that they may become anxious about things that are unlikely to happen. These are the kids who may interpret a headache as a brain tumor.

With young kids, it's important to make sure that they can distinguish reality from fantasy when they get to the age when their peers are doing so. To help them cope with schoolwork that might not be engaging their imagination, you can help them develop strategies that make it more interesting when possible. For example, one student made up a song to remember the capitals of the South American countries. Another asked her teacher if she could write a fictional story with her vocabulary words. For those who are artistically gifted, it's important to give them time to indulge their inspirations. Let them go to sleep five minutes later if they really "need" to write down an idea for a story. A digital voice recorder can be helpful for them to use to keep track of all their ideas. Empathize with the difficulty of having to put their imaginings aside to have a conversation about the day's schedule or memorize information that they find uninteresting. The more patient and empathic you can be (and perfection isn't the goal. We all have our limits!), the more understood your child will feel, and the more cooperative s/he will be in the long run.

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February 14, 2010

Raising "Intense" Children (Part Two)

It can be particularly challenging to respond to children who seem to be "oversensitive." In fact, another type of overexcitability discussed by Dabrowski is the sensual. This refers to a heightened experience of sensual pleasure or displeasure coming from the five senses – sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. These kids may feel uncomfortable with various sensory input like the noise in the gym, the smell in the cafeteria, the lights at Chuckie Cheese. Yet, they may also have an increased appreciated for the beauty of language, art and music. These are the children who can have issues with sensory integration and hate switching from shorts and T-shirts to long pants, socks and jackets when the seasons change. They may have difficulty tolerating the feeling of being uncomfortable more than most kids do and develop behaviors to avoid these sensations. If we can understand these behaviors as an attempt to avoid the uncomfortable rather than an attempt to be defiant, it can make life with these kids much easier.

The strategies for these kids begin when they are young. For example, rather than forcing them into a party where the stimulation is too much for them, we let them take their time to warm up slowly. Again, this is when the advice of others, especially those without experience with intensely sensitive kids, may be particularly useless. They’ll say things like: “You’re coddling him, you’re giving in.” What you’re actually doing is teaching him ways to cope with the way he is so that he can become more flexible as he gets older. When these kids are young, we can try to help create a comfortable environment for them. We can learn what they need to feel less overwhelmed. As they get older, we teach them about themselves so that they can eventually meet their own needs. For example, after a day at school, it might be as simple as reminding the child to listen to some quiet music or go outside on the swing for a little while. Eventually, they learn what they need to avoid feeling so overwhelmed by all the sensual input that they experience so deeply.

For these kids, it is also really important to provide opportunities for creative outlets and activities like art or drama. They need time and space to pursue their passions. Just as it’s important not to remove recess from kids who have the psychomotor overexcitability (OE), don’t remove an activity about which these kids are passionate as a consequence. Their art, music or drama truly is a pursuit that is vital to who they are.

The third OE is the intellectual. This is the one most associated with the traditional definition of giftedness. It refers to the strong need to seek knowledge and truth, to analyze and synthesize information. These kids are intensely curious. They may be keen observers, avid readers and they may love theory, thinking about thinking, or thinking about moral issues. They are very independent of thought, which can lead them to be non-conforming. They love new information and love to ask questions. The challenge is that they can be critical and impatient with those less quick than themselves. We need to help them develop understanding and empathy for those who they see as less bright.

Another challenge can arise from the child’s need for answers. That can get them in trouble when the questions look like disrespect. Again, this is a time where we can help the child see how their intent may be misperceived. Explain to your daughter or son that others may feel that they are coming across as critical even if their intent is just to correct a factual mistake.

One strategy with intensely curious kids is to show them how to investigate their interests themselves. It’s also important to help kids learn about actions they can take to address some of the moral and social injustices that are upsetting to them. This may involve volunteering or working for a particular organization that addresses a cause that your child is especially passionate about. Taking action can help combat their feelings that nothing can be done about moral wrongs.

February 7, 2010

Raising "Intense" Children (Part One)

As early as 1970, a Polish psychologist named Kazimierz Dabrowski coined the term “overexcitability.” Overexcitability basically means supersensitivity, a higher than average capacity for experiencing both internal and external stimuli, based on a higher than average responsiveness of the nervous system. Reactions tend to be over and above average in intensity, duration and frequency. What’s important to note is that this tendency isn’t a result of something we’ve done as parents. It’s in a child's wiring! I think parents often feel judged or blamed by people who look at them as the source of our kids’ intensity. They may even be well-meaning friends and family members who assume that if only parents didn’t tolerate this type of sensitivity or overexcitability, their kids would just stop it. Perhaps parents believe this as well. Remember, this type of intensity can be in children’s wiring and part of their temperament.

There are several forms of overexcitability, and each one needs parenting strategies that aren’t always in the typical childrearing books. Five particular styles have been identified. I will be discussing each separately in the blog entries this month. Your kids probably fit the description for more than one. I’m summarizing here from the work of Sharon Lind from the organization called SENG – Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted. These overexcitabilities can apply to gifted kids, but I believe that they characterize other children as well.

The first overexcitability (OE) is called psychomotor. Psychomotor is related to activity level, energy level, and the need for movement. Sometimes these kids may be impulsive or have nervous habits. They may move or even talk in an intense way. If they are feeling tense, they may talk a lot or talk very quickly. It’s like being verbally hyperactive. These kids may enjoy being so active – physically or verbally –but others may find them overwhelming. They may also fit the characteristics of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Here are some strategies for parenting kids like these: Make sure you provide time for non-structured activities. These are kids whose time should not be completely programmed. I actually think that down-time is important for all our kids. Build physical activities and movement into their lives. Help them channel their verbal and physical activities into ones that aren’t distracting to others. For example, singing in the middle of class isn’t usually a good idea unless the class is music. Some teachers might understand the need for a bathroom break is more about the need to move around than a real need to use the bathroom. Hopefully, they can be flexible. Traditional school can be particularly hard for kids when there’s no break involved, no recess. For kids like these, it is really important to protect any down-time that may exist during the day. As with many of the OEs, kids with psychomotor OE may benefit from learning relaxation techniques like deep breathing or yoga.

It’s also really important to help them learn about how their behavior may affect others. Again, this is true of some of the other OEs as well. What do I mean by “help them learn about how their behavior may affect others.” I’ll give you an example for the psychomotor kids. They may get so excited about something or have a strong immediate need to do something and may then interrupt impulsively, without really noticing what is going on around them. It’s important to go beyond telling them not to interrupt. We need to let them know that first of all, we recognize that they didn’t necessarily mean to be rude. They probably weren’t aware of the fact that their interruption can give the person speaking the impression that the child has no interest in what the other person is saying. It may be just the opposite – they may be so excited about something they want to say in response that they can’t wait. Kids like these need help from us to slowly learn how they may be perceived, because it is often very different from how they perceive themselves or from what their intentions may be.

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