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.

1 comment:

  1. The ideas you are discussing can be very useful for parents who are concerned about how to deal with their child's different experience.