Emotional chaos

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Parenthood can be wonderful. It can be filled with blissful days of reading to kids, watching them play, making all sorts of great memories. But it can also be incredibly difficult, particularly if your child doesn’t seem to fit the norms. I look back with exhaustion at the last almost-ten-years. I remember all the times when I’d gaze enviously at the other mothers sitting nicely talking with one another while their children played, while I had to be constantly interacting with my children. I’ve wondered why in the world my child couldn’t play with other children without freaking out. There are times when I’d leave an event exhausted from the emotional stress of trying to keep the kids calm. There have been points in the last years where I’ve wondered whether I would be able to qualify as a hostage negotiator as a future career.

Reading about Kazimierz Dabrowski’s theory of overexcitability has helped me make sense of why my kids react as strongly as they do to some things. It helps to accept the kids sensitivities and reactions as natural inborn parts of them rather than as a sign that I’m somehow a horrible parent or that I should have put them in school so that they could be “forced to behave” as some people suggest. We can maintain boundaries here at home, but the boundaries need to be set based on what they can manage and encouraging them in developing their social skills and self control rather than somehow trying to force what they cannot do.

Some of the things that have worked for us include:

  1. Lots of physical activity. We have rules about which beds the kids can jump on, but we recognize that during the winter or on rainy days, jumping on the bed is an essential thing. During the summer the older two bike lots. My nine year old talks about how the physical activity helps calm him down.
  2. Them knowing what to expect. We talk about what will happen, and we talk about what will happen if what we expect to happen doesn’t happen.
  3. My knowing they need processing time. It is really hard for my nine year old to finish a book late at night because he wants to process what has happened in the book, inventing alternative endings or deciding what would happen in the story if a character from a different book entered into it.
  4. Encouraging them to use words to express what is wrong. I remember a four year old freaking out because he was offered a piece of watermelon. The problem was the rind was cut off, and he didn’t know how to hold it. If they can explain the problem to me, then I can help them find solutions.
  5. Making sure the kids are sheltered from some of the complications of life, or that we take the time to talk things through. There’s a story in the Telegraph about children’s author Judy Blume and the topic of parents worrying too much about what their children read. She speaks from her own experience of feeling alone when her books were being censored back in the 80s for mentioning things like racism, puberty, masturbation, divorce and bullying. The article says Blume argues kids “will simply ‘self-censor’ by getting bored of anything they do not understand.”
    Maybe that’s true on some topics, and for some kids, but I think back to a five year old having nightmares because he was scared that the universe was going to collapse. Somehow his mind hadn’t been able to filter out a detail I had missed from a scientist talking about neutrinos said that neutrinos having mass or not with influence the likelihood that the university eventually collapses in on itself. The universe collapsing mattered to him, even if it wasn’t going to happen for billions of years.
    When my nine year old heard that there was about a hundred AIDS researchers on board a recently crashed airplane he was quickly concerned with him mind racing through implications. What does it mean the possibility that their research gets delayed?

Some people talk about being their child’s friend, and other people say that children can find friends anywhere they need their parents to be parents to them. Having a child that is distinctly not part of the norm means I need to be both parent and to an extent a friend. I have to be willing to play long talking games with my nine year old because he needs that, and he can’t turn to his peers for that.

Check out more posts on parenting gifted children in a blog hop by SENG.

seng: National Parenting Gifted Children Week blog tour

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One Comment

  • Gail Post, Ph.D.

    Really appreciate your points about how highly sensitive, intense, reactive children need much more time to process thoughts and feelings. Families who have children who can take things in stride often don’t understand the intensity with which these highly reactive children respond. Sounds like you’re doing a great job with your kids and really understand their reactivity.

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