I can’t honestly say that everyone in my house is gifted, even though I’m fairly sure the two youngest are as gifted as the rest of us. I can say that everyone has overexcitabilities. And boy, are they brutal! It’s not just the kids, it’s us parents as well. While the gifted issues can crop up (when two intellectually gifted individuals butt heads, grab popcorn and watch the fireworks!) we really have more issues with overexcitabilities. Every person in our household is guilty of triggering a family member on a routine basis by simply existing. Here’s what our life is like, and a few of the things that we do to mitigate the inevitable clashes that occur.
We rarely have a calm, quiet, happy day. Our days are tumultuous – wild, crazy, and an unpredictable roller-coaster of emotions. If the Engineer is having a particular loud seeking day that involves loud voices and crazy playing, the Destroyer will cover his ears and bellow “TOO LOUD!” For a 2-year-old, he has an impressive amount of lung control. In return, the Destroyer’s loud screams of frustration will cause the Engineer to dissolve into tears.
Car rides are the absolute worst. The Destroyer and Princess will have a wordless yelling contest because they can’t talk over the Engineer’s constant stream of thought. Then the Engineer cringes and covers his ears, cowering in his seat as the din grows and grows. Despite having their car seats on opposite sides of the car, the Destroyer will manage to reach across and smack the Princess when she gets too loud: his defense mechanism to overstimulus seems to be hitting.
One of our favorite videos of the kids isn’t really a video at all, it’s a recording my husband took on a car ride home in the dark. The Princess was tunelessly singing “Let it go” over and over again, and it was driving the Engineer insane! All he wanted was for her raucous voice to be silent, and all she wanted was to share her favorite song with the family. The entire recording is littered with parental snickers and giggles: he was so frustrated by her singing! I’ll allow it was cute, but she has no ability to sing on note at all.
They love playing together. Given the chance, they choose to play together instead of alone. They simply cannot handle being around each other without setting each other off.
The Destroyer will grab the Princess’ care bears (her portable safety blanket) and run, chortling as he goes. She devolves into a teary, wailing puddle of 3-year-old: “he took my care bears!” He gives them back, she sniffles and wipes the tears away. “Don’t do that!” He grins. Then he sees the Engineer’s wonderful block structure and runs smack into it, kicking the blocks around. “No! Mommy, he destroyed my building!” I order the Destroyer to apologize, “sowwy!” and I help the Engineer to rebuild out of reach. The Destroyer sits down for a brief read with a book and the Princess rats him out – “he’s reading a book!” He snarls at her and flings it at her head with astoundingly good aim: more tears.
The Princess tries to help the Engineer build a tower, but he flips out because she’s not building it the “correct” way. “Mommy! I tried to tell her how and she won’t listen!” The Princess gets hurt feelings and wails wordlessly. The Engineer sulks as I comfort her. I suggest that maybe she doesn’t want to do it his way. “It’s the right way!” The Princess screams back “no! it’s not!” and then begs for some alone time, isolated from her siblings. As soon as I give her some much-needed isolation in the play area, the Destroyer runs up to the baby gate and wiggles it back and forth, trying to pull it off the wall. “Stop that!” I tell him, and he grins at me and shouts “no!” and pushes the gate even harder.
Now my head is pounding and I want to press the mute button. Sound and stress are triggers for me – in other words, the kids give me migraines. Mr. Genius comes out of the office, “can you keep it down? I have a conference call in five minutes.” What? Is it bedtime yet?
We do a Quiet Time in their rooms every day for 1-2 hours that gives everyone (especially me!) a chance to rest and relax. We’ve stocked a few calm, quiet toys in their rooms to play with, but the biggest selling point is having video time on their tablets. We limit video time, so it’s a special treat that makes Quiet Time much more appealing (and actually quiet.)
The Engineer has a special tent downstairs past the baby gate for when he’s feeling overwhelmed and needs alone time . The Destroyer has many ways to work out the seeking behaviors, like a mini trampoline, bouncy balls, and a crash mat. The Princess gets lots of cuddles and snuggles so that she doesn’t feel overwhelmed by everything around her. We rarely tell her she’s over-reacting: instead, we ask her to figure out a solution or to stand up for herself.
One of the best tools for us are sound-blocking headphones. If things are too loud or chaotic, the Engineer will ask for his headphones to help block out the cacophony of noises that threaten to drag him down into the deep ocean of panic. The Destroyer yelling in the car is enough to prompt a request for headphones. We’ve found that using the headphones in situations like a mall or a grocery store help him stay calm. He’s so sensitive that background noise we don’t notice is amplified into painful sounds for him.
I carry fidget toys everywhere and we’ll pull one out if the kids are having difficulty keeping their hands to themselves in a store. We stock an insane amount of hotwheel cars that go everywhere with us. They help the kids focus and provide movement for those psychomotor overexcitabilities without becoming overwhelming inappropriate. We lose a lot at playgrounds, grocery stores, and various points around town, but it’s worth it.
If we’re in the car for a long time, we resort to screen time. All screen limits are relaxed if we’re expecting them to sit still and behave for a long period of time. That is a very potent tool that we don’t abuse!
Adult Coping Tools
For the adults, we try to figure out what specific triggers cause the most difficulty and mitigate them as much as possible. I can’t handle stress and mess, loud sounds, light, and defiance. It’s crucial that I maintain some sort of control on the mess situation, especially in my prime working spaces. I’ve been known to wear sunglasses indoors; I don’t go outside without them. Yes, I’m the idiot in the car next to you on a cloudy day wearing dark, wrap-around sunglasses. I have to.
Mr. Genius can’t deal with the smell of poop – he’s so sensitive that having to change a diaper causes instant migraines. Candles can be too much, and I can’t use certain floor cleaners unless he’s out of the house. He can identify a cigarette smoker if they drive their car past him, windows closed. Also an instant migraine trigger. Because of these extreme sensitivities, we use the highest rated HEPA air filters for the house, plus we installed a UV light unit in our HVAC system to kill off mold spores, bacteria, and odors. We can tell when it’s too old to work: the air quality is noticeably different.
We both handle our exhaustion in different ways. I collapse at the end of each day, people’d out and nerves at the breaking point. Mr. Genius de-stresses in front of the television for a while so that he can handle the chaos of the next day. We both desperately need to decompress: having 2 children with psychomotor overexcitabilities is extremely exhausting. Mentally, physically, and emotionally: you’re “on” the entire time, and you don’t dare miss a second or something horrible might happen. Like a child falling off the sofa. Or the older brother convincing the younger one that taking mom’s wallet and dumping the contents is a great idea.
I keep reading that overexcitabilities can be greatly beneficial, but I can’t honestly agree with that fully. For now, the only positive thing is that I can detect moldy food before anyone else can. So at least my family isn’t eating mold spores. I guess that’s good?
Any family is bound to have its quirks and issues. Growing up and learning to navigate conflict is a crucial part of maturing. But, growing up in a family of gifted individuals is like trial by fire: dysfunctional on steroids. I can’t help but worry that we’re scarring our kids for life just by existing! It’s a dance…a delicate dance of considering other’s needs while accommodating yours. In other words: life with gifted!
This post is part of the Gifted Homeschooler’s Forum Blog Hop: Navigating Family Life When Gifted Traits Collide. Click here to read more interesting posts on this subject.