Embracing Intense Family Life

Here’s a typical afternoon in our atypical household:

The 4-year-old showcases his psychomotor intensity by bouncing around the living room, crashing into furniture, crashing into people, stopping for 2 seconds to hug the dog (though most likely his feet and bum are still wiggling) and talking, singing, humming the entire time.

The 8-year-old has her sensory intensity triggered by all the chaos and sound of the 4-year-old.  So, she starts screaming that Chimp needs to sit down and be quiet, all with her hands covering her ears as tightly as possible.  And, because she’s emotionally intense, her frustration grows quickly and grows enormous so that her frustration actually looks, and feels, like rage.

Jon has his own sensory intensity triggered and snips at Chimp to just be quiet.

Which, inevitably triggers my own emotional intensity as I empathize with the whole crazy lot of ‘em and deeply feel how frustrated and overwhelmed my daughter and husband are, while simultaneously feeling the injustice that Chimp is being yelled at for simply being himself and how dare the two of them crush his soul so that he will lose his joyful exuberance for life and end up living a dark and unfulfilled existence.  . . . .Maybe my imaginational intensity plays are part here, too.  So, I firmly stand up for justice and Chimp.

Meanwhile, the 11-year-old Cub walks sullenly up to his room because all he wanted to do was continue his philosophical conversation about creation and the infinite reality of the cosmos. 

And that’s just about 5 minutes of a typical afternoon.  Those kinds of intense triggerings occur time after time throughout the entire day, right up until all 5 of us are tucked up in bed, only to waken the next morning to start the whole kerfuffle all over again.

Part of me LOVES this intense life.

Part of me is exhausted just writing about that little snippet of it.

So, what do we do?  How do we make this collision of intensity simply pipe-bomb sized as opposed to nuclear?

In a word:  mindfulness.

I had never heard of intensities or overexcitabilities until I became a parent.  And after learning about the intensities, I quickly became aware that I have several of these myself.  Maybe even all of them, if I’m totally honest.  It’s nice to think it’s just a gifted kid thing, I suppose.  That way I don’t have to claim any responsibility or work on anything about myself.  But in reality, the fact that all 5 of us (Jon and I included) have our own conglomeration of these intensities creates the joyfully chaotic, and occasionally explosive, dynamics that exist in our home.

As parents, we need to be mindful of our own intensities.  We need to understand the joys of these and we need to be mindful of when the downsides are being triggered.  Navigating the intense relationships of a gifted household begins with us.  When I can be mindful that I have sensory sensitivity, I can refrain from yelling at my husband for chewing too loudly and realize that maybe his chewing is just fine and the issue is my intensity.  When I can be mindful of that, I can choose to leave the room and ask him to tell me when he’s done eating.

When we are mindful, we gain more control over our behavior choices.  We can choose to behave in ways that meet our own intense needs and the intense needs of the people around us.

We also need to be mindful of the intensities of our family members.  When I can be mindful that Chimp simply must keep talking and moving because it is how he is wired, I can respond with more patience and teach him to evaluate his environment and the situation and determine what kind of behavior is expected.  I can help him learn how to channel his buzzing energy, body, and mind in helpful and appropriate ways.

When we are mindful, we are more likely to express acceptance, understanding, and loving kindness toward our children and other loved ones.

And, finally, we need to model and teach mindfulness of every family members’ intensities.  We can explain to our children that they experience aspects of life more intensely than some others.  We can engage in conversations with our family about what intensities they seem to exhibit and feel and what intensities the other members of our family were born with.  We can normalize.  We can teach tolerance.  We can explain behaviors.  I can teach KBear that Chimp isn’t intentionally trying to irritate her (well, most of the time it isn’t intentional!), but that his body just needs to move.  And his moving triggers her sensitivities, which triggers her anxiety.  I can teach KBear that we can’t change Chimp, but we can change how we respond.

This is a slow process.  It takes a long time to master mindful awareness of one’s own self, let alone of every family member.  But, when we are mindful, the tolerance, acceptance, and understanding can alter the dynamics of our family relationships.  We can become more accommodating and less explosive.  At least, that’s what I’m betting on for the long run.  And, I suppose, if that doesn’t work, they’ll all move out at some point!

This post is part of Gifted Homeschoolers Forum's January bloghop.  Click here to read more great posts about Navigating Family Life When Gifted Traits Collide.