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RLL #102: A Conversation about Connection with Shawna Wingert

rll 102 a conversation about connection with shawna wingert

Today, we begin featuring a new type of podcast episode at Raising Lifelong Learners with Colleen Kessler, what we’re calling “A Conversation About.”  Colleen will be meeting with Shawna Wingert of Different By Design Learning at least monthly to discuss topics, common struggles and questions that come up often with our quirky and “outside-the-box” kiddos and families.  This week’s conversation centers around connection: how important it is to foster connection with your kids, encourage the relationships between siblings, and build a culture of connection as a family and as part of your community.

RLL #102: A Conversation about Connection with Shawna Wingert

Links and Resources from Today’s Show:


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Overexcitabilities and Why They Matter for Gifted Kids

overexcitabilities and why they matter for gifted kids

The mornings we need to be out of the house at a certain time look something like this – a child is complaining about the seams in his socks, while another is having an animated sing along with her stuffed animals, completely oblivious to the fact that she has her shirt on backwards and her shoes on the wrong feet. Another is anxious, and trying to make sure everyone has what they need to get out the door so she doesn’t have to walk into her class late and upset her co-op teacher.

Can you relate?

Overexcitabilities and Why They Matter for Gifted Kids

Our family is full of what Polish psychologist/psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski called overexcitabilities. As I’ve written before, gifted children are highly likely to be more intense than their typical peers. This increased awareness, sensitivity, and intensity can present challenges that make them difficult children to parent.

One of the most difficult challenges to overcome, though, is the belief that Dabrowski’s five overexcitabilities need to be cured. Experiencing the world with such intensity can be very frustrating for a child {and a parent}, but it can also be very rewarding. They can lead to great successes, innovations, and wonderful creativity.

The positive aspects of overexcitabilities need to be celebrated. The frustrations and negative aspects need to be channeled into positive path to help gifted and intense kids grown into and reach their potentials.

What are the five overexcitabilities?

Dabrowski identified five different areas of overexcitabilities when he developed his Theory of Positive Disintegration. Not all gifted kids exhibit overexcitabilities, but they are more prevalent among the gifted population than any other. Gifted children {and adults} may possess one or more of these, and according to Dabrowski, those who exhibit more than one see reality differently. They tend to experience the world in a stronger and more multi-faceted way than others.

The five overexcitabilities, as defined by Dabrowski, are psychomotor, sensual, emotional, intellectual, and imaginational. I describe each below, but will spend time examining them each in-depth with suggestions for helping your little one make the most of those characteristics they possess in individual posts. They are linked below.

Overexcitabilities and Why They Matter for Gifted Kids


This is marked by a constant need to move and expend intense physical energy. Kids with psychomotor overexcitability have drive, they are impulsive, and often show a physical manifestation of their emotions. They may have nervous habits or tics, and may have trouble sleeping.


Does your little one need every tag cut out of every shirt? Those with sensual overexcitability have a heightened awareness of all five senses – sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. These kids might not be able to eat certain foods because of their texture or taste. They might need more cuddles than others, or not want to be touched at all.




Children with a high emotional overexcitability suffer from extreme emotions, anxiety, guilt, sadness, happiness, and often have difficulty adjusting to change. These kids can be prone to depression, suffer physically from their emotions {stomach aches due to anxiety}, and seek more security from their parents.


This overexcitability is characterized by activities of the mind, thought, and metacognition. It’s the most common overexcitability thought of in relation to gifted children. These children have a deep curiosity, love of problem-solving, and always seem to be thinking.


These children can let their imaginations go to amazing places – and sometimes those imaginations can get away from them, making them fear worst-case scenarios. They tend to have imaginary friends, vivid dreams, and a love of music and drama.

Overexcitabilities and Why They Matter for Gifted Kids


What can parents do about their children’s overexcitabilities?

First, you should consider each overexcitability and figure out which characteristics best fits your child. Compare your child’s behavior with the characteristics of each type of overexcitability, remembering that kids can have more than one, but one is usually more dominant. Understanding the neurology behind your child’s behavior will better equip you to understand – and help your child understand – those behaviors, helping you help them channel their overexcitabilities for good.

Are you looking forward to reading more about overexcitabilities, how to identify them in your kids, and how to help them channel those intensities for good? Make sure you take a minute to sign up for our weekly newsletter so you don’t miss a post. And, take a minute to tell me about your kiddos in the comments. What overexcitabilities do they show? How do you deal with them?

A Perfect Option For Your Gifted Child

The Learner's Lab

The Learner’s Lab is the community created just for your quirky family.  It’s full of creative lessons, problem solving activities, critical and divergent thinking games, and the social-emotional support differently-wired children and teens need most.

All from the comfort of your own home. 

This community was created to support children who are gifted and twice exceptional. We address topics just like this all year long, in a way that is educational and fun for children. They learn skills to help them copy and you learn how to help them along the way. 

We invite you to join us. Get all the details HERE.

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For more information on parenting gifted kids, check out:


Overexcitabilities and Why They Matter for Gifted Kids

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The Anxious Parent of the Anxious Child | Not Everything is a Disorder

the anxious parent of the anxious child not everything is a disorder

I like to say that I hold several Google University degrees. I am an incessant, constant, chronic researcher. I cannot seem to ever learn enough or have my curiosity quenched. What’s that beautiful flower growing on the side of the highway? What ever happened to that child actor from that one movie I saw in the early 90’s? How common is my birthday? And did anyone ever discover what was on page 47 in National Treasure 2?

But for as many interesting tidbits and factoids I’m able to find that feed conversation, my vast and varied browser history also feeds a very real struggle – anxiety. When answers to questions are a few finger taps away, the temptation to search everything is too great. Why am I having a headache on this side of my head? Why does my elbow hurt? What does it mean when I have this recurring dream? Why does my child behave this way? Is their quirk or struggle a symptom of something larger? What are the criteria for these specific disorders and struggles, and how many does my child meet? What is wrong, and how scared should I be?

   anxious disorder

When you’re an anxious parent you already worry about almost everything. When you’re parenting an anxious child, there are legitimate worries and fears that are dealt with on a daily basis. When you’re the anxious parent of an anxious child, racing heartbeats, stomach aches, lack of sleep, and just plain terror can overtake you and convince you that there is an unnamed dragon waiting just around the corner, a diagnosis or disorder that you can’t quite put a label to but a fear you can very much feel. 

One of the most triggering and driving emotions of irrational fear and anxiety is the sensation of the unknown. That’s what drives me to research every ache and pain, in an attempt to head off some degenerative or deadly disease by identifying it quickly. Not knowing what is happening leaves us unsteady and fearful, but imagining what could be happening is what really drives us to the dark and terrifying places. The places where fear silences reason and we are so terrified of the unknown that we cling to whatever explanation we can reach in an attempt to catch some footing. This is where we are when we look at our anxious child and use our Google University degrees to “diagnose” our children. 

There’s been an overwhelming trend in the last several years towards pathologizing everything, placing a name or label or diagnosis on every behavior of childhood or intense emotion of adulthood. There are dozens of theories to discuss as to why the tendency has leaned more and more towards labeling every quirk or struggle, but for the sake of this post, from the perspective of an anxious parent, the desire comes from a need to understand, anticipate, and have something we can control. 

Related: The Anxious Parent of the Anxious Child | Using Social Stories, The Lies Anxiety Tells Youanxious disorder

Being able to comfort myself that my child’s behaviors are a result of some disorder removes the fear of the unknown when I watch them struggle and have no idea why. And while no one wants their child to suffer or need any type of intervention, the fear of what our child could be struggling with is greater than the fear of what a diagnosis means. The unknown is far worse than the pathologized. Disorders are more comforting than the undetermined. 

Yes, especially when dealing with anxious families, there often are disorders to consider and adapt to, and identifying them and advocating for your child is an enormous piece of mental wellness. You should always raise concerns about behaviors or intrusive thoughts with your child’s doctor, and push for more detailed attention when you feel that concerns are being dismissed. But, when viewing your anxious child through your own anxious lens, it is important not to lose yourself in the flood of possible diagnoses. Remind yourself that sometimes quirks are just quirks. Sometimes what you’re convinced is a herd of zebras is really just a routine herd of horses. Not every behavior or meltdown or classroom struggle is a symptom of something greater going on. Not everything is a disorder. 

I can feel some of the ruffled feathers already, because without parents advocating children in need would almost never receive services or care for their very real struggles. This is absolutely true. I wish someone had recognized the signs of the severe anxiety I was experiencing as a child and had thought to seek out a professional opinion. I’m not encouraging parents to ignore questionable behavior or gut feelings that direct you towards finding help. I’m reminding anxious parents that anxiety is not always a sound textbook to draw from when worrying about your child. 

The anxious mind is not a typical mind. The anxious mind can make enormous leaps in reason, starting in one arena and landing in an entirely different one. The anxious mind can witness a quirk and see an entire fictitious path leading forward that only leads to diagnosis, pain, and lifelong struggle. Heck, the anxious mind can see a dozen of those paths. 

Related: 2E Or Not 2E? That is the Question, RLL #86: All About Anxiety with Dr. Dan Petersanxious disorder

An anxious parent, who is themselves coping with a very real disorder, witnessing their anxious child struggle with their own real disorder, can run through a hundred scenarios with every behavior they witness. The fear can take over and control is suddenly up for grabs, so we scramble to Google, observe, research, ask, anything we can do to feel useful and informed and prepared for whatever fate awaits our child. While plenty could call this good parenting, and I wouldn’t argue against that, being quick to pathologize every behavior and assign a diagnosis to every stumble is driven by irrational fear, by anxiety itself, and anxiety is known to not always whisper truths to our terrified minds. 

As the anxious parent of an anxious child, I have to learn to contain my worry spirals and my fervent Google searches. I no longer keep a DSM on my nightstand for quick reference. If a behavior is suspect, I make note of it, along with the circumstances surrounding it – was she hungry? was he tired? was he being irritated by his siblings or reacting from sensory overwhelm? Make note of each instance and compare the circumstances and settings. Observe before you research. Take note before you diagnose. Approach their behaviors from a place of interest, not fear. Rather than approaching our children’s behavior as a hypothesis we’re trying to prove, give it some time to draw exegetical information from. 

The anxious mind can be a scary one, and the anxious experience can often feel like a hopeless one. Your understanding and empathy as an anxious parent is of enormous help to an anxious child, but it is important to keep in mind that your help, empathy, and enthusiasm should not be drawn from the anxiety itself. Anxiety lies to you, convinces you of the worst, so try not to allow anxiety to be the driving force behind seeking help for your child. Anxiety will tell you that something is wrong, everything is wrong, no one else knows what’s wrong. Anxiety will tell you there’s a disease, a disorder, a painful path before your child. Anxiety will tell you those behaviors aren’t normal, and in an attempt to grasp at some kind of control you end up losing your footing altogether. Anxiety will convince you that to love your child you must constantly worry for them, but what you must keep in mind as the anxious parent is that those fears and rushes to pathologize and label behavior, that enthusiasm driven by fear to find a disorder, more often than not, comes from the whispers of a disorder itself. 

You are your anxious child’s greatest advocate. You do not need to be their worried diagnostician, too. 

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Toxic Positivity When Raising Gifted Kids

toxic positivity when raising gifted kids

If only I had a dollar for every time someone found out about my children’s giftedness and scoffed, “Wow, that must be nice.” I’d be quite the wealthy woman. Comments about how easy we must have it when raising such smart kiddos, dismissals of our struggles because our kids must have it so easy, the (false) belief that if our kids are bringing home A’s on all of their tests, there’s nothing really to worry about.

I’ll pause while all you parents of gifted kids finish laughing hysterically. 

The truth is that raising gifted kids is often an entirely different experience than sitcoms and stereotypes would have you believe. Because gifted kids are, statistically, so few and far between, parents can find themselves incredibly isolated, misunderstood, and unheard. Even when our friends and family mean well, their words can sometimes make things worse, drive the wedge deeper. We love our kiddos and are enthralled by their uniqueness and abilities, but we still feel the sting of separation when the realities of our experience are dismissed by toxic positivity. 


toxic positivity gifted kids

Toxic positivity has made the rounds of late, calling attention to the damage that can be caused by being so insistently positive that real experiences are ignored. Waving off fears or tears with the urging to only think positive thoughts, to only entertain good vibes. Entire storms are ignored while others insist you should be searching for the silver lining among the clouds. 

And while having a positive mental attitude is helpful in tackling life’s mountains and valleys, it’s not the only way to make it through. In fact, it’s a pretty ineffective toolbox that relies solely on happy thoughts to fix every problem.

I’ve written a few posts before about the difficulties of raising gifted kids, and have been accused in a handful of comments of complaining about them, some even questioning if I like my gifted kids at all. I absolutely like my kids. I love them. I’m amazed by them. They’re my favorite people and as hard as they are, I’m willing to do whatever they need to be supported and enriched. I love my gifted kids. But I will not pretend that they are always easy. 

Toxic positivity and a sometimes overly-affirming culture tell us that they’re not hard, they’re unique, that we shouldn’t be so vocal about our struggles because we’re blessed to have them at all. The outcries are so insistent that we smile and celebrate through every struggle that many are denied the therapeutic and cathartic opportunity to vent, to acknowledge the difficulty, to be reminded that they are not alone and they are not getting the whole parenting thing wrong. 

Related: 100 Things to Never Say to the Parent of a Gifted Kid, 2E Or Not 2E? That is the Question

mental health

Toxic positivity can come from teachers. I’ve had more than one educator dismiss very valid concerns because my child was doing well in their class, academically. I bring up concerns about possible ADHD and am met with enthusiastic praises about academic performance. I ask about trouble during transition times and am answered with anecdotes about. My worries about emotional intensity and regulation are waved off while prattling on about a wonderfully creative story that was written last week.

I want to know about areas I know to be very real struggles, and am instead fed more compliments, platitudes, comforts I didn’t ask for. Sure, all parents love a good report, and it never stinks to hear someone wax poetic about how wonderful my kids are. But when there are very real concerns at stake, I don’t need teachers to be positive, I need them to be realistic. 

Toxic positivity can come from family. Well-meaning grandparents who insist that Einstein didn’t talk for the first few years of his life, so we shouldn’t worry. Aunts who remark that your child couldn’t possibly be dyslexic if they’re gifted. In-laws who wave off tantrums and meltdowns as “phases”, certain that there’s no need to pursue any kind of testing or therapy because they’re sure to grow out of it. 

Toxic positivity can come from ourselves. 

When we fear that we’re betraying our motherly duties by not gushing over how brilliant our babes are. When we think that our kiddos are so smart that any obstacles that may face will be easily overcome – they’re smart enough to figure it out, after all. When we’re caught up in the romance of quirkiness and unwilling to investigate twice-exceptionalities. When we’re so in over our heads and so at odds with what we thought parenting would be like that we simply smile through it all and push ahead, hoping it’ll eventually get easier. When we tell other parents to be thankful, grateful, instead of vocal with their difficulties and doubts. 

Related: Safe Place Fatigue | The Wear and Tear of Being Your Child’s Person, Finding Community | Building a Support System Online and In Person

toxic positivity gifted kids

Toxic positivity is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the poisonous apple that seems to healthy upon presentation but ends up causing unforeseen damage. None of us want to be Debbie Downer, and we certainly don’t want to be the Negative Nancy anytime our friends are baring their souls and sharing their struggles. But it is entirely possible to be too positive when comforting a worn and weary friend.

Encourage one another, yes. Empower one another with honestly, not ideals. But when a friend is revealing the scared and scarred parts of her heart, don’t gloss over them in an attempt to make her forget them. She’ll go to bed that night with the same fears, and one less person who she feels understands. Don’t insist that everything is okay. Don’t point out the positive to change the subject and distract from the difficult. Let struggling parents speak, and keep in mind that you don’t always have to respond. 

Having a support group in place is invaluable when dealing with the struggles of raising gifted and twice-exceptional children. The difficulties are unique and real, and sometimes we need some genuine empathy, not a pep rally. We know how awesome our kids are, they blow us away daily. But we also know how different they are and how often those differences translate into difficulties. And sometimes, just sometimes, we need to be heard – not encouraged, not glossed over, not scolded for leaving behind our happy vibes. Toxic positivity is as real as giftedness, as hard as twice-exceptionalities, and as prevalent as the spectacled math genius stereotype.

Raising these kids is hard, and pretending it’s not won’t make it any easier. But just as true is the fact that these kids bring magic, beauty, wisdom and grace into the messiness of our lives everyday.

Please hear me, the antidote to this toxic positivity is not focusing on what isn’t working. It’s acknowledging the reality and then finding the true positives. It’s not and should never be either or – good or bad, difficult or easy, gifted or not. 

As parents of gifted kiddos, our lives are a beautiful blend of all of the above. 

toxic positivity gifted kids

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Great Gifts for Children with Anxiety

great gifts for children with

All children combat anxiety from time to time. Watching a scary movie, overhearing a frightening news segment, or hearing a ghost story from a friend. The shadows in our basement used to freak me out when I was a kid and I could feel the fear rise up in my throat when I had to go down into the laundry room alone. This kind of childhood anxiety is normal.

Do you have children with anxiety? I do, and like to plan gift-giving to support each of their needs and wants. Here are some things that have worked... #Anxiety #parenting #giftguide

But, if you’re a parent of children with anxiety – true anxiety that affects every aspect of their life – you know that it’s a struggle. I had one of my kiddos come out the other night as I stayed up late working. She just needed to make sure I was still home. She’d woken from a dream, and remembered that she’d missed me the last time I went away for the weekend, and she was scared.

Because I have cognitively gifted, asynchronous, and creative children, two of whom struggle with twice-exceptionalities and overexcitabilites – anxiety being one of those 2e challenges, I try to think carefully about the gifts I give all year long.

Here are some of the best things I’ve found for children with anxiety:

Functional Gifts for Children with Anxiety

I tend to put practical, but still fun, gifts in my kids’ stockings at Christmas, and add in some functional gifts at birthdays too. These fun things will help soothe your kiddo’s anxiety, and be cool to use, too.

Functional Gifts for Children with Anxiety

I received Tangle Toys to try out with my kids and share with you. I was compensated for my time, but all opinions are mine. In fact, we’ve owned several Tangle toys throughout the years and were eager to have a few more.

Litecup – My daughter’s anxiety hits the roof around bedtime. We have a nightlight in the room, and usually my husband sits in there on the recliner catching up on email and reading until she falls asleep. But, if she wakes in the middle of the night…forget it. She gets herself all worked up because everyone’s asleep and she wanders in the dark fearing that she’s been left alone. The Litecup has saved many nocturnal meltdowns. She has water – which is occasionally all she needs to fall back asleep – and she has a nightlight that she can take with her into my room down the dark hallway. She absolutely loves it, and we plan to buy one for each of the kids.

Chewigem – I’d actually planned to stuff a few of these into each of my children’s stockings this year to have them on hand as both fidgets and something other than their clothes or fingers to chew on. We have a Raindrop Pendant, and my kids love them. Right now, I have my 6 year old using it, and plan to get a Dog Tag Pendant for our son, a Miller Heart Pendant for our daughter, and a Skull Pendant for the teething toddler who loves pirates.

Sound Machine – We have had numerous sound machines and white noise makers in our bedrooms, and the kids’ rooms, forever. And we’ve gone through a few different brands – until we bought a Marpac DOHM-DS for each bedroom. They’ve lasted through two moves, and lots of drops. Having the same sound whooshing in the background of my children’s rooms really helps soothe them at night.

Night Light – I mentioned that we keep nightlights in our kids’ rooms. We actually give them a few options. One of those is a cuddly light up stuffed animal. There are so many fun options, that it’s hard not to find one your kids will each like.

Essential Oil Diffuser – We keep an essential oil diffuser in the kids’ rooms, and bought this one for them last year because it was affordable, got good reviews, and the nightlight can be kept on all night – even after the oils are done diffusing. Our favorites to diffuse at night are lavender, cedarwood, and sometimes Roman chamomile.

Fun Gifts for Children with Anxiety

Sometimes all it takes to soothe an anxious kiddo is something that bring him comfort or is fun to play with away from, or at, home. Consider some of these suggestions…

Fun Gifts for Children with Anxiety

Weighted Blanket or Weighted Toy – My daughter loves the secure feeling she gets when she’s covered in something that has weight. Often, sensory issues go hand in hand with anxiety, and meeting those needs can calm the anxious feelings. Consider gifting a special little person with a weighted friend, sleeping blanket, or lap pad for on-the-go.

Bed Tent – We bought our two anxious kids each a super-inexpensive bed tent last year, and it was a huge hit with each of them. They have a comforting spot to go at night and hideaway when they’re feeling overwhelmed. They each have a clip-on book light inside so they can read and relax when they need to.

Hammock Swing – This is a cozy hideaway, swing, and reading nook all in one. I don’t have this one, but it’s been on our wishlist for awhile.

Pocket Friends – Both of my children with anxiety carry small toys with them everywhere they go. One of them has an Obi-Wan Kenobi action figure that stays in his pocket and comes out for adventures wherever we are. Though now he’s moving to keeping a speedcube in his pocket as it’s a great conversation sparker when he starts flying through solutions. He also loves his new shape-shifting X-Cube for the incredulous looks he gets wherever we go. My daughter loves small animals and this dimple doll. She brings them everywhere with her.

Zuru Tangle — These are the ultimate calming puzzles. They’re quiet, come in a variety of styles (classic, metallic, crazy, or sparkle), and can be connected to one another for endless fidgeting fun. The colors, texture, and shapes help relieve stress and anxiety as well as help those who need to move their bodies focus. I have a few that I’ve owned for awhile in my purse for those moments we find ourselves waiting unexpectedly, but I’m putting the new ones we received — and that you can find at Toys “R” Us or Walmart for under $5 — in each of the kids’ stocking this year.

Great Gifts for Kids with Anxiety


Books for Children with Anxiety

Books are a part of every gift-giving situation for us. Birthdays, holidays, whatever… we love sharing good books with friends and family alike.

Books to Give Children with Anxiety

What to do When You Worry Too Much – This is an interactive self-help book designed to guide 6-12 year olds and their parents through the cognitive-behavioral techniques most often used in the treatment of generalized anxiety. Engaging, encouraging, and easy to follow, this book educates, motivates, and empowers children to work towards change. It includes a note to parents by psychologist and author Dawn Huebner, PhD.

Wilma Jean the Worry Machine – This fun and humorous book addresses the problem of anxiety in a way that relates to children of all ages. It offers creative strategies for parents and teachers to use that can lessen the severity of anxiety. The goal of the book is to give children the tools needed to feel more in control of their anxiety. For those worries that are not in anyone’s control (i.e. the weather,) a worry hat is introduced. A fun read for Wilmas of all ages!

What to do When You’re Scared and Worried – From a dread of spiders to panic attacks, kids have worries and fears, just like adults. This is a book kids can turn to when they need advice, reassurance, and ideas. They’ll find out where fears and worries come from, practice Fear Chasers and Worry Erasers, and learn to seek help for hard-to-handle fears they can’t manage on their own.

The Outsmart Your Worry Tool Kit for Kids – Worry and anxiety are big problems facing children today. Kids worry about doing well in school, making friends, peer pressure, family conflicts, performance in sports, or moving. They worry about real dangers like kidnapping, illness, and terrorism, as well as imagined dangers such as monsters or the dark. The Outsmart Your Worry Tool Kit for Kids (more of a game than a book) is an innovative skill- building approach to help children take charge of worry. The Tool Kit teaches children to become stronger and smarter than their worry, think in strong and accurate ways, stop the What-Ifs, and relax their minds and bodies.


David and the Worry Beast – David could not stop thinking about the basket he had missed at the end of the big game. He was worried that he might do it again. He was worried that his team mates would be angry with him. He was worried that his parents would not be proud of him. He was also worried about an upcoming math test. In fact, David was worried a lot. “Should I quit the team?” he asked himself. “Should I be sick tomorrow and miss the math test?” Luckily, David finally confided in his parents and school nurse, both of whom gave him support and techniques for controlling the “worry beast” within him.

Worry! Worry! Go Away! – Children should not have to worry, but these Elfin characters will help your child overcome any worry that he or she is experiencing.

Nervous Nellie — What if? What if? What if? Nellie worries about everything- getting on a train, a plane, making friends in school, and more. With the help of Dr. Nofear, Nellie embarks on a journey to overcome her anxiety.

From Worrier to Warrior – There are two versions of this book: one for kids to read and one for their concerned adults. Both are fantastic, and so worth your time and money. Dr. Dan Peters gets worried kids, and knows how to help them be strong.

There are so many great resources out there to help our anxious kiddos, but we need to be mindful of their needs and give gifts that serve more than one purpose. Do you have other great gift ideas for the little worriers in your life? I’d love to hear them.

You Might Also Like:



 From Other Great Sites:

Best Gifts for the Autism Mom | This Outnumbered Mama

115+ Stocking Stuffer Ideas for Kids with Hyperlexia | And Next Comes L

Gift Giving & Autism: The One Golden Rule | My Home Truths

Self-Care Gifts for Special Needs Parents| Life Over C’s

Nutcracker Themed Gift Ideas for Kids | Every Star is Different

Gifts for Gifted Kids - Gifts for Children with Anxiety FB

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RLL #99: Guest Host Shawna Wingert Reads from Raising Resilient Sons

rll 99 guest host shawna wingert reads from raising resilient sons

We all want to raise our kiddos to bounce back from adversity, stand up for what’s right, and nurture their relationships — helping them grow into the strong individuals they’re meant to be.  The goal (and sincere hope) of Colleen’s book, Raising Resilient Sons: A Boy Mom’s Guide to Building a Strong, Confident and Emotionally Intelligent Family, is to help parents to do just that! Listen to today’s special episode with guest host Shawna Wingert, of Different by Design Learning, as she shares the first chapter of this timely and important book.

RLL #99: Guest Host Shawna Wingert Reads from Raising Resilient Sons

Links and Resources from Today’s Show:




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Your Gifted Kid Might Break You

your gifted kid might break you

“Oh, NO!” I sobbed, hot tears of desperation streaming down my face. “I can’t take another one!”  My two-year-old had just glanced up at the clock and announced what time it was. The clock used only Roman numerals, and she was right. 

Her older brother, my middle child, had been identified as profoundly gifted just a year earlier, though the struggles had been going on for much longer. I’d thrown myself into researching giftedness, intensity, overexcitabilities, teaching methods, parenting styles, and hyper-specialized therapists. We love him dearly, but know the difficulties that often accompany parenting a gifted child, and at that point he was taking everything I had. My oldest was an agreeable, ideal gifted child, my youngest had, to that point, been a bright and bubbly toddler, but the middle kiddo… let’s just say I cried every day. The thought of raising another child that needed as much work and patience and understanding and intervention – well, it was overwhelming. It’s not an experience I would ever trade, but it’s also not one I would ever envy, because raising a gifted kid just might break you.

   gifted kid might break you

So often, the label of giftedness is looked upon as elitist or exclusionary. Gifted programs are viewed as clubs to get into, not services children are in need of. Parents of the gifted kid aren’t met with much sympathy when their child is reading light years ahead of their grade level peers because, really, how bad can it be that your kid is so smart?

Well, to be honest, it can get pretty rough

From infancy, my middle child never slept. As a toddler his curious nature sent him adventuring around the house at all hours of the night. His sense of humor was so advanced that adults often thought he was being rude or disrespectful. As he got older, his sensory issues and overexcitabilities made many situations difficult for him, or even unbearable. He was misunderstood by most and offered little sympathy. 

Because he did so well in school, his teachers assumed he was a problem, not that he was having a problem. 

The asynchronous way he was developing meant that his thoughts and feelings were leaps ahead while his ability to make sense of them or control them was noticeably behind. He struggled to make friends, and I struggled to make it through a day without receiving a phone call from the school. He was having an incredibly difficult time, and as his parent and greatest advocate I was having a difficult time, too. 

So when it appeared that his little sister might be following in his footsteps, I was not thrilled by her abilities, but terrified of her realities. 

Related: Safe Place Fatigue | The Wear and Tear of Being Your Child’s Person, Help Your Intense Child Regulate Emotions Easilysmart child might break you

Gifted children are gifts, don’t get me wrong. I’m not writing this in an attempt to drag gifted people through the mud or complain about parenting such amazing kids. I’m writing this because parenting a gifted kid is hard, and too often parents think that it’s so hard because we’re doing something wrong. We’re not – they’re just hard

Their intense emotions often find themselves directed towards us when they have no idea what else to do with them, and that’s hard

Their lack of sleep keeps them up with existential dread, incessant questions, tears of boredom, or grumpy moods the next day, and that’s hard

Their unique needs mean we advocate in ways we never imagined we could, throwing niceties out the window and being willing to be annoying so our child can be served, and that’s hard

Their therapies, hobbies, enrichment activities, and school supplements can get expensive and time-consuming, and that’s hard

The tears and screams and fears and obsessions – they’re hard to manage, and after a while, day in and day out, when there’s no stop, no break, no rest, it might break you. 

Related: Finding Community: Building a Support System Online and In-Person, You Cannot Do It Allgifted child might break you

Being the emotional punching bag or the emotional support for someone you love so dearly, it just might break you. 

Worrying and second-guessing that every parenting decision you’re making and form of discipline you’re using is wrong, it just might break you. 

Staying up all night with terrified kiddos who worry about plagues and the afterlife and just how we’ll ever clean up the oceans, then researching how best to help them and compare their quirks to disorders and worry yourself about missed diagnoses and unclear symptoms… it just might break you. 

Several years later that little girl of mine has proven herself to be exactly like her brother, just as I’d worried. She’s brilliant and hilarious and intense and exhausting. She’s everything he is, with a pinch extra, and to be honest, some days it breaks me. Not every day, not anymore. But there are definitely days when we’re both so exhausted from her deep emotions and incessant worries that we end up collapsed in bed, both of us wishing there were more answers and wondering why it has to be this way. 

I don’t want my daughter to be different, I only want her life to be easier. I don’t want to change her, I only wish to change myself, to make myself stronger, to make myself less breakable. 

For all I’ve lost in my supposed weakness, however, I wouldn’t want any of it back in exchange for what I’ve gained in my brokenness. For every night I’ve gone to bed broken, I’ve awoken the next morning a little softer where I needed to bend. For every meeting and appointment I’ve had to fight for, I’ve grown stronger as an advocate and parent. Everything that’s broken in me has gone into strengthening my gifted kid, and if there’s anything I’m here to do, it’s build my child into the strongest and best version of themselves they can be. Even if it breaks me. 

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Mislabeled Behavior And Undiagnosed Giftedness

mislabeled behavior and undiagnosed giftedness

“But… what’s wrong with him?”

I was sitting across from the counselor we’d been seeing every week for six months, desperation leaking from my eyes and filling the small room with a heaviness we both felt. On the walls were graduate degrees and charts that identified emotions with childrens’ faces, the bookshelves were brimming with diagnostic manuals and parenting helps and countless books about understanding difficult people. None of them helped.

“I don’t know.”

Mislabeled Behavior And Undiagnosed Giftedness

This was the response, the honest, earnest response I heard from a man who was professionally trained and licensed to be able to know. I wasn’t angry, I didn’t hold it against him, because I didn’t know, either. My own counseling degree was proving as helpful as his, and the bookmarks hanging out of my DSM like tassels were just more road signs to nowhere.

“It doesn’t make sense, kids with these issues normally have a diagnosis.”

Yet mine didn’t. At this point he was 6 years old and had undergone a few evaluations, ruling out autism and ADHD. Researching behavioral disorders like Oppositional Defiant Disorder only confused me further – he fit some of the criteria, but not enough for it to make sense. He was so angry, for seemingly no reason.

“I don’t know why he’s presenting these behavior issues. Statistically we see kids acting this way when they come from a chaotic home environment, but you guys are doing everything right.”

We’d tried everything. Elimination diets, essential oils, any and every parenting technique we stumbled across. We were firm, we were lenient. We gave him space and held him close. We tailored our parenting to birth order, to gender… I even looked up tips for parenting according to zodiac signs out of desperation.

Nothing helped.

Nothing gave us any insight into our boy, why he’d become increasingly angry, why it felt like we were losing him to outbursts, aggression, impulsivity. At this point we’d tried counseling for half a year and welcomed any label, truly any, so we could at least understand what was happening and have a plan for how to help. Yet after 6 months of weekly therapy, we saw no improvement and had no answers. None. Nothing. We were as clueless as we were when we’d begun and our boy still had no control over his anger or the words to give us an explanation for it.

Life at home was hard. Slammed doors, screams, crying siblings. We loved our boy and wanted to help him, but we didn’t know how. His brother and sister walked on eggshells, not knowing when or why he’d fly into a rage. School was a nightmare. He argued with his teacher, hid in his locker or under tables, fought with other students. He was a disruption who was becoming a danger, and we were terrified.

Related: What is an Intense Child?

mislabeled behavior undiagnosed giftedness

Worse, we were utterly clueless as to how to help him.

I remember seeing the school’s phone number on my caller ID. I sighed, braced myself. I knew that number, knew it was about him, knew I wouldn’t have an explanation for whatever I was about to hear he’d done. I’m sure I already had tears brimming as I answered. The counselor, only having known him for 6 months, knew to start the call with the reassurance, “Everyone’s okay….” She’d dialed my number often enough to know how to preface what she was about to tell me, but she’d never made this call before.

“Some papers will be coming home today and I wanted to talk to you about them. We administered the WASI and I had to check the scores four times to be sure. His scores were in the 99th percentile, I’ve never seen anything like it. It looks like he’s a genius.”

Not a sociopath. Not a menace. Not an enigma. A profoundly gifted little boy whose brain was light years ahead of his developmental abilities and who couldn’t marry the two.

He underwent further, more formal testing over the years, evaluating him for more possible disorders and taking more IQ tests. Each of the five (yes, five) times he’s been evaluated for autism the professional has been convinced going in he was on the spectrum, and each of the five (really, five) times they’ve shaken their heads at the fact that he is not. Psychologists (plural) have come out in the middle of evaluations to ask if they can “check” for other things – ODD again, Conduct Disorder, Bipolar Disoder, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, autism again.

Each time he falls short.

He’s quirky, different, has a hair trigger, feels misunderstood, doesn’t relate to kids his own age and definitely does not like being treated like a kid. After all of the testing, all the possibilities, all the years of searching and reading and trying and crying, we were left with only one label – gifted.

Indpendence in kids his age looks like defiance. Boredom in kids his age can look like inattention. Anger in kids his age, it turns out, often isn’t actually about being angry. Giftedness, we learned, often comes with intense emotions, quirks, anxiety that manifests as anger, intelligence that can read as argumentative, and sensitivity to stimuli that can mimic processing disorders.

Related: Asynchronous Development in Gifted Children

mislabeled behavior undiagnosed giftedness

This was why we couldn’t get a diagnosis. This was why we couldn’t find a label that fit. His brain being so profoundly different from the majority of society meant he behaved differently from the majority of society, but his age being so much younger than the majority of society meant that he didn’t know how to handle it.

He looked like a duck, he often quacked like a duck, but try as we might we could not get him to swim like a duck… because he wasn’t a duck.

He wasn’t a bad kid and we weren’t bad parents.

He was a small boy struggling with something we never even knew to look for.

His abnormal behavior was an attempt at communicating his abnormal intelligence, and none of the professionals he saw up until then (and few after) were qualified to interpret it. It wasn’t until we spoke with the gifted specialist at his school, spoke with other parents of gifted kids, that we began to really understand that not only did giftedness explain everything we’d been experiencing with him, but the outbursts and arguments were common among other gifted kids.

We learned that while there are a number of twice-exceptional kids who struggle with both the weight of their giftedness and a comorbid disorder, there are also a LOT – a lot – of gifted kids who have been misdiagnosed or labeled incorrectly in an attempt to explain their baffling behavior. We found that as well-meaning or educated as a therapist or doctor may be, many professionals have not studied giftedness or how it affects children, let alone what it looks like. We were humbled to realize that as well as we knew our boy, we missed such a huge part of him.

Related: Parenting and Teaching a Twice-Exceptional Child

mislabeled behavior 5

Giftedness doesn’t look like what you’d think and often looks like plenty of other things, so it is vital that we, the parents and caretakers of gifted children, advocate for them. Their behavior is telling us something their words can’t, and we have to be as loud as they are when it comes to getting them what they need.

While teachers or friends or well-meaning relatives are suggesting this label or that, we have to stay firm, loud, and educated. We have to speak up and ask – sometimes over and over again – for another opinion, another test, another possibility other than the ill-fitting diagnosis we’ve just been handed. We can’t allow all quacks to be dismissed as ducks.

More than anything, above all, we can’t fall into the trap of blaming ourselves for the aberrant behavior of our gifted, struggling, hurting kids.

They’re not angry because we’re bad parents, they’re frustrated and don’t realize it.

They don’t struggle with friendships because we’ve done something wrong, there are just very few people they can truly relate to.

They’re different from the other kids because, well, they’re different from the other kids.

Life hasn’t become a dream since we pinpointed the cause of our son’s anger and outbursts. Having a label, an explanation, didn’t magically transport us to the other side. He still struggles, still gets angry, still has bad days because his brain still works differently. Only now we know why. We know what his behavior is trying to tell us, know what will work and what won’t. We know he’s not lacking something from us and know he isn’t a rage monster. Just knowing doesn’t fix it, but it does help. We’re constantly learning together, with our son, about what he’s needing and what he’s feeling.

We’re working with a net now, have a foundation, we’re not flying blind… all the metaphors you can think of that give you hope that the long journey you’re embarking on isn’t a sightless wandering.

There’s nothing wrong with our son, he’s just gifted

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This community was created to support children with intensities and help you as you build social and emotional skills and resiliency. We address topics just like this all year long, in a way that is educational and fun for children. They learn skills to help them copy and you learn how to help them along the way. 

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Great Gifts for LEGO Lovers

great gifts for lego lovers

My kids love LEGO. My husband loves LEGO. Nearly anyone who walks into my home and spots a pile of LEGOs will walk over, without hesitation, and start building with them. LEGOs are universal – open-ended, creativity-building, STEM-encouraging, foot-gnashing fun for people of all ages. There is almost no limit to what can be made with LEGO! Because of their broad and consistent appeal, LEGO gifts are always a good bet for just about anyone on your list. Whether you’ve got a novice builder or a seasoned brickhead, wrapping up some buildable bricks is a surefire way to please.

Not all LEGO gifts are building sets, though. I’m sharing with you some great ideas for the LEGO lover in your life, items you may not have heard of, may not have thought of, but you’ll definitely be excited to buy! 

lego gifts

LEGO-Themed Gifts

If the LEGO lover on your list has all of the sets imaginable – or just all of the ones that you can afford – consider some of these LEGO gifts that hint at play rather than rattle when you shake the box. More than just a minifigure display, though that’s always a great gift, too, these LEGO gifts can be used for a number of purposes beyond building! This rubber sport watch has the classic look of building blocks but the usefulness of telling time – which comes particularly in handy when trying to keep track of how much time is spent playing with LEGO! These Lego brick top gel pens are one of the coolest items I’ve found yet and will definitely be finding their way into a few stockings at my house. The brick mug is a classic gift for LEGO enthusiasts, whether they build over morning coffee or create a world around a giant water hole. A more recent addition to the LEGO line up, the LEGO DOTS desk organizer turns an ordinary office necessity into a fun building project! LEGO print socks are a wonderfully subtle way for people of all ages to express their love for building blocks, from cozying up on the couch to strolling into the boardroom. And no list would be complete without a family favorite of ours, the Brick Fairy Tales & Brick Myths box set, featuring comic book-style retellings of classic tales, using only LEGO! 


LEGO Building Gifts

Too often when someone is in search of LEGO gifts, they limit themselves to the yellow box with the white logo. Not all LEGO gifts have to come from the primary-colored aisle of the store, though – there are tons of brilliant LEGO gifts, building blocks, and more that can be found all over! CreativeQT, for example, has loads of fun and unique LEGO-compatible items that can surprise and delight. This brick-compatible letter board is a fun twist on the farmhouse letterboards that are so popular right now, and make a perfect message board for a dorm room, kids’ room, kitchen, or office. The StoryBricks brick letters are the perfect companion for the board, even including numbers and some punctuation. Something my kids will be absolutely thrilled about are these Pixel Bricks, actual one-by-one pieces that are usually so lacking in LEGO sets. They moan about what could be built if they had single bricks – or if they hadn’t lost the ones they had – and these are the perfect item to truly create anything! This play table and storage case is similar to the one we have, and it’s incredibly useful. Many parents would be thrilled to received this storage basket and play mat that not only keeps LEGO from plotting against their feet, but looks stylish when stored away. And what LEGO lovers room would be complete without a wall plate that they can build right on? Whether attached to a table, a wall, or even a ceiling, these plates make it possible to build anywhere! 


Unique LEGO Sets

Now it would be pretty impossible to have a list of LEGO gifts that didn’t include a few cool sets, right? My kids have built just about every Star Wars, Marvel, Architecture, and LEGO Friends set out there, so it gets difficult to find unique sets for them. This LEGO playable piano is a DIY build that actually results in a small, playable piano! The  LEGO calendar set gives function to the fun of building by creating something useful, while this brick art set creates an actual work of art – “Girl With a Pearl Earring”, to be exact. Another instance of utilizing what’s built is this LEGO chess set, the perfect crossover gift for enthusiasts of both! My oldest son adores the Architecture line, and this LEGO Architecture White House set is just one of many breath-taking buildings that he has built. For more flexibility, the LEGO maze is a set that can be changed up and enjoyed many times over, promising more than just a one-time build and plenty of smiles. 


LEGO is an institution, almost a pillar of childhood. The pieces age well and offer up the same possibilities as a blank page or an empty box. We can do almost anything with LEGO, so giving LEGO gifts is one of the safest ways to ensure that everyone is happy. You might even want to gift a subscription to Brick Swag! Enjoy this list, grab a few things for yourself, and let me know in the comments what your favorite LEGO set ever was!

lego gifts

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Four Ways a Homeschooling Mom Can Ruin Christmas

four ways a homeschooling mom can ruin christmas
unhappy family at Christmas

If there’s any time of year when moms display their superpowers, surely it’s around the holidays!  I mean, not only are MOMS doing most of the planning, decorating, shopping, wrapping, and baking that we so often associate with a delightful Christmas, but for weeks they are also the ones managing top secret information, regularly speaking in code, and finding covert hiding places for gifts.  (Or else offering enough effective threats to keep nosy kids away from them.)

But with this great power to influence the Christmas season for good, there also comes an ability to impact it negatively.

unhappy family at Christmas

Yep.  Moms, we have the power to ruin Christmas.  Or at least to ruin certain aspects of it…

Now I don’t think we would ever do so intentionally, but you know as well as I do that all the busyness and the obligations of the Christmas season come with a lot of STRESS, and if we don’t handle that stress properly, well, it can get ugly.

So how might someone so charming and lovely as a homeschooling mom possibly ruin Christmas?  By doing one of these things…

1. By obsessing over her homeschooling schedule.

Yes, I know you have books to get through.  Yes, I know you wanted to get to a convenient stopping place before taking a break.  Yes, I realize dear Orville won’t graduate this year if he doesn’t complete his work.

But it’s also Christmas.  Never underestimate the distracting effect all the sparkle and the music and the holiday busyness can have upon your children, including your teens.  Don’t make the mistake of bearing down too hard on kids who are already struggling to focus, and don’t sweat the schedule that’s thrown off by holiday events and obligations.  You can make up for the lost time later on.

Remember one of the most important things we homeschoolers tout–that homeschooling is about relationships more than about academics.  That should never be truer than at Christmastime.

2. By obsessing over her house.

Few things can ruin Christmas faster than a woman having a meltdown over the cleanliness of her home.  (Not that I would know anything about this, mind you.  Eh-hmm.)

But you don’t understand, Tanya!  My clean-freak mother-in-law is coming for Christmas and she will be doing the white glove test EVERYWHERE!

So let her test away!  A little dust, (or even a lot of it!) won’t make you any less of a woman or make you any less married to her son.  A clean house is important, but being consumed by a desire to project the image of perfect housekeeper and hostess IS NOT.  Just don’t be so consumed by your clean-house-mania that you make everyone in your immediate family miserable.

3. By obsessing over the gift buying.

(Obsessing.  You’re seeing the theme here, right?)

It’s amazing, isn’t it, the way the season of giving can so easily turn into the season of semi-forced generosity which, in case you didn’t know it, isn’t actually GIVING at all.  Of course we want to give gifts to the people we love, but when the gift buying becomes more about appeasing selfishness or about obligatory gift exchanges than about giving from the heart, then we’re making a huge mistake in the way we’re celebrating Christmas.

Don’t ruin Christmas by plunging the family into financial trouble every December.  Don’t embarrass the family, either, by becoming the Momzilla Christmas shopper, willing to risk life and limb and dignity in pursuit of certain gifts.  And don’t become the grumpy giver – one who grumbles about every gift exchange she’s willingly agreed to be a part of.

Keep it simple:  Give what you can afford to give and give it from the heart, or don’t give at all.  It’s that easy.

4. By obsessing over her to-do list.

So you promised to bake two desserts for the co-op Christmas party and make a tray of those little stuffed jalapenos for your husband’s office party.  You’re in charge of refreshments for the live nativity at church and of course there’s the family Christmas where Uncle Ted will be expecting some of your peanut brittle on top of the other six dishes you’ll be expected to make.

Oh, and you still have those costumes to finish for the church Christmas program!  And your niece’s school play is this Friday.  And you aren’t done shopping.  And you haven’t even thought about the wrapping yet.  And then there’s the…

Sound familiar?  For future reference, learning to say NO can actually be a very useful skill, especially around Christmastime.  Often our over-commitment is born of a heartfelt desire to do good and help others, but then it’s our families who suffer for our stress.  While agreeing to appear at every function or volunteering to help at every event can seem like a good idea in the beginning, it’s only a good thing so far as it isn’t negatively affecting our families. 

And as for the things you’re already obligated to:  Take a deep breath and work through them one by one, trying always to keep in mind the real reason we celebrate Christmas. 


Just in my own lifetime I’ve seen such a change in the way we celebrate Christmas.  For so many, it’s a time of stress and little else, which I think is so sad.

We can blame it on society, or even on our own families, but having a good Christmas that focuses on the right things, is really about US and the decisions we choose to make.

I’m choosing to make the right decisions.  Or I’m trying to, at least, because the last thing in the world I want to do is ruin Christmas.

Have you ever been guilty of ruining Christmas?  What steps do you take to manage holiday stress?