What an overstimulated mom, empathetic toddler, and the Care Bears have it common

Guest post by Laura
Care Bears line up

In The Care Bears Big Wish Movie, Wish Bear wishes for some new bears to move to Care-a-lot. Of course her wish comes true, but with unexpected results. The new bears are Too Loud Bear, Me Bear, and Messy Bear. They aren’t very caring and Care-a-lot suffers for their lack of care. At the height of the movie’s excitement, Too Loud Bear is revving his loud motorcycle and the noise starts to blow the color out of Care-a-lot. While in black and white, all the bears have a serious discussion about caring. Then the color returns, there’s a big song and dance number, and then the credits roll.

I get overstimulated easily. It sucks, but it’s not the worst thing in the world. Usually I just need to take breaks from whatever we’re doing and have some quiet time, then I can return refreshed and ready to tolerate some more chaos. Sometime though, I get stimulated past my breaking point and I freak out. The big freakouts luckily only happen a few times a year, but I had one recently.

We had just gotten home from a road trip, suitcases were all over, nothing was where it belongs, my children and dogs were loudly enjoying being home, and I could feel the pressure rising quickly.

Then… ugh. Then my husband thought it would be funny to play Tubthumping by Chumbawamba. In retrospect, I can see the joke — but the timing couldn’t have been worse. I covered my ears, yelled “WHY??!!” and ran upstairs, bawling. (I’ve read that tears help get stress hormones out, so I guess I was getting rid of a lot of stress. Let’s go with that).

My two-year-old daughter followed me onto the bed and put her arm around me.

“Mommy sad?” she asked.

How do I explain this to a toddler? I thought. And why does she have to ask me right now?

“Mommy gets overstimulated.” As if that’s a concept she’ll understand.

“Medicine, make feel bettoh” she suggested.

I appreciated her effort but wished she’d just leave me alone. “My medicine is having everyone be quiet for a little while. When it’s too loud, Mommy kind of freaks out.”

Suddenly she lit up. “Too loud! Mommy color all gone!”

I was surprised. What a perfect explanation! “Yes, it was too loud, and my color is all gone. If everyone is quiet for a little while my color will come back.” I was so proud of my little girl’s understanding of my freak out. She took this overwhelming crazy feeling and put it so simply. My color was all gone.

Soon I was back enough to return downstairs. I explained that I wasn’t all better yet and that my color was coming back slowly. My daughter played quietly with her little brother, and checked on me a few times, asking if my color was back yet. When I was back to normal I joined my children on the floor to play. Since then there have been a few days where I have gotten a bit overloaded. I just explain that I’m losing some of my color and I need a few calm moments. She understands and plays quietly until I’m colorful again.

Comments on What an overstimulated mom, empathetic toddler, and the Care Bears have it common

  1. I often times get overstimulated as well. My freakout happen more often that just a few times a year and I”m going to a family counselor to see how I can adjust my stress levels (or cope better) so that it doesn’t continue to negatively effect my family. My little one hasn’t see the Care Bears movie mentioned, but her demeanor definitely switches to one of concern/worry when she sees me during a “freak out” moment, and that’s what I want to try to stop from happening. She’s a toddler, she shouldn’t have to worry about mommy’s mental well being, let mommy take care of it.

    Thank you for posting, it’s good to know I’m not alone 🙂

  2. This reminds me of a little talk I went to on toddler discipline where the presenter said in her experience, it’s usually the PARENT who needs a “time out” more than the toddler … and that by modeling for your child the behavior “I’m overwhelmed right now and I need to sit down quietly and get myself back together” can be as effective as a punitive time out for the child.

    I’m not sure if I think it would always be effective as discipline, but I think it’s excellent to be able to model for children recognizing your emotions and taking a moment to collect yourself. It’s a valuable skill for people of all ages!

  3. I’ve found what helps me stay much calmer is knowing that, no matter what, I have a chunk of time each day that is just for me. No boyfriend or babies needing anything, and I can pretty much do whatever I want as long as I don’t leave the house =)
    For me, this time is from 4-6:30 am every morning. When I start feeling overwhelmed, I remember that the next morning I’ll be able to do whatever it was that I wanted to do.

  4. Thank you for posting. I really appreciate hearing how you approached this situation with your daughter–great advice.

  5. I’m amazed by how toddlers display the most primal of human feelings and are able to recognize those basic human freakouts in others, too. I am totally a sense-sensitive person, as is my son (I’ve been wondering if he might be all the way over in some kind of sensory integration problem.) The thing he says when he’s overwhelmed by a touch or smell or sound is, “It’s bothering!” Now I’ve found that using his words helps him understand what I’m going through, when he and his little brother are having a crazy-noise-contest in a closed bathroom, I can say “It’s bothering” and he immediately recognizes what I mean. It may not work every time, but it shows me how he’s able to understand if I can use a description that rings true to him.

  6. “The big freakouts luckily only happen a few times a year”…Oh give yourself some credit! Big freakouts only happen a few times a year because you are attuned to your own needs and have managed to become skilled at meeting them – no matter how silly they might seem to an outsider (at least when it comes to over stimulation, anyway). 🙂 Also, I love how little ones can condense seemingly big complicated things into simple poetic packages. It blows my mind.

    • I gotta agree, I have minimal freakouts because I’ve learned what I can and can not handle and luckily I can plan my life in a way that doesn’t overwhelm me.

  7. I am also easily over-stimulated, and becoming a parent has definitely stressed that to the breaking point at times. Reading the book The Highly Sensitive Person a few years ago helped me to understand this a bit better.

    I also find that with age I am getting better at recognizing situations that lead to this feeling, and although I can’t always get out of the situation, I can at least verbalize what I am going through much better. I love Offbeat Mama for the stories of other moms like me. Thanks for sharing your story.

  8. This is incredibly sweet, I can only hope when my daughter gets older she will be able to understand that mommy needs a few quiet minutes occasionally.

  9. Children are so intelligent! It really is simple isn’t it? Sometimes we freak out and over think things as adults!

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