A highly sensitive person raising a highly sensitive child?! Loud sounds, strong smells, large crowds, all are a hard pass for me. Growing up, I never realized why certain situations were overwhelming for me but not for my peers. Doesn’t everyone enjoy going to birthday parties? Well, I know the answer to that because I am one who has avoided them at all costs. With age, I have learned how to prepare myself for these big events, big feelings, and big changes. As a child, it was very challenging to not know what to expect at each celebration, each appointment, each day. Everything could feel so overwhelming for me, even if routine for others. I am a highly sensitive person.
As a parent, I have recognized a few signs that my son may be a highly sensitive child. For example, he has super-powered senses, watch out for the dreaded public bathroom hand dryer, the reaction is a doozy.
If you’re familiar with sensory processing disorder, you may relate. However, these two do not necessarily need to go hand in hand. Highly sensitive is a personality trait, I consider it my quirky bits, rather than a dysfunction of senses.
2 Common Traits in Highly Sensitive People
1. Extremely Empathetic
We have approximately 15 unfinished movies on our streaming accounts. I will be the first to tell you that we have plenty of time to finish them, but we aren’t able to. Children’s movies are sad. The characters unexpectedly pass away, have friendships that fall out, or get lost from their homes…all anxiety inducing and distressing situations. Why put my child through this pain? Well, I don’t. We try to watch and if it becomes distressing we stop. Eventually, we talk out what was so upsetting and work through the problem together. Most of the time, he relates it to himself. He fears of losing parents, friends, or himself. I understand, and I don’t want him to feel he needs to run away from these situations or that he needs to face them alone.
I find that he appreciates watching tv series, they are short and sweet. 30 minutes is just enough time to get the message across, teach a lesson, or add laughter to my son’s day. Just what we need.
I truly believe his empathic characteristics will benefit his future friendships and relationships. He picks up on changes in conversational tone, nonverbal cues, and tends to be a highly attuned listener. I know these are all qualities I look for in a friendship that I can rely on, especially with a friend who is sensitive to others’ needs.
2. Process Deeply
Being interested in the world and our surroundings can lead to in-depth and fascinating conversations. My little one is so curious and has varied interests, I admire his inquisitive spirit. However, the attention needed to readily answer rapid fire questions can be hard to find, and the questions asked may cover deep topics that are tough to tackle.
For instance, there is never an easy way to explain death, at least not one I’m familiar with. When your child begins to express fear around the topic, it is challenging to even want to address the subject. Not only will my child ask what happens once we die, but he continues to ask questions like “what if it happens to me”? and “when will I see you again after?” Talk about heartbreaking.
To top it all off, birthdays aren’t as exciting for him as they should be. He worries about getting older. So do I, I understand. I try to remind him of the positives of growing up, but when he responds with “if I get older, then you get older, and then you won’t be here”, my heart shatters. How a four year old thinks this way still blows my mind. But he isn’t wrong and I need to address that in the least anxiety inducing way. Challenge accepted.
Parenting Our Highly Sensitive Child
We Time In (instead of Time Out)
Common methods of discipline may not work for my child, therefore, we try our best not to raise our voices or send him alone to his room. This is because these reactions are heightened for our little one. Taking a gentler approach tends to go a longer way for him. Waiting to address the negative behavior when the situation seems to calm down, and at times ignoring minor instances that occur, are methods we practice at home. Some may consider me to be a pushover or softie, which I have learned to not take offense to. I may be these, but I know in my heart I am doing what’s best for my child and his development. Trust me, this is not easy. I have screamed in many pillows and have asked for quiet time myself to gather my thoughts before addressing the situation. The practice is worthwhile for us in the long run.
We Ease Into Activities
Signing up my son for three activities after school was a STRETCH, lesson learned. I know he loves soccer and I do not want him to lose his love for it. This does not mean I need to send him to every after school soccer activity, but rather support his excitement to play when he wants to play. There are many days we sit on the sidelines and watch his peers practice, and that’s okay with me. If I pushed him to play, I would fear it would ruin the joy he has in the sport. Can you guess which one is my child in the photograph?
I find that sometimes highly sensitive children shy away from exploring new activities or ones they may find as a challenge. I tend to lean into ones that he can use his creative side given his appreciation for the arts, dance, and music. As long as I can build up his self-esteem and support him as he faces his challenges by stepping out of his comfort zone, I believe I can help him find the confidence he will need in his future endeavors.
Fully understanding my child’s temperament and common traits has helped me navigate this wild world of parenting. I appreciate all the things that make him so uniquely special: he notices the smallest details and gives the most wonderful compliments; he picks up on peoples emotions and has great intuition when socializing with others; he wants to know every detail of a song and artist as he excitedly yells out each instrument he hears. Everything he says and does is so thoughtful and intentional. Highly sensitive children are amazing and I feel so lucky to be raising one.
3 Books for a Highly Sensitive Child
If you are interested in ways you can nurture a highly sensitive child, here are a few books we’ve enjoyed together. As a highly sensitive person raising a highly sensitive child, I can’t recommend these books enough to discuss big feelings.
1. Beautiful Oops!
2. The Boy with Big, Big Feelings
3. The Most Magnificent Thing
Fantastic article. Can’t wait to apply your thoughts on my children.
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