Imagine getting so frustrated and angry to the point of screaming but all you can do is scream and you want nothing more but to make it all stop and just feel calm again but you just can’t seem to do anything but scream and you can’t be near people. You tell them to go away when they talk to you or come near you. Eventually you sit in your bedroom closet and scream a little more and in between you blurt out “zipper, can’t close it”. And after about 20 minutes a very patient parent crouches down. That same parent you repeatedly sent away when they offered help. But you weren’t ready. The emotions were too strong still. You’re finally ready to let someone in again and you find a winter sleeping bag in that closet. And slowly get over the whole zipper incident and focus on the sleeping bag.. and that’s how you end up walking around with a warm sleeping bag on over your clothes in April in hot Arizona..
The picture above symbolizes the high point of my day. Being a HSP means that you are always thinking. This morning we went on an unplanned ride through the desert with the off road machine. Usually HSPs like to be prepared and don’t like surprises too much but a lot of HSPs also like motion..as a passenger anyway! Your mind can just wander and as we were driving and we passed through all the spring desert scenery my brain got all these great ideas about pictures that I want to take next time we go back. I didn’t bring my Nikon camera with me today. I should have.. but when we got back home I decided to use it to take some pictures of the few remaining ladybugs that we have in the garden after releasing some last weekend. My highly sensitive 2.5 year old was very interested and involved.
Fast forward to night time… It was time for bed and my nap-refusing, overstimulated, wanting to take everything in but not taking a break-2.5year old had a meltdown. Before I was aware that she was a highly sensitive child I would get very worked up inside and upset. I still do, but now at least I understand everything that’s going on inside her head a little better. Which makes it a lot easier for me to deal with the meltdowns and tantrums when they are happening. I have already learned from experience that notifying her in advance of changes and narrating everything I do helps a lot and makes her feel included in what is going on. But when overexcitability and overstimulation is happening none of that matters and she just needs to let off steam. I realize this and try to stay super calm but it is still extremely upsetting to see each time. And depending on how my own mood is I might not always be as patient as I wish I could be. .. After about 15 minutes of non stop screaming and refusing to be touched, it was as if all the anger was out of her system and she just turned around and went to sit in her little reading corner and just looked at me like “Ok, all better now, what are you waiting for? Read me a book so I can go to sleep!” If you are also a highly sensitive parent you will probably, just like me try to stay extremely calm on the outside, while your inside feels like screaming and crying with her. The rest of your night you will be thinking about those 15 minutes because you can’t just let it go. It is something that you are going to feel in your heart and mind until you go to sleep.
Disciplining the highly sensitive child…without causing damage to the sensitive psyche.
Parenting a highly sensitive child is like balancing between trying to be strict but also not trying to hurt your child’s feelings. It’s not always easy to be consistent and forever patient and mind your tone of voice. We all have bad days. The advantage that most people who will be reading this article have is that they know that their child is highly sensitive. Something a lot of parents years ago didn’t know. They used the traditional disciplining methods and those were not always good in combination with highly sensitive children because they simply do not respond to these methods. They are ineffective and possibly harmful because they don’t teach the child anything except that the child will be more confused. There is a way to be consistent and still have boundaries and rules. But that is something for another post. I am a big fan of gentle discipline. Mainly because it is something that I wish I would have grown up with as a child. After realizing that my child was also highly sensitive just like me it makes even more sense to me.
David Tensen posted a great video on YouTube that sums up some great stuff about HSCs and how to best communicate with them and discipline them.
When my daughter was a baby she was what they call a typical “high needs baby”. She had a very light sleeping pattern, she still has now at two and a half years old. She was extremely clingy and colicky and seemed to react very strongly to basically the whole world. This doesn’t mean that she would always be moody and cranky this also means the exact opposite. When she was in a great mood everyone around her was in a great mood and she was the center of attention and incredibly charming and funny, even as a baby! And everyone kept telling us that she would calm down a little bit as she got older. We are now two-and-a-half years further and she is still extremely intense. Add to that that she seems very sound sensitive to the point of being startled and frightened by loud truck noises, dogs barking, airplanes and loud sirens which is typical for HSP children. This does not mean that she is scared of all things adventurous. As long as she is prepared she likes it! She likes being in the “hiking backpack” on dad’s back to explore. We own a side-by-side UTV which we take out into the desert to ride around. And she loves being a passenger and exploring nature with us. And she has flown a handful of times from the US to Europe and back and all in all she was very well-behaved on her flights. Preparation is key! She has always seemed very empathic towards other children and adults, and animals especially! To the point where I was wondering if all the stuff she was thinking and saying was normal for her age. She seems to absorb things very quickly. At age two and a half she is singing the entire alphabet and counting to 12. And can immediately tell anyone’s emotions in the room. But she gets easily overwhelmed when a lot of stuff is going on at the same time whether it be at home or out of the house. So we installed a calming corner in her bedroom and the amount of tantrums have diminished a lot. She will now request to go to her room and sit in the dark when she feels overstimulated. I think this is something we had to teach her, that it was okay for her to be overwhelmed, that it is not something to be punished for. And that it is not something unusual or unwanted. It is just how her brain works and how she is. When things get to be a little too much for her she will go to her room to be in the dark. Before, she would stay in the living room and just get more and more over-stimulated and overwhelmed by all the impulses she was receiving and it would just build up like an explosion waiting to happen. It still happens sometimes but often we can intercept before it really explodes and we can guide her to her room where she can calm down with her stuffed animals and books. And often her upsetting feelings or impending tantrum melts away like snow under the sun.
Ever since she was very young she naturally gravitated more towards artistic activities such as music and dance and drawing and painting, and gardening and anything to do with animals and bugs. This is a common thing for HSCs. I was the same way growing up. My disadvantage was that I was being brought up in a city and luckily my daughter has the advantage of having a garden of her own with vegetables and herbs and a little insect ecosystem. Multiple reptiles in the house and a dog. The trait of sensory processing sensitivity definitely comes with a lot of challenges for both the parent and the child. But it also has so many advantages. One of the reasons why I am writing about this is to create more awareness. There is a lot of confusion that exists about this trait. People confuse it for a condition or a syndrome or a disorder, which it is not. It is an innate trait found in a lot of higher evolved animal species. It is recognized by most therapists now and dr. Elaine Aron continues to create awareness by creating seminars and speaking at conferences about this trait. There are a lot of other parents out there speaking out and creating blogs about high-sensitivity. And I think it is definitely necessary. As a former teacher myself, holding a degree in early childhood development I would like nothing more than to see schools inform themselves about HSP and make drastic changes in the classroom setting and in the Bachelor and Masters education that is being offered at colleges worldwide for teachers. I know that many other parents out there are wondering “what is wrong with my child” and would benefit from more information. And there are parents who benefit from a support network of other parents who go through similar experiences raising their HSC. It is for these people and for myself that I decided to start this blog.