Playdates, parks, and birthday parties; social gatherings are the best! All the kids are running and playing while the mommas sit back and take a load off. Right? Well, if you parent a highly sensitive child, you probably view large crowds and busy parks a little differently.
In each gathering, I would find myself on pins and needles hoping my child could handle the playgroup, nervous that something would upset him or hurt his feelings and send him into a crying fit. My checklist was important: enough snacks, his favorite toys, and an extra shirt in case the tiniest spill happened.
I must admit, it has been a very stressful parenting experience. Not understanding what was wrong, does he need medication? Did he have some traumatizing event that I wasn’t aware of? What did I do wrong with him?
Becoming so overwhelmed as a parent about meltdowns and tantrums can be isolating. I began to take time from gatherings, playrooms and birthday parties. One day, I noticed Levi truly enjoying playing in the sand. He was happy and so relaxed. I began to think back on good days, with minimal triggers. What I realized was my little guy was completely stimulated by the way things feel, smell and sound. He also needed reassurance from me.
Researching about sensory helped me to build more activities around opportunities for him to relax and enjoy calmness. Slowly, we began to socialize again. In my search for the sensory seeking child, I stumbled upon Dr. Elaine Aron’s work and began to understand that some of us are gifted with sensitivity and I was just beginning to unpack my little Levi.
I can’t say I’ve figured him out, but, I’m focused on strengthening his awareness of how he sees and feels in this world.
What is Sensory Sensitivity?
In most child psychology circles, sensory sensitivity will refer to the child’s awareness of each sensory channel: sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, and pain. We all have a varying awareness and degree of sensitivity however; the highly sensitive child tends to have a strong and overwhelming reaction to their surroundings.
Identify Traits of Sensitivity
Does your child have a heightened sensitivity to fabrics? Is your child easily overstimulated from their environment? Does your child struggle with tones, sounds, and bright lights? These are some of the main questions that engage parents of highly sensitive children. Often, these situations with texture or loud sounds can trigger tantrums and meltdowns leaving the parent feeling helpless.
Remember, your child does not have a disorder that requires special treatment. It just requires respect and understanding.
“There is always a good fit when parents accept their children for who they are, then adapt their methods to suit the child,” says Dr. Elaine Aron
Your highly sensitive child requires certain upgrades in your parenting bag! Remember it isn’t special treatment, it is simply what that child needs for success.
Don’t let other people crowd your space as a parent. If there is a need for communication in a large crowd, simply take your child out of the environment. That is as simple as walking a few steps away from the playground or simply walk into a quiet room. Mom, there is nothing wrong with giving your child space to process communication. Listen to your child and fully understand how they feel.
Strategies for Parenting a Highly Sensitive Child
- Gifted with sensitivity – Find the creativity in your child. Search the history of highly sensitive people and you will find some of our great political leaders, scientists and inventors, and thinkers like Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Gandhi, Malcolm X, and Sir Isaac Newton. WOW, your little one is sensitive and awesome!
- Team Up – Let your child know that you are partnered up in this world to explore and learn. This can help with meltdowns and anxiety in large crowds.
- Strength Over Weakness – Remember your sensitive child is a highly intelligent individual. Train yourself to see their strength first. This can also help you accept their challenges! This is a very powerful step in parenting the HSC. It helps the parent embrace their child instead of constantly striving to “change” the child.
- Control the Environment – “Control” No, it is not easy to control the environment, but you can create calm that your sensitive child will routinely seek out. Since this child is highly sensitive to their home and school, create space for the child to relax using plush toys, art stations with plenty of paper, headphones and peaceful activities your child benefits from.
- Gentle Discipline – Highly sensitive children struggle with discipline. A harsh tone can be enough to send them into an epic meltdown. Gentle structure and clear limits can go a long way. Because you are partnering up with your child as you both unpack this “over stimulating” world, you will find that building that bond will also aid in the discipline. Remember, it isn’t a phase, it is helping your child process the world that they see.
Sensitivity is your child’s superpower! Embrace it!
Additional Parenting Resources
My favorite book, The Highly Sensitive Child. This book goes in-depth to how HSC are born deeply reflective, sensitive and easily overwhelmed.
Dr. Mary S. Kurcinka gives practical strategies to help with meltdowns, sleep, and discipline in Raising Your Spirited Child, Third Edition: A Guide for Parents Whose Child is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent and Energetic.
Learn more about the highly sensitive child here.
“Make good boundaries your goal. They are your right, your responsibility, your greatest source of dignity.”
― Elaine N. Aron, The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You