Representing Your Sensitive Child
“No one understands!” I hear this a lot. Let’s look at this together.
When I was coaching sensitive children and their parents, it was rather interesting to me the number of times I hear uttered from a parent’s mouth, “There didn’t appear to be a problem until I put my child in…” or, “People just don’t understand me,” from the sensitive child themselves. Parenting a sensitive child can be a wild ride some days especially when a parent feels the need to explain their child to family, friends or those that work with that child. Parents of sensitives (who are usually sensitives themselves) are often hyper-aware that their child appears to be unable to fit into “normal” parameters of child development or behaviours. Parents, acting only with the best intentions and fierce parental protection, can over-explain, excuse, ignore, or physically control situations within which these sensitive children are being introduced.
Many of us have come into contact with the hypervigilant parent – that parent who must be in control of their child’s every moment to ensure they are safe and always doing the right thing. These parents fear losing control of their child in public situations. As we have discussed in earlier articles, this type of parental behaviour can lead the sensitive child to internalize the message that they are not good enough, or they are a failure, or their parents do not trust them.
How does a parent of a sensitive child not become “that parent” and advocate for their child without drawing attention to the sensitivity? If it’s any consolation, so many parents struggle with this!! I love the idea of being a balanced, “facilitative” parent – knowing when to step in to support my children and knowing when to back off and let the child take care of the situation or behaviour on their own.
Writing this article brought to mind one of my childhood experiences. I recall a situation from my first experience in kindergarten. Without consulting me, the teacher and my parents decided to move me to another classroom that was appropriate for my energy (I was timid, quiet, shy and super-sensitive). I loved being with the noisier children because the attention was on them not on me. When they switched me to the quieter class, I spent the first couple of months crying in the bathroom in my classroom because the change was so difficult for me. Sometimes parents and teachers, although their intentions are wonderful, don’t have the “right” answer. I did meet one of my dearest friends in that quieter class and we are still friends today 50+ years later!
How do we advocate for our child without becoming a flying machine of some sort? Here are some suggestions on how to be the bridge for your child allowing them to feel “large and in charge” of their sensitivities.
- Always include your child in the process of helping others best understand from their perspective – you’d be amazed by what insight they have! This goes for all situations including family gatherings, outings with friends, school or community events.
- Check your emotions at the door (this one is so hard for most parents). Be there as an advocate and support. Listen thoughtfully to their perspective.
- Never tease, point out the sensitivity, use sarcasm or ridicule as a way of dealing with your discomfort with your child’s sensitivities.
- Never compare the successes or failures of the siblings of the sensitive child to one another.
- Encourage quiet, private dialogue with family, friends, teachers, etc. on how to best support your child. Never discuss this in front of a sensitive child – their wee brains will misinterpret and over-analyze what’s being discussed.
- Allow children to feel tremendous in their own skin – often; sensitive children don’t interpret any of their sensitivities to be bothersome to others.
- Don’t expect worst-case scenarios to happen – humans are so funny in that we often expect the worse to happen. Not the case! Actual and perceived parent negativity (from a child’s perspective) can have a profound effect on a sensitive child so the more positive parents are and the more families can live from a positive perspective, the better a sensitive child feels.
- And finally, if parents believe that their own sensitivities are “getting in the way” of everyday living, then parents need to access support for their own well-being. Modelling that it’s okay to be sensitive and get help is an amazing experience for children. Parents are their child’s number one role models. When parents are okay with their sensitivities then children will be okay with theirs!