I realize I never updated on the story I started the other day about the Girl on Girl Emotional Warfare.
Everything is fine now and it turns out Izzy was the instigator. The moment I put too much pressure on her at home to keep her writing tidy, she took it out on a girl at school and called her work “scribbles”. *facepalm*
Needless to say the girl was hurt and the hurt feelings went back and forth. Izzy apologized to the girl and they are friends again.
All of this could have been avoided if I put less pressure on her or made sure Isabella had said her peace. I’m beginning to see how raising a Highly Sensitive Child has its rewards and challenges. I need to change my parenting strategy, not who Izzy is.
Both of my children have a trait called “high sensitivity”. Fifteen to twenty percent of people are born with this temperament. High sensitivity is not synonymous with the terms introverted or shy. You can be an extrovert and still be considered a highly sensitive. You can seem adaptable, fussy, or stubborn but these may be part of you dealing with your trait and no one else understanding it. Having people say you are highly sensitive to your face may make you think of yourself as strange or special, neither which is good, so we never say this in front of our children. Being highly sensitive is just a trait, no more strange or special than having blue eyes and blonde hair.
Highly sensitive individuals are those born with a tendency to notice more in their environment and deeply reflect on everything before acting, as compared to those who notice less and act quickly and impulsively. As a result, sensitive people, both children and adults, tend to be empathetic, smart, intuitive, creative, careful, and conscientious. They are also more easily overwhelmed by “high volume” or large quantities of input arriving at once. When they can’t avoid overstimulation, they seem “easily upset” and “too sensitive”.
A quick note about highly sensitive children (HSC) and their need to adapt. HSC’s are slow to go with the flow and don’t like change too suddenly. They want to control situations. A simple statement like “Time to eat” may be met with stalling or a tantrum. HSC’s know the consequences if they don’t adapt, both for themselves and those around them, and will try their best to be flexible (and pleasant while doing so). What is frustrating for the parents is that these children often keep it together when away from the family, then when they come home, they “lose it” when asked to make a small transition. For the sake of being socially appropriate, they have overtaxed their ability to handle change or be out of routine. At home they feel free to let go.
However, HSC’s aren’t saints and should not be treated as such, but you may want to soften or vary your punishments for them since they carry around their feelings for days and will react to punishment differently. In fact, if feeling wronged or not listened to, they may have more meltdowns or tantrums. This doesn’t mean they should get away with bad behaviour, as you will see. Let’s look at Isabella.
Isabella is an HSC, but an extroverted one. Although she would like to be seen as a free-flowing, extremely adaptable, free spirit sort- in reality she is a much better person when there is a strict routine and when there is a warning of what is to come. “In ten minutes I am going to turn off the TV so we can make dinner together”. Away from home she tries to dampen the need for a routine so she can pack in as much fun as possible, thus overwhelming herself and her senses.
Recognising this about our child and reading up on it has made a world of difference in the way Isabella approaches problems at school, academic or otherwise, and in how she relates to her peers. It has also made a difference at home. She has less nightmares and less meltdowns. She is better at processing the world around her because we are respecting who she is.
Let’s talk about some of Izzy’s traits that may seem highly sensitive to most people.
Isabella has a low threshold for clothing she sees as rough. She will notice tags in clothing and doesn’t like scratchy or thick fabrics. I immediately cut out all the tags in her clothing and make sure any remaining threads are softened by rubbing them down a bit. She will not wear jeans or overalls as she finds them too constricting and wool is out of the question, even for socks. She has taken to wearing tank tops and shorts in the house as she finds it the least abrasive and constricting, which I see no problem with. Food is another physical stimuli she is sensitive to. She avoids mixing her food on plates or spices that smell strange to her. I have found that if she has more control over the food, such as helping prepare it and being given choices of spices that go in (“We can add dill or oregano, you choose”), then she will eat it later and with gusto!
Other things we have picked up on with Isabella are:
Isabella is very good at picking up on the moods of others, even the slightest stress. She will know when a baby or pet is upset even before it makes a physical sign of it such as crying or yelping! As for adults, she will pick up on nuances of conversations and reveal interesting and mature insights about what is going on with people, even when I didn’t think she was listening. Sometimes she will overhear a conversation and worry about that person or situation for weeks before she shares what she heard with me. She will cry easily and is deeply upset by another’s suffering, even if imagined by her. This is one reason I don’t watch videos of news stories around her, as she is not old enough to understand or process them properly. Another side of this is that she has vivid, complex dreams.
Izzy will walk in to a room and immediately notice if you changed something, even if it is the room freshener and she hasn’t been over in months. She is just like Josh in that she prefers little or gradual changes. I think, as an off-shoot of this, she doesn’t like being startled (unless she is part of a game and knows that is a part of it), or sudden changes. She is hesitant in all new environments and will sometimes over-compensate for feeling that way by acting extra goofy to hide those feelings and seem adaptable.
Although Isabella loves an audience of one or two, she doesn’t like being the center of attention among strangers and hates being asked to perform or repeat things in front of them. In fact, being around a lot of new people at once is very taxing for her emotionally. She will seem to handle it well and have meltdowns when at home and feels safe to do so. She hates being questioned by strangers and it takes a lot of coaxing for her to answer their questions or even say hi some days.
Isabella loves drawing or video games because it gives her complete control over an imaginary world. She has a high artistic ability as a result. However, she loves the order and predictability of mathematics and some science experiments, so also has a high scientific ability as well. Other strengths she has- she is very coordinated in games so loves athletics and being a part of a team working towards a common goal, she is empathetic and conscientious most of the time and has a great sense of humour, and she has a very mature wonderment at how the bigger picture works and about general natural things that she is in awe of (rain, lightning, an animal’s natural instincts, how farms are sustained, etc). She is already extremely concerned about social justice for all and will someday make a great humanitarian.
Isabella can also be difficult at times, in my opinion, and in the following areas:
- Negative mood or behaviour
- Spends too much time on the computer or playing video games
- Quick to anger
- Can be too noisy or boisterous
However, I can imagine a lot of these traits would be no problem in another family and I just have a low threshold for dealing with them. Stubborn, for example, may be seen as tenacious and good focus in another family and my changing view on this is making Izzy and I relate to each other better.
Her negative mood or behaviour is usually after she feels she hasn’t been heard or something unfair has been done. For example, me snapping at her that we don’t wear shoes in the house, then me going to grab my keys while still wearing my shoes because they were clean. Izzy is right when she says it is a double standard and is also right to be grumpy about it.
The video games I limit as I don’t want her to only relate to a virtual world, which makes it a non-issue.
She is quick to anger because I am and we are working on it. I just say “Can you please take a deep breath and then say that in a friendlier and calm manner?” The same rule applies to everyone in this house now.
A lot of parents like when the noise level goes up, such as my best friend, who has a very bustling and loud family. They all relate at loud volume. I cannot live like that. I find the quieter I speak, the calmer the children stay which keeps me calm and my nerves intact.
When Izzy was a baby I could tell she was more sensitive than other babies or children but read the wrong kinds of advice and made it worse. She would react, I would explode, and she would feel that the way she did things was wrong. Our reacting to her speaking, for example. We corrected her too harshly, she stopped practicing, and when she did eventually talk she did so in full sentences and so fast that she developed habits in her speech that had to be corrected so that adults could understand her. Now I have learned to note the positive before the negative. She is already a little perfectionist, I don’t need to contribute to her shame of not being able to do everything perfect the first time.
Isabella is a highly intelligent, amazing soul that sees who people really are before I do. Her tenacity and perfectionism in tasks will do her very well in life, if channeled correctly. She is especially attuned to human or animal suffering and may be one of those champions that stands up for a cause once she is old enough. Izzy is already being brave at school and standing up for the underdog at school. She hates double standards and will say so. She is kind, willing to please, and talented. All of these are heightened by being a highly sensitive soul.
However, sometimes Izzy catches things grown-ups say and internalizes them, so you have to be careful what is said around her. Sometimes her inability to accept double standards creates a rift between her and other people as she can be completely intolerant. She also doesn’t understand when friends fight with her and is not easily adaptable to the change in human relationships at school. One of her biggest things is thinking that people pick up on nuances or subtleties of a situation the same way she does and being annoyed when they don’t. Adding to her annoyance sometimes is the fact that she will try to explain it. What will be as clear as day for her may not be for them and she will become frustrated, thus sometimes alienating the friend, and sometimes picking a fight. Along the same lines, she will sometimes say things that seem rude but are half thoughts. Izzy partly lives “in her head”, and will accidentally say half sentences. For example, “I wish Makena wasn’t coming over”, to which I said, “What do you mean?”, and she explained, “I think Makena would have more fun if all of our friends could come over at the same time”. Izzy also feels harshly criticized when something is said about how she can do things better and will stop trying harder. All of these things make it harder for Izzy in this world of ours and we are doing our best to boost her confidence so that she can better deal with things. We are making great progress.
Isabella has a memory like a steel trap and will still bring up “the death of that Grampa I liked” and “the death of that cat”. These things had a bigger impact on her than she first would have admitted.
We have learned a lot about Izzy by being more in tune with her needs and temperament and have made changes or allowances when it is necessary. We encourage her to spend a little time alone once a day as it helps her mind organize and regroup. I have downloaded a guided meditation app that seems to help her calm and feel connected to herself. Izzy has since revealed things that worry her that would have never crossed our minds. (“Are people that go through natural disasters okay? I heard a grown-up talking about an earthquake. Can we go and help?”) When Izzy reveals a concern to us we take it seriously and respect it, even if it is something as silly as the texture of her food. Talking to her before bed seems to soothe her concerns and eliminate nightmares and it is as simple as asking how her day was as you tuck her in. Giving Isabella a choice whenever possible helps her feel more in control and makes her feel more centred and a part of things.
Understanding her HSC trait has been huge in Izzy being calmer at home and school. Her grades have gone up, as has her self-esteem.
Simple changes such as: giving warning before a change, allowing a routine to be kept, seeing the positive before the negative when giving her constructive criticism (Example, “That ‘A’ is so straight and in the lines, I bet you could write the ‘I’ the same way!”), and giving choices when appropriate, make the world of difference to her.
Thank you for reading.