Wednesday, 24 July 2013

8 Things My Highly Sensitive Child Has Taught Me

Six years ago I had never heard of the term highly sensitive person (HSP). I had heard of shy, introvert and difficult - all labels that have been put on me at some point or another in my life. When I became a mother I was suddenly cast into a world of the highly sensitive child (HSC) and it was a real eye opener indeed. I got to know myself better and more importantly I started accepting me for who I am, instead of thinking I had to change to fit in with a society that favours extroverts. Here are eight things I have learnt from my incredible little HSC.

1. I'm a HSP. 

I can take or leave busy, crowded places
Photo Credit: Michal Zacharzewski
For many years I was well aware that I am an introvert. I don't need to be in crowds, am unsure about going to new places, meeting new people and making small talk. I'm a real homebody and am more than content to stay at home rather than be out socialising every evening (even before motherhood!). Since becoming a parent and it being pointed out that my eldest is a HSC I am able to give how I feel a place and a name. I'm a highly sensitive person.

2. It's ok to be me

My vision board and goal setting for years had involved things like "be more extrovert" "go to networking events" "go out more regularly with friends" "meet new people". Whilst I will always strive to be a better me, I have recently learnt to accept myself and my limitations. I will never be more extrovert. I will never be comfortable being centre of attention in a large group. And that's okay.


3. The importance of me time

Highly sensitive people (including children) need down time, and lots of it. Peace, calm, silence, relaxation: these are not luxuries for sensitive souls. These are essentials. When my first son was born and I was alone at home with him I became agitated if he wouldn't sleep at nap time, if he cried incessantly during the day and I couldn't get a minute to myself I was a big ball of knotted stress by the time my husband came home. I thought I was a terrible mother. By the time my second son was born I realised that I needed a recharge moment in the day in order to cope with the noise and chaos that can ensue with a house filled with very small people. When my children slept I made sure I used those precious minutes to create quiet to clear my head, to reset myself to zero. Sometimes I read, sometimes I wrote. Sometimes I just sat and closed my eyes. No music, no TV, no vacuum cleaners or clattering of pans or dishes. More than three years on, with three little boys in the house, I still insist on quiet time in the middle of the day. My youngest sleeps but the eldest two play in their rooms, or together, and do something quiet like drawing, or puzzles or they create masterpieces with Lego. It does us all good. Without it our afternoons and evenings can be tense!

4. I'm a sponge

Photo Credit: Keith Syvinski 
Not in a Sponge Bob kind of way but in a "soak up the emotions around me" sort of way. When my son was in the peuterspeelzaal (nursery school) we heard from his teachers that if others in the class were crying there would be tears in his eyes. If someone hurt themselves he would be upset. If someone was sad, he would be too. It's a common trait of being a HSC. It's a part of being highly sensitive and I guess until a few years back I never really got why others wouldn't be effected to the same extent as me by other people's misfortune or sadness, by horror events reported on the news. I am often upset, on the brink of tears even, about things that are really not my problem to deal with. Worse still, when I hear about someone else's dilemmas I try desperately to think of how I could directly help them and I take their problem on as my own. Like I don't have enough to worry about with three children.... so I end up feeling frazzled as I carry the weight of everyone's problems on my shoulders. My son has made me realise that I have to set boundaries. I have been busy helping him to learn what he can filter out from his school day, what he should let go of and it helps me in turn.  I have learnt to think more objectively when someone is sharing an issue with me - a listening ear is often enough and people are not expecting me to sort our their personal dramas!

5. I'm a lie detector

My son picks up pretty quickly on people saying one thing but actually meaning something else. He knows when he hears half truths, an incomplete story or just plain old nonsense. He watches faces, he reads eyes. When the sentiment there doesn't match the words he hears he knows it in a flash. It's related to number 4 in a big way and it's hard to fob highly sensitive people off with "I'm fine" whilst there are signs in their eyes that tell a different story. And when I saw how tuned in my son is to the unspoken truth the penny dropped about myself. Some people make me feel very uncomfortable and I am very quick to cast judgement on whether I trust someone or not. My son helped me realise why that is.

6. I'm creative

Creative outlets are essential in our house
Photo credit: Amanda van Mulligen (c)
My son needs an outlet to release his emotions and experiences during any given day. He loves making things, using his imagination, painting, drawing, making things with play dough, story telling and building his own little worlds with his Lego. That means Pinterest is my best friend and I have found that I really enjoy seeking out great projects to make with him (and his brothers). It provides me with a creative outlet too, on top of writing that is, and I realise how much I need that. There has to be a place for all the energy to go that is swirling around my head. I can channel creative energy into making things with my children, because right now there isn't the time for me to do release those creative juices in other ways.


7. Be true to ourselves

My eldest has a particular affinity to nature and things that are growing. One day he came home from school very upset because his friends were trying to kill a worm they had found. He thought it was horrible that they could act in such a way.

As he's got older he has struggled with the behaviour of his peers, trying to be the same as them whilst holding on to how he feels when he sees living things being killed. I see him start to bend to fit in, even though it doesn't feel right to him. Later, when he is lying in bed talking about his day he is able to be open and honest about how something made him feel. He's able to admit that something he or a friend did upset him. I hear him more and more talk about how good he was because he didn't cry, even though he felt like he might. He's already being conditioned to fit in better in a world not designed for highly sensitive people.

This is just one example of how HS boys don't live up to society's expectation of how males should behave. Many boys therefore suppress their natural instinct and feelings. Ted Zeff's book "The Strong, Sensitive Boy" is a great resource to delve further into this topic.

I've learnt how important it is to help my son be true to himself and in turn be true to myself. Sometimes it is much harder to follow your own heart and be true to your feelings than to go with the crowd. It's a hard lesson for a child, particularly one that is so sensitive. It's so important to find the balance between honouring how we feel but not constantly sticking our neck on the line. My son doesn't want to stand out from all of his friends, he doesn't want to be different, and I understand that so it's all about finding the right balance.

8. Embrace nature

Nature blows away the cobwebs, refreshes and revitalises
Photo Credit: Amanda van Mulligen (c)
As I said, my son has an affinity to nature. In fact all three boys love being out in nature. They love going for walks in the dunes, collecting leaves, twigs and acorns in the woods and spotting animals and birds when we're outside. My HSC relaxes in nature. He is given a new lease of life being outdoors running amongst the trees and racing carefree along sandy beaches. He's at his happiest embracing all that nature has to offer. He's taught me that nature is a powerful healer; nature refreshes me, gives me energy and allows me to see things through renewed eyes. It blows away the cobwebs and with life so busy with day to day things it's good to take time out and walk in the woods, sit on the beach, paddle in a lake.



What have I missed out? If you are parenting a HSC what important lessons are you learning along the way?

*I have created a Facebook group called "Happy Sensitive Kids" for anyone who is involved in raising HSCs. My goal is to create a supportive, safe place to share tips, experiences, challenges and the joys of bringing up HSCs. It's a closed group so you need to request membership but it also means that the posts can only be seen my members.*

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