“He is so shy"; “An introvert child"; “Not social"; “Mummas boy"; “Clingy child" these were the phrases I was eventually accustomed to hearing regarding my now 7 year old Junior Einstein.
Ever since my son was born, he was a little different. He used to get startled very easily, was a very light sleeper, super sensitive to pain and refused to go to any one apart from a few known people. When I would share these traits with anyone, they would shrug off saying he's a shy child or blame it on the nuclear set up we were in.
However as he grew his traits became more defined. He was the last child to settle in playgroup (rather he didn't settle all his term). He used to cry and howl at birthday parties or any social event (exposure to loud music and lot of new faces at one go). Even after a long exciting and stimulating day he would find it difficult to sleep. His behaviour at times used to leave me perplexed.
Fortunately I was doing my Early Childhood Care and Education Diploma then and used to do an extensive research on various topics on Parenting and Early Childhood. That's when I came across this term 'Sensitive Child'. When I delved further on the topic and correlated the findings with my sons behaviour, I figured out he is a Highly Sensitive Child! Unfortunately, there is very little awareness and empathy for these type of people and kids. It is ironical that the E.C.C.ED. Course which I have done also had no mention of this term too!
What are the typical traits of a Highly Sensitive Child (HSC)?
I did mention most common traits above. However, I would like to highlight a few others too.
1. Slow warm up kids - When you put them in a new set up or a social event they will not adapt instantly. They will take their time to analyse the environment around them and the relatively new people.
2. They would NOT talk to a stranger and it is quite likely for them to take a while to open up with distant relatives / friends who are not on their regular visit list. However, mind you these kids are not introvert!
3. They have very strong senses. A cooker whistle or a pungent smell can really disturb them. When they hurt themselves or are scolded they will cry more because they feel greater pain than other individuals.
4. They are very particular about everything and are perfectionists. If they have left a particular toy in their room in a way they will be very upset if one has changed the set up without seeking their permission.
5. They need cooling time outs. Exposure to an over stimulated environment (a birthday party, a long day at school, an evening at the mall) charge them and they take a while to adapt to the routine once they are back.
Approach towards a Highly Sensitive Child.
If your child, is a HSC there is no reason to worry/ be upset about it. Personally I feel blessed to have a HSC! The unfortunate part is there is very little awareness about this term in our society. That's the reason, parents and caregivers of a HSC need to be more aware, alert and conscious about their child's behaviour and handle the same with immense patience and sensibility.
1. Understanding the term 'Sensitivity'. One needs to be sensitive to their needs and behaviour. At times they may appear to be too demanding but on second thoughts, all one needs to do is maintain a rational approach and empathy towards them.
2. Don't push them – help them acclimatise to any new environment / set up. As I mentioned, a HSC may often act very difficult when put in a new environment (new school / social event). The primary reason being, they are sensitive to things around them and are very cautious. I would like to explain this with a personal experience.
Whenever we used to go to a birthday party my son refused to mingle with the crowd. He used to cover his ears to the blasting Bollywood numbers, would seem to be lost in the crowd and cling on to me. Rather than pushing him to be in the crowd I used to make him sit with me. Would discuss the setup, the props, show him some kids who are his friends - help him gauge the situation / environment. Once he would be comfortable and realise it's a known territory he would slowly mingle in the crowd and in no time I would see him participating in the games and activities.
3. Give them cooling off time. Regular events like the visit to a mall, or a regular day at school can really drain them off mentally. The reason is they are super sensitive to the things and people around them. This sensitivity stimulates them and takes a lot of them. The only way to handle this is give them their cooling off time.
When my son comes back from school he unwinds himself in his room in the toy corner. He needs his free play time with his LEGO's and other toys which help him reboot his system! I have never pushed him into any after school activity as he couldn't handle the rush! Weekends are the time we engage him in a sport and an after school program. A little practical and sensitive approach is all that's needed.
4. Prior notice and a logical explanation a must! The key to make a HSC do a particular task or attend a particular event without any resistance is to provide a solid logical reasoning to them. Once a logical explanation is provided, they will cooperate beautifully well without any tantrums.
When my son was 3 year, I used to trick him while taking him to his paediatrician for his vaccinations and he used to ask me, ' will I get an injection?' and I used to diplomatically say may be / maybe not! He used to feel cheated and cry, more out of the fact he was deceived rather than the pain! When I started explaining him and giving him a reason behind a vaccination and the need for the same he would co operate beautifully!
5. Patience, understanding and awareness. Parents of a HSC need to be very patient towards their child. At times due to our busy schedules and fast paced lifestyle, we may tend to be impatient when dealing with our 'gifted' child. We may expect them to do things the way we would want them to and how normal kids their age would. However, we as parents need to reiterate the fact that 'Our child is different!'
Recently my son refused to enter our car which smelt due to moisture and water logging due to the heavy downpour. Yes the stench was a little strong, but we found it manageable. However, he just didn't budge. We were getting late so coaxed him to enter the car and he threw a fit and started howling! That's when my husband reminded me, 'He's a HSC, his senses are far stronger than ours!' Am glad my husband and me are well versed with his traits and that really helps us raising our child!
Parenting a Highly Sensitive Child in this social environment where people aren't even aware of the term can be a challenging task. This article is my attempt to create awareness about the term. Feel free to reach out to me for any queries regarding raising your child, and I shall be happy to help.