Tom and I had taken our kids to the happiest place on earth, Disney World. At the day's end all six of us smashed into the sea of humanity to see the parade and the Disney finale. The people pressed forward, music was blared, and the fireworks boomed.
Disney bombarded all of our five senses. The fireworks crescendoed in a magnificent display of sight and sound.
While most ooooooed and aahhhhhed. Our little girl screamed and sobbed.
She felt like a nuclear explosion has just occurred.
At most amusement parks visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, and gustatory (taste) are exploited. A pleasant occurrence for 80% of the people on the planet. But 20% feel as if they have just been assaulted.
How does your kiddo do at amusement parks or highly attended events? If he has trouble acclimating or coping with all the stimuli he may be like my daughter and be highly sensitive.
Do any of these statements describe your child?
"My child has a total meltdown every time I try to correct him."
"My daughter tells me I hurt her heart when I discipline her."
"My child notices everything. Every. Little. Thing."
"My daughter gets so frustrated with her homework. She erases more than she writes."
"My son has big emotions. Big happy. Big sad. Big mad."
"My daughter cries easily."
"My son makes a big deal about one small owie."
"Halloween is the worst holiday. My kid really freaks out over thing that are scary."
"My little girl is so distracted by smells, lights, sounds she can't seem to concentrate."
"My child is super tuned into my feelings. My emotions really affect her."
"When my child has a decision to make it takes forever."
"My daughter is really hard on herself if she has made a mistake."
These comments have come from the moms and dads I consult and coach. I have stated many of them myself. The sentiments reflected are from parents who may have a child with sensory process sensitivity (SPS) or more commonly known as a highly sensitive person (HSP).
Parents of these kids feel frustrated with how easily their child is overwhelmed and wonder how to best approach and interact with their hyper-sensitive kiddo.
According to psychologists, authors, and researchers, Elaine and Arthur Arons, approximately 20% of the population is affected by SPS, an inborn trait. SPS is highly sensitivity to environmental and social stimuli and is emotionally reactive.
Before I list the ways we can assist our kids, let's look at the positive and negative parts of being a tender soul.
empathetic, thoughtful ,considerate, obedient, intuitive, emotional leaders, creative, detail oriented, deep thinkers, work well with others, polite, and good listeners.
The less desirable traits in an HSP are:
less likely to take a risk, respond emotionally to criticism, slow to warm up, don't react well to spontaneity, startle easily, feel pain on a more intense level, may have trouble sleeping and settling down after a big day, and are people-pleasers.
Those of us parents with highly sensitive kiddos need to develop effective ways in which to best parent our kids. Our kids need some good coping strategies to manage life around them.
We may need to get creative with our parenting. In my daughter's case we began having her plug her nose in places with lots of smells and hold her hands over her ears to muffle loud noises. We would cut the tags off her clothes and line up the seam on her socks with her toes or even turn her socks inside out. We would give her a heads up (as much as we could) if plans were to be changed. When she did her home work we moved her to a spot with less distractions.
Simple adjustments but they worked.
Train your sensitive kids to acknowledge their feelings then move from the emotion part of their mind to their logical brain. Thinking is the place where training and teaching our kids can take place. A brain that thinks can make changes and adjustments. A brain that only feels, stays stuck.
To assist our kiddos to respond well to correction here are some helpful ways to prepare your child's brain so it is receptive to your training.
1. Speak softly.
2. Be kind and gentle. Harsh words and tone will shut down a HSP.
3. Reason with the child and use the tactic, "Put yourself in ______ shoes."
4. Discuss a problem at a neutral time.
5. Plan together how to resolve the issue. "Let's discuss how we can resolve this together."
6. Avoid criticizing and shaming the HSP (Don't attack the person rather speak to the behavior. "You are so lazy." instead "There is still work here you need to complete.")
7. Model self-correction verses self-criticism. "I need to put forth more effort" rather than "I'm so dumb."
8. Give the child time to ponder the correction. "Think about what I said and we can talk later tonight."
9. Show empathy and remind the child of areas in which he is successful. "Math is a struggle for you. It was for me too. But you are really good at writing."
We want to avoid hurting our already sensitive kids. We don't want them to withdraw, act defensively, or think they are somehow defective.
When we parent our HSP we can be kind and honest at the same time.
What do you prefer?
Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline,
or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?
1 Corinthians 4:12
If you would like more information on the HSP, check out Elaine Aron's site. She also has an informal assessment you can take to see if your child is HSP.
If you liked this post you may enjoy Raising Little Kids with Big Love or Raising Big Kids with Supernatural Love.
Contact Lori to speak at your next event or to run a parenting seminar at your church or school.