When taking the journey into parenthood, every parent will ask people questions, make posts on forums, and read parenting books. They hope that doing this will help them be prepared when their baby is born and while it does help a lot, they can’t learn everything they’ll need to know because they don’t know who their child will be. Will they be confident and outgoing? Will they be autistic? Will they need academic help? Will they be shy and introverted?
I’ve known that my daughter was sensitive ever since she was an infant. She cried way more than other babies when we went for playdates and I was so jealous of other moms whose babies weren’t screaming bloody murder on a regular basis. Now that she’s a toddler, I can see her sensitivity in so many other ways. So I started reading The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron . I’m only about a quarter of the way through the book but so far it has been really informative. Some of the points that struck me so far:
1. Being highly sensitive is not a disability.
People are quick to label my daughter as shy, anxious, introverted… and these labels tend to have negative connotations. But 20% of the population is highly sensitive – this is much too big a percentage for it to be a negative personality trait, or a disorder. I have found myself occasionally saying “she’s feeling shy” to people who expect her to respond to their questions or greetings. But I don’t need to make an excuse for it.
2. Being highly sensitive is not something that needs to be changed about a child.
I’ve gotten comments from people that I just need to expose my daughter to more things, more noisy places, more new people, etc, etc, and then she won’t be so sensitive anymore. No matter how many things I expose her to, it’s not going to beat the sensitivity out of her and suddenly make her more “normal”. Highly sensitive children are easily overwhelmed in new situations because they are taking in much more information that someone who is less sensitive. We were riding on the LRT the other day, her first time, and her eyes were wide with wonder as she looked, experienced, smelled, heard everything on the train. The sound of the signal for a stop. The lights in the train car. The way her vestibular system reacted to the start and stop. Everything that rushed past the windows. The whooshing sound as the train went fast. Her reflection in the window when we went through a tunnel. The average person probably wouldn’t notice all the details, but a highly sensitive person will. So new situations, new places, new experiences can be scary for a highly sensitive child, but they can also be super stimulating – in a good way or a bad way.
3. Being social and outgoing is not a measuring stick for how good a person someone is.
My daughter does not initiate conversation with strangers. She rarely greets them when they come up and start talking to her. As a baby she used to cry if a stranger made eye contact with her. This does not mean she is a bad kid. It does not mean I am a bad parent. It just means that she does not thrive on social interaction, and does not enjoy making smalltalk. Social norms dictate that we say “hi, how are you?” to everyone so that we seem nice and polite. But do you really care how someone is when you say that? A highly sensitive person usually prefers deeper, more meaningful conversations over fluffy smalltalk. And that’s okay.
4. Being cautious is not necessarily a bad thing.
I worry when I see my daughter in a class being the last one to run up to get a stamp. Nowadays she will run up with the other kids, but she will hang at the back and not push forward to get her stamp, so she is usually the very last one to get one. Thankfully we have had very attentive teachers, so they always make sure she gets one, but I’m sure less attentive people would simply overlook her because she’s not clamouring for attention. I worry when I see her in the playground looking around tentatively at the bottom of a jungle gym, or the stairs for the slide. Being highly sensitive means that she takes more time to make a decision to do something – she doesn’t have the go-and-get-it trait, she has the think-first trait. This can be a really good thing when she’s in school or when she’s a teenager, because she may think twice before joining in to bully another kid, or try smoking, etc. That’s my hope.
I’m learning a lot so far, and realizing that I myself am a highly sensitive person, and my husband most likely is as well. I just hope that I can adapt my parenting style to make my daughter blossom. I don’t want her growing up thinking that being sensitive makes her bad, or weaker than other kids. My greatest fear is that she will not see the beauty and worth in herself.
Because after all, isn’t that what we want for our kids? To be happy, confident, contributing members of society?
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