As a child, I was what everyone termed “shy”. I liked to watch before joining in with other children or activities. I did NOT appreciate being pushed into doing something. I needed to feel safe first and understand what was being asked of me. I could NOT watch scary or sad scenes in movies. Dumbo’s mom rocking him when she is locked in that train car, Bambi’s mom dying, Mufasa getting killed….to this day my heart hurts just thinking about those scenes. I still can’t watch scary movies or the local news or anything that has to do with animals. I cannot STAND movies about animals. Watching any animal be sad or frightened gives me physical pain. I could read peoples’ feelings very easily and didn’t like anyone picking on anyone else. I still don’t My whole family is like me. So, I always thought everyone was like me until I got older…then I just figured my family and I were odd. No…my family and I are like 20% of the world population called highly sensitive people according to Elaine Aron in her book “The Highly Sensitive Child”. It can be an inherited trait. And boy does it run in my family. People that fall into this category can be sensitive to outside stimuli such as others’ feelings, loud noises, and the feel of clothing. They can be intuitive and anticipate needs as well as be cautious about activities and react strongly to surprises and busy days.
What made me stop and think about all of this recently was raising my children. They did not like being put down as babies. A lot of babies don’t though. Being held is important. So, that didn’t raise any flags with the letters HSC for Highly Sensitive Children printed boldly on them. As toddlers they were TERRIFIED of other children. That had me pause and contemplate why that was. I just figured that it was due to them being twins and not wanting to let anyone else into their sphere. Around age two they started to not like scenes in books that showed anyone being upset or afraid. Then as I introduced very carefully chosen children’s videos for them to watch (Clifford, Caillou, Blue’s Clues, Dinosaur Train – pretty benign TV) it became very apparent by my son’s covering his ears or starting to cry and my daughter’s getting up to run around the room when something tense was taking place on the video that I needed to think about the reason behind these behaviors.
So, I went where a lot of us go when we need to learn something…I turned to parenting books. Mostly the book listed above. I found out a lot about myself, my family of origin and my family that I have now. It all makes sense now why my son breaks down in tears when I am rushing him; why my daughter can read my feelings like a psychic. I understand why stern talking, taking things away, time outs and yelling don’t work in my house. They make us all feel damaged. My kids respond better to being in my lap and a discussion. They need role playing to help them feel comfortable with learning a skill.
Highly sensitive children/people aren’t odd. We may choose to sit quietly on the side lines sometimes waiting to feel ready to be engaged. Although this isn’t always the case. My brother for instance, a highly sensitive person, was born ready to play basketball and be competitive with it. We may not be ready to jump out onto the dance floor for dance classes at an early age or want a bunch of friends over at a time. It can overwhelm us a bit. But there is plenty about highly sensitive people to cheer and cherish.
After learning about this, I wondered why I hadn’t heard of this type of personality before. I started thinking “twenty percent of the population is a pretty big number…I think other people should know about this.” So…I’m blogging about it. It has affected my parenting style. I keep seeing all of these kids around me getting signed up for classes and sports and a bunch of other stuff. I wonder “Am I allowing my kids to fall behind?”. But…I’m not. Not when I see them excel at the things that they excel in. There will be time later when they feel a bit more sure of their worlds and ability to make friends to put them in classes. Right now the thought of my kids having to see other kids get hurt playing sports is awful. We just went to a play date with a wonderful little boy, his adorable younger brother and awesome mom. My kids’ friend got hurt while we were there. What stood out to me was watching one of my kids deal with the situation. The response was to put hands over ears to deal with the personal pain that was caused by the knowledge that a friend was hurt.
Sports, classes, etc. will come when my kids are ready for it. I’m going to have to really listen for what they are ready to do and give small, gentle nudges from time to time. Just like anything else in parenting, I am going to have to hold on to my instinct about my children and try to block out the social pressure or personal pressure to do what other moms are doing.
If you think your child might be a highly sensitive child…I suggest you check out Aron’s book. It was an interesting read. She also has an online questionnaire that you can complete to see if you or your child fall within this 20%.
Disclaimer: The purpose of this blog is to raise awareness of issues that face parents in pregnancy and parenthood. This blog is not meant to replace treatment by a licensed mental health professional. The content of this blog does not constitute mental health assessment, diagnosis, treatment, support or advice. Please consult a licensed mental health practitioner if you have concern about your mental health or in the case of an emergency, contact 911. Reading this blog does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Bronwyn Shroyer, Bronwyn Shroyer LLC or BloomingFamilies.