Many highly sensitive children struggle with too much stimuli at once. How far should we as parents go to help them reduce the stimuli they have to process?
In Elaine Aron’s words highly sensitive people are:
“….more easily overwhelmed by ‘high volume’ or large quantities of data arriving at once.” Elaine Aron: The Highly Sensitive Child
In essence, a highly sensitive person processes information more thoroughly than others – not just in their head, but with their whole body. They notice much more in their environment that others.
If we think about a highly sensitive child and their typical day in school and their typical after school activities it’s clear how much information (visual, auditory, smell, tastes, activity, emotions, incidents) they are processing in a day. And easy to understand that this is too much for their bodies to handle. Emotional outbursts are a consequence, and an understandable release when you really understand what being highly sensitive means.
For many parents the solution is to reduce the stimuli that a child needs to process in a day. Less stimuli means less information processing. But how far should we go with adapting our children’s environments to reduce the stimuli they are subject to? How far can we go? How quiet should we make things for them? Should we help our children completely adapt to their environments instead? Should we say they just need to be able to cope? Is this even realistic?
There’s a reason I am bringing this up. My son experiences noise in the classroom as loud. He experiences it as much more disturbing than his teacher and classmates. His teacher has said that he complains about the noise when actually it’s pretty quiet to her ears. I’m not there so I cannot make a judgement one way or another. However, what I do know is that the noise that comes in to my son’s ears is real. For him it is loud. He hears every sound, every movement and doesn’t filter that out. The noise is real. And it fills his bucket, disturbs his concentration and ends up irritating him. This irritation comes out at home.
It has been a problem in the school environment for many years. He has tools to help him (noise reducing headphones, privacy screen on his desk, opportunity to work outside the classroom) but it remains an issue. Noise, and his perception of it, effects how he feels in a classroom. He wants silence to work in. He will never get that in a traditional schooling environment. So we need to find a way for him to cope with noise. That’s the conclusion after discussions with school. He will eventually go to secondary school, which will mean even more noise and stimuli, and he will have to cope there too.
Cope. I’m not happy with that word. It’s about getting through a school day. It’s about surviving. We’re not talking about helping him flourish in school. We are talking about how to get him out of an average school day in one piece.
My husband and I were talking. Are we talking about changing our child? Are we trying to change the essence of who he is so he can cope at school? Can a highly sensitive child really learn to filter out the noise around them?
I am in my 40s and as I type there’s a faint drilling noise coming through my home office wall; it’s like a mosquito buzzing in my ear and it is slowly but surely GETTING ON MY NERVES. So coping mechanisms – how far can we go? How far should we go? What do we just need to accept as physical and sensory limitations? Must a HSC adapt to their surroundings or should we adapt their surroundings to help them?
It’s a question many parents ask themselves.
It’s why many choose to remove the stimuli of a school day completely and homeschool their highly sensitive children.
It’s why parents make sure quiet time is built in to each and every day of a highly sensitive child’s life.
It’s why parents keep after school activities and play dates at a minimum.
It’s why parents of HSCs are endlessly in discussion with teachers and heads of schools.
It’s why many parents of HSCs feel conflicted and confused.
It’s why many parents of HSCs feel like they are banging their heads against a brick wall when discussing their child.
Parenting a highly sensitive child is very much about creating the balance between ensuring that a child feels comfortable in their own skin, knowing they are loved and accepted as they are, and helping them thrive in a world that just isn’t built to accommodate highly sensitive traits. How we do that is our own personal journey and it’s not an easy one. Luckily we are in this together to try and figure it out.
Over to You: How far do you go to reduce stimuli in your child’s environment? What is your best tip to help other parents of highly sensitive children help their children cope with busy environments?