Parents of highly sensitive children are no strangers to after school meltdowns. It’s common amongst highly sensitive children (HSC). Are you are one of those parents who regularly have to pick your young child off the ground on the school playground, or know what it’s like to hear the slam of a door once your child gets home from school? You are not alone, I promise you.
Why Does a HSC Struggle After School?
A HSC processes sensory stimuli deeply and extensively. If you have spent any time in a classroom (and if you haven’t done it lately and you get the opportunity I highly recommend it – a great way to increase your understanding of why your HSC struggles) then you know just how much there is going on and what the nervous system of a HSC has to deal with. Here’s a flavour…..
- Consider that up to 80% of your child’s classmates and teachers is not highly sensitive.
- Classes are often bursting to the seams, and schools usually have few or no quiet places to escape to.
- School playgrounds and recess are not conducive to providing badly needed down time.
- School days are long.
- There is noise everywhere.
- Your HSC has to concentrate and focus intensely on what the teacher is instructing, whilst trying to block out the activity and scuffling from other children around them.
- Many HSCs are perfectionists, which is exhausting in a school environment.
- Teachers raise their voices and scold classes, even the innocent, which is devastating for a HSC.
Overstimulation on any given day is inevitable. Coming home from school with a full bucket is an almost daily occurrence for most HSCs.
However, very few HSCs will show this overstimulation in school, even if there are able to recognise that they feel overloaded, which many can’t.
In fact, an overstimulated HSC is more likely to withdraw and be even quieter in the classroom than they normally are. Teachers mistake them for model students. Instead, most HSCs wait until they get home to pour their feelings out. HSCs crumple at home because they feel safe with people they know will not judge them.
How A HSC Lets You Know They Are Overstimulated After School
Every child is different and they manifest their overwhelm and overstimulation in different ways. Read 6 Signs Your Highly Sensitive Child is Overwhelmed (aka Their Bucket is Full) for further information about how you can recognise that your child is overwhelmed.
Sometimes it is plainly obvious and your child melts down the minute they cross the threshold of home.
How to Help Your HSC After School
- Take a good look at their school days. Are some days harder for them than others? Maybe days with sports classes? Do tests cause anxiety? Do some classes involve more group work than others, so are noisier? The better you understand your HSCs triggers, the more you can help them get through these days. You can use the HSK bucket activity to help your child visualise their day or week.
- Keep the communication open, honest and regular with your child’s teacher(s). Help them to help your child.
- Look at ways your child can get quiet time in school – preventing their bucket from spilling over is obviously preferable!
- Learn to recognise the signs of overwhelm given out by your child when they come out of school. If you can see a meltdown brewing then you are better armed to help your child as soon as you get home.
- Keep after school schedules light – or even better completely free – on days you know are difficult for your HSC.
- Understand what helps your child empty their bucket. Give them space if it is what they need, be there for them to talk or hold them if that helps them. What relaxes your child?
(You can find the free HSK door hanger printable here).
Don’t Punish Your HSCs Overwhelm
Sometimes, despite all your planning, all your best efforts, your child comes home from school and melts down. Your child may be distraught, or may be aggressive. Have a strategy to deal with this when it happens, to keep your child and their siblings safe, and to let your HSC know that you understand their struggle and are there for them.
Differentiating between behaviour deriving from a feeling of overstimulation and overwhelm and blatant bad behaviour is important. Punishing a HSC for something that feels out of their control will hit a HSC hard; gentle discipline works best.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be clear boundaries and rules but try to see after school meltdowns as a cry for help rather than unacceptable behaviour. You are then more prone to intervene and help your HSC – something they desperately need.
A Plea to Teachers: Believe Without Seeing
When a parent tells you that their HSC melts down after school, that they collapse in fits of rage or tears, please believe them. If a parent relays that their child is incredibly anxious about school, please believe them even when you see no signs in your classroom. The quiet, industrious child you see in your classroom is often a shadow of the child a parent sees at home.
My son’s first teacher asked if she could come home with us one lunchtime so she could witness how he was once he got home. That question alone told me all I needed to know about how much she understood the situation and my son. HSCs need to feel safe and not judged before they will dump the contents of their bucket for all to see. Sometimes you truly need to believe without seeing.
Over to You: Do you have a successful tactic for helping your HSC after a busy school day? I’d love to hear what works for you.