Highly Sensitive Children and After School Activities

Many highly sensitive children don’t meet society’s expectations when it comes to activities outside of school, particularly boys. Many aren’t keen to jump in on the football field or show off their talents on the stage. Many prefer solo sports over team sports. Many err more towards keeping a low profile and don’t like to perform in front of others. If you play, however, to the strengths of a highly sensitive child you may just find that they blossom beyond your wildest dreams.

Highly Sensitive Children and After School Activities

The mismatch of activity to a HSC is the reason why so many parents of highly sensitive children face an unexpected drama in the local swimming pool or battle with a child to get a judo suit on in the changing room. It’s a common issue in the HSK community.

I’ve done both. It wasn’t pretty.

The idea of judo was something that my HSC was enthusiastic about. The actual partaking in a judo lesson was another story entirely. I tried twice and gave up. Over the years we have talked about joining a football club. Hockey maybe? What about athletics? Or perhaps a chess club? All met with ‘nice idea but…..’

Each activity required my son to perform in some way or another, with the potential to let his team mates down in some cases, or be the source of judgement in others. The activities just weren’t the right fit.

He now does archery and piano lessons. He has to perform for himself only (and the piano teacher) and there is no one counting on him. If it goes wrong, he starts the piece of music again or simply shoots another arrow. The only competition is himself. And for now that is what he wants – and needs. The one time his archery lesson comprised of a ‘friendly competition’ he hated it.

My six year old, on the other hand, has no qualms in getting up on stage for a solo performance in a reading competition. It makes me smile and I embrace his courage. My eldest wouldn’t get up on stage for all the Pokemon cards in the land. And I won’t push him to do it.

My middle son cannot wait to join the local football club. He’s good at football and he’s happy about playing in a team. He has the confidence and passion about the sport to sign up for a team. He has signed up for a school korfbal tournament. He’s also a HSC but different to his brother.

As parents we have played to their strengths and are letting them decide their path when it comes to activities outside of school. We have not pushed (except to get through swimming lessons where we certainly gave gentle nudges, given that we live in a country with waterways at every turn) but helped them fathom out why they want to do one activity over another one.

We learnt early on that physical team activities probably weren’t a match for our eldest. We also learnt that being in the spotlight was not for him either. So we helped him look at other possibilities and eventually he chose something he wanted to try: archery and piano.

So, if your HSC hates team sports look for a solo sport – like archery.

If your HSC likes the idea of a team sport but is horrified at the idea of a physical sport where she could get hurt think beyond traditional options.

If your HSC loves doing an activity but doesn’t want to compete, see if they can join a club and play for fun only.

If they love the idea of performing, but not for a big audience, find a small class.


If your HSC loves music but is uneasy in a group look for a music teacher who gives solo lessons or dual sessions. (I take piano lessons at the same time as my eldest son. Whilst reading The Artist’s Way (UK link – see picture for US link) I realised I would love to play piano so we signed up together. Win win!)

If your child is creative think about photography or cooking.

If your child loves swimming but hates her swimming lessons consider why. Is it too busy? Too noisy? Too much pressure to perform? Once you know why you can find a class or a pool that is better suited for your child – or simply supply your HSC with the tools to cope.

See beyond the drama in the changing room, or the reluctance to go to a sport club or join a team and ask why. What it is about the activity that makes your HSC uncomfortable?

It’s also worth mentioning that HSCs find outside school activities easier to do as they get older. If your 4 year old is enthusiastic about dancing but won’t co-operate in her dance lesson don’t lose sleep about it. Simply wait a year or two and try again. There is so much pressure to get children into activities at such a young age but there really shouldn’t be. They’ll let you know when they are ready.

We have chosen not to force my sons to undertake activities they are not wholly comfortable with. Children don’t need to be something they are not. If they suck at a sport, try something else. Life is hard enough as it is without having to go through it pretending.

My job as a parent of HSC is to help them acquire the tools to help them feel comfortable exploring beyond their boundaries. My hope for all three of my sons is that their lives will, I hope, be based on their authentic strengths and their real passions – and not what others think they should enjoy.

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About Amanda van Mulligen

Mother, writer, author, blogger. I was born in Britain but live in the Netherlands. I have three Dutch sons and a Dutch husband and I blog about Turning Dutch and raising highly sensitive children.
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One Response to Highly Sensitive Children and After School Activities

  1. ofamily says:

    Great post. We recently found out what a difference changing the swimming pool that we were using had on the kids enjoyment. They just both relaxed as the noise was more managable and as they relaxed they really started to enjoy it. But it took me ages to figure out that was what we needed to change, I tried changing times we saw, costumes, activities we did in the water and it turned out it was just not the best venue for them

    Like

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