Many highly sensitive children don’t behave like other children and certainly don’t always meet society’s expectations of them. Coming up with creative compromises that play to a highly sensitive child’s (HSC) strengths is a large part of parenting a HSC. And it’s an essential element of raising a child that is happy and confident with who they are.
Modern Day Childhood
These days children are under pressure to do as many outside school activities as possible to give them a step up for their future. Children, particularly boys, are expected to enjoy team sports.
There are tests galore in school, from a young age. There is constant pressure to do well under exam conditions. Adults put pressure on children to perform, to excel themselves and stand out to set them up for life as an adult.
School is a social minefield, a popularity contest. These days children have to cope with an online social life too.
Highly Sensitive Children Often Don’t Fit the Mould
HSCs need a lot of downtime and as a general rule find it hard coping with a full agenda after school. It means that many HSCs do not have a jam packed schedule full of activities they do outside of school.
HSCs are very often the children who are not enthusiastic for team sports, nor for performing in front of others.
HSCs are often more interested in the issues that affect the wider world than getting involved in a popularity contest in school.
HSCs are children who frequently do not perform well under pressure, who are easily stressed and feel immense anxiety.
HSCs find it hard to hide their emotions away and put on a brave face. That can make school life tough.
HSCs want to perform as best they can – that means getting their school work done, and done well. They are conscientious and will usually get their homework done with little fuss and to the best of their ability. It puts them in the firing line for being called a teacher’s pet, a swot or the like.
In short, being a highly sensitive child and fitting in with peers can be tough.
Our Goal Parenting a HSC
When your HSC doesn’t meet expectations, won’t fit the mould society creates, it is sometimes hard to know how to help. HSCs don’t usually like to stand out too much but following a different path to the rest does just that. Should you push, or let them be?
Parenting a HSC is about preparing them for adult life in a busy world that doesn’t make exceptions for highly sensitive people. Our aim as parents of HSCs is to ensure that our children don’t just cope as teenagers and adults, but thrive. We all want to raise children who turn into confident, happy adults who know and accept who they are, and who are able to reach their full potential.
How do we do that? By starting early to help a HSC understand who they are and what makes them unique, what makes them the person they are. We need to encourage them to play to their strengths.
How to Find Middle Ground to Help a HSC
Help a HSC regulate the activities they participate in after school. Support a HSC to keep their boundaries and help them build in the time in their day that they need to recharge.
Time to empty their bucket is not a luxury; time to recharge is as essential to a HSC’s mental well-being as eating is to their physical well-being.
If your HSC hates team sports look for a solo activity. A few years ago, my eldest chose to do archery because he hated the idea of joining a football team, despite loving football. He goes once a week to archery practice but won’t take part in competitions.
If a HSC loves music but is uneasy performing in a group look for a music teacher who gives solo lessons or dual sessions, or lessons at home. I took piano lessons with my eldest son. He had the confidence to take on a new activity because I was there and I got to do something I had always wanted to do. Win win.
My middle son, then six years old, had no qualms in getting up on stage for a solo performance in a reading competition. It made 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. However, his teacher is working with him, taking small steps at a time, to help him with a book report and a talk he has to give in front of the class. His first step was to do his book report for a small chosen group. Compromise, in order to help him build his confidence and reduce his fear and stress.
There’s usually a way to find some middle ground that allows a HSC to shine without having to pretend to be someone they are not or making them uncomfortable about who and how they are.
Forcing a square peg into a round hole merely damages the peg; changing the hole the peg needs to fit into is much better.
Time, Tools and Patience
Circumstances change. Children change. My eldest is now on a football team. It was unthinkable two years ago, even a year ago in fact. He still has no intention of ever jumping up on a stage to perform in front of a crowd, but he doesn’t need to. He is finding his own path. And that is what is important. Day by day, step by step.
With time, with the right tools, a child will learn to step outside their comfort zone, take risks and explore beyond their boundaries. It’s our job to help them do that.