Time to Stress v Preparation Time: When to Tell a Highly Sensitive Children

My youngest sat in tears as I told him he had a swimming lesson that evening, one to replace a regular lesson he’d missed one Saturday to celebrate his brother’s birthday. I didn’t give him days of warning this time around because I knew it would cause sleepless nights and stress. So how much notice of an upcoming appointment or event they are not enthusiastic about is enough for a highly sensitive child (HSC)? There’s an art to finding the right balance between providing a HSC with too much time to stress and not enough time to prepare.

Time to Stress v Preparation Time_ When to Tell a Highly Sensitive ChildrenHSCs Need Time to Get Used to an Idea

Springing an event or appointment on a HSC at the last minute will rarely end well. HSCs thrive on routines and need time to adjust to the idea of something that falls outside of their regular activities. They don’t like surprises, and want to know how their day will look so they can prepare – usually visually in their own mind.

A lot of parenting a HSC is a planning game. So when an appointment or event comes up that is not a regular, planned occurrence it throws up a parenting challenge. The unexpected throws a HSC off kilter and we need to manage that to keep their overwhelm to a minimum.

So how can we get a HSC to an unexpected appointment without a meltdown and tears?

Balance Between Time to Prepare and Adjust and Time to Stress

That’s the answer. We need to judge how much time our HSC needs to prepare for an event without giving them so much notice that they lose nights of sleep over the whole thing.

The event could be anything from a doctor, dentist or hospital appointment to a replacement swimming lesson, ballet performance or a friend’s party.

Even the idea of fun events can cause a HSC much stress and anxiety, simply because it will be busy, an unknown venue, unknown people or they have no idea what to expect in terms of what will be happening there.

First Appointment Somewhere

If you need to take your HSC somewhere for the first time it will likely be a difficult experience. The more a HSC knows, can visualise and prepare themselves the more manageable it is for them. There are lots of tips in this post about medical appointments.

The second time around will often be easier.

To Tell or Not to Tell in Advance

In my example with my six year old and his swimming lesson, it is clear that when to tell a HSC about an upcoming appointment is a delicate balancing act.

I know that if I tell him days in advance that he will be swimming on a day he usually doesn’t swim it will cause him anxiety for an unnecessary long period of time. I know he will lay in his bed in the evenings stressing about which teacher he will have, which children he will be swimming with. There will be days of tears.

So I waited until Wednesday lunchtime, and then told him he had a swimming lesson at 5pm. He burst into tears and asked,

“Why didn’t you tell me this morning?”

“Because then you would worry about it whilst you were at school and I wouldn’t be able to help you with your worries whilst you were there,” I told him. He recognised the truth in it and we spent the afternoon together playing. He stayed relatively calm until he had to leave for his lesson. He cried going to his lesson but once he was there it was familiar to him and there were no more tears.

The following week on the Wednesday morning at breakfast my son asked,

“Do I have a swimming lesson today?”

I reassured him there was no extra lesson that day. His question however told me that he was cautious about a repeat ‘surprise’. Ensuring that your child trusts you to be honest with them is also part of the balancing act! There are no easy answers.

Learning the Art of When to Tell Comes with Experience

Put simply, experience will teach you how much notice your HSC needs when it comes to irregular appointments and activities. Learn from each occasion and be flexible to provide your HSC with what they need.


About Amanda van Mulligen

Mother, writer, author, blogger. Born British, Living Dutch. I have three Dutch sons and a Dutch husband and I blog about Turning Dutch and raising highly sensitive children.
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