Sunday, June 23, 2013

the Highly Sensitive Child

Another great parenting book to help me navigate my way.  This one on parenting the Highly Sensitive Child (HSC) was particularly helpful for learning how to deal with my eldest.  I find we are not as close and I have less patience for what I realize now are behaviours that come from being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).  Rather than summarize the book, I made note of a few points that I need to keep in mind.  Luckily, most of the suggested parenting tips are ones I already strive for -- empathy, natural consequences, spending time with your child, respect, love.

Tendencies and Advice:
1. he notices subtleties: I'm both amazed and frustrated with this inate ability.  How wonderful it must be to be atune to and be able to appreciate SO much.  But at the same time it can lead to OCD-type behaviour, such as a need to be obsessively clean, or a fussiness for itchy fabrics.  With three kids in a busy household, I can't accomodate his desire for everything to be 'just so'.  The book suggests:

  • awknowledging his discomfort (empathy) and then telling him how and when it will end.  Show respect for his response (something I don't do well), sympathy for his desired need, and my own valid reason to delay (or do nothing) (e.g. we have to use up this brand because we cannot afford to waste it).  He will grow in the ability to understand.  
  • put him in charge of solving his own problems (e.g. if he's fussy with his socks then put him in charge of finding his own socks). 
  • put limits on what you can be expected to do (e.g. I will tie your shoes for you up to three times, trying to follow your instructions, but after that it will have to suffice because by then I will frustrated too and won't have the time to continue).

2. he becomes easily overstimulated: Advice here is to don't let him go into a test unprepared -- talk about what could go wrong and how to handle it. Help him enjoy activities in a non-competitive environment.

3. he has stronger reactions: Advice to parents is to remain non-defensive; let him fully express his emotions (perhaps even in a private place) and be patient with him.  Admittedly, this is the hardest for me to do because I don't like strong reactions.
4. he will be cautious to proceed with new situations:  See the new situation from his perspective; point out what is familiar or what he has mastered; suggest small steps (e.g. tell him 'you don't have to talk, if you don't want to')

As a non-HSP I am likely to feel impatient because he pauses before acting. Expect that decisions in particular will be slow .... have patience!

Some other advice:
  • don't make him your confidant (HSPs are great listeners)
  • avoid teasing (he likely hears an undercurrent of hostility or superiority that comes with)
  • ask for affection (e.g. ask "would you like a hug?") instead of demanding it; keep affection light and brief
  • avoid invoking shame: feeling guilty assumes you did something wrong but that it's something you can make right; shame assumes you are bad and helpless to fix things (typical signs are hangs head, averts eyes, etc.). HSCs feel shame easily (it's self-inflicted), but they use the experience to learn -- they enjoy feeling virtuous and secure that they will never learn that kind of shame again from a similar experience
  • practice gentle discipline (no punishment):  an explanation of why the behaviour is wrong should suffice; HSCs are hard enough on themselves, harsh punishment is too much to bear for most
Great advice here.  Not always easy to remember when I am in the moment.