This is a page on another of my blogs that had been the motivation for part of this whole blog. I have a highly sensitive daughter who had been diagnosed with selective mutism, generalized anxiety and separation anxiety, and she is basically on sensory overload. On the positive side, she is highly intuitive, very inquisitive, and very bright.
These are the first thoughts I was expressing on the subject of how to handle my daughter and the feelings that I had about it. I know I’m highly sensitive myself, and though you’d figure that would make me much more empathetic (and it did), what it also meant was that I was very emotionally invested in my daughter’s state of mind. That always made it harder to cope with, because I had my own feelings to contend with as well.
Anyway, so here are my early thoughts on my highly sensitive child:
(Please note that dd1 – oldest dear daughter, dd2 – middle dear daughter, dd3 – youngest dear daughter)
I’m determined to know my kids better than my mom cared to know me and my siblings. So I’m studying personality informally. It’s partly because I have children like me, bright and sensitive, but since I didn’t have great coping skills, I didn’t have any idea how to teach them good self-calming skills. I learned about emotional self-regulation in my human development class, and how children as they grow they are supposed to learn to self-regulate and self-soothe. I had no idea that this wasn’t an inevitable part of cognitive maturation. For dd1, it was pretty effortless. She just always was pretty even keel. Just like her father, who my mother-in-law always said he was “37 on the day he was born”.
I had subscribed to Attachment Parenting for my infants. It is the only method of parenting an infant that made intuitive sense to me. A baby cried, you met the baby’s need. End of story.
AP for infants worked really well, but it wasn’t until dd2 was at preschool age that I realized AP isn’t enough. But as my dd2 got to preschool age (about 3-4), I needed to find other answers because there was something going on with her that I didn’t understand at the time. And simply sticking her in preschool (which I did when she was 4) wasn’t the answer that everyone said it would be. But it was in that setting that really made me understand who my dd2 was. I didn’t understand why the endless meltdowns over seemingly benign things. But when I observed her in class and how she behaved while there, I really saw a child totally different from the child I had at home. I’ll tell the story of that observation eventually, I just don’t have the time to go into it here.
For a while I was going down the wrong track, thinking something was “wrong” with her (I thought maybe she had Asperger’s or some other social development/personality disorder), and it was creating a really destructive dynamic (because sometimes I mistakenly thought she was just being stubborn on purpose, or people like my family would just try to pass judgment – as in, “see what happens when you don’t put that baby down?”). Until I dug a lot deeper, got the books The Highly Sensitive Child by Elain Aron (check out the link to for a quiz about highly sensitive children) and The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D.. I realized she was an introverted HSC with very few coping/self-soothing skills. She’s one that needs to be taught, and I’m the one to have to teach her them. Only, my mom never taught me how special my gifts were, or the challenges that went with being an introverted HSC (and of course at the time, it wasn’t even in possible to know much about parenting aside from word of mouth techiques), she just spent my childhood and early adulthood trivializing my whole experience.
Other books on my bookshelf waiting to be read completely are Dealing with Disappointment by Elizabeth Crary (something my sensitive child really struggles with) and Kids, Parents and Power Struggles also by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka that has techniques to bring down the intensity (among other things). I hope to take some notes and post them to serve as reminders for me and hopefully to help others who might come across this blog.
It’s been a very long journey, and I have a way to go to help dd2. But she is much better than she has been in a long time. And I respect her feelings a lot more than I used to (even though I really need to invest in earplugs, because sometimes she’s unhappy and I’m not in a very receptive mood for her expressions of unhappiness).
Anyway, this is for me, the greatest blessing I’ve gotten from quitting my job and trying to work harder at understanding my children. I’m becoming really in awe of who they are because I’m not trying to force them into something they are not. And I have the luxury of time to do be able to do that.
I know I sometimes forget the simple things like self-care and taking time to figure out what it is that restores me (and I’m finding out that it’s not a job at the moment, but it is being creative, and having a sense of direction, and most recently, I have an outlet for all my wayward thoughts in this blog). My family still influences how I feel about myself, particularly because they still don’t get it. They still don’t understand who I am and why I choose to do things differently (and why I value people over things). They don’t have a complex inner world that totally consumes them at times like I do. They think rather narrowly, and it has put me totally in another dimension from them. I don’t ever want my kids to have to deal with the same things I deal with, and since I know better, I can do better than my family did.
Fortunately, my kids are like me. I get them and they will always have that support I didn’t get. Because I’m taking the time to find out about them, learning as I go, but getting closer to the answers every day. Not just answers about who they are, but also about who I am. It’s absolutely wonderful!
From a mothering.com forum post I wrote
I truly, truly believe that the typical “experts” (school professionals, pediatricians, even my state-run early intervention program) don’t know much about giftedness and high sensitivities and the emotional/intellectual needs of gifted children. And so they send you off down the wrong path, sometimes claiming that your child needs more discipline and you should take some parenting classes.
No, more UNDERSTANDING is what they need. The average “professional” doesn’t have time to do a full temperamental workup of your child, just dispense the typical nonsense and say it’s a lack of proper parenting (especially of the generic kind of parenting that doesn’t take into account the individual – the one size fits most style that really doesn’t address child-specific issues).
It’s so, so NOT! What it may be is a bit of a lack of understanding, but definitely not improper parenting.
I was on the wrong path with DD2 for a while. I thought the problem was with her, and it’s not (not completely anyway). She has extreme introversion and she’s highly sensitive, which can appear as Sensory Integration Disorder, but only in the sense that the information coming in is being received too well, not that the information is coming in garbled.
If I haven’t mentioned them, the books, The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child and the Highly Sensitive Child both discuss issues that seem like SID. When you are introverted, you are highly tuned in to your experiences, so you feel things more strongly (not just through your senses, but emotions are stronger too). Same thing with being Highly Sensitive. In fact, there is overlap.
But the issue I have the most trouble with is teaching my child coping skills. I didn’t really learn effective ones, or at least effective enough where I can easily translate them into what she needs to do to cope with certain stimuli. I find it difficult to cope with my sensitivities in order to help her with hers. This is important because when my kids are clamoring about (especially when they fight), I find it so, so difficult to not snap at them to knock it off. Not that this is what you face at all, just saying these sensitivities can be a pretty permanent part of the personality, and what is needed is the right coping skills. And in my case, a good pair of earplugs.
As I am finding out, once you address the needs of the child, some of the other troubling issues fade into the background.
Did I mention dd2 also has extreme introversion? She goes to preschool for 2 hours a day twice a week. She has been going for 5 months now. I’m not sure yet if she’s said anything verbally at school. Maybe a few words, but mostly she watches what goes on. She doesn’t sing or dance when the other kids are supposed to, but she knows her name and can write it, she can identify shapes and colors (not verbally, but by choosing the right color crayon for the shapes they ask her to color). I’m slightly concerned about that, but the ironic thing about her is that she won’t stop talking at home. In fact, since she’s very comfortable around our neighbor’s son, she shocked one of the other teachers today when my neighbor went to pick her up for me (the two other kids are sick). As soon as they brought her to the car and she gets in, she starts chatting up a storm with the boy. The teacher really looked amazed to hear her voice. This teacher, while not my daughter’s teacher, does share the same room and the activities between the two teacher’s are sometimes combined. So this teacher sees her every time she goes to preschool. And it’s 5 months later and she apparently still barely talks. I’m thinking it’s time for another visit to the school to observe and this time really talk with them about her. The last time I observed, I was shocked that my dd watched carefully and listened, but didn’t really talk or sing.
I know enough about introversion and being highly sensitive that I’m not even going to try to make her something she’s not, but I want to find out if there is anything I can do to help her a bit to open up more. I know that the preschool she’s at is very accommodating, and very understanding of her. But in the future, will all of her teachers be sympathetic? I don’t know and I really worry about that. I know she’s bright and won’t have problems on any written test. But when it comes time to do any kind of public speaking in class, she won’t be able to do that. I want to help her if at all possible now, when it doesn’t count, so that when it does count, she’ll be able to do it then. I know, so much can change as she grows and she’s only 4, but I thought for sure after a few months of preschool, she would have wanted to have more fun by singing and dancing and being silly – things she loves to do at home. I just have this feeling that this is who she is and we’ll have to work around that. If anyone would need to be homeschooled, it wouldn’t surprise me if turns out to be her.
I’m working on going through the multitude of books I have, and starting to take notes on them on the computer (so there is no way I can misplace them).
I have started with Kids, Parents and Power Struggles, because I need immediate tools in my tool box to help keep me connected to my 4 year old while I help teach her to regulate her emotions. I never would have thought I had to work so hard to teach her. I thought it was something that would come out of parenting her the way I parented my 6 year old. But their personalities are slightly different. My 6 year old really is more mature beyond her years and always has been. Even though she started out really fussy, active and alert, she really did mellow out over time. My 4 year old, not so much.
What typically works for dd1, and dd3, just doesn’t for dd2. So I’m having to really research behavior. Even though I’m sensitive myself, trying to teach her things I’m just understanding now is really difficult. I understand her, but I’m not always helping her in the right way (sometimes simply because I don’t plan very well, or get frustrated too soon, and other times because I have 2 other children I have to juggle).
But the good thing about KPP, they really teach emotional intelligence. How to recognize emotions in yourself as well as your child and how to teach kids how to handle the negative ones appropriately. I’m excited about that. Maybe I’ll be able to share a bit of what I’m learning later too.
It’s been a pretty rough few days, with dd2 being easily upset lately. We go through spurts of good days and then bad days all in a row. I’m not sure why that is, but it has been this way for a while. With it being cold and snowy or rainy here, and the kids sick for the past 2 months off and on, I know not having an outlet for burning off some energy has been making things difficult. I can not wait until Spring comes.
It looks like I may have to look into another series of books. I came across an unschooling dad’s blog called The Parenting Pit and author of the blog (Arun) describes in a well written article called Solutions are Not the Solution Aletha J. Solter’s “Aware Parenting” philosophy.
Aware parents accept the entire range of emotions and listen non-judgmentally to children’s expressions of feelings. They realize that they cannot prevent all sadness, anger, or frustration, and they do not attempt to stop children from releasing painful feelings through crying or raging.
Through trial and error, I have to say the single most effective tool in my toolbox with my sensitive dd is slowing down and listening with empathy, of sitting with her as she expresses her feelings, of acknowledging and reflecting her feelings, of resisting the urge to stop her tears, or move her past the anger or hurt or frustration she feels and just accept her expressing her painful feelings.
Now, WHEN I remember to do that, life goes so much smoother for both of us, and she bounces back more readily than if I try to eclipse her feelings with a cold, unfeeling, grouchy response of my own.
Somehow I need to study this concept, drill it into my head, because sometimes I just forget to do this simple, unconditional act of just really listening and not trying to fix it (which honestly is more for my sanity than for hers).
I have had gotten the idea to look into something called Selective Mutism (you can read why here).
I don’t know how all this will play out. I also don’t know where I will be writing about this. I do know I will need to, and I do know we will start the evaluation process in early April.
I’ll still leave this information here, as I know some have already started reading this thread. I want to leave it out for anyone who comes across this blog in the future.
And yes, I’ve made some statements here that turned out to be partially wrong. Some of the things that my daughter has can be better explained by SPD. That there is something “wrong” in the way she processes information. But by strictly trying to diagnose her myself, I was missing some of the really subtle (in her case) clues that indicate she does indeed have needs that go beyond simple introversion and being highly sensitive.
June 17,2009 I wrote this post about our sensitive girls and how it manifested itself in them:
Well, if you hadn’t guessed already my extremely introverted, highly sensitive middle daughter did indeed have selective mutism. I wrote a tab at the top of this blog documenting the summary of her SM journey from being completely mute to fully speaking within the classroom in a span of about 18 months. She is now a kindergartner and is doing remarkably well. She loves her classroom, her friends and her teacher and is very confidently speaking now.