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Hyper sensitive children - a lightbulb discovery for me

(29 Posts)
joshandjamie Wed 21-Sep-11 18:24:58

My son (aged 7) has been 'difficult' from birth. Cried all the time, wouldn't sleep, wouldn't settle out and about EVER, wouldn't join in at toddler groups, had extreme tantrums, would cry whenever he went to nursery/pre-school/school, hates being the centre of attention, cries at birthday parties, gets upset if other people get told off, can't stand loud/busy places, gets really upset by little things like scratchy labels in shirts and is extremely sensitive to food textures.

I'd always known he was sensitive but sort of saw it as part of my role to encourage him to try new things and be a bit braver/toughen up a bit. I have got easily frustrated with him as he is such hard work.

Then I discovered a book called the Highly Sensitive Child. I saw a quiz online that let you determine if your child was highly sensitive - and boy did my son tick all the boxes. The book arrived today and I have devoured half of it.

It has literally had me in tears. They are describing my child to the letter - and I can't believe I didn't recognise it. And worst of all, everything I've been trying to do to help him has been wrong. It's so obvious now that I've read about it how I should be handling him. It was a real, genuine lightbulb moment.

So I just wanted to share the book title in case anyone else has a similar sounding child and who can't quite figure out why their child is different but so obviously is. Apparently 20% of the population are highly sensitive people. Best of all, the book explains why HSPs are so invaluable to society and how to help them make the most of who they are. They are normal. No disorder or anything, they just take in more and process it more completely so many things can be overwhelming. And because they're processing everything, it takes them longer to make decisions or to take part in things.

I found the book on amazon. Author is Elaine Aron.

Hope it helps give another mum the same wake up call I got today.

LizzieMo Wed 21-Sep-11 21:23:29

My child is also like this, I read the book but did not find it very helpful. It was mainly about you changing your attitude to your child and suddenly everything would fall into place. Me understanding that my child is sensitive did not help to make her socks comfortable and has not stopped her being driven mad by labels. I am glad you found it a help though, good luck with your son!

TheCottage Wed 21-Sep-11 21:29:38

I'm buying the book tonight! My 7 year old sounds exactly the same. He's had behaviour problems at school too. Have you had anything like this?

joshandjamie Wed 21-Sep-11 22:08:54

lizzie - I am sure that I am still going to have challenges, but I think it's the way I view my son and how I need to respond to him that has to change. Instead of seeing him as someone who makes my life difficult, I can immediately see that he can't help complain about wearing a particular shirt because it scratches him. And instead of insisting that he joins in because he'll have fun, I'll understand that maybe he'll join in in his own time, but that's ok. Simply observing is making him happy. My perception that he needs to be like me and be joining in to have fun is wrong. It has helped me realise what he needs to be happy and that is not being a leader or best at something - and I simply want him to be happy.

TheCottage - the problems we've had at school are that he used to cry every day going into school for all of Reception and year 1 and a bit of year 2. It settled down. Then starting year 3 it's kicked off again. He never behaves badly at school but he doesn't talk much in class and doesn't like being centre of attention. If the teacher asks a question, he doesn't answer - not because he doesn't know the answer but because he either doesn't want to speak up and possibly get it wrong, but mainly because he is processing what she has asked and thinking really deeply about what his answer should be. Every parent/teacher meeting, his teachers have always said that he seldom speaks in class, but when he does, he comes out with such intelligent well thought out comments that everyone stops to listen.

They are not easy children but I know that by adapting my behaviour to him, things will improve.

joshandjamie Wed 21-Sep-11 22:53:47

One more thing - the problem with sensitive children isn't necessarily with them (although Lord knows they're not easy) but it's with the way society views them. Today's world seems to be all about being the best, loudest, most outgoing, pushy if you want to get ahead. Boys in particular who get easily upset aren't viewed as being manly enough. There are quiet eye rolls that go on behind your back when little Johnny doesn't want to play rugby or cries if he doesn't want to join in with a bunch of bigger boys running and shouting. So you as a parent feel under pressure to make your child conform and fit the mould that is expected of them. And it's wrong. The world needs deep thinkers, quiet behind the scenes people who change the world sensitively.

AnxiousElephant Wed 21-Sep-11 23:53:49

I haven't read the book but have dealt with 1 very highly sensitive child in an emotional sense and another in a physical sense i.e. labels. I think whatever the sensibility you have to adapt and expect what will send them into the frenzy. Like your dc, my dd1 would find Birthday Parties too loud - more tolerant now but she still doesn't like too much noise at age 5.8yo. DD2 hates anything scratchy on her feet which is a problem with socks/tights - she picks her own and also labels in clothes, we have to cut them off. It can be frustrating but it can't be helped. My parents viewed me as over indulging but actually it was necessary and she had never experienced it from me or DB.

LeninGrad Wed 21-Sep-11 23:59:29

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

celadon Thu 22-Sep-11 00:04:50

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

joshandjamie Thu 22-Sep-11 06:55:39

I really think the hardest bit is having other people looking at you the parent and thinking that you're molly coddling them or indulging them. They don't understand what is going on with your child and if you try to explain that they're sensitive, you can just see them thinking 'wimp' and 'push over mum'. But as the book says: If you want an exceptional child, you have to accept your child being exceptional.

LynetteScavo Thu 22-Sep-11 07:10:47

joshandjamie Thank you for starting this thread.

I have a DS who sounds just like yours.

"I really think the hardest bit is having other people looking at you the parent and thinking that you're molly coddling them or indulging them."


I would like to add, though that he is now 12 and despite a lot of "molly coddling" copes much better with life than he did as a small child.

Although the other day he did say he wished he went to a school for the deaf so the teachers wouldn't shout. hmm grin

AnxiousElephant Fri 23-Sep-11 00:29:43

lynette that has made me really chuckle grin Ingenius!

sunshinestate Fri 23-Sep-11 05:46:50

My DS is the very much the same. Am wondering if there is a way of telling other parents in a "mind your own business" way that there is nothing wrong. I often describe my son as bit shy when other parents ask me what is wrong, (for emaple when he won't play with other children) and I'm wondering if I'm responding in the right way. I don't want to lable him if you know what I mean?!?

joshandjamie Fri 23-Sep-11 06:22:10

sunshinestate - the book has a section in it on how to respond to other people. I hope I'm not done for copyright, but there is a bit that explains what to say if someone says 'Your child is so shy':

"That's interesting. I don't think of him as shy at all. I guess if by shy you mean afraid of what others may think, he may seem that way, but often he's just watching, or he's getting used to things. When he's ready, he warms up quite nicely. I think of him as being highly sensitive, attuned to everything, not shy."

OR as a general sound bite, you can use:

"It may help to know that my child is one of those 15 to 20 percent born with a very sensitive nervous system. He notices every subtlety, but is also easily overwhelmed when a lot is going on."

LynetteScavo Fri 23-Sep-11 06:29:25

"When he's ready, he warms up quite nicely"

I love that!

I always avoided using the phrase "highly sensitive" for fear of appearing precious.

snailoon Fri 23-Sep-11 06:46:06

I have a son who was very much like this as a small child. I think this is more info than people want, and they will think you have a chip on your shoulder, and may be annoyed. If the people you are meeting are nice, they generally just want to know your son isn't feeling left out; if they are judgey types they are looking for something to sneer at. I would say something like "He's not shy, but I think he probably just feels like watching at the moment." works well, especially if you smile in a friendly way. If you want to do a public service and make them think before they go around labelling kids as shy, you could lean over and say in a conspiratorial whisper: "Sometimes I worry that if he hears people describe him as shy he might start acting more shy, or even use shyness as an excuse. Do you think that could happen?" If you look like you've just thought of this and want her advice, she might think a bit about this issue.

Other people obviously shouldn't think or imply that something is wrong with our sensitive, wonderful kids, but equally, it is important not to give anyone a chance to think we are defensive or overly self righteous.

sunshinestate Sat 24-Sep-11 04:50:52

Thanks for the suggestions, it is nice to be able to explain to others in a positive way.

libelulle Sat 24-Sep-11 05:43:43

I read this book and it did have some interesting insights, but I have to say I found the bit about how to explain to other parents that your child is 'special' was insufferably smug. Maybe in a us cultural context it might sound better but not in the uk. I also didn't like the idea that it boxes our children into a highly restrictive category. My dd hates noise and ticks a lot of 'hcp' boxes, as indeed do me and my dh. But given the right circumstances she can be loud, gregarious and physically adventurous, as can I. Sometimes she does actually need some gentle persuasion to try things she finds scary- she would miss out on some good experiences if I just thought 'oh she is a delicate hcp I must not push her in any way' which seemed to be the book's message. Some of the suggestions (eg about allowing your child to choose what day they wished to go shopping) were imo a route to a crazily spoilt child who thinks the world revolves around them, and I'm a pretty child-centred parent!

I found 'playful parenting' for me had more realistic suggestions about sensitive kids and how to draw them out of themselves without expecting them to be something they are not.

ragged Sat 24-Sep-11 06:09:03

Americans are a bit ultra-sincere by UK standards, but we also find some things ultra-smug, believe me. It's a big place, we have all sorts.

I also have a child who can be very ultra-sensitive, is a LOUD manic maniac the rest of the time. I'd like a book for "Contradictory Children"; will try to chase up the Playful parenting one instead, though. wink.

libelulle Sat 24-Sep-11 11:34:33

Yup, sorry ragged quite right. I guess I was giving the author the benefit of the doubt and thinking it was just a cultural difference. But maybe she's just insufferably smugsmile

And I don't know where the 'hcp' came from, sorry, none of us are healthcare practitioners! What comes of writing at 4am. I meant 'hsp', but in fact the abbreviation was one of the things that made my teeth itch - it buys into the idea that you can define sensitivity as some kind of overarching syndrome, rather than one aspect of a rich and varied character. I'm not saying it isn't useful to explore sensitivity as a trait, but I hate the idea of assigning it acronyms and 'symptoms' as if it's an illness.

ragged Sat 24-Sep-11 14:26:08

I agree, better to treat sensitivity as a spectrum aspect of personality, some are more, some are less. All "normal."

I suppose it can be reassuring to be told that your child is out on a normal limb, not that you have somehow created a freak.

Then again, I increasingly suspect that lots of traditional parenting tactics, the way we think we think we're supposed to do it, aren't ideal for any child, it's just that some children tolerate those conventional tactics better than others. Some of the alternative approaches promoted in "The X Child" literature are excellent (?superior?) parenting practice for all types of kids, even those without the slightest hint of "The X Child" syndrome.

Slap me... I'm doing that jargon thing again. smile

LizzieMo Sun 25-Sep-11 11:11:10

"That's interesting. I don't think of him as shy at all. I guess if by shy you mean afraid of what others may think, he may seem that way, but often he's just watching, or he's getting used to things. When he's ready, he warms up quite nicely. I think of him as being highly sensitive, attuned to everything, not shy."

I cannot imagine those words coming out of my mouth, I would feel a right ninny for saying them, and I can just imagine the other mothers backing away from me and never coming near again. Libelulle is right, it does sound so smug. That is my problem with the book. It just waffles on about how wonderful it is to be sensitive, but does not give much help on helping your child to deal with situations, and deal with them they must. I don't need a book to tell me how wonderful my child is, but the rest of the world will not make allowances for them and so they have to adapt. I am sensitive myself so I know how hard it is, but the reality of life is not what is being described in this book.

ArthurPewty Sun 25-Sep-11 11:25:29

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

joshandjamie Sun 25-Sep-11 13:09:01

i agree with the points made about the statements sounding smug. I guess they're there as a guide, not something you'd say verbatim. I've found parts of the book a bit too American and full on, but mostly it has been a real eye opener and a big help. It's certainly changed the way I view my DS and it's far easier for me to be empathetic to him now.

Case in point - he just played a football match and went straight from there to a party. I thought it would be too much but he was adamant that he wanted to do both. Having driven 20 minutes to get him to the party then back home, I walked in the door and was called by the mum organising the party asking if I could come get him as he was 'melting down'.

In the past I would have got annoyed, but I could completely see where he was coming from now. There were lots of kids there, lots of noise, lots of running around and he was already tired from his match. It was too much and he couldn't cope. I love that I now understand what he's feeling better.

GetAwayFromHerYouBitch Sun 25-Sep-11 19:42:32

The book also helped me joshandjamie. My highly sensitive one is less so as he's got older (nearly 11). I think my acceptance of him helped us both to relax a bit, and tackle things as they arose. If I'm honest, I so desperately didn't want him to have my foibles that I used to get anxious and then angry. I once pointed out to me that when I'm worried I get cross! I will probably always worry more about him than my other DS (he's also my PFB), but he is a terrific, strong little fella.

GetAwayFromHerYouBitch Sun 25-Sep-11 19:43:06

Sorry he once pointed out to me ..

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