The gifts of sensitivity

This article is very close to my heart. Read the full article here

Sensitive kids are known for being more intense and stirred up by their environment. Sensory overload is common with some sounds being too loud, smells too powerful, and even touch or tags in clothes being too much to handle. They can be difficult to make sense of given their heightened reactions and emotions, especially their increased resistance and anxieties. While sensitive kids can feel larger than life to take care of, what usually gets eclipsed are the wonderful gifts that come with being more stirred up by the world around you when development is ideal.

The number of sensitive kids in the North American population is estimated to be anywhere from 15 to 20%. Their heightened response to external stimuli as well as from signals within their body, is due to heightened reactivity in their nervous system. The parents of sensitive kids tell me, “they just seemed to come out of the womb and into the world this way, more stirred up, reactive, and harder to settle.” When I look at baby pictures I can see the sensitivity in some kids by the way they clench their hands, face scrunching, and body rigid with tension as if to indicate being in the world was too much to take.

Sensitive nervous and sensory systems are not just in humans either, biologists have discovered the same in other mammal species and even fruit flies. While we don’t really understand why some kids are more sensitive, current research is suggesting genetics, prenatal or birth experiences. What is still true is sensitive kids need the same conditions as other kids to grow, that is, strong caring relationships with adults and soft hearts.

Sensitivity exists on a continuum with no two children being the same in terms of their enhanced receptivity to stimuli including differences in reactions to sights, smells, tastes, touch, hearing, kinesthetic/proprioceptor (knowing where your body is in time and space), and emotional/perceptual abilities. As the mother of two sensitive kids, the differences between each one is clear – one has a nose like a blood hound and can sniff out the smell of ‘sneaky’ chocolate on my breath and is very ‘ticklish’ and feels pain intensely. My other child can quickly ‘read’ a room and pick up on emotions and the true intentions of those within it.

While the differences among sensitive kids are great, the gifts that come with heightened sensory systems can start to emerge when development is unfolding well. While they are more prone to emotional challenges, with a supportive environment containing warm relationships, play time, room for tears, they can flourish. While all children have gifts and talents, kids with sensitivity have gifts that are more likely to cluster together in the following ways because of the increased reactivity in their nervous and emotional systems.

  1. Perceptive – Sensitive kids often pick up on small details and notice things that are different or have changed, and can put together patterns and abstract details into a whole. When it rained one hot summers day after a dry spell, my daughter stood smelling the rain and told me, “I forgot what the rain smelled like Mom, it is so wonderful.” When she was younger she also told me that “dust sparkles in the sunshine like fairy dust.” To see the world through the eyes of a sensitive child is to be reintroduced to the wonder and splendor of the simple things that surround us. They often make us slow down enough to notice what we have missed in our hurry to get on with adult responsibilities.  

  2. Care deeply about others – The emotional system is part of the nervous system which impacts sensitivity by giving them a heightened caring response. If development is ideal, they can become very compassionate, empathic, and considerate as they mature. The depth of their emotions can be profound as they vocalize what they are feeling. They can be easily moved emotionally by music, stories, nature, art, and the kindness of others. Sensitive kids are known for crying with sentimental songs or through stories – like my daughter did when I sang “Danny Boy” or read Puff the Magic Dragon to her. The warmth they exude when their hearts are soft is breathtaking and they can naturally move to take care of their siblings with fierce protectiveness.

  3. Passionate and intense – The enhanced receptivity in their emotional systems can lead to passionate and intense feelings/responses in their relationship to things, people, and interests. They love their pets – their friends – their clothes – that bedtime story. They can become vibrant and energized talking about their ideas, with big dreams and goals ensuing. They are often interesting people to talk to with their energy vibrating and lighting up a room. Some sensitive kids carry this energy more internally, but it often reveals itself as they play, move, write, or tell stories.

  4. Memory – With increased receptivity to their environment and attention to patterns or details, sensitive kids can absorb and retain information at astonishing rates. They can recite stories by heart and memorize entire picture books. They frequently talk early as they imitate others, and can locate things you have ‘misplaced’ with uncanny accuracy. ‘Natural brightness’ is often a result of sensitivity as well as particular areas of special capabilities, for example, visual processing, reading comprehension, or agility.

  5. Creativity – When sensitive kids play freely, unconstrained by agendas or structure, their imaginative worlds can be vibrant and expansive. They often exhibit a unique capacity to create something novel out of ordinary things, in other words, they incorporate their environment into their play. For example, one sensitive child created a ‘candy wall’ in her room out of blue sticky tack and Halloween candy as part of her decorations. Sensitive kids who flourish this way can be counted among some of our most gifted artists, writers, actors, musicians, designers, engineers, and talented creatives.

  6. Discerning – they don’t suffer fools gladly – Sensitive kids can be particular in deciding who they will trust and form relationships with. They expect a lot from their attachments and people must often prove they are psychological safe and non-wounding before a sensitive child will warm up to the relationship. A parent of sensitive child told me that as his child entered a new school, “it is like he is taking resumes from other kids before choosing who he is going to be friends with.” Sensitive kids are less likely to succumb to false pretenses and fake performances. They can often read people’s true intentions despite people’s attempts to disguise or to try and fool them.
  7. Resistant – It might not appear to be a gift on the surface but a sensitive child’s capacity to resist coercion and control by others has a silver lining. While they can be quick to dig in if they feel pushed and will often push back, this does help preserve a space for their own ideas to emerge. Being prone to feeling easily coerced and quick to resist allows them to stand apart from others, resist peer pressure where appropriate, and become their own unique person.

  8. Problem solving and innovation – When a sensitive child is able to digest a lot of sensory information and hold onto all of the pieces at once, they can start to arrange them in interesting and complex ways. The capacity to find new and unique solutions comes from being able to manipulate ideas, integrate unlike objects, and form connections. Because the sensitive child has more ‘data’ to work with, they can be seen as innovative problem solvers – possibilities are not something sensitive kids are short on when development is unfolding well.

  9. Gifts related to their sensitivity – Every sensitive child exists on a continuum of heightened responses but with this can come a refinement of special skills and gifts. For children with enhanced emotional/perceptual awareness, they may pick up on, describe, and translate the world around them into feelings and emotions as seen in poetry or storytelling. For the child with auditory sensitivity, they may be able to pick up a tune and play it on a musical instrument or sing a song in perfect pitch. For the sensitive child with kinesthetic/proprioception gifts, their ability to tune into to their bodily movements can make them talented at different sports. There are a number of ways a child’s sensitivities can be revealed, with gifts following from each particular sense.

  10. They stretch parents to grow – At times parents of sensitive kids may feel their child is too much for them to care for given their heightened reactions, capacity to resist, and big alarming feelings. It is the love for a child and the feelings of responsibility that will push a parent to grow and stretch in their capacity to find patience, consideration, compassion, and self-control. Sensitive kids need strong, caring, and firm parents to lean on, and ones who won’t be afraid to face their big emotions and walk them through it. When a parent learns to dance with their sensitive child in this way, and when they can make sense of their emotions and behaviour, they will find the confidence they need to be the answer to their child’s needs. The gift of a sensitive child is the opportunity for growth that they represent to those who care for them. In caring for a sensitive child, you must learn to dance with human vulnerability, become a safe landing pad for big emotion, and lead them through the disappointments in life. When you can do this, there will be much fulfillment in the parenting role, and a realization of the growth inside of oneself. While sensitive kids may not be the easiest to parent, they can make amazing parents out of us.

What do sensitive kids need from parents?

Sensitive kids need the same things as every child – caretakers for their hearts when they feel too much and get hurt too much. They need adults that can lead them and who will assume responsibility for reading their needs and providing for them generously.

Sensitivity can be a beautiful thing if we give our kids enough time to grow and to make sense of the world in their unique ways. Nature wasn’t unkind this way nor foolish, difference and diversity has always been her way and there are gifts in all of the temperaments our children have – sensitive and less sensitive alike.

 

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Ways to Strengthen Parent-Child Relationship

Kids who feel strongly connected to their parents want to cooperate, if they can. They’ll still act like kids, which means their emotions will sometimes overwhelm their still-growing prefrontal cortex. But when they trust us to understand and to be on their side, they’re motivated to follow our lead.

Researchers remind us that we need five positive interactions to each negative interaction to keep a relationship healthy. And since we spend so much time guiding — a.k.a. correcting, reminding, scolding, criticizing, nagging, and yelling — it’s important to make sure that we spend five times as much time in positive connection. Full article here

1. Aim for 12 hugs (or physical connections) every day.

As family therapist Virginia Satir famously said, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” 

Snuggle your child first thing in the morning for a few minutes, and last thing at night. Hug when you say goodbye, when you’re re-united, and often in between. Tousle hair, pat backs, rub shoulders. Make eye contact and smile, which is a different kind of touch. If your tween or teen rebuffs your advances when she first walks in the door, realize that with older kids you have to ease into the connection. Get her settled with a cool drink, and chat as you give a foot rub. (Seem like going above and beyond? It’s a foolproof way to hear what happened in her life today. You’ll find yourself glad, many times, if you prioritize that.)

2. Play.

Laughter and rough-housing keep you connected with your child by stimulating endorphins and oxytocin in both of you. Making laughter a daily habit also gives your child a chance to laugh out the anxieties and upsets that otherwise make him feel disconnected — and more likely to act out. And play helps kids want to cooperate. Which is likely to work better?: “Come eat your breakfast now!” or “Little Gorilla, it’s time for breakfast — Look, you have bugs and bananas on your oatmeal!”

3. Turn off technology when you interact.

Your child will remember for the rest of her life that she was important enough to her parents that they turned off their phone to listen to her. Even turning off music in the car can be a powerful invitation to connect, because the lack of eye contact in a car takes the pressure off, so kids (and adults) are more likely to open up and share.

4. Connect before transitions. 

Kids have a hard time transitioning from one thing to another. If you look him in the eye, use his name, and connect with him, then get him giggling, you’ll make sure he has the inner resources to manage himself through a transition.

5. Make time for one-on-one time.

Do whatever you need to do to schedule 15 minutes with each child, separately, every day. Alternate doing what your child wants and doing what you want during that time. On her days, just pour your love into her and let her direct. On your days resist the urge to structure the time with activities. Instead, try any physical activity or game that gets her laughing. (For game ideas, click here.(link is external))

6. Welcome emotion.

Sure, it’s inconvenient. But your child needs to express his emotions or they’ll drive his behavior. Besides, this is an opportunity to help your child heal those upsets, which will bring you closer. So summon up your compassion, don’t let the anger trigger you, and welcome the tears and fears that always hide behind the anger. Remember that you’re the one he trusts enough to cry with, and breathe your way through it. Just acknowledge all those feelings and offer understanding of the pain. Afterward, he’ll feel more relaxed, cooperative, and closer to you. (Yes, this is really hard. Regulating our own emotions in the face of a child’s upset is one of the hardest parts of parenting. But that doesn’t mean we’re excused from trying.)

7. Listen, and Empathize.

Connection starts with listening. Bite your tongue if you need to, except to say, “Wow!….I see….Really?…How was that for you?…Tell me more…” 

The habit of seeing things from your child’s perspective will ensure that you treat her with respect and look for win/win solutions. It will help you see the reasons for behavior that would otherwise drive you crazy. And it will help you regulate your own emotions so when your buttons get pushed and you find yourself in “fight or flight,” your child doesn’t look so much like the enemy.

8. Slow down and savor the moment.

You aren’t just rushing your child through the schedule so you can spend a few minutes with him before bed. Every interaction all day long is an opportunity to connect. Slow down and share the moment: Let him smell the strawberries before you put them in the smoothie. When you’re helping him wash his hands, put yours in the running water with his, and share the cool rush of the water. Smell his hair. Listen to his laughter. Look him in the eyes and meet him heart to open heart, sharing that big love. Connect in the magnificence of the present moment — which is really the only way we can connect. (For most parents, this is also the secret to being able to tolerate playing that same game, yet again.)

9. Bedtime snuggle and chat. 

Set your child’s bedtime a wee bit earlier with the assumption that you’ll spend some time visiting and snuggling in the dark. Those companionable, safe moments of connection invite whatever your child is currently grappling with to the surface, whether it’s something that happened at school, the way you snapped at her this morning, or her worries about tomorrow’s field trip. Do you have to resolve her problem right then? No. Just listen. Acknowledge feelings. Reassure your child that you hear her concern, and that you’ll solve it together tomorrow. The next day, be sure to follow up. You’ll be amazed how your relationship with your child deepens. And don’t give this habit up as your child gets older. Late at night is often the only time teens will open up.

10. Show up.

Most of us go through life half-present. But your child has only about 900 weeks of childhood with you before he leaves your home. He’ll be gone before you know it. Try this as a practice: When you’re interacting with your child, show up 100 percent. Just be right here, right now, and let everything else go. You won’t be able pull this off all the time. But if you make it a habit several times a day, you’ll find yourself shifting into presence more and more often, because you’ll find it creates those moments with your child that make your heart melt.

Let them Fail…

“As the supplier of band-aids and ice packs this can be hard for a mama to do. My natural tendency is to smooth out all the rough spots, champion my children to success and just continue holding on to their bicycle seats for a good long while. But this does not help them in the long run.

A cut-throat workplace or college class are not the best place for our kids to be learning these lessons for the first time. Be intentional about giving your children a safe place to mess it all up, to crash and burn, to learn consequences and forgiveness and exactly what it takes to get back up and try again.”- Hitting the nail right on the spot on why we should let our kids fail. Full article here by Katie Westenberg

Things every Kid should be doing

Right on point. Every kids deserve a chance to spend all their other hours outside of school doing their most important job of all: being a kid.

1 | Jump rope.

An important part of how young kids’ minds develop is through free, self-directed play. According to David Elkind, Ph.D., author of The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children, free play is critical now more than ever, as recesses are shortened or eliminated, and kids’ calendars are busier than ever.

“Through play,” Elkind writes, “children create new learning experiences, and those self-created experiences enable them to acquire social, emotional, and intellectual skills they could not acquire any other way.”

2 | Talk with parents.

I’ve heard from countless friends about their daily battles with their elementary-aged kids struggling to do homework, and the way it’s negatively affected their relationships.

Instead, of parents nagging their overtired kids to do homework they’re too young to do independently, families should spent much time talking together about their day. In fact, conversation is the best way for all of us – especially young children – to learn about our world and cultivate empathy.

3 | Sleep.

The National Sleep Foundation estimates that between 25 and 30% of children aren’t getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep can cause all sorts of problems in kids, including poor attention, behavior problems, academic difficulties, irritability, and weight gain. But even small amounts of additional sleep can have big impacts. One study found that only 20 additional minutes of sleep can improve kids’ grades.

4 | Independent reading.

Most of us know that developing good habits (and hopefully a love of reading) is critical to doing well at school. However, homework can actually interfere with the time that kids can spend on reading.

5 | Listen to a book.

Studies show that kids who are read aloud to do better in school and have better vocabularies.

6 | Work on a puzzle.

Being able to play on their own without adults (called “solitary play”) builds confidence in kids and makes them more relaxed.

7 | Go up a slide backwards.

“Risky” play — activities like climbing a tree — is good for kids. Children need to explore their own limits, to be able to assess risks, and to learn how to negotiate their environments.

Researchers theorize that risky play, found across all cultures and in other mammals, has a evolutionary role in preparing offspring for life without their caretakers.

8 | Dig in the dirt.

Another type of play, sensory play, is also critical for kids’ development. When kids knead clay or finger paint, they are stimulating their senses. “Sensory experiences,” explains one early childhood educator, “provide open-ended opportunities where the process is more important than the product; how children use materials is much more important than what they make with them.”

9 | Playing with a friend in a sandbox.

Parallel play, or the type of play in which kids play next to each other, begins in toddlers. But even for older kids, parallel play can help develop critical social skills.

10 | Help with dinner.

Kids who learn about new foods, and how to prepare them, may be more likely to choose more nutritious foods later on.

11 | Walk the dog.

Kids who help take care of family pets may be less anxious, less likely to develop allergies and asthma, and are more active.

12 | Volunteer at an animal shelter.

Even kids who don’t have pets at home can benefit from being around animals. The emotional and psychological benefits of being around animals can also be found when kids care for injured animals and take on care-taking responsibilities for other people’s pets.

13 | Plant a garden.

Kids who work in gardens may have higher achievement scores in science than those who don’t. That’s because they’re actively engaging in scientific concepts and practicing math skills as they learn about plants.

14 | Practice an instrument.

Kids who participate in musical activities – those who practice an instrument regularly and participate actively in music groups – may have brains who are better wired for literacy skills, according to one study.

15 | Hang out at Grandma’s.

Encouraging multi-generational relationships can yield many lessons for kids. They can learn how other adult role models in their lives who love them handle conflict, create and negotiate rules and routines, and embrace family traditions.

16 | Participate in a community service project.

Through volunteering, kids can become more grateful, empathetic, and feel more connected to the wider community.

17 | Draw a picture.

For kids who have trouble expressing themselves verbally, drawing can be a way for them to relax and communicate in a different way.

18 | Do a science experiment.

Kids are naturally curious and want to know how things work. Scientific exploration outside the classroom may be particularly effective at teaching kids about scientific thinking.

19 | Play dress up.

The significance of imaginative “pretend” or “fantasy” play for kids’ creativity and future problem-solving skills is difficult to overstate. When kids pretend they’re superheroes or talk to stuffed animals, they’re learning about social roles, setting the stage for later learning, and processing ideas from the world around them. In fact, some research suggests that kids who don’t engage in fantasy play may actually struggle in the classroom later.

20 | Wrestle with a sibling.

“Rough and tumble” play is not the same as aggression. It’s vigorous, free-form, whole-body, energetic, happy play. Kids learn decision-making skills, relieve stress, improve their ability to read social cues, and enhance their cardio-vascular health.

21 | Clean their room.

When kids are spending their afternoons working on homework, there’s often not time for them to help out with housework and other chores. A University of Minnesota researcher, Marty Rossman, found that one of the best predictors of a kid’s future success is whether they contributed to household chores as a young child.

According to Rossman, “Through participating in household tasks, parents are teaching children responsibility, how to contribute to family life, a sense of empathy and how to take care of themselves.”

22 | Write a story.

By writing down stories, kids can express their feelings, stretch their imaginations, and practice their fine motor skills.

23 | Zone out.

Just as important as play is “down time.” The authors of “Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Happy, Successful Kids“ argue that every kids needs PDF: playtime, downtime, and family time.

Downtime is when kids are allowed to literally do not much of anything, like sit around and listen to music or stare at the ceiling. These moments allow children to reflect, rest, and reset their minds and bodies.

24 | Meditate.

Kids also benefit from meditation. Studies have found that mindfulness and meditation can improve behavior, focus, and reduce impulsiveness.

25 | Create a collage.

“Constructive play” – building a fort, making a snowman – is goal-oriented and involves kids building something using tools and materials. Constructive play also has an important role in developing children’s communication, mathematical, and socio-emotional skills.

26 | Listen to classical music.

One study found that playing classical music to children can improve their listening and concentration skills, as well as self-discipline.

27 | Learn to knit.

Knitting, sewing, and crocheting are hobbies that can help enhance fine motor skills, improve coordination, and develop longer attention spans.

28 | Take pictures.

“Photography can help develop a child’s voice, vision and identity as it pertains to their family, friends and community,” according to one photographer who teaches photography to children in Canada.

29 | Ride a bike.

Kids who are physically active – as well as adults! – have stronger hearts, lungs, and bones. They are less likely to develop cancer or be overweight and more likely to feel good about themselves.

30 | Listen to a long bedtime story.

Babies, children, and adult sleep better when they have a regular (not rushed) bedtime routine. Kids who don’t have bedtime routines are more likely to have behavior problems, be hyperactive, and suffer from emotional difficulties.

31 | Play “Simon Says.”

During cooperative games, kids collaborate to reach a common goal. There may be a leader, and kids start to learn about social contracts and social rules.

When homework is assigned to young children, it doesn’t improve academic learning. In any case, the learning done in school is only one form of learning. Homework takes away from the time available to engage in endless other forms of learning, such as social, physical, and emotional, as well as rest.

7 Behaviours Your Children Will Learn From You

7 Behaviours Your Children Will Learn From You- Mike Berry, The Good Men Project

1. How you treat their mother.

If you are kind, sharing, giving, supportive, caring, and treat your wife with respect and dignity, your children will treat your wife with respect and dignity.

But if you’re degrading, belligerent, frustrated, or rude to her, you can bet your children will treat her the same way.

2. How you manage your money. 

If you are in debt up to your ears, or spend money frivolously, your children will spend money frivolously, and they will carry that trait into their adult years. They will copy the same lack of responsibility they saw in you. They too will live in debt. 

But if you exercise wisdom, stick to a budget, save and plan, they will do the same.

3. How you treat other people.

If you are always using people for your own gains, or constantly belittling or mistreating people you come into contact with, so will your children. If you treat the waitress or the bank teller like dirt, they will devalue people the same way.

But if your approach to other people, especially those who are performing a service like waitressing, is kind and respectful, your children will follow suit.

4. The amount of respect you give to authority.

If you are rude to a police officer who pulls you over, or always rant and rave about how awful your boss is, your children will grow up with a lack of respect for the authority figures in their life. That includes you!

But to hear you talking about your boss with kindness and respect, even when they might not deserve it, shapes their tiny view of authority in a very positive way.

5. The depth of character and integrity you display.

They know if you cheat. They know if you say one thing and then do another. They are listening to the way you talk about people you encounter in public, or the frustrating neighbor who gets under your skin. When you face a crisis or unfair accusations they are taking note of how you respond.

The level of character or integrity you choose to live by, or not live by, goes a long way in determining how your children will choose to live.

6. The measure of discipline you live your life by.

If you overeat, overspend, sleep too much, get behind on your bills, drink too much, let the house go, always take short-cuts, or make excuses for poor choices, guess what? So will your children!

However, if you choose to live a disciplined life, your children will make better (and healthier) choices with their lives!

7. How generous you are.

If tithing to your church, giving to a charity, or supporting a cause isn’t high on your list, it won’t be on your children’s either. If you choose not to serve, your children will too. If you sign up for a good cause and then slack off when you’re participating and choose not to give a strong effort, they will see that, and do the same.

But if they witness a person who lives with a giving spirit, always reaches out to those with the least, and gives from a full heart, they will emulate that behavior and become people who give, love, and serve with full hearts!

Stories From Around The World

“From elementary through high school, my parents had two rules. First, I had to study a year ahead in math and science before I could participate in fun summer activities. Second, I had to get a job (and not just any job—one that furthered my career) and work for every dollar I wanted to spend. So instead of working service jobs with my friends, I studied patent cases. Not a fun experience but the mentality of career-driven employment has stuck with me today.”- Fallen Fatemi